An historically significant and hard to reach police station in rural Hong Kong is turned into a stylish boutique hotel. Is it worth the lengthy and complicated trip to get there?
Located on a headland overlooking the South China Sea, the Tai O Heritage Hotel is a boutique hotel in the truest sense of the word.
Housed in a renovated police station on one of Hong Kong's outer islands, the Tai O Heritage Hotel has just 9 units, including double bedrooms and a ground floor suite. There is just one food and beverage outlet.
As a big fan of heritage architecture, I decide to spend a night at the hotel,, which is located on Lantau Island. I am accompanied by a companion in need of an overnight get-away that doesn't involve air travel.
Neither one of us lives anywhere near the hotel, and getting there will take both of us about 4 hours.
Will the hotel prove worthy of the lengthy trip?
Please note: our stay was entirely self-funded.
The rooms are spacious, well laid out, and comfortable. The beds are "so soft and light, it's like sinking into a cloud," my travel companion says.
"I am also highly impressed with the duvet and the sheets ... and the quality and quantity of the pillows".
My room is decorated in restful pastel shades. There are black and white photos of old Lantau on the walls. There is a comfortable sitting area with a small table.
My room has a spacious work station, with electrical outlets conveniently located on the table top. During my stay, I have no issues getting or staying on line. The space is well lighted.
My companion stays in a 2 room suite, with separate living and sleeping areas. Her room has one large king size bed. Mine has 2 double beds.
The interior designers responsible for the project were able to pull off that rare feat of creating contemporary spaces that respect the era from which the building dates.
The bathrooms, for example, have marble clad floors and walls. The mirrors are large. There are rain showers in the wet rooms - yes, I said wet rooms.
And not only are the bathtubs over-sized. They also fill quickly - "really a luxury", my travel companion says.
None of this is historically accurate (at the time the police station was built, they probably didn't even have indoor plumbing). And yet the bathrooms have an undeniably retro feel.
Food + Beverage
Tai O Lookout, as the hotel's food and beverage outlet is called, is housed within a contemporary wood and glass structure adjacent to the hotel. It is a very comfortable space.
During my brief stay at the hotel, my travel companion and I have 3 meals in the restaurant: lunch, dinner, and breakfast. All of the other diners also appear to be guests at the hotel.
There is a set lunch (HK$168), which includes soup, a choice of 3 main courses - chicken, fried rice, or spaghetti - and dessert with coffee or tea.
We want to go light at lunch so we can splurge at dinner, so we decide to order ala carte.
We love the forest mushroom vol-au-want, a type of puff pastry, with guacamole and salad (HK$88). The hamburger with potato wedges (HK$68) is divine - and VERY reasonably priced. The curry laksa (HK$98) is good, but we've had better.
For dinner, we both opt for the set menu (HK$328), with appetizer, soup, a choice of 3 main courses, and dessert.
The mains the night we dine there are Australian beef tenderloin, white cod fish with caviar sauce, and spaghetti with wild mushroom tomato sauce (vegetarian).
What a mixed bag!!!
The appetizer is Japanese style warm fresh abalone on Tai O fish maw with white wine jelly. The Tai O fish maw and wine jelly are tasty, but the abalone is rubbery and tough.
The soup is deep sea lobster bisque with a 'touch of black truffle'. I find it a bit harsh and can't finish it.
For the main course, my dining companion opts for the white codfish with caviar sauce. She says both are tasty, but the portion is a bit small.
I order the Australian beef tenderloin with dry fish red wine sauce, and I LOVE it. The meat is tasty, well seasoned, and perfectly cooked. The dipping sauce is delicious. Ditto the portion.
Especially good are the crusty potato wedges. (I have potatoes at each meal, and they always prove to be the star attraction.)
Still hungry, we decide to share a braised lamb shank with red wine sauce (HK$198) off the ala carte menu. The lamb is perfectly cooked, and the sauce is yummy.
The dessert - bird's nest Italian penne cotta - is a disappointment. I decide not to waste my calories on it.
Our room package includes breakfast, and we can order it any time we want during our stay, which is a VERY thoughtful touch!
So nice not having to race down to the coffee shop before 10.30 am , when we would really prefer to sleep in. Or perhaps going for a mid-morning run first and returning to the hotel for a late morning or early afternoon brunch.
Included is a choice of fruit juices or fruit and coffee or tea.
There are 3 types of cereal on the menu, but only one type - corn flakes - is available. The selected pastries amount to several slices of standard issue wheat toast - a bit disappointing.
The main course is a choice of eggs sunny side up or an omelette with tomato, cheese, and mushroom with ham, pork sausage, and bacon. And more of those yummy potato wedges.
I'm not a big fan of hotel breakfast buffets so I am satisfied with the breakfast as I prefer having my breakfast cooked to order. Many guests, however, might expect a bit more choice.
We are not charged for additional cups of coffee, which is nice. It would be nicer, however, to be asked if we would like more coffee rather than having to ask for it.
But these are just quibbles. Overall, the food is tasty and the staff seem friendly and eager to please. The smiles seem genuine.
What Needs Improvement
It's a shame there are no facilities other than the rooms and restaurant. A swimming pool would be nice, but I don't know where they could put it on a hillside site like this.
There is, however, a small beach at the foot of the hotel. I couldn't help but think that if they could clean it up a bit - there are lots of rocks and shells - it would make a good spot for sunbathing.
A couple of lounge chairs, some umbrellas, and a stand with some towels piled high would make a very welcome addition to the hotel.
As for the waterfront at the foot of the hotel, it would be nice if they could replace the modern street lamps with something vintage. A few vintage park benches would be another nice touch.
I think they've done a great job renovating the police station. The location, the rooms, restaurant, and the staff - all get an enthusiastic thumb's up. I plan on making a return visit.
How to Get There
There are basically 2 ways to get from the bus terminus in Tai O to the hotel: on foot or by water taxi. If you walk, it will take about 20 minutes.
If you go by water taxi, will cost HK$10 or HK$20 per person, depending on whether you go by speed boat (faster and more expensive) or hitch a ride on the cruise around the harbour (cheaper and you share the boat with others).
Blogger's Tip: Pack lightly. You won't want to be toting heavy and/or bulky luggage on to and off of boats and then carry it up and down the steps to the hotel.
Tai O Heritage Hotel, Tai O, Lantau Island, Hong Kong.
Tai O Mini Guide
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