The fishing village of Tai O is famous for its stilt houses, the iconic homes of its villagers. The homes were originally built by the seagoing Tanka people who settled in the area centuries ago; replicating their boat structures on poles, they constructed the stilt house as we know it today. The earlier versions were styled after inverted fishing boats, with wood, leaves and pine as their main materials, and gradually these were switched to galvanised iron sheets and stone for sturdier builds. Their artisan origins make the stilt houses a form of art and a way for locals to build their community.
Many stilt houses are experiencing wear and tear, affecting the residents’ quality of life and even safety. To address this, the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation initiated the Tai O Stilt Houses Rehabilitation Programme in 2018. In collaboration with the HKYWCA Tai O Community Work Office and Tai O residents, the Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation repairs and restores these stilt houses, especially those belonging to elderly villagers, so as to conserve the intangible cultural value of the village and Hong Kong. Seven stilt houses have been restored since 2018.
‘It’s much better now. I don’t need to worry about tripping over due to broken flooring in the stilt house. Tai O is filled with kind-hearted, caring and companionable neighbours,’ says stilt house resident and programme beneficiary Auntie Shek Shui Mui, who has been living in her stilt house for more than 70 years. Uncle Sin, a local stilt house repair specialist, agrees. ‘Everyone here is enthusiastic, helping each neighbour and families in need.’
The Hong Kong Heritage Conservation Foundation will continue its efforts in preserving the unique charm of the fishing village and promoting sustainable tourism at Tai O.