To fully appreciate Hong Kong’s diverse range of stunning natural landscapes and delicious local cuisine, it’s worth taking a trip out west, far from the city’s high-rise centre to Tai O and Pak Nai, two very different destinations offering quintessential outdoor experiences.
Fishing village charm
Lantau Island is Hong Kong’s largest isle, and its Chinese name – “Big Island Mountain” – draws attention to its dramatic peaks that rise steeply out of the sea.
A visit to the village of Tai O, at its far western tip, is an expedition beyond these mountains to the far side of Hong Kong. It is one of the city’s most famous destinations, popular for its natural scenery, winding canals and stilt houses that reflect its history as a fishing settlement.
The village is built on wooden stilts above the waters and mudflats of the surrounding tidal creeks. Its origin can be traced back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when it began to host a growing population of fishermen and their families.
These ancient stilt houses, many of them restored or remodelled, provide a glimpse into the village’s past as a fishing port and offer visitors a unique and authentic cultural experience. Tai O is now much more accessible with better transport links, and newly upgraded facilities make it much easier to navigate, but the charming neighbourly vibe and tranquil atmosphere remain.
The village’s rich heritage and traditions are highlighted by the annual Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade, held during the Tuen Ng Festival, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. The event sees a specially designed and adorned vessel carrying statues of deities navigate the watery maze of canals to give blessings to residents. The parade was inscribed onto the third national list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011.
Tai O is surrounded by verdant mountains which act as natural barriers to shield the village from typhoons and other inclement weather. A hike up Fu Shan (or Tiger Mountain) is a great way to invigorate your body and mind.
The trail provides a moderately easy hike, and from a viewing pavilion at its highest point you can see both the fishing village and the 55km Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge that was opened in 2018, creating an interesting juxtaposition of old and new.
One not-to-be-missed experience here is a boat tour sailing out from the creeks to the open sea. During this short journey, you can appreciate the charm of the village from the fisherman’s perspective of its waterways.
No visit to Tai O is complete without trying its local food. Street stalls throughout the village offer tasty treats such as soy-marinated cuttlefish, shrimp and pork patties, egg waffles and “cha guo” – glutinous rice dumplings that can be savoury, filled with black-eyed beans, or sweet with red-bean, green-bean or peanut fillings. Chilled tofu dessert and herbal jelly are especially enjoyable during summer days.
Locally produced shrimp paste, rich with briny aroma, is a prized speciality of Tai O. Great as a condiment for fried rice, noodles, stir-fried vegetables and even curries, it’s sold in bottles for visitors to take home.
Sunset over the water
Pak Nai is famous for its shallow tidal waters that are of great ecological importance. It is located on the coast of the northwestern New Territories, which looks out across Deep Bay towards the city of Shenzhen in mainland China. Home to mangroves, oyster beds and rich marine life, the waters provide a habitat for a diverse array of species including endangered horseshoe crabs. The rich biodiversity attracts flocks of rare migratory birds, such as black-faced spoonbills.
Part of this area’s coastline further north, where the wetlands meet the Pearl River, is an internationally protected wildlife reserve thanks to the large numbers of endangered birds, which stop over here on their seasonal journeys from northern Asia to the lands beyond the South China Sea.
The wetland area consists of two distinct parts: Sheung Pak Nai (Upper Pak Nai) and Ha Pak Nai (Lower Pak Nai).
Come to Pak Nai earlier in the day to stroll through the peaceful farming villages dotting the area, and visit the two-storey fortified structure at Ha Pak Nai, a historic monument with an intriguing story. Built in 1910, after the New Army Uprising in Guangzhou, the structure formed part of a complex built as a refuge for the failed revolutionaries as they fled over the border.
The area is also a popular destination for admiring the dramatic sunsets, with two of the ideal spots being Ap Chai Wan Seaside and Ha Pak Nai Beach. Watching the sky turn from a mixture of blue and orange to vivid red is an unforgettable experience, and the cloud patterns in the sky add drama to the view.
After sunset, make tracks to the nearby waterfront town of Lau Fau Shan. You can see oyster farms from the shore, and, in the winter, when the shellfish mature, you may even see the farmers opening them before your eyes. It’s thought that oyster farming began in this region more than 700 years ago, and the area’s brackish water has nurtured a unique species of mollusc that bears the city’s name: Magallana hongkongensis.
The oysters farmed here are believed to have a layered flavour of oceanic sweetness and firm meat. They can be enjoyed battered and deep-fried, or stir-fried with ginger and scallions.
The famous golden dried oysters, made with locally grown bivalves that have been sun-dried, are not to be missed. The process intensifies the natural flavour of the oyster and makes the meat velvety soft. One of the most popular recipes is to have them seared to perfection with a honey glaze.
Lau Fau Shan is well known for its seafood restaurants. Pick your dinner from the fish tank, choose the recipes you desire, and wait to be satiated.
It’s a constant source of amazement that so much variety can be packed into such a compact city. Whether you’re looking for stunning natural views, fascinating heritage or authentic local food, there’s a destination in Hong Kong that will surprise and delight you.
Article was originally published from here