Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong, almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island, which is pretty mental considering how crowded HK Island is (1.4m people) and how uninhabited Lantau is (45,000 people) in comparison. Lantau is often referred to as “the lungs of Hong Kong”, due to its abundance of indigenous forest, mountainous terrain and relative scarcity of high-rise residential developments. Home to the Tian Tian Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Tai O fishing village, Discovery Bay and Disneyland, Lantau is an island worth visiting! You can get there by ferry + bus or take the “Ngong Ping 360” cable car, which I would highly recommend doing. Having explored Lamma Island the day before, mum & I decided to continue on our cultural path and venture further afield from Central.
Ngong Ping 360
The cable car is a popular tourist attraction and as such there is always a long queue. If you really want to beat it you need to go early (or late but then you’ve lost valuable time that you could have spent up top). AP Tip: Unless(!) you purchase a guided tour ticket which lets you jump the ENTIRE queue both going up AND coming down, saving you at least 2 hours of your day for an almighty $70 (approx. £7) more than a standard return ticket ($185) (all prices in HKD $) and if you’re anywhere near as impatient as me, is an absolute no brainer. In addition to the queue jump the tour ticket includes coach transfer between Tung Chung, Tai O fishing village and Ngong Ping; a visit to Tai O with boat trip included (again, queues skipped); and a tour of Po Lin Monastery, the Tian Tian Buddha and Ngong Ping Village. I don’t personally like guided tours but we took advantage of all the free transportation between the various areas.
The cable car takes 25 minutes and passes you over the still deep blue sea and lush green mountainside of Lantau, and lets you spy on all the hardcore exercisers embarking on hiking Lantau Peak (934 metres), the highest point in Hong Kong.
Ngong Ping Piazza
The journey ends in the unfortunately super touristy Ngong Ping Village where you will find many souvenir shops and restaurants, but more of the Starbucks & Subway variety than anything more authentic. That said, there’s no real reason to stick around the village with the rest of the piazza proving far more interesting. The piazza harmonises the Buddhist themes of Ngong Ping on Lantau Island and links the area’s spiritual and scenic attractions, including the Tian Tian Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping 360 and the Wisdom Path. New Pai Lau, a beautiful ornamental archway that frames the Po Lin Monastery, is a particular focal point, as are the free roaming sacred cows.
Tai O Fishing Village
So as to avoid the mid-afternoon selfie-stick masses crowding the Tian Tian Buddha we decided to start our Lantau-exploration at Tai O, a short 10-minute bus ride from Ngong Ping, famous for its traditional fishing culture, excellent seafood and stilt houses. Unusual delicacies such as homemade shrimp-paste, salted-fish, salted egg yolks and dried seafood can be purchased by the bucket load. I can confirm that everything is very salty and fishy. Though we nibbled our way along the streets mum & I had a “proper” lunch in a randomly chosen but clearly popular restaurant where we shared xiaolongbao (soup filled dumplings), Szechuan-style green beans with ground pork, fried aubergine and some kind of scrambled egg with prawns and spring onion ball. Needless to say, it was all utterly delicious and ridiculously cheap.
I hope the photos above give an insight into the wonderfulness of life on Tai O (I really urge you to look at them properly). I fell slightly in love with the place. Anyway, in addition to all of the fishy delights there are plenty of other delicious street-side snacks on offer, including Hong Kong’s beloved “eggettes” (or egg puffs) made from a thin batter of egg, sugar and evaporated milk, which a handful of vendors on Tai O’s main streets still make the old-fashioned way, by wielding the waffle iron over a charcoal fire. AP Tip: If you’re keen to try these, you may as well go the whole hog and seek out Mr Lei, the “Egg Puff Uncle” (pictured in the bottom left photo above), famed for both his super stylish signature singlet and black sunglasses combo, as well as his superior eggettes; crunchy on the outside & spongy on the inside, with a slight smoky flavour that is simply irresistible when doused in rich vanilla custard. Other famous sweet treats include donuts and “lao gong bin” (or husband cake), a salty pastry containing fermented red bean curd, peanuts, sesame and star anise, and is every bit as delicious as it sounds.
Our “boat excursion” started by taking us through what some fondly refer to as the “Venice of Hong Kong”, which I think is quite an endearing name for one of the last traditional Chinese stilt-house communities still in existence. Home of the Tanka people, fisher folk who’ve built their houses on stilts above the tidal flats of Lantau Island and literally lived on the water for generations, the boat ride allows you a real and humbling peek into the daily life of a villager as you observe them going about their daily fishing-related tasks. The surroundings are a photographer’s paradise and although Health & Safety would be all over it like a hot rash back home, these fragile-looking houses are clearly a hell of a lot sturdier than meets the eye and I personally find it absolutely fascinating getting a look in to lives so different to my own.
It was then time to pick up the pace as our driver thoroughly relished going pedal to the metal and raced us out on to the open sea. If you are lucky you can allegedly spot Chinese pink dolphins once in a while, though they remained a mystery to us. There is something seriously calming about being surrounded by only the dark blue sea and the sound of the wind rushing past you. It was a reflective and appreciative 15 minutes for me. Mum’s & my visit also happened to coincide with witnessing history in the making as our little boat trip allowed us to see the final stages of building of the world’s longest sea bridge, which spans 14 miles, between Hong Kong and China, which I guess is quite cool (you can see the last stretch of unfinished bridge in one of the photos below). The bridge has taken over 7 years and cost $15bn USD to complete, and will open later this year shortening the distance between Hong Kong, Zhuhau and Macau.
Po Lin Monastery
The remote Po Lin Monastery, hidden amongst the lush mountains, is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums and has been dubbed “the Buddhist World in the South”. The main temple houses 3 bronze statues of the Buddha, representing his past, present and future lives, as well as many Buddhist scriptures. Home to many a devout monk, the monastery is rich with colourful manifestations of Buddhist iconography and is equally as exciting in its vibrant exterior. The gardens are peaceful & pleasant filled with burning incense and an area in which one can make a sacrificial offering whilst facing the imposing Tian Tian Buddha statue. The monastery is also home to a popular vegetarian restaurant where you can drop in for a free meal or cup of tea.
The Tian Tian Buddha
Last but by no means least, Lantau Island is perhaps most famous for its Tian Tan Buddha statue. The second largest Buddha in Asia (the largest is in Taiwan), the bronze Buddha draws visitors from all over the world. Erected in 1993 it sits 34 metres or 268 steps high, and faces north to look over the Chinese people. It is certainly a sight to be appreciated, even if for its size alone. The walk to the top will also reward you with stunning sweeping mountain and sea views that show just how beautiful and untouched Lantau Island really is.
Do you like the look of Lantau Island? Does making the trip over to Tai O appeal to you as much as it does me? Let me know what you think (and apologies for the photo overload!) xo