Tai O Heritage Hotel's General manager Frankie Lu (left) presents the Merit award to Cheng Wai-ching (right) of Cheung Chuk Shan College
Are you looking for somewhere special in Hong Kong that combines the ingenious elegance of modern architecture, yet with the subtle trace of a generation’s recollections? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
The Tai O Heritage Hotel is located in a small village on Lantau Island, near the Tai O Pier. Walking through the alleys, you’ll find traditional stilt houses, a small post office with cats wandering around and sniff a whiff of the appealing, distinctive smell of shrimp paste: the signs of a small and harmonious community.
“The environment, the air quality and the interpersonal relationships of the Tai O community are different from the urban city,” says Frankie Lui, the general manager of the Tai O Heritage Hotel.
Walking up the stairs surrounded by trees and bushes, you will see a two-story white building standing in front of you crowned by an elegant restaurant which has replaced the worn and decayed rooftop.
Built in 1902, the Old Tai O Police Station – listed as a Hong Kong Grade II Historic Building – was renovated in 2009. Having been revitalised as a hotel, it opened to the public in 2012.
Refined and exquisite, the Tai O Heritage Hotel has gone through a careful renovation process, where the walls of the vacant police station were covered with a layer of wall upon the original structure, so that the conversion process did not damage the original structure and the work done could be made reversible any time.
Bullet holes on the metal window shutter were left untouched, to let stories unfold for people coming to visit the hotel. The conservation project has not only refreshed the look and function of the building, it has also retained the original spirit and historical value of the heritage itself by keeping the architecture intact. In appreciation of the careful conservation, the hotel received the 2012 Award of Merit by UNESCO at the 2013 Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.
When it comes to the daily operations of the hotel, Lui says it is completely different from the Hong Kong’s conventional hotels, which are run for the mere purpose of profit-making.
“Do you have a gym room? Do you have a swimming pool? Our guests do not demand these when they choose to stay in our hotel,” he says.
The hotel currently provides different packages for visitors to learn about local heritage. The “Sunset Boat Tour” offers boat rides for tourists to enjoy Tai O’s natural scenery while the “Culture & Experience Tour” allows them to learn about Tai O through first-hand experience.
“We understand that tourists come to learn about Tai O’s cultural heritage, ecological conservation and things like that, so we fulfill [their curiosity],” says Lui. “This hotel is not ours, it belongs to the Tai O villagers. Our success is due to the support of the Tai O locals.”
Through the hotel, more people discover the physical and spiritual heritage of Tai O, while the local economy is enhanced by tourism. This undoubtedly is a solid proof of the co-existence of cultural heritage and modern society.