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Heritage Tour – Tai O Heritage Tour

The Tai O Heritage Hotel is an adaptive reuse project to convert the old Tai O Police Station into a place with new meaning for the Tai O community. Built in 1902 by the British Government as one of its first colonial police stations, the Old Tai O Police Station overlooked the western border between China and Hong Kong. The Station was closed in 2002 and was left vacant since then. Through the Partnership Scheme by the Development Bureau of Hong Kong Government, the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation Limited aimed to revitalize this Hong Kong Grade II Historic Building in 2009, and to operate it as hotel since 2012.

The hotel consists of 3 blocks and are all remains from the colonial police station: The 2-story main building, which was the station’s earliest structure constructed in 1902, and now is being used as guestrooms. The room interior keeps the colonial style and some rooms have original fireplace refurbished for a homely environment. All the guestrooms entrances are opened to the verandah facing the coast, allowing natural coastal breeze as well as a tranquil sea view. The guestroom windows are protected by the original metal shutter. One may even find bullet holes on some of them, with a moving story behind. Adjacent to the main building lies the Outhouse which was constructed at the same time as the main building. It now houses the hotel amenities. On the other end of the hotel is the one-story station extension constructed in 1961-62. A reversible wood frame structure was added onto the 2nd floor to provide cover for the hotel restaurant below. The project architect, Philip Liao, integrates the new with the old while preserving the important architectural features and elements of the old police station in an articulate manner. In addition, the police stations have many interesting stories behind which make the new Heritage Hotel even more intriguing.

The preservation project does not only re-invent a new identity to the vacant Tai O Police Station, but also enhance both the Tai O community and the once fishing-oriented economy. The Heritage Hotel took on a mission to support the sustainability of the old fishermen’s village by providing local employment, employing local service providers and even making use of the village produce for its cuisine. The hotel engaged the local population, and the second generation of the local residents who may have left for better prospect in the city. In time, with support by local tourism, hopefully new business opportunities can be explored` and keep the Tai O village sustainable.

The Tai O Heritage Hotel is a success in rejuvenating and integrating the Tai O community as a whole, and it has been awarded by UNESCO with the Award of Merit at 2013 Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. Winnie Yeung guided the tour through the Tai O village, the fishermen’s houses by boat, and the hotel from the outside to the inside, greeted the villagers and revealed stories of the past residents along the way. In the commercial oriented Hong Kong, where many aspects of life, including buildings new and old, are measured by its revenue generating capability. The Tai O village with its unique Tai O Heritage Hotel demonstrated another aspect of development that money cannot buy – remaking old building and evolved business model from traditional fishing village, while preserving both the community value and the many memories in Tai O. This tour has been engaging and inspiring in every sense and a wonderful reward for getting up early on the Saturday morning.

Contributor: Ivy Yung, AIA