The Multifaceted Lantau

The more birthdays that pass by in your life, the less it feels like a ‘birthday’ as opposed to just ‘any other day’. I admit, 22 is by no means a big number, but it’s big enough to make you wish this number would just stop growing already.

I was blessed with a day of good weather for exploration on Saturday, so I went out to see Lantau Island. Before the construction of the Chek Lap Kok Airpot, Lantau Island was a very secluded place. But along with the airport came the Airport Express, Tung Chung MTR line, Tsing Ma Bridge, a new Tung Chung settlement, the Western Harbour Crossing, and other highways/reclaimed land. (In case you don’t know, ‘reclaimed land’ is the term they use to describe man-made earth from filling in the ocean. I guess it doesn’t sound as bad as saying “we completely have to care of the environment and the energy it requires to sustain this city, we just need more land for this city because it’s making us a lot of money” – but anyway, I’ll rant about that another time.)

Lantau Island is home to many small fishing villages, originally inhabited by people that fish and make products out of seafood for a living. The one in particular we visited is Tai O, which is a small island off the northwest side of Lantau Island. You have to take a half an hour bus ride from Tung Chung to get there, and the bus goes up and down over the hills, so it’s definitely not an easily accessible area. But that’s also what makes it nice for a day trip! Hong Kong is too crowded in most places anyway, and to find a quiet place to spend a day is something to be appreciated.

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If you ask what’s there to do in Tai O, well it’s mainly what you do anywhere in Hong Kong – eat! There’s plenty of food stalled lined up along the narrow streets of Tai O. From what I gather, the place is most renowned for their ‘charcoal grilled egg waffles’, and various styles of dried fish. You can go on a dolphin-watching tour, which we opted out on. But otherwise, just a walk around the island is a pleasant activity. Observe how the houses are all built on the water, supported by wooden stilts. Smell the salty aroma of shrimp paste and salted fish as they are being left out under the sun. Feel the warm hug of sunshine as its rays fall upon your skin. There are always cute details in any circumstance you might happen to come across, waiting to be appreciated!

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If you walk all the way to the west end of the island, you will get to the Tai O Heritage Hotel, which used to be a police station, but now renovated into some crazy high class hotel. It’s funny, because the building is actually quite small, and the tier of the hotel doesn’t fit in with the fishing village background at all. But anyway, it’s open to public during the afternoon if you’re interested in seeing the history of the police station, and it’s worth a visit.

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To be honest, there isn’t enough in Tai O for you to be able to spend an entire day. We set out from Tung Chung at around 1 PM, and we were done in Tai O at maybe 4 PM. Of course we had more adventures to follow! We took the same bus back to Tung Chung, and then another bus to Discovery Bay (which is also on Lantau Island, but on the southeast side – next to Hong Kong Disneyland).

Discovery Bay really reminded me of home. It’s a high class residential area, and I’m not saying home is very high class for me, but it’s the environment. First of all, it’s much less crowded than the city. So is Tai O of course, but Discovery Bay actually looks developed and city-like, while Tai O is obviously still just a small village. But it’s not just pretty buildings. It’s pretty buildings with the environment. You can actually see grass there! And a beach! I’m talking as if this were blasphemy, just ridiculous ideas… but when you live in the CBD of Hong Kong, you kind of forget that the environment actually exists. And I don’t mean a forest, I mean just green space for you to go play soccer on or picnic or something. It is a lot more aesthetically pleasing than a gridlock of cement buildings.

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If you’re wondering what there actually is to ‘do’ in Discovery Bay, the truth is, there isn’t much. But it’s definitely a nice place away from the city for a relaxing walk, without the hustle of the city haunting you all around. There’s also a very pretty church that we walked past – not a church that holds weekly services, but a church to get married in. The walls are all made of glass, and you get a view of the water from inside. While it’s beautiful, it’s also a bit sad that I can’t really call this building a church. It’s simply a wedding hall for people that don’t have anything better to spend money on.

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By the way, check out this view of Hong Kong from Discovery Bay. I think the city looks a lot better from afar!

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Dinner was Paisano’s Pizza. There’s actually only 6 of these stores in Hong Kong, but they put them in locations that I always see, which makes me feel like there’s a heck of a lot more of them than there actually is. One slice of pizza is enough for two people. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

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After dinner, we caught the fireworks that Disneyland sets off every night. I thought they go off at 8, but during the summer it’s actually 9 PM. I guess it’s not dark enough at 8? They’re pretty (of course, I mean they’re fireworks), but it’s also not the same without the music. The background music makes such a big difference! Those songs are all the Disney songs I grew up singing as a kid, both from watching movies and in choir. It’s okay though, I know I’ll be back in Disneyland within a few weeks.

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So that was a full day on Lantau Island. I got back to Hong Kong Station by 10:30, which isn’t really that late, considering that I get to Hong Kong Station closer to 11 PM on Wednesday church nights. I head all the way to the airport on Lantau Island, and yet I saw two new faces of this island that are drastically different from the Tung Chung settlement I see every day. It’s definitely an interesting place!

P.S. Did you know? Lantau Island got its name from a direct phonic translation of its original Chinese name, 爛頭島. And the reason for that name is because the island appears to have a dent on its head, which you can see if you observe it from afar. But of course, Chinese people don’t like any slightest hint of negativity in their names (because it’s bad luck or whatever), so now its called 大嶼山 while the English name remains the same.

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