Visiting Ngong Ping–The Heart of Lantau Island
Once a backwater of cosmopolitan Hong Kong, Lantau Island, or Dai Yu Shan (大嶼山), is nowadays renowned worldwide as one of the premier travel hotspots of Hong Kong. To paraphrase official publications, Lantau is where you can experience the sky, the land, and the sea all within a day. For first-timers, a visit would most likely center around Ngong Ping (昂坪), which lies at the very heart of the lush island. This is the upper terminus station of the world famous Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car ride. At the same time, it is also within walking distance of the historical Po Lin Monastery (寶蓮禪寺), and Hong Kong’s breathtaking Tian Tan Buddha Statue (天壇大佛).
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
The traditional way to access Lantau Island was by boat. Nowadays, with Ngong Ping in mind, visitors have the additional option of using the MTR subway system to reach the outskirts of Lantau Island, then hopping on the stunning Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Ride. This 25-minute ride begins at Tung Chung (東涌) Cable Car Terminus, conveniently located beside Tung Chung MTR Station. During the course of its serene journey, passengers soar above Tung Chung Bay before cruising over the hills of Lantau. Panoramic views of Hong Kong International Airport and the South China Sea are the highlights of this thrilling ride.
Trivia: Origins of the Island’s Name
“Lantau” is the transliteration of the island’s old Cantonese name. It literally means rotten head. This gives a hint of how Hong Kong’s largest outlying island was once thought of.
Ngong Ping Village
Occupying 15,000 square meters with buildings constructed in classic Chinese style, Ngong Ping Village is situated right beside the upper terminus of Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Station. An assortment of shops, restaurants, and visual attractions, the Village is the perfect base for visitors to familiarize themselves with other key attractions of Lantau Island before venturing out. With many of the restaurants serving Asian and Hong Kong specialties, the Village is naturally also great for meals or sampling local delicacies. In addition, the Walking With Buddha interactive experience at the heart of the Village offers a terse introduction to the founding of Buddhism. For visitors new to this ancient faith, this summary is invaluable before visiting nearby Po Lin Monastery.
Ngong Ping Piazza
Ngong Ping Piazza is the sprawling square between Ngong Ping Village and three other key attractions of the island. From the Village, a walkway flanked by formidable statues of Buddhist guardians leads to it, and at the piazza itself, visitors have the options of continuing to Po Lin Monastery, ascending the steps to reach the immense Tian Tan Buddha, or heading downhill to the Path of Wisdom attraction. Younger visitors would probably be tickled by the sleepy buffalos often seen resting beside the statues.
Po Lin Monastery
Founded in 1906 and previously known simply as the “Big Thatched Hut,” Po Lin Monastery is today one of the most important Buddhist establishments in Hong Kong. Continuous development over a century resulted in the monastery today being a harmonious blend of the old and the new. For visitors keen to sample Buddhist vegetarian dishes, Po Lin Monastery is also renowned throughout Hong Kong as one of the best locations to enjoy this cuisine.
Tian Tan Buddha
Featured in innumerous tourist souvenirs, this huge 34 meters tall bronze statue of Gautama Buddha is, without doubt, the current most famous cultural representation of Hong Kong. Reaching the Buddha is quite the challenge; visitors have to climb 268 steps. (There is a winding side path for the handicapped, though) Should you take the effort, you would be rewarded by not only a close-up encounter with one of the largest seated Buddha statues in the world, the sweeping views of the South China Sea would also take your breath away. Lastly, the foundation of Tian Tan Buddha contains three floors. One of these houses a venerated relic of the Buddha himself.
The Path of Wisdom
The furthest attraction from Ngong Ping Village, the Path of Wisdom is a whimsical walk flanked by wooden columns displaying the Chinese version of the Buddhist Heart Sutra. Located away from the hubbub of the Village and Cable Car Terminus, and with a soaring view of the hills and seas, the walk is wonderful for visitors in search of quiet and introspective moments. It is also especially atmospheric in the late hours of the afternoon.
Another Attraction of Lantau Island – Tai O Village
Famous for its many stilt houses, this fishing village in northwest Lantau is more than three centuries old. Today, it is a popular destination for Hong Kong traditional cooking ingredients, or just idyllic strolling. Tai O (大澳) can be easily accessed by bus from Tung Chung or Ngong Ping. Note, though, that either way, the journey requires at least 50 minutes.
Things to Note When Visiting Ngong Ping
- The name Ngong Ping actually refers to the highland the Village is built on. Between December and February, temperatures could drop below ten degrees Celsius. Do check weather forecasts and be appropriately dressed before visiting.
The MTR ride from Hong Kong downtown to Tung Chung Station requires around 40 minutes, depending on where you begin your jouney at.
- It is advisable to pre-purchase Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car tickets online beforehand. While you would still have to queue at the terminus stations, doing so at least minimizes the hassle. Note that there are two options for the ride too. The more expensive option offers the experience of riding in a “crystal” cabin i.e. one with a transparent floor.
- Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car tickets are often packaged with other attractions of the Village, with discounts.
- Vegetarian meals at Po Lin Monastery require tickets, which can be purchased on the grounds of the monastery
- In order to see the Buddha’s relic, visitors must first purchase an offering.
- Many travel agencies offer Ngong Ping day trip packages. These might or might not include the cable car ride. However, these are probably the most convenient ways to include both Ngong Ping and Tai O within one visit.
© 2018 Kuan Leong Yong