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The Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are two spectacular sites worth visiting at Ngong Ping Plateau, Lantau Island, Hong Kong. A visit makes a great nature escape from the concrete hustle and bustle of Hong Kong city.
Also called Big Buddha, the Tian Tan Buddha (天坛大佛) sits on a small hill of lush vegetation a couple of hundred meters southwest of the monastery. The cast figure is one of the world's biggest outdoor bronze statues of the Buddha in a sitting position. It is considered a symbol of the immutability of Hong Kong, the prosperity of China, and earthly peace.
Inspiration for the design and construction of the Tian Tan Buddha came from Po Lin's monks' visits to Japan, Taiwan, and Mainland China in the 1970s. The size and grandeur of the Buddhist statues there — particularly those at the Longmen Grottoes and Mogao Caves in China — left an indelible impression. The monks also believed the statue would be a source of spiritual comfort to the people of Hong Kong.
Construction began in 1981, the last piece was welded in place in 1989, and the opening ceremony took place in late-1993. In 2000, the Tian Tan Buddha placed fourth on the list of 10 Engineering Wonders of Hong Kong.
The statue's skeleton is made of steel. Two hundred and two bronze plates form the "skin," which is resistant to fading from corrosion. The face of the Buddha was cast in a single piece and weighs a whopping 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds)! All the physical features of the statue have significant Buddhist symbolic meaning.
The Tian Tan Buddha is 34 meters (111 feet) tall and faces northeast towards Beijing. The statue was so named because its base resembles that of the Temple of Heaven in China's capital.
Nearly 300 steps lead up to the base. You can walk around the entire statue and enjoy panoramic views of leafy Lantau Island and the sea.
It is curious to note that during the last two decades, enormous bronze statues of Buddha have been erected in several sites in Asia, partly to attract tourists.
Po Lin, or 'Precious Lotus', Monastery (宝莲禅寺) was originally built by monks from Jiangsu Province in the early decades of the 20th century. Its original name was "The Big Hut" and was made of stone and thatch. Buddhist devotees from across Asia and the world regularly make pilgrimages to the site.
In the main temple you'll find bronze statues of the Buddha (past, present, and future lives) along with a number of sacred scripts.
Notable buildings worth checking out include:
Please bear in mind that Po Lin is an active monastery, so be respectful and dress appropriately.
Fresh breezes often blow though the spacious courtyards and gardens, mingling with wafts of incense and the songs of birds, making these areas a serene spot to take a break.
Delicious, multi-course vegetarian meals and snacks are available at the monastery's kitchen and adjacent snack shop.
If you're looking for a peaceful stroll, the nearby Wisdom Path winds through the woods, eventually connecting with hiking trails. The path is lined with 38 wooden pillars engraved with the ancient prayer of the Heart Sutra. You can walk the Wisdom Path for a distance and then turn back if you don't want to continue on to the longer trails.
Do you love artisanal jewelry? Po Lin Monastery makes handcrafted wooden bracelets. These, and other souvenirs, are available for purchase near the foot of the Tian Tan Buddha.
Consider spending half a day at the Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping Village, and Wisdom Path. This should also give you enough time to climb at least partway up Lantau Peak should you be inclined.
Our suggested itinerary assumes taking a roundtrip 360 cable car from Tung Chung Station to Ngong Ping Village, about a 25-minute ride. This is an excellent option for families, hikers, and those on foot. (See the section below, How to Get There, to learn about all transport options to Ngong Ping.)
Cable car tickets: If possible, buy tickets in advance online, via an agent, or through your accommodation. Doing so avoids long lines at the counter.
Food and drink: Available at Ngong Ping Village and at the monastery's restaurant. You can also bring your own. In fact, if you're planning on hiking, it's essential to pack your own provisions; none are available on the mountains or trails.
Toilets: Clean and free toilets are available in Ngong Ping Village and about mid-way between the monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. There are no toilets on the walking/hiking trails.
Arrival time: Try to leave your place of origin after 8:30 am to avoid rush hour traffic and crowds. Aim to arrive at the cable car entrance gates at 10 am on weekdays (9 am on weekends and holidays), when it opens — or even a little earlier. Bear in mind that Chinese tourists arrive around 11 am; lines can get very long, very quickly!
The cable car stops at Ngong Ping, a modern tourist village with restaurants and shops. Clean and free public toilets are here, so now would be a good time to take advantage of this.
If you're craving a caffeinated beverage or a snack, try:
Browse the gift shops for a souvenir; you can always pick it up on the way back to avoid carrying it with you on your walkabout. There are a few shops, including Chiufen Souvenir and Fortune Cat Store, that stock a number of memorable items. Familiarize yourself with the life of the Buddha: A short film, "Walking With Buddha," plays regularly.
From the Village walk about 15 minutes to Po Lin Monastery. The monastery is home to monks and regular worshipers, so dress appropriately (no sleeveless shirts, no short skirts).
Marvel at the stunning architecture and ancient objects including the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas and the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha, which houses bronze statues. Buildings are situated close to one another, making it fairly easy to pop in and out.
Buy some incense sticks to light and offer in the temple's urns. Take a break in the airy courtyards, fabulous spots to enjoy a packed lunch. Vegetarian food is available for purchase at the monastery's kitchen and snack shop. Food is also plentiful back in the nearby Village:
It's roughly 10 minutes' walk to Tian Tan Buddha from either Po Lin Monastery or the Village. You'll be glad you fueled up on lunch; to reach the base platform you'll need to climb nearly 300 steps, the price of admission, so to speak, for the excellent 360-degree views. Take photos of the landscape and admire the expert craftsmanship that went into building the Big Buddha. Descend the steps and, if you need to, make use of the toilet facilities located halfway to the Wisdom Path.
Walk the Wisdom Path to cool down your legs after tackling the steps of the Big Buddha. The well-marked and well-trodden path begins a few hundred meters from the giant statue, about a 15-minute walk away. You don't want to miss the astonishing sea views and serenity.
Climb Lantau Peak if you're in really good shape, have proper footwear, and your legs are still cooperating. You don't have to go all the way to the top to experience the pretty views: Climb partway and turn back. The trail to the peak is accessed from the Wisdom Path. Use common sense: Be aware of your energy levels and the time of day. It can get incredibly hot in the early afternoon. Respect the elements. Rocks are slippery when wet and the weather can change suddenly.
There is a network of trails nearby, but hiking further inland (or further skyward) requires more time, daylight, and energy than you'll probably have on a half-day tour. We recommend returning to the Village.
Finish up at the Village to catch the cable car back down to Tung Chung Station. The last car down leaves in the early evening. Don't forget your souvenirs!
Our 1-Day Seat-in-Coach Tour includes Po Lin Monastery and Lantau Island.
From Ngong Ping Village, it's only about a 10–15 minute walk to the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery.
You can get to Ngong Ping Village a number of ways, but riding a cable car up is perhaps the most satisfying. It is an especially good choice for families with children. And if you opt for a glass-bottom car (the Crystal Cabin) you'll enjoy better views and shorter lineups.
The 360 cable car's origin is near Tung Chung Station; its terminus is at Ngong Ping. Not a village in the traditional sense, Ngong Ping is more of a purpose-built tourist area with restaurants, cafés, and small shops.
Potentially long lineups at busy weekends and holidays mean that it might be better to take a bus, taxi, or hike up to Ngong Ping Plateau, explore, and then ride the cable car down. Glass-bottom cars are popular with foreign tourists despite being slightly pricier. You can purchase both roundtrip and single journey tickets.
October–December sees warm/cool, dry weather and is the best time to visit. From January, rain and fog roll in and can potentially obstruct the views. Summertime brings hot temperatures, sunny skies, and occasional tropical storms.
Lantau Island is Hong Kong's second biggest island. Its other main attractions include Hong Kong Disneyland and Tai O.
Hong Kong Disneyland follows the format of other world Disneylands, though it's the smallest of Disney's theme parks.
Tai O, meanwhile, is a small town on the northwestern shore of Lantau Island, about 7 kilometers from the monastery area along Tai O Road. There are houses on wooden stilts that seem out of place and out of time. In the town is the Taoist Yeung Hau Temple that has a history dating to 1699 and is a "Grade 1" preserved building. (A "Grade 1" building is considered among the most important to preserve.) There is also the "Grade 3" Old Tai O Police Station. You'll find hiking trails in the area.
Over half of Lantau Island is park and jungle, and you can hike freely on the trails. There are no large animals, but you can find some solitude. The island is an ideal place for hikes along the sea, on the beaches, or on the small mountains. You can find campsites, hostels, and uncrowded beaches.
Our travel advisors can help with tour arrangements and private transport. We can facilitate a tour of Lantau Island and the region or accommodate you in assisting your Hong Kong visit in other ways according to your plans. We take care of the tickets and transportation saving you the potential headache of missed connections and waiting in long lines. You need only relax and enjoy the experience!