History and Stories of Lantau, Hong Kong’s Largest Island

At 147 square kilometres, Lantau Island is the largest in Hong Kong. However, it is much less urbanized than its neighbor Hong Kong Island. His story, meanwhile, is equally interesting.

Smugglers and gangsters in Hong Kong

Although inhabitants are reported from the Neolithic era, it was especially in the 16th century that the development of Lantau Island began with the installation of pirates who plundered the trading ships of the region. Facing the Pearl River, the jagged configuration of the coast makes it easy to hide. In Tai O, an active community developed around salt smuggling during the Chinese Qing Empire. This tradition of resistance and protection of outlaws led in the 1930s to a few warlords to take up residence in Lantau, the political developments then shaking China.

History of Lantau Island
Tai O Stilt Village

In 1949, during the retreat of the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek, former supporters of the republican regime acquired land there to such an extent that Taiwan’s National Day was celebrated every October 10 until the handover! Trafficking of all kinds will long remain the hallmark of Lantau since during the Maoist period, consumer goods were smuggled into China. Cigarettes and drugs will follow. In the 1960s, wanted gangsters easily found refuge in the coastal villages of the island, far from the police of Victoria, as the numerous films on the triads show.

Fishermen, monks and sea-gypsies

The fishing communities (of the Hokklo ethnic group for the most part) settled very early in coves like Mui Wo, Sunny Bay or Fan Lau. Many back up fishing with other activities such as salt production, which was first illegal and then official during the colonial period. This activity is often supplemented by the cultivation of rice, of which the wandering herds of buffaloes and cows that one crosses on the island are the still visible trace. However, the most fascinating historical inhabitants of Lantau remain the Tankas, these “Romans of the sea” who live most of the time on their boats in the bays of Tai O or between Lantau and Cheung Chau. Long ostracized by Hong Kong residents who owned land or businesses, they eventually abandoned this way of life in the 1970s. Finally, how not to mention Lantau without mentioning its many monasteries. They mark out the hills and mountains of the center of the island, between Tung Chung and Tai O: Lo Hon, Po Lin or Po Lam, to name only the best known. Indeed, it seems that very early on, religious people found in this underdeveloped part of Hong Kong the calm necessary for prayer, so much so that the ancient temples are now joined by more modern centers of meditative retreat intended for stressed executives.

History of Lantau
The Tankas or “sea ​​gypsies” Photo @Keith Mac Gregor Blue Lotus Gallery

Tourists and nature lovers in Hong Kong

Today it is a new type of nomads that populates Lantau: the multitude of tourists who walk there on weekends, in search of authenticity and yet rush to mass attractions such as the Big Buddha or the streets filled with memories of Tai O. Another recent category of migratory people: the partisans of a way of life closer to nature, of which yours truly is a part, concentrated in the new poles of attraction which are the beaches of the south of the island or both east Lantau ferry drop off points: Discovery Bay and Mui Wo. 30 minutes from Central, it is true that the offer has something to seduce supporters of calm! When leaving the ferries, it is impressive to see the ballet of these transformative birds who swap costumes and leather shoes from very formal Hong Kong for running shoes or island flip flops. Personally, I love it!

Lantau's story
30 minutes from Central, Lantau reveals a rural setting

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History and Stories of Lantau, Hong Kong’s Largest Island

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