What to know about Tian Tan on Lantau Island
Before I dive into What to Know Before You Go and not to regurgitate the same information from other blog posts. Here are quick bullet point facts about The Big Buddha (also known as Tian Tan).
Where is Lantau Island?
- The Big Buddha statue is on Lantau Island.
- The figure is of Siddhartha Gautama (the man who started Buddhism).
- Constructed in 1990 and finished 3 years later.
- The statue sits high above 268 steps on the Ngong Ping Plateau.
- Ngong Ping Village (shops & souvenirs) is the entrance.
- Po Lin Monastery and Wisdom Path are on site (are doable in one day).
- The Big Buddha is the largest sitting Buddha bronze statue in the world.
- Total weight is 250 tonnes.
- Cost $60M Hong Kong dollars to build.
- Sits 112 feet (34 meters tall)
- The options to arrive here from Central Hong Kong and Hong Kong island are by bus, private car, tour bus, ferry and cable car (more on at the end of the post).
Now …. onto the good stuff…..
Follow the leader & book a tour
I booked a day tour to optimize my time on Lantau Island. Because of the many different sites in different locations and the multiple ways to getting to each. I didn’t want to self navigate and chose to put it in auto-pilot mode.
Tour guides & tours are full of good and valuable information. They also give you little extras here and there. If I went on my own, I would have never known had the same experience.
The tour group I chose was: Lantau Island and Giant Buddha Cable Car Group Tour.
The tour provided the VIP treatment to skip the lines, a VIP lunch reservation at Po Lin Monastery, transportation to every site and more. Again (if going by myself) not being able to skip lines would add easily added hours to my day of standing in line.
One of the many benefits was the door to door service. It decreased the time in transit and increased the time to visit the sites. The itinerary: Pick up at the hotel, cable car ride to Ngong Ping Village, lunch at the Po Lin Monastery, time to wander around the grounds, museum tour of the Big Buddha, bus to Tai O Fishing Village, boat ride around stilt houses and another cable car ride back to the bus followed by a bus ride back to the hotel.
Our group was out tour guide, the driver, yours truly, a woman from Ireland who was visiting her son and two couples that arrived in Hong Kong for 3 days off a cruise. Our bus took us directly to Lantau island to catch the cable cars to arrive in Ngong Ping Village. Along the way, our guide taught us more about Buddhism and Siddhartha Gautama -Buddha.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
After a 30-40 minute bus ride from Hong Kong Island we arrived at Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car. It was about a 30-minute cable car ride through the mountains.
You can easily see the airport along the way and when approaching Ngong Ping Village you will see the Big Buddha.
On the way back, our tour guide was able to get us a crystal bottom cabinet so we could see below us. Through the glass bottom, we saw a few people who chose to hike along the mountains.
All I could think about was the amount of hiking I want to do on this island when I come back.
“Hong Kong is a wonderful, mixed-up town where you’ve got great food and adventure. First and foremost, it’s a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way.” – Anthony Bourdain
For more information about the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Company, click here.
Ngong Ping Village
When arriving to the Big Buddha the welcoming entrance is Ngong Ping Village. It is a commercialized village but it’s here where one can buy a few souvenirs and watch a video that provides information about Buddha’s life.
Po Lin Monastery
Back in 1906, three Buddhist monks from China founded the Po Lin Monastery. Originally the monastery was called the “The Big Hut” (大茅蓬 Tai Mao Pung). In 1924 it was renamed to the Po Lin Monastery. These three men found Lantau Island to be a place of tranquility and serenity. These qualities made it an ideal location to spread Dharma.
What struck me about the monastery was the incense offerings. It was truly a beautiful site witnessing worshipers bring their offerings, light incense and give their respect and prayers.
The original temples are in the back. It’s here you will find the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a shine and meditation hall, a Scripture library and an exhibition of Buddhist relics.
Here we had a vegetarian lunch that was much more flavorful than anticipated. I found it to be more authentic food than what is offered in Ngong Ping Village (Starbucks & Subway). I’d eat the meal again, no problem.
If you are looking to get away from the crowds. Here’s your chance. A path through the mountains and provides ocean views will take you to the sticks of wisdom. There are 38 wooden monuments inscribed with the Heart Sutra prayer (the essentials of pure wisdom).
From a bird’s eye view, the wooden monuments are in the shape of an infinity sign or a figure eight. A great photo opp’ for a drone. Maybe it’s here where the 3 founding Buddhist monks found serenity and tranquility.
This is where I wished I had more time as I would have kept walking along the path and through the mountains to connecting trails.
Just be mindful of the time if you are here on a tour group as they do allow time for you to wander around on your own. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the monuments.
Big Buddha Tian Tan
On the way to see the statue up close, Tian Tan has his own personal entourage standing below. They are the Twelve Divine Generals. Each symbolizes a specific animal taken from the Chinese Zodiac.
It was around this area that I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of stray dogs and cows along the way. Though all tame, I did notice a cow taking the opportunity to sneak some food from a tourist.
Usually, I encounter cheeky monkeys, but this was definitely a cheeky cow. There are some signs for buffalo’s as well, which I, unfortunately, did not see.
Extra Fun Fact: As mentioned in the bullet points the statue is made of bronze. Except for the right hand. It’s made out of copper which is lighter material to engineer the hand to hold in the up position.
When reaching up top. The entourage doesn’t stop with the Twelve Generals below. Tian Tan is surrounded by the Six Statues of Bodhisattva’s. Split in half, a set of 3 are on each side.
They are deities who help mortals reach enlightenment. They have self-sacrificed their place in heaven to help others reach enlightenment. These 6 statues represent zeal, generosity, wisdom, morality, meditation, and patience.
Unlike Tian Tia who is made of bronze, these deities are made from stone.
What’s the hand position?
Buddha sits on a lotus flower symbolizing purity and faces North towards China, unlike his counterparts that face South. The positions of his hands hold significance as well. Hand signals are called mudra and there are many mudras. Tian Tan’s right-hand mudra is extending outwards in regards to fearlessness. The left hand’s mudra is fulfilling wishing, granting happiness to all and granting blessings.
The museum within Tian Tan
There are three floors beneath the statue: the halls of the Universe, of Benevolent Merit and of Remembrance. Our tour guide provided more in-depth about Buddhism and explained each of the paintings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).
As we walked about the first floor there are many pictures of people and names listed. People pay an exorbitant amount of money to have themselves listed within Buddha at their time of death. Each floor we visited the walls had thousands of names and pictures listed.
TOUR WIN: We were granted access to the top floor to see the box that holds a piece of Buddha’s tooth (like the 10,000 Buddhas area, the museum does not allow pictures).
If I didn’t have a tour guide I would have never understood anything in the museum and the significance of walking in their myself. Just another reason why I like booking guided tours.
ANOTHER ADDED BONUS: When exiting out of the museum there is a section that visitors are allowed to touch the statue, say a prayer and give respect. Again experience that I wouldn’t have been able to do myself.
Tai O Fishing Village
What once was the largest inhabited settlement on Lantau Island, Tai O is a fishing village that offers a glimpse of what Hong Kong was prior to becoming a modern city filled with skyscrapers.
We arrived and walked through the village, passed a lot of vendors selling seafood, souvenirs and other foods on the go. It’s in these small villages that you can really grasp the lifestyle and culture.
The Stilt Houses
We were ushered to the area to take a boat. About a 30-minute boat ride through the community living on the water.
There are chance to see dolphins and not just any dolphin but the unicorn of dolphins. A pink dolphin. We weren’t fortunate enough for a sighting.
Our captain did have a little snafu as the motor became entangled with a fishing net. We could easily smell burning gasoline, but within a few minutes of his experience maneuvering we were freed.
Tips and Tricks to know before you go:
Alternatives on how to get there
If the Ping Ngong 360 Cable Car is closed-due to weather, standard mainentence or holidays. No worries there are 2 other ways to get to the Big Buddha. 1) Take the MRT to Hong Kong Station and exit E1 marked to Central Pier 6. Then take the ferry to Mui Wo. From there, take Bus 2 to the Big Buddha.
Or ride the MRT (Mr.T I like to call it, as we have one here in Singapore too). Take Mr.T to Tung Chung MRT station. Then take Bus 23 to Ngong Ping Village (entrance to the Big Buddha).
If you would like to continue to the Tao O Fishing Village from the Big Buddha by bus:
-Take Bus #21 from Ngong Ping Village to Tai O. Buses depart NP Village at 20 minutes after the hour.
– To get back to MRT or Hong Kong island be mindful that the last bus departs Tai O at 4:45pm. Take Bus #11 from Tai O to Tung Chung Metro station to board Metro back to Tsim Sha Tsui or to Hong Kong Island.
Concierge Desk to level up your experience.
If you are staying at a luxury hotel. Check with the concierge about purchasing tickets for the Ngong 360 Cable Car. They may have tickets available that allows to skip the line at the entrance. It’s the advance purchase ticket deal that will save you hours standing in line.
Also ask the concierge about the Po Lin Monastery. They might be able to reserve a VIP reservation for your lunch. Which is a multiple course lunch verses a small regular meal.
Reasons why to book a tour group
- You get to meet others which is nice if you are traveling solo.
- You learn so much more about the site(s) you are visiting.
- There’s no need to figure out trains, subway and buses. Also the timing of it all – it’s such a time saver!!
- There’s always added small perks sprinkled in, that’s not listed on the itinerary.
- It employs the locals.
Eat at the Po Lin Monastery
Instead of eating in Ngong Pong village. I suggest having a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery. I really enjoyed the meal (& there’s a lot of food A LOT when ordering from the VIP menu). You don’t have to be part of a tour group to dine here.
Lantau island has impressive hikes which I will definitely be exploring on my next visit. I am fascinated with Hong Kong’s juxtapose between the beaches, hiking, temples and skyscrapers. All tucked into one area. It seems like a place I could absolutely end up living for awhile. There’s so many hiking trails in Hong Kong and I can’t wait for my next visit.
Learning about Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha)
If you do not have a tour guide to tell you more about the area. I suggest watching the short film in Ngong Ping Village, Walking With Buddha. It’s about Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) and his journey to enlightenment.
There you have it. How to spend a day on Lantau Island filling it with the Big Buddha, Ngong Village, Po Lin Monastery, Wisdom Path, Tai O Fishing Village, Cable Car rides and boat tours.
“If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic.” – Jackie Chan