Yesterday was spent resting from the previous night’s late antics and seeing family and eating. So much eating.
So today will just be a fairly quick one discussing the tourist attraction that is currently TripAdvisor’s #4 thing to do in HK, out of a listed 717. That is the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin monastery.
Standing at 34m tall, the Tian Tan Buddha was finished at the end of 1993. It is quite iconic of HK, and usually one of the main things I get asked by people in the UK “have you been to see the big Buddha?”.
I can’t say I’ve ever understood what the fuss is about. Yes I have been as a little girl, and yes it’s a big statue of Buddha, what’s the big deal? G, of a mainly western background, wanted to see it so I thought it’d be good to go seeing as my years of living was probably in the single digits last time I went.
A good tip is, if you’re looking to go via cable car from Tung Chung, I strongly recommend booking in advance. If not, then you should definitely turn up early (we got there at 8.45 and there was already a thirty people strong queue waiting for tickets). Getting there early is definitely worth it as it is the quietest in the morning.
For those with a fear of heights, there are buses available and also a walkway along the bottom of the cable car route for those looking for a gruelling start to the day.
The views from the cable car are stunning and absolutely breathtaking on a nice day.
As soon as you hit Ngong Ping, things get a little strange. They’ve now constructed a new “village” at the base where the cable car terminal is which houses eateries and gift shops – all of which is, of course, extortionately priced.
The entire construct is like a theme park and it’s run by Hello Kitty. This character that has no mouth but the seeming ability to charm the world appears in multiple scenarios ranging from the glass bottomed cable cars, to a large figurine of her in the centre of Ngong Ping village. There is even a wishing tree that is made partly from plastic. It’s super tacky and encompasses everything I dislike about tourism (and no I think tourism is a good thing in general).
After the gate, things start to feel less sparkly and plastic and a bit more authentic.
We stop off at the temple first to pay our respects and to explore the beautifully crafted building. And it is an absolutely beautiful no-expenses-spared compound.
I quite enjoy visiting religious buildings; I love seeing the detail and effort people go to in order to build something for a cause they’re passionate about. I’m not religious but I do understand passion and the motivation it provides. The moment that the visit to Po Lin temple really turned it off for me was when I saw the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas:
Yes it is impressive, yes it is magnificent but something about it feels perversely garish to me. The tiles on the walls above and below the gold line of buddhas, each tile is a Buddha donated by someone who has their name on there. Personally all of it just feels wrong to me. If you like spectacles of grandeur though, this is definitely one.
Po Lin monastery does have some good food. All of which is vegetarian. We didn’t have lunch there but stopped for some mid morning sweet treats:
At $25 for the lot on the photo, it is definitely worth a taste.
After that we visited the Buddha which is a steep climb of 268 steps (I looked it up, I didn’t count as I was too busy complaining 😂), so it really isn’t suitable for anyone with mobility problems.
The view from the top is totally worth it though, and I’m not talking about the statue.
Lantau island is itself an amazing natural setting, if I were to go back, it would be for a hike up the peak of the island.
If you don’t mind it being overly touristy, then I would recommend going. If you, like me, prefer going to places less obviously geared towards tourism, Wong Tai Sin or Man Mo temple are probably the best way to experience the religious traditions in Hong Kong.