Watched over by the Tian Tan Buddha, Lantau Island is the perfect mix of tourism and tradition.
Lantau Island is the first part of Hong Kong most visitors see, being home to Hong Kong International Airport, Hong Kong Disneyland, and the 112 foot high Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, as it’s commonly known.
There’s more to discover on Lantau than its big ticket attractions, but reaching some of the lesser known highlights takes some planning. While Hong Kong’s super-efficient MTR is a great way to get there, it stops well short of most of the island, and connecting buses are a slow way to get around.
If you’re willing to splurge just a bit on an unforgettable afternoon, the 360 Lantau Sunset Tour offers you a bit more perspective on Tian Tan Buddha and the nearby Po Lin Monastery. It also takes you quickly – with a knowledgeable tour leader at your side – to see Lantau’s other attractions, including the Tai O Fishing Village and its former police station-turned-boutique-hotel.
The easiest, most enjoyable route to Tian Tan Buddha is via Ngong Ping 360, a three and a half mile cable car ride up to the site (included in the Sunset Tour). This alone makes a visit to the Tian Tan Buddha worthwhile. Enjoy views that give the famous Victoria Peak a run for its money, as you sail over Lantau, including the solitary track taken by those who make the four hour, uphill journey on foot. There’s no view in Hong Kong quite like glimpsing the Buddha as you glide over the island’s majestic peaks. It’s said that on a clear day, you can see it even from neighbouring Macau!
If tummies are rumbling, the unabashedly touristy Ngong Ping Village has numerous options to fill them. Those in search of a more authentic lunch, however, may prefer a delicious vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery. Your guide then joins you in the village for a tour through the monastery and up to the Buddha itself. Why is this one of few Buddha statues in the world facing north instead of south? What relic can be found inside the base of the Buddha? How was it constructed? These are all questions your guide can answer, and tours cater for groups of any size. Smaller groups may even enjoy increased flexibility, should you desire additional time at any particular stop.
One place you might want to spend that time is Tai O Fishing Village. This is one of the rare pockets of Hong Kong untouched by the city’s relentless charge towards modernity. Small fishing boats still drop anchor alongside stilt houses, and many items are not what they seem in the local markets, including salted fish, dried scallops, shrimp paste, and many more unusual items. Still, there are tasty local treats for all levels of adventure here. Try a fresh egg waffle baked over a traditional fire stove, or one of the delicious pastries available at bakeries throughout the village.
Some time on the water is an essential part of your journey. Keep an eye out for Chinese white dolphins as you cruise out to Resting Soldier Rock (so called because it looks like – you guessed it). Disembark for dinner at the former Tai O Police Station, now a chic, nine-room boutique hotel. This quaint little fishing village has an infamous history filled with pirates and smugglers. In 1902, a police station was finally built overlooking the Tai O Public Pier, remaining in use until the 1990s. A short tour before dinner explores some of the original cells and fixtures.
Return to Tai O, full of history and good food, where your sunset tour of Lantau is almost at an end – but not quite. Cheung Sha Beach is one of the few places in skyscraper-loving Hong Kong where you can see the stars. It’s a mesmerizing way to end an afternoon on Lantau, before returning to the rush of Asia’s world city.
Chris was a guest of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.