A visit to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island is top on every Hong Kong itinerary. Although it looks far, getting there could not be any easier. It takes about 2 hours to reach from central Hong Kong, first taking the MTR to Tung Chung station and then getting the 360 cable car to Ngong Ping Village. Depending on when you go, the trip could take up to an hour longer standing in the queue for the cable car. From Ngong Ping, it’s a short walk to the wisdom steps, and after climbing all 268 steps, you’ll find yourself directly at the foot of the humongous statue.
- The Big Buddha is a must-see and very easy to get to by MTR
- Buy an advance ticket for the cable car for a shorter queue
- Visiting the Buddha is free, although they sell tickets for going inside I suggest skipping this
- Go in the morning to leave enough time to visit the Tai O Fishing Village
- Return to Hong Kong just after sunset
Getting the MTR to Tung Chung
Because of bad weather and my own trepidation at going alone, I put off my trip to the Big Buddha until my last day in Hong Kong. Although it was another cloudy day, it was now or never. So I dressed ready for a hike, packed some snacks, water, and my camera into a rucksack, tied a sweater around my waist, and set out to find the MTR station.
But first, I went to buy an advance ticket for the cable car from the hotel reception only to discover that the cable car was under maintenance and would not be running. Feeling incredibly stupid for not having checked this earlier, I finally accepted that I would not be riding the glass-bottomed crystal cab up to Ngong Ping, and headed off towards the station.
Buying a ticket was much easier than I thought, literally pressing a button that said Tung Chung and following the clearly marked signs around the station to the correct platform. I found it very funny that the moment we reached Sunny Bay, all the clouds vanished. Did I pack my sunglasses just in case? Don’t be silly. So I made a mental note to buy (yet another) cheap pair when I reached the village.
Tung Chung to Ngong Ping
At Tung Chung, I bumped into a young Spanish couple also looking for the cable car replacement bus. While I was about to suggest we share a taxi instead, they ran across the street, hopped into a cab and drove past me. So I decided to take the bus since I was in no particular hurry.
Waiting in line, there was this Chinese man who was especially anxious to get to the Buddha. He was managing to cut through the line one person at a time – until he reached me. I politely reminded him that I too was waiting in line and no, I wasn’t going to let him pass. Undeterred, he tried passing me on my left, then on my right. More for my own amusement than anything else, I continued to block his path. Just when he thought he saw his chance to push past, an American man, who had been behind me before he had squeezed past him too, stepped forward and got in his way, reclaiming his position in the queue.
Having now successfully blocked the Chinese man, the American and I started talking, discussing different cultural interpretations of queuing, before moving on to small talk such as American politics and what brings us both to Big Buddha that fine morning on our own. We parted ways at Ngong Ping as he headed towards the Buddha and I made my way into the village in search of some sunnies. I quickly found a lilac-framed, blue-tinted pair for $10 on the rack, picked up another bottle of water, and headed towards those steps.
Climbing the Wisdom Steps
As someone who infamously survived hell week at Barry’s Bootcamp, I decided to take the stairs two at a time, imagining I was Lara Croft. I got about three-quarters of the way up when I gassed out and had to pull over on the side to regain my breath. Standing there alone on those steps, I couldn’t help but feel awed by the Buddha as I got a closer look. I felt such warmth and positivity, like everything was exactly as it should be. I spent just under an hour at the top, admiring the views and statues that surround the Big Buddha, and of course, the big man himself.
Po Lin Monastery
That’s when I saw my buddy from the bus as we headed down the steps together. Next, we visited the Po Lin Monastery, one of the most important Buddhist sanctums in Hong Kong. My original plan was to go and find one of Lantau’s popular hike trails, but since the bus had taken longer than expected, I invited my new friend to join me to visit the Tai O Fishing Village.
Tai O Fishing Village
I highly recommend combining your visit to Big Buddha with a trip to the fishing village and suggest taking a taxi between the two. Tai O is a beautiful place with a fascinating history. Most of what you see today was built in the 19th century during the Ming Dynasty, making it the oldest remaining fishing community in Hong Kong. It used to be an important fishing port and salt-producer, with over 30,000 residents in its heydey compared to around only 2000 today. The stilt houses connected by crooked pathways feels like traversing a maze, once fueling rumours and myths that the village used to be a key hideout for pirates and smugglers.
Tai O Street Market
The village is also famous for its street market, selling all manner of dried seafood and salt dried fish, shrimp paste, XO sauce, and local desserts. But since I have absolutely no idea what to do with these products, I only took some photos. During the day, vendors cook up different sea-based street foods you can try. We just missed our chance, as they were closing up when we got there.
After walking around the stilt houses, we stumbled across a lovely little bar called the Three Lanterns. My companion could not have been more thrilled with my suggestion that we stop for a pint! After cooling off with some local beer served alongside some tea, the owner of the place, a friendly man from England, suggested one more for the road, which turned into three…
Catch the Sunset
We left the bar just as the sun started to set. This golden hour is the best time to take photographs of the village, as the changing shades of pink sky reflect off the water. Definitely check ahead what time the sun will be setting and leave enough time to seek out some of the best photo opportunities.
Chinese White Dolphins
If you have some time to kill before the sunset hour, another popular attraction is to see the Chinese White Dolphins, also known as “Pink Dolphins”. You can catch a boat tour from the harbour, taking you on a short trip to see the rare and beautiful dolphins.
For more Hong Kong posts, click here to discover my top 5 restaurants on Hong Kong Island and here for where to have a drink!