Checking out Hong Kong’s Lantau Island
Lantau Island is one of many islands which makes up the archipelago of the Chinese territory of Hong Kong and lies directly west of the main hub. Taking a day out away from the city to explore the island has to be a ‘must’ on anyone’s visit to this amazing part of the world. A lot of visitors to Hong Kong will arrive on the island via the international airport, Chek Lap Kok but away from the noise of aircraft taking off and coming into land, the island is quite peaceful, quaint and very relaxed. Of course it has one of the biggest tourist attractions, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car which takes visitors from the Tung Chung MTR station to another of Hong Kong’s amazing sights, the Big Buddha and the nearby Po Lin Monastery. There are also fishing villages, hiking trails and fantastic scenery to check out.
On a day trip out here, the sights of the Big Buddha, the monastery and the fishing village can be done. I have written about the tourist way or the ‘hardcore’ backpacker who wants to save money way.
The tourist way or the ‘lazy way’ to the Lantau Island sights.
This is a great way to check out the views of the mountains on the eastern side of the island (or to see the aeroplanes land at the nearby runway). The twenty five minute journey to Po Lin which is around 4 miles (5.7km) in distance is one of the highlights of this amazing day trip, which goes high up into the North Lantau Country Park but once over the highest peak on the journey, sweeping views of the South China Sea comes into focus as well as the Big Buddha statue.
HINT: If taking this route, the Ngong Ping 360 does amazing offers. I brought the package which included the return trip on the cable car and a tour of the nearby fishing village of Tai O. The entrance to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery is free to walk around.
Once off the Lantau Island cable car, visitors will arrive Ngong Ping village where there are a range of shops, restaurants, coffee outlets to wander around as well as various museums. Walking around this village reminded me of a theme park and unless I wanted something to eat (to which I did try out the local cuisine up here) I headed to the main sight of the Big Buddha which can be seen for miles around.
Big Buddha – dodging the crazy cowes which loom around the place, knocking over rubbish bins and chasing dogs (yes, the cowes do that here), the Big Buddha is the first place of call. Standing at a height of thirty-four meters (that’s 112ft), the bronze statue is one of the biggest Buddha statues in the world. This beautiful statue sits on a throne of lotus which is the symbol of purity in Buddhism.
Inside the Buddha itself is a sacred relic of the real Buddha (it is a tooth inside a crystal container) which is enshrined within the image but I have to admit it was pretty difficult to make out. Also underneath the Buddha is a mini-museum about the life of the Buddha and his path to enlightenment. There are many pretty images to check out. Step outside the Buddha looking south and this is a great viewpoint of the sea (but look north and this is also a great viewpoint looking at the other mountains and the nearby monastery).
On each side of the staircase, there are three Bodhisattvas (six in total). For those who don’t know, Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities who help mortals reach enlightenment.
Visitors who are new to Buddhism or do not know much about it, the statues around here have a ‘reverse swastika’. They are used throughout temples as well as decoration but here at the Big Buddha statue, there is one carved into the chest. The symbol has absolutely nothing to do with the swastika and the Nazi Germans, it’s just one of the symbols used with the Buddhism religion, so don’t get worried guys.
Po Lin Monastery – located a stone throw’s away from the Big Buddha statue is the monastery. First built in the 20th century, the Buddhist monks were attracted by the seclusion. Po Lin (also known as ‘precious lotus’ monastery became very popular and a place of pilgrimage in the 1920s when the first abbot was appointed and the Great Hall was built. This was the very first Buddhist temple I have ever come across in my life and it was so nice to see the beautiful decor on the outside walls and roofs but even more spectacular in the inside.
I also noticed with Buddhist monks here and other locations around Hong Kong (mainly the tourist spots), that some of them are walking around asking for money etc. Those who do this are not Buddhist monks and are fakes (as locals pointed out to me, I never did give any money). Just a handy tip to those worth knowing for the future. Also worth pointing out that entrance to the temple is not allowed around 3pm as the Buddhists have their daily prayers. Nearby this area is the Tea Gardens where the Buddhists have their own tea plantation and the Temple gateway which is guarded by two lions and is known to replicate the southern gate into Buddhist heaven.
The hardcore way to the sights
For those who do not want to spend the money on the cable car and have some time to do a hike, then the four mile walk on a wooden path through the Tung Chung valley is a must. Starting from Tung Chung, follow this path up and down the mountains to Ngong Ping but on the way I am told there are some small monasteries, one of which serves cheap vegetarian lunches. The view of the path from the cable car does look like a challenging one on the last mile. If the views are the same as the cable cars then hikers are in for a treat.
Tai O Fishing Village
From Ngong Ping there are buses which go along a very bendy road to Tai O on the western coast of the island. (If going with the cable car, buy the bus ticket which includes a boat ride around Tai O otherwise if not, just buy the bus tickets and boat ride tickets separately). Either way, from the village to Tai O, visitors will need bus 21 which runs very regularly. This pretty village sitting on a tidal estuary is definitely worth the trip. On arrival the smell of shrimp paste which is a type sauce made by fermenting shrimp and spices together in a barrel then laying out in the sun fills the air. Head through the market following signs for boat tours and get on one.
Here the power boat tours (which are roughly twenty to thirty minutes long) will take visitors out into the South China Sea to see the rare Pink Dolphins whom are an endangered species (maybe that’s because of the South China Sea is not that pleasant and can be some of the harshest conditions for any type of Dolphins to exist in).
The boat ride will head back into the village which is famous for its Stilt Houses. This is one of the last remaining places in Hong Kong where visitors will see the traditional stilt housing of southern Chinese fishing villages. The houses sit above/along the waterfront in the estuary and are protected from the harsh storms which are whipped up sometimes in the sea. Now with the fishing seeing a decline in this area, the stilt houses of Tai O have the drawback with tourism, where some of the houses are now restaurants and cafes.