The smell of dried fish assails my nostrils even before I cross the bridge into the village. I’m about to investigate, when I get sidetracked by the view. The bridge crosses the Tai O river and, on both banks, scores of houses practically teeter over the water on tall wooden stilts. I’m in Tai O, one of the last remaining Chinese fishing villages in Hong Kong.
Tai O Village, located on Lantau Island in Hong Kong, is a prime example of a traditional Chinese fishing village, that seems to have fallen out of time. Lantau Island is the biggest of Hong Kong’s islands, so it’s a popular destination for Hong Kong city day-trippers. Most visitors head to the island to ride the cable car to the Big Buddha, but not everyone makes the extra effort to see Tai O. The tranquil Tai O Village is probably the oldest human settlement on the island of Lantau. And everyone who comes here all the way from the Hong Kong Islands will believe that on first sight. The place reveals itself to the visitor as a bizarre fishing idyll that somewhat looks like a old Chinese mixture of Pirates of the Caribbean and Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. One has nearly the feeling that any second Johnny Depp could show up behind the next boat waving around a hard piece of salt fish.
我小时候喜欢看着有线电视不停重播的港片，总觉得百看不厌，其中印象比较深的是刘德华和张敏演的“与龙共舞”，还记得龙家俊(刘德华饰)不小心被表妹推落海，还被误认为是大陆仔，最后躲在月光 (张敏饰) 做廉价劳工。。。听说那场景就是在香港大澳渔村拍摄的。对于香港的印象就停留高楼大厦，我想不到香港还有一块净土，让喜欢古朴风的我在规画香港旅行时，就特别想绕到大澳渔村。其实我想去大澳有好长一段时间了，跟其他离岛不同的是，大澳的路途较为奔波，我就是晕着车走进了大澳渔村。
In the boat ride along the riverfront saw the different generations of stilt houses — the oldest are made of grey metal sheets and shaped like an upturned boat, while the newer boxy houses (some are even made of concrete) have colourful balconies overflowing with plants. The stilt house building style goes back to the 19th century; were built on wooden stilts driven deep into the muddy tidal flats of the river to protect them against floods.
The Tai O fish market is particularly popular and gets very busy on the weekends, when locals and tourists jostle for space. As I walk around the market, I’m gobsmacked by the variety of seafood on display — both fresh and dried. There’s fish of every imaginable size and shape, shellfish, abalone, sea cucumber, fish maw (dried swim bladders), and more.
Much more striking, however, the famous salted fish is hung out everywhere to dry in the scorching sun and comes with another thing that is omnipresent in Tai O, the distinctive fishy odour that hangs like a pall of smog over the streets.
Nevertheless, there is something more enjoyable on the other side of the Shek Tsai Po Street. When you walk along the esplanade after about 20 minutes you will get to the beautifully restored old Tai O Police Station that is located on a hill near the ferry terminal.
Since 1902, long time before the days of Costner and Depp, this building was actually built to protect the surrounding waters against smuggling and piracy. Exactly one hundred years later, however, the time-honoured building was converted into the Tai O Heritage Hotel (you can read my blog on Tai O Heritage Hotel here), a nice place that invites you to linger and give your own sense of smell a little break from the ever-present smell of fish on the market.
The all-pervasive fishy smell chiefly comes from the shrimp sauce and shrimp paste that is a speciality of Tai O. The paste is made by grinding shrimp meat with salt and leaving it to ferment in plastic tubs. The paste is then spread onto bamboo trays and left to dry in the sun, after which it is bottled or sold in the form of cakes. It is used to flavour everything from stir-fried vegetables and meats, to fried rice and noodles.
I can recommend to take a tour with one of the rather simple fishing boats along the river and then out to sea (departing from the footbridge). Out here you will not only enjoy the warm and salty breeze of the South China Sea, with luck and in the right season, you can even see the Chinese White Dolphin, a species of dolphins that is also called Pink Dolphin by locals due to its pink look.
And then again back in Tai O Village you will be lulled quickly by the distinctive smell of dry fish, almost as if the place wanted to preserve everything forever. So far, this worked quite well.