Lantau is the largest in a group of more than 260 islands that make up Hong Kong. In 1998, a year after Hong Kong was returned to Chinese control, the modern Chek Lap Kok Airport began operating, and since then bridges and underwater tunnels were built, linking the Lantau island with the Kowloon Peninsula, Hong Kong Island and the new territories.
When I was a child I’ve visited Hong Kong dozens of times, but my parents never took us to Lantau. I guess back then (late 80’s and early 90’s) it was difficult to travel there. However, today it is super easy to reach the Lantau island and it’s a must when visiting Hong Kong.
In this post I’ll describe our day in Lantau that included visiting Ngong Ping, Tian Tan Buddha and the fishing village Tai-O.
Hong Kong Disneyland is also located in Lantau island but obviously for that we needed a whole separate day. You can read about our Hong Kong Disneyland experience here, and also about our tips for a perfect visit here.
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Ngong Ping and Tian Tan Buddha
Buddha Tian Tan is one of Hong Kong’s many landmarks to explore. The official name is Buddha Tian Tan (天坛 大佛), but the statue is even better known as the “Hong Kong Big Buddha,” for the title he held until 2007 as the world’s largest sitting Buddha.
The Great Buddha sits comfortably on a summit of a Mountain in Lantau, as if he was looking over the entire island.
The recommended way to reach the Buddha is by cable car. The cable car arrives at a small tourist village called Ngong Ping which was established in 2005 as an authentic Chinese village. The village has a stone-lined promenade with souvenir shops, restaurants and more. The village also has an attraction called “Walking with Buddha”. The road from the village to the Buddha takes about 10 minutes.
While walking towards the Buddha there are 12 statues of the “Divine Generals” on the sides. The generals’ job is to protect the Buddha all day long, each with two hours shift. In addition, each represents a Chinese zodiac animal.
It is highly recommended to climb the steep staircase (268 steps) leading to the statue, not only to say hello to Buddha Tian Tan up close, but also to overlook the view. From the top of the mountain, you can see Lantau Island covered with green trees, as well as the blue sea inlaid with the islands stretching to the horizon. The statue stands at the center of a throne in the form of a lotus flower – a sacred flower in Buddhism, at the top of a three-level structure. In addition, around the Buddha you will find six statues of Bodhisattvas(The Bodhisattvas are Buddhist deities which supposed to help mortals reach enlightenment), which offer various offerings to the Buddha. They represent symbolizing charity, morality, tolerance, religious belief, meditation and wisdom.
Inside the statue there is also a small museum with paintings depicting the life of the Buddha and his teachings.
The Buddha’s famous bronze statue, which stands 34 feet high, is not ancient or historically significant because it was actually built only in 1993. But its construction transformed the nearby Po-Lin Monastery into a popular tourist destination, a place that draws millions of Buddhist tourists and pilgrims from around the world. The monastery, which until the statue was quite obscure and isolated, is in fact one of the most important holy places in Hong Kong. Apart from the beautiful buildings and a glimpse of the monks’ lives there, you will find a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant in the monastery.
How to get there
Getting to Buddha can be itself an attraction, as one way to get there is the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. This cable car connects the Ngong Ping village with Tung Chung Center. It travels over 5.7 miles and overlooks Lantau Island and the South China Sea. Towards the end of the trip, you will also have a lovely observation of the Buddha sitting on the mountain. If your budget allows, you may want to buy the more expensive tickets for the transparent floor cabin. This is what we did and it was an amazing experience.
To reach the cable car station, take the Metro (MTR) to Tung Chung Station. Follow the signs to Ngong Ping 360 cable car.
Tip: try to arrive early (not later than 10AM) as this is a day full of attractions in Lantau and you wouldn’t want to miss anything.
It is recommended to purchase the cable car ticket online, not only to avoid queues but also to enjoy a discount. We purchased a one-way ticket on the Transparent Cable Car, as later we traveled to the Tai-O Fishing village by bus.
Tai-O Fishing Village
After a 20 minutes bus ride from Ngong Ping we arrived to Tai-O. This fishing village is located on the western side of Lantau Island, the side opposite to the big Buddha. This is a tourist destination that offers an intriguing glimpse into the life of a traditional fishing village. Although the village is no longer at its peak and many have abandoned it, it is still possible to enjoy and be impressed by it.
This fishing village was built centuries ago and retains its uniqueness which is the stilt houses. Immediately when you get off the bus you’ll be approached by boat owners who will offer you a ride with the possibility to see pink dolphins. Although we didn’t see any dolphins the ride was a great way to explore this beautiful village from the sea and from the river. We highly recommend taking one of these boats.
Afterwords, we passed the bridge and went into the market. There you can buy fresh and dry fish and seafood and of course smell their scent everywhere. We ate a traditional donut at Tai-O bakery which was delicious.
Apparently the first inhabitants of the village, the Tanka, were accustomed to living on boats, and even when they built houses they did not want to move away from the sea, so they began building their homes some 300 years ago on stilts. Today, the houses are close to each other, their front overlooks the street and serves as a balcony, or sometimes a booth for the off-the-shelf sea produce that is dismantled from a boat dock between the stilts at the rear of the building.
The house itself is used both for residential and for processing and storage of their produce. We just strolled and got lost in the narrow streets of the village observing the everyday life of the Tai-O residents.
How to get there
From Ngong Ping bus station take bus number 21 (of new Lantau company). It leaves every hour. The ride takes around 20 minutes.
In the afternoon we left the village, and an hour later we got off the bus at Tung Chung Station, right into the entrance gates of “City Gate Outlets”, the largest shopping center in Hong Kong. As the MTR station is there we decided to take a look inside the mall. We didn’t find anything special about it, so we just grabbed something to eat and took the metro back to Kowloon.
How to get? From the Tai-O fishing village, take bus number 11. It’s a pleasant drive around Lantau Island.