I’ve been to Hong Kong at least six or so times now, but it was only recently that I finally made the trek to visit the Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), a 250 ton bronze statue situated at the top of a hill on at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. I’ve always thought of it as a tourist trap, similar to Alcatraz Island in San Francisco or the Empire State Building in New York. Even when I asked my cousins who live there, most of them had never been. However, when a few friends expressed interest in checking it out, I thought, “why not?” Mainly because I really wanted to take a trolley ride in the “crystal cabin,” where you can get an aerial view of the island. Perfect for Instagram, of course ;). Of course, after heading to the aforementioned tourist trap in 80 degree weather and 90% humidity, you learn a few tricks on the way to be most efficient about the trip…
Let me start off with a little bit more about the Big Buddha. As I had mentioned before, it sits high on of a hill, where you climb 268 steps to reach the actual Buddha. Next to it is Po Lin Monastery, and their physical proximity also represents the harmonious relationship between people and faith, man and nature. Six smaller bronze statues surround it, representing the Six Perfections. Together, the Big Buddha and the monastery are like its own little city, with pilgrims from all over Asia coming to visit.
To get to the Buddha, we took the MTR to the Tung Chung station, which is the end of the line. Super easy. From there, you can either 1) stand in line to take the cable car up to the island or 2) take the New Lantao Bus up the hill or 3) take a cab. When we first got there, there was a HUGE line. It was an hour to wait in line to buy tickets to take the cable car, then another two hours to wait for the actual trolley. With limited time in Hong Kong, I definitely did not want to wait three hours in line to take the cable car. We stood around for a bit, trying to figure out what to do, and decided to wait for the bus. However, the bus didn’t come for awhile, and it was difficult to find information on its schedule. With four of us, we decided to take a cab. It cost about $5 US per person, and totally worth it. If you decide to go this route, make sure to find the cabs that will take you up the hill— not all of them do. There is also a special taxi stand specifically for those looking to go to Lantau Island. The trip took about 40 minutes and was pretty windy, so prepare yourself if you get carsick easily.
Smooth sailing once we got there. You enter through giant gates, and take a walk through the touristy section of the island. There are lots of places to take photos, as well as buy souvenirs. We kept walking straight and finally reached an open space, where the Big Buddha lay just ahead. If you are game to trek up the 268 steps, then you can buy an admission ticket at the foot of the statue. We had heard that the silken tofu dessert was outstanding here, so we ended up getting an admission ticket that also comes with a meal. You may be thinking, “a meal?! Where did this come from?” Well, the monastery also has a popular vegetarian restaurant, which I assume helps fund the monastery. However, I would recommend just getting an admission ticket. We realized afterwards that we could’ve just purchased the dessert at the vegetarian restaurant in their to-go section, rather than buy a mini meal. We were too full so some of it went to waste, sadly.
The trek up the stairs isn’t super difficult, but the weather conditions are what made it hard. However, we survived and got our sweaty selves up to the top. The view from there is as majestic as expected. Sweeping views of the island, historic buildings and lush green forests— they’re all a feast for the eyes.
You can walk around the Buddha to get 360 views, and go inside to see more traditional temple stuff (for a lack of a better word). Afterwards, we headed to the monastery.
Seeing the monastery is like stepping back in time, specifically to 1906, when it was first founded. Its exterior has clearly been kept up throughout the ages, without sacrificing the tradition steeped behind every wall. I loved seeing the vivid hues of the roofs, bright yellow incense sticks, and colorful flowers booming everywhere. There are certain areas open to the public, while others are cordoned off and for monks only.
We spent a few hours total at the Big Buddha, then it was time to head back. Now here is where the pro-tip really lies. On the way back, we decided to take the cable car, which had no line. NO LINE. Yup. We bypassed the three hour wait to enjoy the same experience, and got the “crystal cable car,” where the entire cable car is clear, so you can even see beneath your feet. The ticket was about $20 USD. Gotta say… It seemed like a good idea at the time. But then I quickly remembered my fear of heights, and it became half exciting, half terrifying. However, it felt completely safe the whole time, so nothing to worry about there :).
After you take the cable car, you land right back at the MTR station. Bonus! There is a huge outlet mall right by the station. So if you’re up for more leisurely walking, I would recommend taking a spin there. They have a mix of high and low stores, from Nike to Club Monaco to Coach.
If you’re heading to the Big Buddha, I hope this guide was helpful! Let me know what you think.