Tai O: The fishing village on stilts

Many of the houses in Tai O stand on stilts above the estuary

 

 

 

 

By Sebastian Old
Negotiate your way through the bustling market streets where dried puffer fish and starfish in a bag dangle from walls and an elderly women of around 85 can be found cutting up fresh fish with scissors and laughing away with her mates.

This is just another day in the life of Tai O.

Tai O is a fishing village in the south-east of Hong Kong, raised up above the water on stilts. The locals ride around on bicycles too small for them and there’s a dilapidated shower that’s been converted into a temple.

Dried puffer fish at a street stall

It’s all too easy to begin to feel sorry for the locals of Tai O.

There’s a quaint charm; its one of the last traditional fishing villages in Hong Kong. But, its lack of shiny cars, buildings, cafes and other markers of  ‘normal civilisation’ are nowhere to be seen.

The truth is that to think this way would be to miss the point.

First of all the locals don’t, at large, know any different. So, as little, smiling child entrepreneurs help their parents and grandparents sell grilled garlic prawns, oysters and Hong Kong’s famed ‘fish balls’ you begin to realise that what the locals lack really doesn’t matter.

A colourful shrine

The village is in the north-east region of  Lantau island; an island know by many as ‘The lungs of Hong Kong’ because of its stark contrast to the densely populated and industrialised Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Beyond the village and its rivers, the scenary is made up of rolling mountains for as far as the eye can see.

It seems fitting then that the salt water rivers should wind around streets and under the raised houses like vast green veins.

Chinese white dolphins or ‘pink dolphins’ are among some of the rarer species in the world. According to National Discovery, in 2016 there were around 60 pink dolphins left. Yet they’re found swimming in these winding green veins.

Brightly coloured blossoms in the streets of Tai O

If you can’t find the time or the 30 Hong Kong Dollars (about £3) to go on a boat ride to explore the inlets and give a little dolphin spotting a go, do not despair.

There’s a strange, understated beauty to be found amid the village’s corroding ‘lego-block’ houses where cherry blossoms grow from drain pipes.

After a while, you begin to understand how that little old lady with those scissors in her hands managed to chuckle as much as she did.

 

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