If the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong gets to much for you, an escape to Lantau Island, might be just the thing for you.
One of the most popular sights to see on the island is the Tian Tan Buddha. This is the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze buddha. It sure lives up to its expectation, and is very very large indeed and well worth seeing.
The statue is located very close to the Po Lin Monestary, and is known to symbolize the harmonious relationship between man, nature, people and religion.
Its one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hong Kong, and I would advise it to any visitor to Hong Kong.
Po Lin Monastery was built in 1924, and it is located on Lantau Island. Its also better known as "Buddhist Kingdom in the South", is a fantastic place to visit.
The best will to combine visiting the Monastery with the Buddha as they are across from each other.
Originally built by 3 monks in 1920 with only a shrine dedicated to Buddha.
In 1924 gradually more monks came to settle here, and in 1970 became one of the top 10 Buddhist monasteries in Hong Kong.
The majestic figure of the seated Buddha (or Tian Tan) at Po Lin (Precious Lotus) Monastery is 26.4 metres high, was cast in China and took 10 years to complete. Weighing 220 tonnes, it was unveiled in 1993 amid deep religious ceremonies, presented as a gift to Hong Kong by the Chinese mainland. This is one of the largest metal Buddhas in the world, so I'd definitely recomment reserving a few hours in your schedule to visit.
Besides climbing the over 300 stairs to the top (Phew!) there is also much to see and do at the monastery itself with its various figures of Gods and other colourful manifestations of aspects of the Buddhist religion.
For fortune-telling, shake a cylinder with fortune sticks until one numbered stick will fall to the ground. Match it with the relevant printed Fortune Paper and learn what the Fates have in store for you. It's very interesting! You are swept-away by people chanting, shaking fortune sticks and by the scent of the many fragrant joss sticks.
At the bottom of the steps you'll find a free gift waiting for you: a small recording machine that plays Buddhist monks chanting (looped) beautifully. Take one home and all it needs is a new battery once in a while.
You can also hike along the "Lantau Trail" through beautiful forests and greenery, with great views of the massive valley below. It's a nice way of getting away from the tourist crowds and gathering yourself in a moment of peace..... Oooooooooohmmmmmm! :-)
It is great to take a ferry from the Macau Ferry Terminal at Pier 6 at Central, Hong Kong Island to go to Mu Wo town, Lantau Island. Upon arrival you can take a public bus or a taxi that goes along a winding and scenic road right to the temple.
This giant Buddha seated on a lotus is made up from bronze. At 34 meters high, it was once one of the tallest outdoor Buddhas in the world.
You will walk 268 stes up and get a panoromic view up there with the hills behind and the sea in front. The is a side road where cars can drive up to bring up visitors who cannot walk the stairs.
There is a vegetarian restauarant and the temple at the foot of the giant Buddha. Worth a half day trip to see this popular tourist destination.
There is an alternate way of getting here via Tung Chung MRT station followed by a bus or a gondola lift.
Note: Open hours are 10am to 4:45pm. There is admission fee to the exhibition hall.
Since opening in 2006 the NP360 Cable Car gives visitors to Lantau Island a different and scenic way to arrive at the Big Buddha. The cable cars offer 360 degree views from the large all glass cabins. There is an option to purchase a slightly more expensive ticket in a Crystal Cabin. This adds an extra dimension to the viewing space as the floor is a full width single piece of glass.
The 5.7km journey takes approximately 25 minutes and offers nice views over Hong Kong Airport and Tung Chung Bay to the green expanses of Lantau Island.
There are a number of different packages for people wanting to combine the Cable Car ride with attractions in Ngong Ping Village. A standard return Adult ticket costs HK$125. A Crystal Cabin return Adult ticket costs HK$188.
The Ngong Ping 360 terminal at Tung Chung opens at 10am on weekdays and 9am on weekends and public holidays. From experience I can say that the queue may build up very quickly so I would advise to arrive prior to the opening time. You may be lucky enough (like I was) to have just a handful of people sharing your cabin. On busy days however the cabin may be filled with up to 17 people. A number of these people would have to stand for the entire journey and this would spoil your enjoyment of the views a little I expect.
The cable cars are equipped to cater for people with disabilities. Wheelchairs can easily go onboard. Its also a good idea to check the website to make sure your visit doesnt conflict with scheduled maintenance days or other unscheduled closures which happen from time to time such as the most recent one between the end of January and the beginning of April 2012.
If arriving at the Tung Chung Terminal by MTR allow 30 minutes for the trip from Central and a little less from Tsim Shai Tsui.
Lantau Island is almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island but much more rural. Its impossible to describe Hong Kong without mentioning its massive population so I was surprised to read that only around 45,000 call Lantau Island home. Historically these locals lived mainly in the fishing villages that dot the landscape, the most well known being Tai O located on the western side of the island. If you are planning on spending the day on Lantau then a side trip to Tai O will give you an opportunity to view the stilt houses they still exist in the village.
Tai O is not accessible by MTR but can be accessed by bus from outside Po Lin Monastery or Mui Wo Ferry Pier. For the outdoors enthusiast there is a hiking trail between Tung Chung and Tai O offering great views. The trail is steep in parts and at least four hours should be allowed for the trip.
Tung Chung also evolved from a fishing village. Its development into a New Town was fast tracked in conjunction with the government's decision to relocate Hong Kong's Airport to Chek Lap Kok off the northern coast of Lantau Island. As well as the new Airport other transport infrastructure including the Tsing Ma Bridge and Airport Express train line were built.
Tung Chung is mostly built on reclaimed land and was originally developed as a residential area for airport workers but with the development of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and other tourist attractions, Tung Chung is better known as the gateway to tourism on Lantau Island. For shoppers there is an outlet centre attached to the MTR station called Citygate. Along with the usual brands there is an excellent Esprit outlet and some great reasonably priced childrens clothing stores and a section called 10th Avenue which stocks mainly shoes.
The Ngong Ping 360 is an enclosed gondola ride linking Tung Chung with the purpose built Ngong Ping Village. The village itself is a bit too commercial for me but Ngong Ping is also home the two most recognised Lantau Island Landmarks - the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery.
The Tian Tan Buddha is more commonly called the Big Buddha and as well as being a popular tourist attraction is an important symbol for Buddhists in Hong Kong. The statue is reasonably young only being completed in 1993 but exudes an air of serenity making it seem like it has been there forever. (see my review under HK "Things to do")
The adjacent Po Lin Monastery was built by three Zen masters a bit over 100 years ago. (see my review under HK "things to do").
If you are prepared to have a long day out and about it is possible to combine a trip to Lantau Island with Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disneyland complex is small and can easily be enjoyed in an afternoon and evening. I suggest seeing Lantau Island first and then taking the MTR from Tung Chung to Sunny Bay (1 stop), transfering to the dedicated Disneyland train for the short trip to Discovery Bay. From there its a short walk to the park entrance.
This is a very large buddha on Lantau Island. Whilst this is normally in the top listed sites for Hong Kong, I do feel that unless you have either never seen a big buddha before, or are going there for the religious experience (i.e you are buddhist), then this isn't the most exciting thing to see. However the food that the monks serve when you get there is very good (assuming you buy the more expensive ticket) - see separate restaurant tip. In my mind the food was a more memorable experience than seeing the Buddha!
Reasonably cheap buses go there frequently from the bus station near the airport, however these can get very congested, and it can sometimes be difficult to get back in a hurry. You can expect the journey to take many hours (5-6 at least) from Kowloon or Hong Kong, and you may consider these hours spent better doing things there.
When you are standing in front of the Tian Tan (Big) Buddha is hard to imagine that this beautiful and serene statue is less than twenty years old. I definitely felt a hundred and twenty years old as I slowly trudged up the 260 steps to the viewing platform, but I tried to increase my pace after being overtaken by sprightly elderly Chinese ladies, who looked like they do the climb daily.
But it is worth it. Up close the Buddha is very impressive and you can go inside to view a display about the teachings of Buddhism and the significance of the Buddha to the culture.
As a reward for climbing the steps the views over Ngong Ping Village, Po Lin Monastery and the hills surrounding Lantau Island are lovely, on a clear day. The majestic figure seems to be watching over Lantau Island and is the worlds largest sitting Buddha.
Each aspect of the bronze figure has a symbolic meaning. The right hand is raised signifying compassion. The left hand resting on the lap signifies that the Buddha can grant happiness to all. The lotus position of the sitting Buddha indicates purity and peace. The kind face of the statue symbolises wisdom, virtue and joy. This is one big bronze statue that is well worth making the trip to see and be inspired by.
The adjacent purpose built Ngong Ping Village was created to cater for the tourists arriving by cable car from Tung Chung and has a very commercial, almost Disney feel to it. It didnt really appeal to me but the adjacent Po Lin Monastery, which is the centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong is worth visiting. You can buy coupons to have a vegetarian lunch while you are there.
Famous buddhist monastery on the Lantau Island. It is worth a visit because of its great Buddha and the nice views you have from up there.
The monastery is also very insteresting since it is in activity.
Avoid high season or holidays because the place gets crowded and it is impossible to reach the monastery even by taxi.
The majestic figure of the seated Buddha (or Tian Tan) is 26.4 metres high, was cast in China and took 10 years to complete. Weighing 220 tonnes, it was unveiled in 1993 amid deep religious ceremonies.
Besides attracting Buddhists from all over Asia, the magnificent figure with its compelling presence almost instantly transformed the remote Po Lin Monastery with its devout monks into a must on tourist schedules.
If you dare, place in your hands a bamboo cylinder containing a mass of fortune sticks, and by shaking it carefully, one numbered stick will finally and tantalisingly fall to the ground. Match it with the relevant printed Fortune Paper and learn what the Fates have in store for you.
Food supplied by the Po Lin Monastery is good and perfect for the vegetarians. Price is not high but better to make reservation before arrival.
The Big Buddha is the largest bronze sitting Buddha in the world. It is an easy walk of about 200 steps to reach to the top, where you can have a good view of the Po Lin Monastary and the nearby mountains, including Lautau Peak, one of the tallest in Hong Kong. There are some art exhibits inside the Buddha, such as paintings and calligraphy. You have to pay to go inside, which is included in the ticket for the vegetarian meal.
The vegetarian restaurant in Po Lin Monastary is not bad to try. You get 4 dishes, a large bowl of soup and rice (see photo). You can also have some sweets or snacks outside the restaurant. The various jelly-looking sweets are worth a try, at HK$10 for 3. But the most famous sweets here is the sweet tofu in a bowl.
There is a rather touristic shopping area that was constructed using traditional Chinese architectural style around the upper Ngong Ping cable car station, which is a 5-10 minute walk from the Big Buddha/Po Lin Monastary.
I visited the Big Buddha before there was a cable car service. The road from Tung Chung to the Monastary is winding and quite scenic. It is probably nice to go up by cable car, then do the return trip by bus.
If you have the time, visit Tai O, an old fishing village on Lantau Island. (see the next tip) There is a bus that goes to Tai O from the Big Buddha.
Save yourself the hour's drive and take the cable car to the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Giant Buddha. Yes, you do emerge into an avenue of shops but just say No! The ride is worth it.
The Ngong Ping Cable Car stretches almost 6km between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping village. There is an angle station on Airport Island which turns the cables about 60 degrees towards North Lantau. The scenery is spectacular - even when the clouds are down low. During the 25 minute ride you can see the new Hong Kong International Airport, Tung Chung Bay and catch a glimpse of the giant Buddha