Having only one day to explore Hong Kong before we leave on our month long China adventure, my mother and I took the metro to Tung Chung on Lantau Island in order to go to Ngong Ping 360. This is a tourism experience which combines a 5.7 km cable car journey to a cultural themed village, the Tian Tan Buddha Statue and Po Lin Monastery. The two of us stood in line for almost an hour in the heat before we got on to the cable car but it was definitely worth the wait. Our cable car for the 25 minute ride from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau had a glass bottom. It was an amazing scene getting to look down onto the tree tops that we were traveling over to get to the “Giant Buddha”.
Ngong Ping 360 is situated on Lantau Island, the largest island in Hong Kong, almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island. Lantau Island is often referred to as “the lungs of Hong Kong”, because of its abundance of indigenous forest and relative scarcity of high-rise residential developments which characterize Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Before we climbed into our glass bottom cable car we were informed that a Typhoon warning level 1 had been announced, which could increase later. This meant that they would then have to close the cable cars but there were busses that we could then take to get back. Neither one of us had ever been close to a Typhoon so this news did make us a bit shaky and we promised ourselves that we would head back before the weather turned for the worse.
Every now and again there was a light drizzle but this was actually a lovely relief as it was a hot and humid day. We walked through rows of little shops and tea houses to get to the Tian Tan Buddha (or “Giant Buddha”) statue.
This statue was completed in 1993 and named Tian Tan Buddha because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is one of the five large Buddha statues in China. The Buddha is 34 meters tall, and was the world’s tallest outdoor bronze seated Buddha prior to 2007.
It reputedly can even be seen from as far away as Macau on a clear day and held our attention as we were approaching in the cable car!
The Tian Tan Buddha appears serene and dignified with his right hand raised as if in greeting. The Buddha faces North, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face South. You have to climb a steep stairway consisting of 240 steps in order to reach this Giant Buddha.
My mom and I looked at all the stairs and at each other and both decided that going all the way up wasn’t necessary. My mom was dreading walking up the stairs as her knee was already in a knee brace nursing an old sports injury and I was dreading walking them down as my knee is also giving me some problems. We were both quite content with admiring this magnificent statue from a distance saving ourselves for our backpacking adventure that would start the next day.
Nearby is Po Lin Monastery, known as the “Buddhist Kingdom in the South”. It serves as an international Buddhist retreat, and is one of the largest and most well known in Hong Kong. This monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks visiting from Jiangsu and was initially known simply as “The Big Hut”. The main temples have painted vermilion interiors with dragons and many other different Chinese mythical figures on the walls and ceilings. The main temple houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives – as well as many Buddhist scriptures.
The Po Lin Monastery was quite lovely to walk around in and after exploring the colourful monastery we sat outside at the tea garden having a much needed ice-coffee!
On our way back in the cable car it started to rain again, bringing with it a much needed breeze to cool us down. We sat down enjoying the beauty of the lush green hills in the rain and glad that we got the cable car back before it closed due to the bad weather.