An encounter with Chinese white dolphins at Tai O

January 06, 2017 17:33
A postcard-perfect sunset viewed from the old Tai O Police Station. Photo: HKEJ

If you visit Tai O just to snap pictures of those gleaming stilt houses or buy a couple of jars of shrimp paste for your mother, then your trip probably isn't complete. 

Dolphin watching is a popular tourist activity in this fishing village on the western side of Lantau Island.

The swift, glistening bodies of those Chinese white dolphins riding the waves are a sight to behold; they appear pink and that's because the color of their blood vessels radiate from their fading dark grey skin.

The endangered species has been living in the Pearl River Estuary since the 17th century, navigating the brackish waters between the river and the ocean. 

Right upon their arrival at Tai O, visitors are welcomed by local fishermen and invited to take a boat trip for dolphin watching.

The ride is not free, of course, but not expensive. The captain steers the boat off the coast, turns off the engine and prods everyone to wait in silence for the dolphins, which will emerge from the waters as streams of water and air shoot up from their blowholes.

You need a little bit of luck to be able to meet these wild marine mammals since they are not as sociable and showy as their peers at Ocean Park.

During our boat ride, we saw a pair of dolphins, but they were quite shy and swam away from us as quickly as they appeared, not giving us a chance to take their pictures. Everyone left disappointed.

At the Tai O draw bridge, the tourists stopped for souvenir picture-taking.

Many probably thought it was one of the historical sites. However, its construction was fairly recent, in October 1996.

I still remember, when I was a child, people rode on a sampan to cross the river.

At the end of the busy main street is the Old Tai O Police Station. It was built in 1902 but was refurbished and turned into the current Tai O Heritage Hotel in 2012.

We just took a quick look at the exterior of the colonial building and moved on; the hotel manager did not want non-guests wandering around in the premises.

Then we bought some street snacks to quiet down our grumbling stomachs.

The Takoyaki stall owner advised us to go up the Fu Shan (虎山) hiking trail. Its entrance is next to the Hong Kong Shaolin Wushu Culture Center.

Walking along the trail was relaxing: it looked like the only place in the village that was spared from the tourists.

After climbing up a flight of well-paved stairs for 20 minutes, we got to the dolphin statues, which offer a good spot to see the Chinese white dolphins from afar.

In the glow of the sunset, we were excited to see a beautiful cluster of tubby creatures appearing in the glittering waters. So here it was at last, the scene we missed during our boat trip!

Getting there:

To go to/return from Tai O: Take New Lantao Bus no. 11 at Tung Chung Town Centre Bus Terminus.

Bus traveling time: About 1 hour

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 16, 2014.

Translation by Darlie Yiu with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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The Fu Shan hiking trail seems the only place in Tai O that has been spared from the tourists. Photo: HKEJ

HKEJ contributor