How a former police station in the sleeping fish village of Tai O was saved and converted into a boutique hotel
Hong Kong is well known as an urban metropolis. On Lantau Island, there is still an opportunity to discover a village still untouched by modern-day living.
Situated on the south-western coast of Lantau Island is a fishing village called Tai O. It’s here where I experienced a couple of days in one of Hong Kong’s oldest fishing settlements. And to add to the fun, where better a place to sleep but in a hotel that was originally a police station. With stories of murder, cross-fires and pirate attacks, my stay was anything but uninteresting.
Colonial Hong Kong
Back in the late 19th century time, Hong Kong came under British colonial rule. Tai O police station was built shortly after by the British in 1902 to instil law and order and also to protect the island from pirates and bandits.
The station was built using a mixed infusion of British colonial architectural influences and local Chinese eclectic culture. With sub-tropical climates, the station was designed featuring elegant colonnades, porches, and balconies. All beautiful details which add to the hotel’s charm.
Scandal and murder
During its time in service, Tai O police station played a critical role in helping to protect Hong Kong’s west coast from the influx of illegal immigrants and roaming pirates. But it couldn’t escape from having its scandals. One particular event was in 1918 when an Indian constable killed the station’s commander following a suspension for stealing a watch. He then set the station on fire and committed suicide. Memories of this vicious act can still be seen today on the walls where the bullet holes remain.
The fight to preserve the past
Over time, Tai O had become a peaceful place with low crime levels. Combined with a dwindling population, there was no more use for the police station. Therefore, it closed in 2002. Having been left in a sorry state, it wasn’t until a non-profit cultural heritage organisation was formed and selected to revitalise the old Tai O police station in a heritage boutique hotel. After renovation, it re-opened its doors to the public in 2012.
The police station and its surroundings were preserved to retell its historic past. In fact, on arrival, I was immediately captured inside its story once I learned that the reception area was originally the reporting room and cells, and where criminal cases were recorded. The cells still have their original doors and now act as the hotel’s souvenir shop.
A story in every room
The hotel has nine suites, designed using natural tones that reflect colonial simplicity. I stayed in the Sea Tiger Room, named after the marine police vessel, with fabulous views overlooking the sea. There is also a plaque on the outside of every guestroom describing the story of its previous purpose. My room had initially been a bedroom for visiting inspectors, so rightly so, it needed to have the best view and also a fireplace.
If you want to know the police station’s story, the hotel runs a historical tour for guests and public visitors.
The hotel’s glass rooftop restaurant, Lookout, is open throughout the day and evening serving delectable local cuisine. The old patterned ceramic tiles and colonial paddle fans blowing away the humid air gives a nostalgic sense of how Hong Kong was back in the day.
When visiting Hong Kong, I would advise you not to by-pass Tai O. It’s a place full of character and authenticity, which rarely exists in today’s modern travels.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, Tai O Heritage Hotel, Hong Kong