I first noticed it while walking along the Wisdom Path.
I stopped in my tracks. Just listened.
Despite the fact that Hong Kong was just kilometers away, all I could hear around me was bird song and a light breeze sifting through the trees along the path to Lantau Peak. It was green as far as the eye could see with mostly-haze-free blue skies above, and if I hadn't come from the city just an hour earlier, I would have never believed that it was anywhere nearby.
Welcome to Lantau Island
Hong Kong can be quite an overwhelming place, especially if you're not a fan of huge cities. It's crowded and noisy and smoggy and big. And very, very tall. There ARE some green spaces to be found, just like in any large city, but if you really want to get a taste of “nature” in Hong Kong, you have to put in a little bit of effort.
I had never heard of Lantau Island before arriving in Hong Kong. But then suddenly everyone was telling me to go there to see the Big Buddha — one of the largest sitting buddha statues in the world.
I teamed up with a friend of a friend for the day and hopped on the MTR all the way to the end of the Tung Chung line. From there, we headed to the Ngong Ping 360 gondola station, where we bought tickets for fancy glass-bottomed cable cars that would take us over to Lantau Island.
Taking the gondola is not ideal for those afraid of heights, but it's the best way to get to Lantau. The 5.7-kilometer journey takes about 25 minutes, but was over in what felt like seconds.
Once on the island, you first walk through a little re-created village filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. Once you get through that, though, the island opens up before you. I visited in the morning (before noon) and found the island to be almost empty in comparison to the city I'd just left behind.
There were three highlights for me on Lantau Island:
The Tian Tan Buddha, reigning over the island atop a hill along with six Devas presenting him with offerings. There are quite a few steps to climb up to see him, but it was worth it.
Po Lin Monastery, which was unfortunately undergoing renovations when we were there, but was nonetheless quite peaceful and pretty.
And the Wisdom Path, roughly halfway between the Big Buddha and Po Lin, which is a collection of 38 tall wooden pillars inscribed with verses from the Heart Sutra.
No matter where we were on the island, there was a lovely sense of calm that you won't find in Hong Kong. Yes, Lantau Island is a tourist destination, but there are spots on it (especially if you visit in the morning during the winter months) that are virtually empty.
Visiting Lantau Island was hands-down my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong.
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GETTING THERE: Hop on the MTR to the end of the Tung Chung (orange) line. From there, I recommend taking the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. A round-trip in a standard cabin costs $150 HKD (about $19 USD), while a round-trip in a “Crystal Cabin” (AKA the glass-bottomed cars) costs $235 HKD (about $30 USD). Once you are on Lantau Island, the major attractions are free to visit, so this is actually a pretty economical day trip.
WHAT TO SEE: Climb up to see the Big Buddha (free, unless you want to go in the museum at the top or have lunch there); walk the Wisdom Path; visit Po Lin Monastery; take a bus to Tai O, a traditional fishing village built on stilts; or even climb Lantau Peak, the highest mountain in Hong Kong.
WHEN TO GO: The earlier in the day, the better. The crowds will arrive on the island around lunchtime, so to beat them there, go in the morning. If you want to expedite your wait time in line at the cable car stop, look into pre-booking your tickets online.[/stextbox]
Would this be on YOUR Hong Kong itinerary?
Oh wow, yes, I’m sure it looks a lot different now than it did in ’96!