Not many people realise that there is much more to Hong Kong than it’s dizzying views of high rise building after high rise building – that there is in fact a mountainous island, covered in leafy green vegetation just a 30 minute train ride away!
Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong. It’s home to 45 000 people, which is just 0.6% of the total population – a stark contrast to the neighbourhood of Mongkok in Kowloon – where at 130 000 people per square kilometre – is the most densely populated area in the world.
With ample time up our sleeves to explore the less visited parts of Hong Kong – destinations that are left off on a typical 2 or 3 day stay – we decided to spend a day exploring the sights of Lantau Island.
Arriving in the town of Tung Chung – the very last stop on the Tung Chung (Yellow Line) MTR route, we followed the signage to the nearby bus station, where dozens of buses were waiting to transport people all over Lantau Island. As we’d had a late start to the day, we jumped on a bus to the village of Tai O, as this was the first bus departing the station.
Fifty minutes later, we arrived at the small fishing village of Tai O on the western coast of Lantau Island. Tai O has a history of salt production and fishing, however neither activity produces substantial income these days, with the village home to squatter huts and dilapidated houses on stilts over the river, and a slowly declining population of locals. The seas surrounding the village are also home to the very rare Chinese White Dolphin – which is more often pink in colour than white!
Together we wandered through the narrow streets of the sleepy village, the locals sitting outside their shops waiting to sell their produce – various forms of dried (and somewhat pungent) seafood. Heading to the river, we took in the views from the small bridge that connects the two sides of the village, watching life go by.
One of the best ways to get up close to local life is by taking a trip on a boat down the waterway. On arrival in Tai O via bus, there was a lady selling boat trips by the station. After exploring the area on our own, we went back to the bus stop and signed up for the trip – priced at $25 HKD ($4.20 AU) per person. The boat trip was about half an hour in duration, and took us through the village and then out to the open ocean – with the aim to hopefully spot some dolphins. Whilst we had no luck spotting dolphins, it was nice to see the coast of Lantau Island, as well as the houses in the village up close.
After spending around 1.5 hours in Tai O, we decided to head to the Po Lin Monastery located on the Ngong Ping Plateau on Lantau Island. We hadn’t checked the bus schedule on arriving, and we quickly realised that it was going to be 45 minutes until the next bus which would take 25 minutes to get to the monastery. As it was already late in the day, we decided to jump in a cab – at $60 HKD ($10.00 AUD) and just a 10 minute drive, it was the better option than waiting around.
The monastery, built in 1906 has several temples on the site in Ngong Ping – The Great Hall is one of the most spectacular, with its dazzling golden interior, elaborate carvings and Great Golden Buddha statues.
One of the other main attractions is the Tian Tan Buddha, just five minutes walk from the temples. It’s one of the largest seated Buddhas in the world, sitting at 34 metres high and weighing over 250 tons. To get there, it’s an easy but tiring walk up 268 steps. Arriving at the bottom of the stairs, we looked up to see the the Tian Tan Buddha shrouded in fog – it was an incredibly mystical sight! Big Buddha, as it is commonly referred by, was even more impressive from the top, and we spent an hour walking around and taking in the spectacle.
Our last activity for the day on Lantau Island was the Ngong Ping 360 – a cable car that connects the Ngong Ping plateau with Tung Chung – the station we’d arrived at earlier that morning. We decided in the morning to take the budget option of the bus to explore the island, as the line for the cable car had been huge and we wanted to get going. As it was just ten minutes to wait for the cable cars departing the plateau, we bit the bullet and spent the money on a ticket.
We are SO glad we did – the 25 minute journey was probably the highlight of our day! We travelled 5.7 kilometres through the mist and fog, over the mountains of Lantau Island, passing hectares of lush green vegetation and several waterfalls. As we descended out of the fog, the coast came into view and to our left we saw the Hong Kong International Airport with several planes landing and taking off, and to the right, the hub of Tung Chung. The view was amazing!
We loved our day exploring some of the sights of Lantau Island. Whilst some of them were crowded, it was was much less busy – and quieter – than the areas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, and made for a lovely day out away from the hustle and bustle. If you can, try and fit in a half day to explore this fascinating part of Hong Kong. There’s so much more to this city than skyscrapers!
- How to get to Lantau Island
Take the MTR to Tung Chung Station (Yellow Line) – it connects from Tsim Sha Tsui and Hong Kong.
- How to get around Lantau Island:
To Tai O Village: Take Bus 11 from Tung Chung Bus Station (follow the signage upon exiting the train station)
To Po Lin Monastery: Take Bus 23 from Tung Chung Bus Station (follow the signage upon exiting the train station)
Between Tai O Village & Po Lin Monastery: Take Bus 21 from the bus station at each site to travel to the other.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car:
It’s expensive, but we thought the ride in the cable car was absolutely excellent. We even captured the entire journey in a hyper lapse – see the video below!
A return ticket (from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping Plateau) is $185 HKD ($30.83 AUD) per person. If the line is quite long at Tung Chung, you can take a bus and then buy a one way ticket on the way back when leaving the plateau. A one way ticket is $130 HKD ($21.66 AUD) per person. It’s well worth the money for an absolutely incredible view of Lantau Island!