Tai O is a small town made up largely of fisherman. Located on the island of Lantau, it is home to the Tanka people. The residents of Tai O are known for their unique homes which are built on wooden stilts and form a picturesque view admired by tourists from all over the world.
The Tanka people of Tai O built this fishing town over three hundred years ago. Their idea for houses built on stilts was an ingenious design for the people that lived on the sea’s edge. The houses are made of solid concrete and iron and are intricately placed on firm stilts made of wood. The addition of ladders placed on the side of the houses allowed for easy accessibility to boats docked below the homes.
The beginning of the Chinese Civil War saw Tai O become a major point of illegal immigration for Chinese refugees. After the war was over, many of these Chinese ethnic groups remained in Tai O and brought others with them. Most of these people were of the Han, Hakka or Hoklo groups.
Having once been largely dependent on fishing and salt production to pay their bills, the tiny town thrived. In addition, the Tanka expanded their exports to include many illegal items that were smuggled into other major cities in China.
Lantau Island and Lamma Island share parts of the Tai O land mass. With a river between the two islands, pedestrian bridges allow people to walk across the river on its forks located to the north and the west. The majority of Tai O is situated just along the banks of the river, with parts of the island being largely unpopulated.
In 2000 a very disastrous fire caused many homes to be destroyed. Although the town still survived, the fishing industry is now insignificant, only providing a small source of food for a small few. In addition, the homes that still remain in Tai O are often inhabited by squatters and are falling apart due to the lack of maintenance.
Despite the fire in 2000 and the dying fishing trade, the tourism industry in Tai O is still alive. The stilt homes that are still standing provide visitors with a glimpse of history regarding one of Hong Kong’s fishing towns. A local boutique hotel that used to be the police station, opened in 2011 and serves as a historical landmark. In addition, small food booths are located in Tai O that are known for their shrimp paste and cured fish. Tourists also come to Tai O to travel the river and take in the many sightings of the Chinese white dolphin.
Tai O can be reached in a couple of different ways. The bus routes on the Lantau bus lines are easily accessible. In addition, many people choose to travel on the ferries located close to the bus routes. The ferries are known for providing a great visual of the historic town. Tai O is a seaside community with a rich history. Its unique beauty has charmed tourists for many years.