It's a coastline hugging, plane spotting, spider dodging 14km hike that takes about 3 hours to complete, and it's well worth it.
From Tung Chung MTR, take exit A and turn right towards PizzaHut. Follow the path around to the left past the bike park. Turn under the bridge and follow the path up the hill until you come to a right turn under another bridge. Follow that path right down to the Yat Tung Estate. Just past the estate is a little turning to the right that dips down a steep slope over a water outlet. Take that turn. You're now about to embark on an ancient trail that's riddled with controversy and also spiders.
Tai O Ancient Trail
Back in 2020, the inhabitants of Sha Lo Wan put up a 2.5m high steel gate closing off one of Hong Kong's most loved hiking trails. A pair of hikers decided to go around the barricade into the nearby hills to skirt the village but became lost. The villagers wouldn't open the gate for rescuers, who still managed to locate the pair and evacuate them to safety, despite the obtuse behaviour of the villagers.
The trail is suitable for even the most unfit hiker, with only a small section of steep hills and steps. It is fairly long though but thankfully some industrious villagers who live approximately half way along the trail open their gardens as little shops selling fruit and cold drinks. Most of these are run out of honesty boxes so make sure you have some change or smaller notes.
I tried to cycle the trail on a road bike when I first moved to Hong Kong. There was no indication that the lovely smooth path would give way to uneven rocks, so I ended up taking my bike for a 7km walk. Also be aware they don't let you put your bikes under the coaches, and taxi's are as rare as hen's teeth, so you might end up taking your bike for a 7km walk back again too.
I've spotted some really great wildlife on the Tai O trail, but none so interesting as this Lantern Bug (pyrops candelaria). They're so alien. The trail starts off through a mangrove swamp before raising up a little, past the entrance to the Ngong Ping rescue trail and out along Tung Chung Bay. In late summer, you'll also be greeted by the fabulous and terrifying Orb Weaver spider. They're incredibly common and can be seen in the middle of the trail, perfectly at head height. I highly recommend a big stick lofted over your head to avoid unwanted encounters. Like all spiders, they do bite... and they're about the size of your hand.
The trail follows the coastline alongside the airport, which seems to accompany you for ever as you make your way through little villages. Eventually after a few hours you'll start your decent into Tai O. The path drops you into the backside of the village. Keep your eyes peeled for fiddler crabs, named after their oversized claw. They live in the mangroves in their hundreds.
Tai O only has a population of about 1,500. Most of these folks still live in raised stilt houses. I can't imagine living in one of these during a typhoon, or on a steamy mid-summer's day. There was a big fire back in July 2000 which destroyed 90 homes and left 300 people homeless. Lots of the newer homes are now understandably made of metal!
Try to time your visit to Tai O with sundown. The sun sets directly out in the harbour and it's a beautiful sight.
You can read more about things to do in Tai O here, and also the best place to enjoy a cold beer and watch the sun set here.