Most people think of cities without their environs. When I say, “New York,” people think, “Manhattan.” There are four more boroughs and the rest of the state, too! There was a similar phenomenon that went on when I told people I was going to Hong Kong. While there are many shiny skyscrapers in the Special Administrative Region (SAR)–mostly in Central–there are some areas–Tai O, for example–that couldn’t be more different. Tai O is a fishing village on Lantau Island (which is in Hong Kong). It’s accessible by car, subway, and ferry from other parts of the city. The airport is in eastern Lantau.

Tai O is the red area on the western part of the island on the southwest quadrant of this map (lflwlou/wikipedia)

I took a ferry from the Central to Lantau that lasted about 45 minutes. It was a beautiful and sunny ride.

I saw gorgeous scenery on the ferry.

Then, I took a one-hour bus ride across the island, rich with vegetation and beaches, to the last stop, Tai O. There, you could find various restaurants, an elderly woman calling out to advertise a 20-minute boat ride tour, multiple shops, and markets.

A Tai O market.
A Tai O market.

There was even an artist’s gallery where I got two character paintings (both meaning “mess,” but expressed in different characters and a different artistic style) and one watercolor of two birds and a tree. This artwork now adorns my messy room.

Many homes in Tai O are built on stilts over the water. You can access them via narrow streets or boats. It seemed that few tourists ventured far into Tai O.

The houses on stilts
The community was also accessible by narrow roads.

In downtown Hong Kong, if you took the all of the red Toyota taxis off the road and took a look at the rest of the cars, you’d find that nearly all of them would be luxury cars.

Fancy skyscrapers in Hong Kong.
Fancy skyscrapers in Hong Kong
Red taxis. Taxis varried in color by location in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, among other areas was red.
Red taxis. Taxis varied in color by location in Hong Kong. Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, among other areas, were red.

You’d find Bentleys, Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches, BMWs, Jaguars, Audis, Mercedes and some “average” cars. The cars were a clear indication of wealth, but also it was in stark contrast to many other areas of the city, like the New Territories, Tai O, and parts of Lantau that I saw for that matter. Tai O is one of the last fishing villages in a status-conscious city that is struggling with increasing inequality and high rents and home prices, and the beginnings of a demographic crisis. Getting out of Central, Kowloon, SoHo and other central districts was refreshing and, I think, a necessary part of any trip to Hong Kong.