Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tai O Staycation

Even I myself felt we had too much of vacation time in March and April - not that I am complaining. After the Easter long weekend, we headed off to Tai O on Lantau for an overnight "staycation" in this quiet fishing village on quite literally the western end of Hong Kong.

I made room reservation at the Tai O Heritage Hotel a few months back (it's really hard to book and must book well in advance), which I totally forgot until they called to confirm the booking in early March. Since by then it has passed the cancellation deadline, I figure we might as well take another break even we just had our weeklong vacation to the land of the rising sun. Anyway, the hotel, which opened in 2012, used to be the old Tai O police station built in 1902 and have been in use until a few years ago. Since then the building, now recognized as a heritage site, was completely renovated and converted into a boutique hotel as part of the government preservation effort, with 9 guest rooms plus a restaurant. They tried to preserve the original structure as much as possible, and any additional construction (for example, the elevators) was actually removable so the overall architecture was not altered - that included the restaurant, which was built above the original building with the sun-roof providing lighting from natural source during day time. We had dessert after dinner and then breakfast the next day at this lovely restaurant and we enjoyed it much.

Tai O Heritage Hotel

We were staying in a room on the second floor of the original building. Now named "Sea Tiger" (after one of the former police vessel), it was previously used as the police inspector's quarter. This is one of the smallest rooms in the hotel, yet the only one with window facing the ocean directly. Despite its size, it's well-equipped with one king bed, big-screen TV plus free movies on demand, nespresso machine, a rainforest shower head and a huge tub in the bathroom spacious enough for 2 people. The original setting inside the room was largely kept including the fireplace (even it's no longer in use) and the protective window made of metal against possible attack from the sea. We also love the fact that the room is tucked in the corner on the top floor so no one would walk by randomly - unlike other rooms on the ground floor, and especially the hotel is open to the public during day time with visitors eager to take a peek at what the rooms look like. There are some chairs and a coffee table outside our room and it felt like a private patio for us to enjoy the soothing sound of the waves and the comforting breeze from the sea.

I must say the renovation effort was tastefully done - unlike other similar projects elsewhere in town. Many of the original construction were kept as is and only repaired/repainted as necessary, including the gun, the searchlights for sea patrol, the flag mast, the detention room (which is now used for left luggage), and outside each room there's a little plaque with detailed description of what the rooms were used for previously. You can also join one of the daily curator-led tours to learn more about the building and its history. I highly recommended the hotel for a quick getaway, either as a couple, or with family or even alone by yourself.

Egg Waffles Street Stall - you won't find charcoal stove for this very often elsewhere
That's about all I can tell you about Tai O in details really - because as it turned out, the best part of our staycation was that we did absolutely nothing. Well yes, we did scroll through the narrow street of the fishing village of Tai O and took some good picture of its rows of silt houses built on the waterway; we ate anything that looks good along our way - the local style egg waffles made in charcoal stove was excellent; we walked by a shrimp factory when the workers were mixing shrimp paste by hand and putting them outside on a bamboo rack to be sun-dried; and we saw the most beautiful sunset at the pier just outside the hotel. But not feeling obliged to see anything, to do anything or to go anywhere makes us feel totally at ease and chilled. I once read a book about freestyle travel, when the Taiwanese author commented, "one has to be reminded that, there's no such thing as a 'must-visit' town, or a 'must-see' place, or a 'must-visit' restaurant..." and as I am getting old and spent more time going around places I finally understood what that really meant. Often than not it's the random moments that made a lasting impression of a journey, not those "must-do" things that everyone are raving about. 

Slow is another word that I came to appreciate more during our staycation. After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we decided to take a walk to the hill and to the village. On a random weekday things were quiet here, especially in the morning before the flocks of daytrip tourists arrive by bus, and the slow pace was a stark contrast to the fast and efficient Hong Kong city life that we are proud of. On the street we came across a cafe called Solo Balcony with a big sign of bible verse standing outside. Intrigued by that we decided to walk in and check it out, and the smell of a pan-load of freshly baked banana muffin convinced us to stick around. Turned out Timmy So, the owner of the cafe, was quite a coffee fanatic. My ice drip coffee used single variety single origin Mandheling Arabica beans from Indonesia, brewed and aged for 3 days before it's served. There's a slight hint of fermentation taste that came with a strong aroma of nutiness in the coffee. All the pastries and desserts they served were made in-house and selection changes daily. I had the banana muffin with toasted almonds and dried berries which was gorgeous.

We were having such a great time chatting, reading books, enjoying our drinks and listening to music that we didn't realize we had been sitting in the cafe for 2 hours! I am sure if we are sitting in a Starbucks elsewhere we would have left a long time ago by then! Other than that, we had dinner and lunch at some local restaurants and they were all fabulous - family style home cooking, with local specialties such as salted fish and shrimp paste. It's good to escape from all hustle and bustle in a place only less than 3 hours away from town. We enjoyed much tranquility walking around the hotel and the village in the morning - we momentarily forgot we were indeed still in Hong Kong!

You can find more pictures on my Chinese blog page - or my Flickr album -


Anonymous said...

Agreed, this is a fabulous place! I can't wait to go back and stay again!

Verena said...

This is cool!


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