I knew there must be a reason why I don’t visit Tai O (located at Lantau Island) as often as, say, Cheung Chau, or Lamma Island. My last Tai O trip was by accident – we wanted to go to the Big Buddha but didn’t get off at the right bus stop – so this time round when Chris and I went out specifically to go to Tai O, we were… mindful of the time necessary.
Oh my, what a debacle. First we had to take the train all the way to Tung Chung, which is the main town on Lantau Island. That itself is a 30 minute journey. Then at the Tung Chung bus terminal, we wait for some thirty minutes to get onto the bus, as the buses plying the Tung Chung – Tai O route was small, and they don’t allow standing passengers.
And then on and on it went, the bus going through the mountain side, a good hour journey. By the time we reached Tai O, both of us were tired, hot and exhausted… ready for our first refreshment of the day.
The soya beancurd stall was right there when you get off the bus. The store lady must have tonnes of business… but not really. The shop was kinda deserted while we were there. It was an old school dessert shop, serving little else but beancurd and drinks.
The beancurd, hmmm… wasn’t silky smooth, nor the accompanying sugar syrup and brown sugar were particularly memorable. I certainly had better stuff as well, but hey after a long bus ride, this tasted like heaven. We scraped our bowls.
And then on we went through Tai O. I don’t remember there were these many tourists the last time I was here. There were at least five – FIVE! – tour groups of older people. I am sure Tai O was the perfect destination for them, what with all the dried seafood and colourful culture, but God, I just wish they are more less pushy and mindful of other visitors too, you know?
The touts for excursion boats ($10 – $25 for everything from 10-minutes ride round the village, to tracking down the pink (?) dolphins) were variously polite and enterprising, but after being asked for the fifth time, I was more than a tad annoyed. But hey, nothing soothe my frayed nerve better than a bit of sightseeing!
I had never seen this side of Tai O before. I mean the stilt houses. Home to the Tanka people, these homes are interconnected with narrow bridges and plank gangways, built above the tidal flats of Lantau Island.
I was aprehensive while walking around the stilt house. There was no privacy for the residents here – I could literally walk into their homes – and from their facial expressions I don’t think they are too pleased with visitors.
But it was fascinating. There were houses of all kinds. Some were ruined, literally sinking into the water. Some were well maintained with flowers and drying seafood and what-not, and at least one was a jarring, two-storey high building clearly designed for tourists.
But for the life of me I couldn’t imagine living above the water here. It was a mild autumn day when I visited, slightly on the warm side, and already I can smell some stench from the water. But I am sure the residents have reasons to love their tightly knitted community. It was a fascinating visit, a glimpse into a side of Hong Kong that I am sure I will never be a part of.
And of course, the food. Oh my. If I ever made Cheung Chau sounded like a food paradise, then maybe Tai O is the uglier elder sister. The various food items I committed my calorie quota to to try out was satisfyingly mediocre. Satisfying because it filled my stomach. Mediocre because they were nothing to shout about… save for the giant squid. That was delicious. Or maybe I was buying things from all the wrong stalls.
This egg waffle stall seems to be the one to go to. Following the crowd seldom goes wrong.
Drying egg yolks. Errr, why? It looks pretty, but I am pretty sure these were not meant for mooncakes.
Okay, I can’t read Chinese, so what on earth are these that was so expensive?
Do I love Tai O? It was a photographer paradise to be sure, and certainly I saw as many locals as there were tourists, and for that I think Tai O has a certain attraction which I failed to appreciate on that day. Perhaps if there are easier transport to get to Tai O (or Lantau Island for that matter) from, say, Hong Kong Island, I might be singing a different tune.
Or maybe I should have taken a cab instead.