Looking for a fun day trip with the kids? Head to Tai O, a picturesque fishing village tucked away on Lantau Island!
Tai O is a visual delight, offering loads of Insta-worthy settings that the whole family will admire. Although much of its charm comes from the traditional stilt houses found in only a few remaining fishing villages in Hong Kong, it’s framed by the coast on one side and mountains on the other. Combine that with the lively Tai O Market, this spot is a virtual feast for the eyes (and other senses!). On those days when you’ve had just about enough of the hustle and bustle, grab the fam and slow it down for a unique family day trip.
Situated on the northwest coast of Lantau Island, there are two main methods of transport to the village; from Central, Tai O can be reached via MTR and bus or ferry and bus. (The ferry is the best way to avoid the crowds.) The ferry and bus services run regularly from around 5am to midnight. Both will get you there within two hours.
For MTR: From Hong Kong Station, take the Tung Chung line to its last stop, Tung Chung (30 to 35 minutes). Walk for five minutes following signs to Bus No. 11 (45 minutes).
For Ferry: From Central Pier 6, take the ferry (35 to 40 minutes fast Ferry, 50 to 55 minutes ordinary ferry) to Mui Wo (Lantau Island). From Mui Wo take Bus No. 1 to Tai O (45 minutes). Both buses will take you to the bus terminus, a parking lot that puts you at the far west end of Wing On Street.
Where To Eat
No visit to Tai O is complete without a browse through the local market! Your whole family will love checking out everything on hand, from barbecued oysters to Cantonese style pizzas to husband pancakes! You can witness the fish trade, see various pungent dried seafood (not for the faint of heart) and also pick up some knickknacks! Dried seafood is a special Tai O delicacy and Tai O has everything from dried fish stomachs to dried fish skin.
Street Food And Snacks
Any seasoned traveller knows indulging in street food is often the best way to experience a place, and Tai O is no exception. There are a lot of local street foods that can be hard to find on Hong Kong Island, but we recommend trying out the fish balls, pancakes and fresh fruit. Many ice cream shops also sell frozen food so treat yourself to some cold pineapple on a hot day. Be sure to get the egg waffles! Tai O is famed for its classic egg waffles made by everybody’s “uncle” at Tai O Egg Waffle Uncle!
Tai O Egg Waffle Uncle, 59 Kat Hing Street, Tai O, Hong Kong
If you have a wee little animal lover, they will be delighted to know that the Meow offers a chance for them to sit and eat with cats that have been rescued from around the island. Tai O has one of the largest cat population in Hong Kong, and this little place provides a loving sanctuary for them. Warm up at Meow with a cup of hot chocolate loaded with marshmallows!
Meow, G/F, No 67 Kat Hing Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 9497 4206, www.facebook.com/meowtaio
During the lowest tides, families flock to the shores to try their luck at shabak raking. These shellfish are as delicious as they look! Make sure you get a chance to grill them up Hong Kong BBQ Style at one of the barbecue pits on the island or bring them home on ice to enjoy in the next couple days!
Sassy Mama Tip: Book in advance and bring friends. Smaller groups can be accommodated but these activities are fun to do in groups. (Find the application form for this tour and others here. Simply submit your preferences to the centre, and be sure to request shabak raking.) Oh, and make sure you bring a spare pair of shoes!
Tai O YWCA, G/F 61-63 Wing On Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2985 6310 or 2985 6330, www.facebook.com/ywcacerc
Editor’s Note: At the Tai O YWCA you can also take classes on learning about the ocean and how to dry fish and other seafood; how to cook traditional Lantau-style meals, model-making workshops (Lantau shacks), how to weave fish nets; how to make Chinese tofu dessert; and also take ecological tours, but these are in Chinese. If you have groups of 10 or more people, they will accommodate to offer English-speaking lessons. Call ahead – 2985 6310 or 2985 6330 – to see if they can accommodate your group.
Tai O Heritage Hotel
When the kids start to get hungry (aka: all day long) head to the Tai O Heritage Hotel for a relaxed and more refined afternoon. The hotel’s Tai O Lookout is a beautiful, green, glass-roofed restaurant with colonial-time décor. Try some of the signature dishes featuring Tai O specialties such as shrimp paste, “Mountain Begonia”, and the award-winning “One Pebble Lane”!
Tai O Lookout, Tai O Heritage Hotel, 1/F, Tai O Heritage Hotel, Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2985 8383, www.taioheritagehotel.com
Tai O offers one of the best hiking trails in Hong Kong. Dotted with both natural and historical landmarks, there’s even a waterfall along the trail! Pack some snacks or lunch and hike up to the Dolphin “Fu Shan” Viewing Point. The summit is only a 10-minute trek up the stair trail behind the Shaolin Wushu Culture Centre. Walk along the path of Tai O Country Trail in the Shek Tsai Po direction, past the China White Dolphin statue and picturesque views. This is a choice for strollers. It should take around 20 minutes. Or if you’re already at the Shaolin Wushu Culture Centre, trek up the stair trail for 10 minutes. Easy for the little ones, but definitely not stroller friendly!
Active families get ready because Tai O offers something fab for the whole family: sea kayaking. Paddling through the old fishing village of Tai O, you will be greeted by sights of Tai O’s historical stilt houses and beautiful sceneries. If you are lucky, you may even have a close encounter with the beautiful dolphins. Sea kayaking is a quintessential Tai O experience!
Don’t own a kayak? Fret not, Tai O Sea Kayaking will provide all the necessary equipment and guidance that even beginners who have never been kayaking will be able to enjoy the stunning views of the island.
Tai O Sea Kayaking, Tai O Bus Terminal, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Why not take the kids out for some good, old-fashioned fishing? Along Wing On Street there are several fish and tackle shops where you can buy a length of line, a few hooks and some worms, and try your luck off Tokyo Pier! Maybe the owner of the store will even let you catch his cage traps to see the daily catch of minnows!
Tokyo Pier, Tokyo Pier Store, G/F 62B Kat Hing Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Another great way to burn off some steam with the kids is to hop on a bike. Tai O offers a great biking path along the coast, allowing everyone to enjoy the beautiful ocean view. Do as the locals do and ride bikes around the village and the surrounding areas of Tai O. If the little ones can’t ride yet, this is a great place to teach them.
There is a bike rental shop, Gik Yau Bicycle Firm (translated to “Polar Friendly Bicycle Firm”) where Wing On Street ends and Tai Ping Street begins with friendly service and plenty of bikes. You can even rent a cart and tow the little ones behind!
Gik Yau Bicycle Firm, Crossroads of Tai Ping Street and Wing On Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Don’t miss out on a chance to see the endangered Chinese white dolphins! The name is confusing because these creatures are pink in colour, but regardless of what hue they are, if you visit Tai O, this excursion should be added to the top of your day trip itinerary! Your whole family will be mesmerised by the swift bodies of these magnificent creatures. For just $20, hop aboard one of these little motorboats and tour the stilt houses and Tai O waters. Catch a glimpse of General Rock, a natural rock formation resembling a reclining general, and maybe spot a white (or pink!) dolphin or two!
Hong Kong Dolphin Watch, Boat Tours, Dolphin Watch, Tai O Chung Footbridge, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong www.hkdolphinwatch.com
Stargaze & Sunset Watching
If you plan to stay in Tai O past sundown, this is the spot to watch the sunset. On clear days, you can see Macao and Hong Kong Island, and you might even get to spot a few dolphins. Take note, however: past sunset, this trail gets a bit spooky for your younger hikers as there are no lights along the path and it cuts through ancestral burial grounds. If the kids are up for the adventure, just make sure your phones or torches have plenty of battery.
Flora & Fauna
Tai O’s waters are protected by mangrove forests, and with the mangroves come plenty of fun and interesting critters! Look for colorful fiddler crabs and mudskippers with your little ones at low tide. Mangroves can be found by the Waterfront Promenade and Sun Ki Street. During low tide, the mud critters can be seen from Sun Kei Bridge and en route to the Tai O Heritage Hotel via Shek Tsai Po Street.
Take a heritage walk around Tai O because Tai O is a place of great historical value with a myriad of graded structures dating back to the 1400s. Amongst them is the Kwan Tai Temple built to honour the god of war and righteousness. It’s located at the centre of the village and is decorated very elegantly and ornately. This is a photographer’s paradise so, in other words, totally Insta-worthy! However, Kwan Tai Temple is just one of the many temples. Check out the other temples here.
Kwan Tai Temple, Tai O, Lantau Island
Old-Style Stilt Houses
Tai O is considered to be the Venice of the East because it has the most unique old-style stilt houses that are worlds away from our concrete jungle. Home to a large community of Tanka people who built their homes on stilts above the Lantau waters for generations, it consists of beautiful dilapidated, low-rising structures that will (almost!) make you forget that you’re a stone’s throw from a bustling city! Take a sunset boat tour by booking at the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
Tai O Heritage Hotel (sunset tour), Tai O Heritage Hotel, Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2985 8383, www.taioheritagehotel.com
Back Alleys & Footpaths
Wander around the back alleys and footpaths because even if you’re on a budget, Tai O will entertain you wander-fully as you immerse yourself into local cultures and lifestyles. Tai O is full of back alleys and footpaths and is cluttered with retro-style architecture. You can even make a game of it with the kids!
Sassy Mama Tip: Need some wifi on the island? There are wifi zones at the bus terminus (30-minute daily limit) and at the local library (which also has air conditioning) located at the end of Wing On Street to the left of the kindergarten.
Tai O Public Library, Shop No. 12, Commercial Centre, Lung Tin Estate, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, 2985 5006, www.hkpl.gov.hk/en/locations
Tai O Bus Terminus, Tai O Road, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
This article was originally written by Olivia Hudnut and published on 16 September, 2015, and has been updated. Thanks to Connie Cai for all her help with this article.