This post was last updated on August 26th, 2014
Lantau Island’s Big Buddha—Is it worth it?
Tian Tan Buddha, or simply the Big Buddha, is one of the world’s largest Buddhas as well as a popular tourist attraction in Hong Kong. Serenely nestled on the hills of Lantau Island, it also takes a bit of a time commitment and varying amounts of dough (not to mention hundreds of stairs) to access the Buddha’s smiling face.
We did make the trek out to visit the Buddha, and even got to wish him the happiest of birthdays while we were there. But many fellow travelers we met in Hong Kong expressed their disinterest in the statue, primarily because of the time involved to see the tourist attraction.
So was it worth it?
You’ll have to wait (we know you would never just skim down) to the end of the post to find out. But first, let’s talk practicalities.
Getting to the Big Buddha
To access the Big Buddha, you’ll first need to arrive at the Tung Chung MTR station. (We’ll mention this in another post, but do so via your Octopus Card. It’s a huge time and money saver, and it works on the bus too.) Once there, you can do one of two things:
1. Take bus No. 23 to Ngong Ping (via MTR exit B) If you mime Big Buddha actions, all the locals will direct you to the bus you need. Creativity points awarded. Be prepared for small roads, deep bends, and fast drivers.
Estimated time: 30-40 minutes one-way
Cost: HK $17.20 one way
2. Board the Ngong Ping 360 gondola/cable car. Excellent views of Hong Kong’s greener side, and the South China Sea.
Estimated Time: 25 minutes one-way
Cost: Standard Cabin: HK $94 one-way/ HK $135 round trip; Crystal Cabin: HK $149 one-way/ HK $213 round trip.
*Note: There is also a ferry to Mui Wo from the Star Ferry Terminal at Central. In Mui Wo you’ll have to take another bus to Ngong Ping. We’re not completely familiar with this route, and unable to offer prices or travel times.
We opted for the bus, primarily because the morning was so foggy that we could barely make out the hills just in front of us. Chances are there would have been no dazzling views of the China Sea stretching out before us. However, on a clear day, I do think the cable car would be worth the extra dip in your budget.
Upon arriving at Ngong Ping, you’re essentially in Big Buddha territory. Follow the signs, or the hazy site of the Big Buddha itself, and you’ll be at its base in no time.
The Big Buddha (located on Po Lin Monastery grounds) is open from 10:00am to 5:30pm. Entrance to the Buddha is free, although you will have to pay to access the exhibitions inside.
Climbing The Stairs
268 steps now separate you from the Big Buddha. While the majority of people huffing and puffing their way up will be tourists, it is quite likely you’ll also come across devote Buddhists who view the ascent as a pilgrimage. It’s a stunning site to see families dressed in traditional robes, bowing and kissing the ground upon each step so peacefully climbed. It made me feel a bit embarrassed for superficially complaining about the sweat beads beginning to form upon my forehead.
Circling the Buddha
Built of bronze and weighing in at 250 tons, the Buddha definitely makes a statement. It was built to symbolize the stability of Hong Kong, but that’s not where it stops: each feature of the Buddha is in fact symbolic. Whether it’s the pearl and conch hair representing wisdom; the right hand in the mudra of compassion from sufferings; the left hand fulfilling wishes and granting blessings to all; or the cross-legged lotus-seat representing purity—each element of design means something deep, virtuous and spiritual. The Po Lin Monastery website is full of engaging and truly incredible details about the building and symbolization of the Big Buddha. We highly recommend checking it out if a trip to the Buddha is in your future.
After the Buddha
After taking in the lush surroundings of Lantau Island, and the Buddha itself, a few options present themselves. First, head to the Po Lin Monastery for a vegetarian lunch (they have surprisingly delicious lotus jellies). You can then opt to spend an afternoon hiking the Tung Chung Loop back to the bottom of the hill, or ascend even higher to Lantau Peak! Additionally, spend time leisurely sipping tea at the Linong Tea House, buy souvenirs at Ngong Ping Village (quite a tourist trap in our opinion), or explore the mountains and beaches of Lantau Island.
We were fortunate to time our visit to the Buddha with his birthday, which meant there were quite a few activities going on around the monastery grounds. In between watching children proffer incense and devout Buddhists present their offerings, we took part in a free lunch and numerous performances (with some pretty baller kung fu ninja monks-the technical term) all to celebrate the enlightened one’s birthday.
So do we recommend it?
Yes. But it’s not an absolute, must-see, going to really regret it if I don’t kinda thing. If you happen to be in Hong Kong on one of its rare sunny days, then we would say the views on the gondola and surrounding the Buddha are reward enough. Given more time, we would have been interested in hiking and exploring more of Lantau Island as well. The Big Buddha in itself is quite impressive, but it is more of an experience to observe the spiritual activities surrounding it. If you have previously experienced a Buddhist culture, then the Tian Tan statue might not blow you away; it can be quite touristy. Again, the weather makes all the difference—don’t bother making the trek through haze or storms.
We only spent half a day at the Big Buddha, so we want to hear your thoughts. Have you been? Would you recommend it?