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Glistening skyscrapers and imposing shopping malls dominate the skyline of Hong Kong. It’s hard to imagine that this metropolis was nothing more than a fishing village 150 years ago. Fishermen lived here in stilt houses, supported above the water by poles, and fished to provide a meal for their families. You can still see this lifestyle today in Tai O fishing village.
Hong Kong is more diverse than most photographs suggest. The village of Tai O is located at the western tip of Lantau, the region’s largest island. The road there passes through uninhabited hills and alongside beautiful beaches. Perhaps due to its remote location, this fishing village has hardly changed at all over the past century. Fishing boats, painted in every colour of the rainbow, are secured to the poles on which the houses are built. The fishermen trade their catches on planks between the houses. It’s almost as if shops don’t exist.
Before the inhabitants of Tai O built their stilt houses they lived on wooden boats. The Tankas, or boat people, spent the whole day at sea; most did not even own socks or shoes. Concerned about typhoons in the region, more and more boat dwellers started building their houses on shore. By the beginning of the 20th century, Tai O and its street market had become established. You can learn more about the village and its boat people at the library in the Tai O Heritage Hotel. A private museum on Wing On Street displays many old photos that will transport you even further back in time.
There was a time when pirates plagued the waters around Lantau. To protect the island’s residents from this threat, a police station was built on a hill by the shore in 1902, close to the village of Tai O. More than a century later, the station has been restored and converted into a boutique hotel. Although the Tai O Heritage Hotel has only 9 rooms, each furnished in an elegant and contemporary style, the restored cannons, searchlights and holding cells recall bygone days. For more information visit,www.taioheritagehotel.com
Once a year, the fishermen of Tai O sail along the canals in their sampans (wooden boats) to ward off water spirits. Sacred icons borrowed from nearby temples adorn the decorated boats during the parade. The men row the boats along the canals while the residents of the stilt houses burn their paper offerings. The fishermen return the icons to their temples before lunchtime when the festival ends. The dragon boat festival takes place every year around June.
Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong