Near Ma Wan’s ferry terminal, we hopped on the bus to start our journey to Tai O.
After we crossed the Tsing Ma suspension bridge, connecting Ma Wan to Tsing Yi, we took the underground train. At our connecting station, we hunted for a suitable bus bound for Tai O. Horrified at the long queues as far as the eye could see, we managed to get on board, thankful that we had to let only 2 buses go by.
It’s the May long week-end; everyone is out and about looking for an escape from the long working days. It’s also a week-end where many foreign household staff, mainly from the Philippines, flock to the city to visit with their friends. Many literally camp out, either in pup tents or on flattened cardboard boxes, around the busy bus terminals, and in the city’s many parks. It’s quite the sight to behold.
Others shared our idea of enjoying a day trip away from the city, and queued at the many bus stops, waiting patiently as one full bus after the other left the terminal.
On our bus ride through the island, we were surrounded by lush mountains. Even from this distance, we were able to catch a glimpse of the giant Buddha on neighbouring Lantau island. Quite astonishing considering the view was hazy.
Tai O is a fascinating fishing village built at the river’s bank; rich in history, pirate lore and ancestral sites.
The main street was crammed with bright coloured banners, and small shops where vendors displayed their wares. Street side baskets overflowed with dried starfish, all sorts of fish paste and traditional salted fish. Inside were fish-tanks with lobsters, mussels and a rich assortment of shell-fish.
We ambled away from the main street to a quieter area, where board walks connected traditional fisher homes on stilts. Here fish drying on a wire, alongside socks and other items. There a tiny TV blaring, people sitting around sipping tea. To one side, away from the hustle and bustle, a well-maintained restaurant, “The Triple Lanterns”, offers its patrons a 180º view and plenty of seats overlooking the ocean and waterways.
Retracing our steps towards the main street, we passed the Chan Temple and stopped at one of the tea houses. We discovered it was owned by Christians. Like the many other eateries and tea houses; pottery and artwork by local artisans were prominently displayed. I couldn’t resist purchasing a hand-painted cup with the inscription: “Immanuel” (God with us). We stayed on for a while, enjoying tea and a chat with the owner.
Bidding our farewells, we continued along the seawall, surrounded on the left by exotic mangroves, and bright flowering trees in the wooded area to our right. We walked until we reached the furthest western tip of the island.
The former police station, now tastefully converted into a boutique hotel, the Tai O Heritage Hotel, surrounded by immaculate and well-tended grounds. A vast array of fragrant vegetation filling the senses. Small plaques affixed to the rooms attest to former historical occupants. A couple of rooms, including a jail, kept as a cultural museum.
The restaurant and tea-room offers an arresting view of the ocean and the mountains across the straight. While taking in the breathtaking views, we sampled a number of delicacies and indulged in a tropical cocktail.
Time was running out and we hurried to the boat landing, boarded a motorboat for the main pier. The queue awaiting the ferry was already long. We found out the hard way that unless one is prepared to arrive at the ferry terminal at least half hour early, you will be unable to sit on the outside deck or get a decent seat inside. We were left with a hot, crowded and nauseating diesel smelling lower deck option! A chain and the sliding door were guarded by a man whose looks dared anyone to venture on the outside deck. We were happy to have made it on time but I was quite crabby to being forced the diesel option and lack of view.
Looking over the pictures of our stimulating day at Tai O, I had to admit that the lasting memories overshadowed the final ferry inconvenience.