Far from Hong Kong island’s maddening crowds, overlooking rustic stilt houses and agile fishing craft to and fro across Lantau, travellers will uncover glimmers of Hong Kong’s colonial past — lovingly restored, beautifully preserved and worthy of an extended residence. In our latest instalment of Building Spotlight — a monthly series spotlighting the structures which have come to define the city’s cultural legacy — we retreat to Tai O Heritage Hotel, a Grade II historic building set against the most westerly point in Hong Kong.
- Address: Shek Tsai Po Street, Tai O, Lantau Island
- Built: 1902
- Site Area: N/A
- Gross Floor Area: 1,000 sq. mtr.
- Price per square foot: N/A
The Tai O Heritage Hotel is perched atop a hilly outcrop overlooking the village of the same name: a historic Hong Kong fishing community that has populated western Lantau for over three centuries. Managed by the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation (HKHCF), the property consists of 9 rooms which occupy the site of the former Tai O police station. The original station was built in 1902 — among the first of its kind to be set up in the New Territories. Over the centuries, this expanse of coastline was a frequent target for pirates conducting smuggling runs in and out of Mainland China, making it a point of sustained interest for British naval forces, and later, Hong Kong’s colonial-era police force.
For much of the 19th century, the station was only minimally staffed, yet during the 80s the total number of police posted here grew to 180 (due to increasing triad activity across the westerly part of Lantau). By 1996, a significant decrease in crime across the HKSAR resulted in the station being downgraded to a patrol post, before it was eventually vacated in 2002. In 2008, the HKHCF earmarked the complex as one of seven buildings that would be adapted for commercial reuse under the ‘Revitalising Historic Buildings through Partnership’ scheme. An estimated HK$64.9 million was allocated to the station’s redevelopment: as a boutique hotel that opened to the public in late 2011.
Within the hotel grounds, the two structures originally housing the Tai O police station have been preserved: there is a main black and an outhouse, both two stories high, connected by an overhead footbridge on the first floor. The main block meshes traditional Chinese building techniques with Western architecture, illustrated in a tiled ‘pan-and-roll’ roof, cantilevered eaves and large, airy French windows punctuating the building’s facade. The outhouse was added in the 60s to enhance the station’s self-sufficiency: outfitted with multiple kitchens, a drying room and an interpreter’s office. To capitalise on the station’s hilltop location, a watchtower was constructed at one end of the outhouse.
Today, these historic spaces have mostly been converted into a handful of tastefully appointed spaces. Suites and guestrooms all bear the name of a vessel or rank used in the marine police. ‘The Commissioner’, formerly the station’s charge room and armoury, has been rebuilt as a suite with two vanities and a private terrace; while the ‘Eagle’s Point’ takes the on-site canteen and transforms it into a roomy, 375 sq. ft. abode — ample space for two intrepid vacationers and their children.
In a city prone to incessant commercial redevelopment, the Tai O Heritage Hotel stands out for its rare blend of significant cultural heritage and commercial viability. But don’t take our word for it: in 2013, UNESCO conferred the coveted Award of Merit on the property, citing an “extensive cultural mapping effort that has greatly informed the restoration work and…enhanced social and economic opportunities provided by the building’s new use”. Now that’s the tagline to a hotel getaway that we can really get behind.
To learn more about the property or make a booking, visit Tai O Heritage Hotel online.