Within a few hours, travelers can transport themselves from the lights and sounds of Central, Hong Kong, to the green hills and deserted beaches of Lantau Island. Opened in 2012, the Tai O Heritage Hotel encourages guests to immerse themselves in the natural beauty and history of Tai O, a colorful fishing village where stilted houses line the waterways of western Lantau Island. A collaboration between the government and the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation, Tai O Heritage Hotel was built from the former Tai O marine police station, from which naval officers defended Hong Kong from pirates and immigrants for more than 100 years. Three buildings were transformed into nine guest rooms, an interpretation center, and a glass-roofed restaurant, earning the project a UNESCO award for cultural heritage conservation. Historic features such as cannons, guard towers, searchlights, and holding cells, as well as original architectural details like French windows, Victorian granite steps, a Chinese-tiled roof, and century-old fireplaces, were all restored in the process. The hotel also serves regional foods, employs villagers, and gives back to the Tai O community, demonstrating its commitment to celebrating the local culture. Beyond the historic walls of the hotel, a mystical landscape beckons. Dozens of butterfly species, Chinese white dolphins, and Hong Kong’s best sunsets await.
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Tai O is one of Hong Kong’s oldest villages, settled during the Ming Dynasty on the western shore of Lantau Island. It’s known for fishing, salt, and shrimp paste production as well as colorful pang uk (wooden stilt houses) teetering along the Pearl River. Lantau Island is popular among nature lovers who come to hike the Lantau Trail, search for Chinese white dolphins, or get an aerial view of the region from the Ngong Ping cable car. Lantau Island is also a cultural destination, home to such renowned sites as the Po Lin Monastery, with its famous 112-foot bronze Buddha statue. The Tai O fishing village celebrates many local customs, including traditional wedding parades where brides travel down water alleys on flat-bottom boats.
Need to Know
Rooms: Five rooms, four suites; from $219. Check-in: 3 p.m.; check-out: noon. Dining options:The rooftop of the old guard tower is now the glass-encased restaurant,Tai O Lookout, which offers panoramas of the South China Sea. Dishes showcase native ingredients such as shrimp paste and mountain begolia, a raspberry-like plant that helps with digestion. For an overview of the region’s food, order the Taste of Tai O high tea; it includes rice dumplings, a fish fillet marinated in salted egg yolk, a pork bun with shrimp paste, and the Mangrove Special—the hotel’s signature drink that blends apple juice, lemon juice, and mountain begolia. Spa and gym details:Tai O Heritage Hotel doesn’t have a spa or gym, but there’s plenty of hiking right off the property and the hotel can arrange bike rentals from a village outfitter.
Who's it best for: Couples, families, and photographers with an affinity for nature, history, and authentic culture. Our favorite rooms: The corner Sea Tiger room affords the best views of the South China Sea, its resident fishermen, and the occasional Chinese white dolphin. The sunny room, built with hardwood floors and a faux fireplace, is named after a command vessel that was in service until 1992. Walking tour:The hotel leads walking tours of Tai O Village during which guests discover historic sites and traditions and sit down for tea in a local’s home. There’s also a boat tour every evening that floats past stilted river houses and returns to the hotel at sunset.