We Didn’t Like Tai O Fishing Village in Hong Kong

Tai O is a fishing village on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, which is home to the Tanka people who have built houses on over-the-water stilts. It’s praised as a must-visit spot, one of the best things to do in HK, and as stepping back in time to an idyllic village that’s home to friendlier people of a bygone era. Some go as far as to call Tai O Fishing Village the “Venice of Hong Kong.” (Updated April 5, 2021.)

The popularity of Tai O is borne out by the crowds. Locals and tourists swarm to the fishing town to see and photograph its unique stilt houses and industry, and dine at its seafood stalls (in a few cases, restaurants). If you look online, you’ll find a lot of glowing reviews, many calling Tai O a must-visit in Hong Kong.

As the title of the post not-so-subtly suggests, we disagree with the hype about Tai O fishing village. In fact, we’d go as far as to call it one of the more overrated places we’ve ever visited. Perhaps we’re way off base here (everyone else’s feedback would suggest so), but we nonetheless thought we’d offer some of our perspective here on Tai O just in case you’re on the fence about it, and would like our opinion…

Before we get to that, some quick tips and strategy. If you are going to disregard our advice and check out Tai O for yourself, you might want to go on a weekday. Weekends are when locals visit Tai O, and that plus plenty of tourists amounts to congestion.

Since this is still a functioning, industrial fishing village, it is not made to accommodate tourists. That means that even a modest crowd makes its walkways difficult to navigate.

If you’re planning on visiting Tai O, make sure to include Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, and perhaps even Hong Kong Disneyland into your itinerary. It’s a bit of a hike getting to Lantau Island (where all of these places are located), so make the trek count.

I’d also probably skip the “temples” in Tai O unless you will see literally no other temples during your entire trip. We walked through a couple of these, and they were underwhelming.

While in Tai O, you might consider taking a boat ride out to see the Chinese White Dolphins (also known as pink dolphins), which are a rare type of dolphin. This species is disappearing thanks to fishing practices, boat traffic, and industrial waste.

We did not take one of these tours, so we cannot really offer further insight into them.

Okay, now for my quibbles with Tai O. The main issue is that I don’t get an ‘idyllic’ vibe from Tai O so much as an impoverished one.

In doing research prior to visiting, my impression was that Tai O exists because its residents are holding onto their way of life. That for over 200 years, this has been a fishing village, and even in the face of Hong Kong’s quickly-evolving economy, they embrace their roots.

Whether that’s an accurate assessment of Tai O is unclear. Many of the people in the village appeared to be older, perhaps at an age and social status that all but precludes making a career leap or significant life change. Or, at the very least, makes it incredibly daunting.

“Embracing their heritage” seems to me to be a pretty rosy way to paint this when “lack of better practical alternatives” might be a more honest, albeit brutal assessment.

We’ve traveled to a variety of places that are more rural, antiquated, or whatever term you want to use. Places that are truly idyllic, or that the locals have allowed time to pass by. We aren’t people who need modern or picturesque places to visit.

A sense of real world grittiness is fine by us, but that’s not what this was. The village felt truly poverty-stricken, and we had an unsettling and a bit of an icky feeling wandering as looky-loo tourists among their homes.

Maybe this is all in my head. Maybe Tai O actually is the “Venice of the Orient” and the people inhabiting the village are happy, living their best lives. That was not my gut-level reaction though, and that’s really all I can offer here.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume the popular narrative about this village embracing its heritage is true. Even then, we were not fans. As people who absolutely love eating seafood, there was a bit too much of a “seeing how the sausage is made” component to Tai O.

Most of the seafood in Tai O looked and smelled disgusting, and the way it was being handled left a lot to be desired. Tai O is famous for its salted fish and shrimp paste, and one of the first things we encountered while wandering the island was giant tubs of this shrimp paste “curing” out in the sunlight.

This was one of the most repulsive-smelling scenes I have ever encountered, and I’m genuinely curious as to how this is ultimately treated to make it fit for human consumption.

After that, we pretty much lost our appetites, which was unfortunate, because some of the streets food did look fairly tasty. Again, I feel like offering a caveat that we’ve been to places like this before, so it doesn’t seem like we’re just prissy.

We’ve visited a fishing village in Kyoto and wandered the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, and absolutely loved both.

With all of this said, there is no question that the people of Tai O are friendly, and the area is most definitely different, unlike anything else you’ll see in Hong Kong.

There is something to be said for this tight-knit community that has (possibly?) resisted efforts to a changing world all around them, and instead go about their lives and livelihood in the manner that they want. If that’s what this actually is, more power to its people.

From the best I could tell, even though Tai O has become a tourist hot spot, it’s really in no way touristy. There is not much new development, no blatant attempts at cash grabs or exploitation, and the hordes of tourists are (more or less) channeling through fairly commercial areas that would exist irrespective of the presence of tourists.

In these regards, Tai O is a fascinating place. It is also most certainly a significant departure from what you’ll find elsewhere in Hong Kong. If you’re looking for an experience that’s unique and unfiltered, Tai O certainly fits the bill.

Overall, that’s not enough for us. Everywhere in the world has some fascinating history and a story to tell. Being unique and having history do not make a place worth visiting as a point of interest or tourist attraction. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t like Tai O–different strokes for different folks, after all.

However, I would not recommend visiting Tai O on the basis that it’s “different” or “historical.” Appalachia has history and is very different than California and New York, but only two of those places would I recommend to a foreign visitor experiencing the United States. If there’s some other reason that compels you to visit Tai O (or Appalachia), by all means, go for it.

Check out the Hong Kong category to see what else we’ve done in Hong Kong! For more comprehensive planning advice covering everything from where to stay to transportation tips, check out our Ultimate Hong Kong City Guide.

Your Thoughts…

Have you visited Tai O in Hong Kong? What did you think of this fishing village? How would you describe it…idyllic, impoverished, or somewhere in between? Does Tai O interest you? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

16 replies
  1. jamesehauser@yahoo.com
    jamesehauser@yahoo.com says:

    I’ve been all around hong Kong, my family lives in lantau island. Tai o is super cool, it might take a couple minutes to find a backyard restaurant but it’s well worth it! Jackie Chan filmed a movie right there wich is awesome!

    Reply
  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    I also found the place underwhelming. It was quite an effort to get there.

    I guess if you’re living in Hong Kong and just want something new to see, then it’s worth a visit. But if you’re in Hong Kong for a few days? Not worth it at all. Here’s some better things do to:

    Star Ferry, take the train up to the peak but walk down (into HKU), Stanley, Lamma Island, the monkey park (wild monkeys next to a reservoir), wander soho at night and find a nice restaurant and bar, wander around the madness of Mongkok, day trip to Macau.

    Reply
  3. Sue
    Sue says:

    Visited Tai O in 2016. We decided to add it to our day seeing as we were going to Lantau anyway. It was definitely enjoyable for us and added an element of authenticity to our trip. There was only 3 other (locals?) on the bus with us and boy what a ride! Anyhow, we took the boat ride (again not crowded), didn’t understand a word that was said, didn’t see the dolphins, but enjoyed the ride and the ever smiling and laughing skipper. We wandered around for a couple of hours and felt a real sense of peace that isn’t apparent on the mainland. The people were chatting and smiling as they worked, they would wave if they noticed you taking a pic. I agree that it feels impoverished but getting into some of the back lanes you could see the care and resourcefulness in the little gardens, the verandahs/living decks jutting over the water. Yes it smells, it’s a fishing village. Yes it’s a hike but if it wasn’t it’d be in the city and not a village. I really enjoyed it, it’s not to be rushed and it gives you another facet of Hong Kong to add to your memories. Idyllic? No. Must see? Maybe not. Enjoyable, different timeout? Definitely.

    Reply
  4. Eva
    Eva says:

    Hmm I went to Tai O in 2019 and thought it was pretty amazing. In fact I’ve been twice. People saying it’s depressing don’t understand the history and culture behind this place. I spoke to a local that was born and lived there his whole life. He told me his house would be flooded to the rooftop every year and I asked why he would still stay and he says because it’s his home and it’s the only life he knows. Some of the locals have never left the island and their perspective is most likely very different to yours.

    Also regarding the shrimp paste..that ingredient is very important in Chinese/HK cuisine. It’s not something you take a spoonful and eat it like that so obviously that’s nasty. I’ve also been to Japan fish market as well and you cannot compare the both. Two totally different countries and culture.

    I feel like you didn’t give the place a chance and to maybe read about their history a bit more before you went. To whoever is reading and is considering going, go for it! The village itself has a nice hike and also a nice restaurant where you can see the view.

    Reply
    • Jenny Lee
      Jenny Lee says:

      I went there twice and loved it! I prefer getting the shrimp paste, salted egg yolks and dry little fish, and dry shrimps there. The street food is also pretty great. And I agree, it’s not fair to compare a fish market in Japan to a fishing village in HK. The way how the villagers sell fresh fish at the entrance, one could almost not see it anywhere else in HK anymore. 2 decades ago that was still a scene in Shai Kei Wan, Hong Kong Island near my primary school but no longer the case.

      Reply
  5. Marya
    Marya says:

    Thanks for this post. I appreciate your perspective. We didn’t go on our layover to HK, though we considered it. It did seem like it would be too touristy for our taste. Curious if there are other fishing villages you’ve visited on your travels that you would recommend.

    Reply
  6. Marciel Herring
    Marciel Herring says:

    Ok
    I can tell you are euro
    In asia it’s a different way of life. Travel france if you are looking for foo foo travel.
    It’s a fishing village
    Hince, smells like fucking fish. Go to greece next year.
    Asian population is growing older every year so if your’e not educated , that means a large portion of the people you meet are older because the you have moved elsewhere.
    Next year go to London, seems to fit you better.

    Reply
  7. David Colman
    David Colman says:

    I have to disagree with you from my photographers point of view this is a great place. We visited after spending time taking photos in MaWan and if you then go to Tai O you can see what happens when places like this are forgotten about.
    It is a ‘must see’ only from the point of view it is fairly unique and a culture that will disappear over time. Hong Kong is a bustling modern city yet there are many more interesting places hidden away that offer an alternative side.
    We spent more than 2 hours there and that includes blueberry cheesecake and lemon tea at the 3 lanterns. We wandered around all the side and back alleys/walkways. It a fascinating place with lots to experience but I do appreciate it is not to everyones taste.
    Fair to say if you are not already in the area its a trek to get to. I will be returning on a day with better weather for more photos.

    Reply
  8. Andrea
    Andrea says:

    I definitely agree with every word you wrote. Unfortunately, I didn‘t see your post until after I went to Tai O and was wondering about all the excellent reviews.

    Reply
    • Sandy James
      Sandy James says:

      Tai O is a must go place, the food is delicious and the environment is great. Although it may not be the cleanest or prettiest place, it is unique in its own way.

      Reply
  9. Julie Chang
    Julie Chang says:

    I was lingering on Tai O, as it is part f a travel package with NgongPing on Klook website. It didn’t sound like a place to visit on my first and perhaps only 4 day trip to see Hong Kong. My partner is quite easily exhausted after having a mild stroke last year and I need to make sure that wherever we go, we can get out of there and back into an area that he can save himself from being too worn out and get refreshment, shelter and relaxation. This ain’t the place. Thanks for being so thoughtful as to sharing your experience about this “Venice”. Aloha and Mahalo! Julie from Honolulu

    Reply
  10. Susan
    Susan says:

    It looks depressing. We were debating going. You post made the decision for us.
    It’s easy to get in the trap of “must sees”. We also wondered about the light show on
    the harbor and are glad you confirmed what we’d already thought.

    Reply
  11. Tim
    Tim says:

    We are planning our first visit to Hong Kong and I had been wondering about Tai O since we would be around Lantau for the airport and the other major sights like the Big Buddha and Hong Kong Disneyland. Now we can focus more on those instead of taking the time and effort to visit Tai O.

    Reply

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