Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tai O

We decided to start our mini break close to home yesterday with a trip to Tai O. It's a small fishing village on the western tip of Lantau island and it's renowned for its stilt houses, streets lined with dried fish and sea creatures, and the elusive dolphins that precariously inhabit the local waters.
On the surface it looks like a very traditional Chinese village, mostly untouched by Western influences but it is very much geared towards the hordes of tourists who visit every week. Rumour has it that a local film or soap opera was filmed there and that alone brings a lot of people to the village! Tai O is about 45 minutes by bus from Mui Wo and Tung Chung. There are a number of fantastic hikes down into the village from a few points on the island. It's also a 20 minute drive from where we live, so we drove, but parking is pretty limited. You could also charter a sampan and arrive in style!

Our first priority was lunch. While we drawn to some of the local restaurants offering fresh fish and local delicacies, with two kids in tow we weren't as intrepid as we could've been and when we stumbled across Melt, a western style cafe with a very kid-friendly menu, we sat right down. The boys split a sausage sandwich and an apple juice and we shared a plate of nachos and lime sodas. If we didn't live here we'd feel a little guilty not indulging in local food, but since it's an option all the time we didn't feel so bad! Melt was clean and fresh and the food was just what we needed. It's located next to some pretty cool little cafes and local shops selling food. The Chinese pizza, directly opposite Melt looks delicious, and if the queue was anything to go by, worth a trip to Tai O! The Tai O Bakery sells delicious egg tarts and Chinese donuts, local delights we simply couldn't pass up.

Next up was a wander through a fascinating little village. The boys loved looking at the tanks of fish, crabs, and even eels, for sale along the streets. The smell of incense and dried fish made me feel like I was very far away from home, and took me back to the time I first fell in love with Asia. The click-clack of mahjong tiles and the chatter of everyone around us provided a nice soundtrack, and a relief from the city noises of traffic and construction. There are no cars in Tai O, only boats, and a boat ride is a must. We piled into a small sampan with a handful of other "tourists" for a tour of the village.

The stilt houses are quite remarkable, and after being here for a few typhoons myself, I marvelled at how they manage to withstand such weather extremes. The view was completely lost on the boys but they were both pretty excited to be on a boat!
Before heading out into open water, the boat passed by the Tai O Heritage Hotel. Built in 1902 as a police post, the building was restored and turned into a boutique hotel and granted heritage listing in 2009. We haven't had a chance to visit the hotel, or its famed glass-roofed restaurant, The Rooftop, but we will be making a special trip back for dinner soon. It's only accessible by boat, and is yet another glimpse into a different time and place.
We wound up the boat tour with a brief stop offshore where the local pink and white dolphins are known to hang out. Very few people that we know have actually seen them, and we weren't confident that we were going to be that lucky. There are a number of boat operators taking tourists out to see the dolphins all day, every day, and the spot is littered with debris from the boats. There are also markers in the water so the boats know where to stop, but it is disheartening, especially with the airport not far away and the spectre of the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge rising out of the sea mere kilometres away, threatening to destroy the dolphin's habitat. Then suddenly we saw a disturbance in the water, a splash and flash of silvery white in the distance. All ten of us onboard gasped in delight, and again when one of the dolphins leapt out of the water, putting on a show just for us. We saw 2 of them playing and one rose out of the water a couple of times, quite close by. It's impossible to take photos as they move so fast but I felt like I was watching something very special. The boat ride costs $20HKD for 20 minutes and Charlie rode for free. Some operators also guarantee that if you don't see a dolphin you'll get a ticket for a free ride next time.

We had a fantastic day but we did get a little sunburnt. Despite the weather being wet and grey in Cheung Sha, it was sunny and clear in Tai O, so my advice for anyone planning a visit is go prepared for all seasons! All in all it was a great day out, and were home having a cup of tea by 3pm. Rediscovering the place we call home is off to a very good start!

Thursday, April 18, 2013


After our recent trip to Australia, we've spent a lot of time planning our exit strategy. Our time in HK is limited and we have a lot of options available to us, but we want to make sure we really get the most out of living here while we can.

I always felt like I left Sydney before I was ready. I don't have closure and I want to live there again one day until I'm "done."
I have no doubt it'll take 6 months to drive me crazy and then I can get on with living happily ever after elsewhere!

So, with that in mind, I made a list of all the things I wanted to achieve before we leave Hong Kong for good. While "taking advantage of living here," may sound quite vague, it's top of my list. Part of that involves seeing the places we haven't seen yet, and showing a few of those that we have seen to the boys. A ride on the Star Ferry holds a lot more appeal when you're watching the face of a very excited 3 year old! We haven't really experienced much of the local culture and there is still so much of the city we haven't explored.

Dave has 3 weeks leave coming up, and after our very expensive trip down under, we can't afford to go anywhere. So, we're seizing the opportunity and we plan to be tourists in our home town. Join us on our adventure, as I blog, tweet, and update every step of the way - starting next week!