I have had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong a few times already. The first time I stayed for a week, and it was my first trip to Asia. I instantly loved it. A bustling place, with great food, shopping, markets, a place where English-looking double-decker trams meet Chinese boats and the Tian Tan Buddha, and the neat skyscrapers of orderly Hong Kong Island provide a contrast to buzzing and confusing Kowloon. A place where the metro (MTR) is so clean, safe and efficient it’s a pure joy using public transport.
Getting to Tian Tan Buddha
The last time I travelled to New Zealand, I was fortunate enough to fly via Hong Kong. I had a day and night to spend in one of my favourite cities and decided to stay at Novotel Citigate close to Chek Lap Kok airport, near Tung Chung MTR station. Perfect place to stay if you ask me, half an hour by MTR to the centre of Hong Kong, and a 5 min drive to the airport. So, what to do in this one day? Easy decision: since I was based in Tung Chung, it would have been foolish not to take advantage of the new cable car to Ngong Ping on Lantau Island and see the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery!
Taking a ride on the Ngong Ping Cable Car
The cable car terminal is a short walk from the MTR station and really easy to find. Everything is sign-posted really well. The cable car connects Tung Chung with Ngong Ping, where the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are located. You can either choose a ride in a normal cabin, or the “crystal” cabin, which has a glass floor. The length of the cable car is just short of 6 km and offers amazing views of Lantau Island’s hills, the bay, the airport, and Tung Chung.
As the cable car approaches Ngong Ping, you are treated to your first views of the Tian Tan Buddha:
Before the opening of the cable car in November 2006, the only way to get to Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery was via a 1-hour bus ride on the winding mountain roads, plus ferry and MTR. At 125 HKD per person for a roundtrip (188 if you choose the crystal cabin), it might be a bit more expensive than the bus ride. But it’s only 25 minutes, and with these views, I guess it’s quite a fair price.
Arriving in Ngong Ping Village
On arrival in Ngong Ping station, the visitor enters the newly built Ngong Ping village, 15,000 square metres of purpose-built tourist attraction. It’s built in traditional Chinese designs, but featuring a Starbucks, shopping and a cable car mini-museum that showcases cable car replicas from countries such as Switzerland, Italy, or Brazil, the whole “experience” feels quite bizarre. Admittedly, I found the Starbucks a welcome refuge on this particularly cold and rainy day, but expecting more of a spiritual setting given my ultimate destination of the Tian Tan Buddha and the monastery, it felt very much out of place and somewhat messed with my ideal “experience” of what I had imagined.
However, my dismay was short-lived as I later found one could dine, very simply, with the monks at the monastery (vegetarian only).
Climbing the stairs to Tian Tan Buddha
After a short walk from the fake village to the Buddha, I reached the 268 stairs leading up to the 34m tall Buddha statue. It sits on a lotus throne and is surrounded by six other bronze statues, the “Offering of the Six Devas“. It is quite a unique atmosphere on a foggy day when the Buddha slowly emerges from the fog as you climb the stairs.
Don’t leave without visiting Po Lin Monastery!
Next to the Tian Tan Buddha is Po Lin Monastery. Although the Buddha only dates back to 1993, the monastery has been around for a little longer. It was founded by a few visiting monks from Jiangsu province in 1906.
The Main Shrine Hall shows the Buddhas of Three Worlds, Buddha Sakyamuni, Buddha Bhaisajyaguru, the Master of Healing, and Buddha Amitabha, of Unlimited Light and Life Spans. As mentioned earlier, visitors can also taste the vegetarian cuisine of the monks in the Memorial Hall.
Outside the monastery, worshippers light incense and bow to the four directions, and offering prayers.
I really enjoyed my day at the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. The whole experience was both educating and stimulating, including cultural learnings, views of beautiful landscapes both natural and man-made, and even a great experience for the taste buds in the monastery’s dining hall. So next time you are faced with a day stopover in Hong Kong, you know where to head!
What’s your favourite Hong Kong stopover activity?