For our first full day in Hong Kong, we spent a half day on Lantau Island to go see The Big Buddha and try a traditional vegetarian meal at Po Lin Monastery via Ngong Ping 360. We left right after breakfast and returned back to our hotel with a little bit of time to rest and then it was time for dinner. Does that count as a half day at Lantau Island?
It took us about an hour from our Hotel (Dorsett Mongkok Hong Kong) to Olympic Station to the very end of the yellow MRT line to Tung Chung.
From the Tung Chung MRT we stepped out to a huge shopping mall “City Gate Outlets” but instead of going shopping, we followed signs and our google map to Ngong Ping Cable Car (near) Tung Chung Station. The cable car actually does not run if the weather does not permit. It was hot out that day but at least it wasn’t windy.
On windy days, there is always a bus or you can even hike there!
Ngong Ping 360
This was definitely something I really wanted to do and had actually purchased our ticket via our “Handy Phone” the smart phone our hotel has provided for their guests. We saved a few dollars by purchasing online, but we still had to get in the same line as everyone else to redeem our tickets.
Round trip tickets are usually HK$185 (standard cabin) / HK$255 (crystal cabin) per person. So as can see in our picture of our Handy Phone ticket we paid HK$212 per person.
Once we got our tickets, we headed to another line. This time to board the cable cars. Lines are separated by “Crystal Cabin” the glass bottom cable car or the standard cabin.
And from looking at the way the ropes are set up, you can definitely see how long the wait / line could be to board the cable car could be.
I was thoroughly amused to see signs throughout the station saying “Do not focus on smart phone games, be safe!” I remember the Pokemon craze days, I watched everyone around me play.
I was so excited as we approached the front of the line and in a way a little more entertaining as you anticipate each cable car approaching. I thought it was quite nice to see employees here actually seeming quite nice, smiling and a team of them jumping into the cabin to wipe down the glass and seats before letting people board.
I tried to watch out for the pattern of how they were boarding: which ones are crystal cabins and which are not? or how many people will they board in each cabin?
Each cabin seats 8 people with a bench on each side that seats 4 people. My family got into our cabin first and we sat 2 to each side so that we can take pictures of each other.
How would you sit your family of 4 in a cable car like that? Or would you pay a premium to have your own private cabin? According to the Ngong Ping 360 website you reserve a standard cabin for HK$3,800 (about US$485) or a crystal cabin for HK$4,500 (about US$575).
Maybe it’s best to just get your own group of 8 together to board and that would be a private cabin too.
The main attraction of the Crystal Cabin is of course the glass bottom giving you a birds eye view of the rolling grassland slopes, Hong Kong streets etc. This made me think for a moment that I really shouldn’t be wearing a dress in the Crystal Cabin. We may be quite high up but there are people down below. Lucky for me, I was actually wearing a romper with my skirt so I actually had shorts on under my skirt (pheew!).
We even had a chance to to sit down on the glass making me feel as if I was floating -ish. There was a much much smaller crowd when we were returning from Lantau Island back to Tung Chung and the cabin was loaded with 6 people instead of the 8, giving us a little more room to move around a little bit.
The Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car is 3.5 miles long and takes about 25 minutes from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping Village. The cable car system actually runs through several towers (stations) and even turns. In a way, it didn’t feel as if we were on such a long cable car because of these towers.
Along the way, you can see the Hong Kong International Airport and reminded me that when we first arrived in Hong Kong (sitting on the runway during our transfer to Singapore) we could actually see the Ngong Ping 360 Cable car in the distance.
We were also able to spot some stairs that are a part of the hiking trail that leads up to the Ngong Ping village. If the weather is good, I may consider doing this hike the next time I visit Hong Kong.
And of course as we got closer and closer to Ngong Ping village, we spotted the Tian Tan Buddha aka The Big Buddha in the distance. And from here, you can really see how big this buddha is sitting at the top of Tian Tan Mountain. Do you see the stairs we’re going to climb to get to the buddha?
Ngong Ping Village
And 25 minutes later, we were happy to put our feet on solid ground as more cable cars made their way in and out of Ngong Ping Village.
www.np360.com.hk was the main website that came up as I researched going to see the Big Buddha and it was interesting to see how they had organized their website to help you plan your day depending on how much time you wanted to spend there and what kinds of things you want to do. We didn’t follow any specific itinerary recommended by them, but it was fun picking and choosing what we wanted to do.
Ngong Ping Village has pretty much turned into a little touristy village but before exploring we stopped for some snacks and drinks at AOK Hong Kong Cafe. There are a few other options but we went with the traditional Hong Kong style cafe or a “cha chaan teng”.
It’s basically a simple Hong Kong style diner. The food may range depending on the type of Hong Kong style cafe you go to and each of their own specialties but there are always a few staples. The drinks are somehow one of my favorites because they are just not quite the same at home for me.
And during our visit in Hong Kong I juggled between a few of my favorites.
- For a warm caffeine fix, I got a milk tea (which some how is different from the milk tea you get at boba shops, or even teh tarik).
- If I didn’t want any caffeine I would get the honey lemon tea.
- But above both of those drinks, my favorite was the coke (or 7-up) with salted lemons 鹹檸樂 which is basically an iced drink with a piece of preserved salted lime crushes up and then with coke (or 7-up) added in with it.
We didn’t get much food here since we were still full from breakfast near our hotel but might as well snack and get some traditional foods (and most I would consider to be dessert).
We ordered their coconut tarte just because it’s one of my Dad’s favorite pastries.
We also ordered a couple more traditional items: egg tarts and a pineapple bun.
These particular egg tarts had a simple pastry tart shell instead of the flakey ones that are quite popular nowadays. I wish they were fresh out of the oven though.
Did you know, there is no pineapple in a pineapple bun? Deceiving right? Well, it’s actually named for its look. The outside sweet and flakey crust is supposed to look like a pineapple.
Ngong Ping Village: from Ngong Ping 360 to Po Lin Monastery
There is plenty to eat, shop, and even 3D rides in the village. But to the be honest, my favorite was just to be able to walk though the single street village seeing all of the new buildings (designed to look like ancient Chinese buildings?) with our destination in site at the top of Tian Tan mountain; The Big Buddha.
In a way, it felt like we traveled back in time but with all of the modern amenities and improvements that are so spoiled with today. The wide street made sure we can mostly walk comfortably with our personal space bubble most of the time. The (cobble) stone streets are nice and smooth easy for strollers and wheel chairs.
And of course, there are even cool 3D rides / 360 motion experiences where you can fly over Lantau Island and see The Big Buddha from high above with cartoon bugs or learn a little bit about Kung Fu.
And with the ever popular trick eye museums everywhere, it was cool to see different “trick eye” picture places set up. I actually jumped into one, picked a sword and fought with this red robed silver hair lady on these Chinese roofs! Did I pull it off?
I wanted to stop at some souvenir shops to pick up a cool painting or a fun souvenir but ended up waiting to go somewhere else to do all of my souvenir shopping.
I really can’t imagine being able to get lost but there are plenty of signs to make sure you heading in the right direction.
And by the time you get to the “end” of the road you can either walk towards the left to Po Lin Monastery or the right to The Big Buddha.
We decided to head left first for a couple of reasons.
- There is a Chinese saying: 入屋叫人，入庙拜神 which roughly means: When entering someones home, greet them / When going to a temple pray to the gods.
- We wanted to make sure we had planned for lunch.
It is a simple path way towards a temple building behind a tree lined pathway. Just follow the orange roof peaking through the tree tops.
Unlike the temples I’m used to of going to at home, you have to bring your own incenses etc. But lucky for us, they kind of cater to tourists. I say kind of because they sell incenses etc. but they only sell these huge huge bunddles with over 100 sticks. That one bundle was already over kill for us as a family of 4 (and we had no intention of bringing any home).
They have a fire pit area for everyone to go to light their incenses which is sufficient to light up these huge bundles.
What really annoyed me about these big bundles of incenses where people are forced to buy if you want to burn any incenses was the fact that people would light them all up and then deposit the whole thing into the pot which really isn’t necessary. I grew up going to temples and depositing 1 maybe a set of 3 incenses at a time. Is that what you do?
The other place to burn these incenses is right around the corner. Instead of the beautiful round traditional stone pots we found a several big rectangular metal incense burner things facing the big buddha. I guess it’s good that we won’t need to lug more or buy more incenses for the big buddha (who is sitting at the of the hill over looking the Po Lin Monastery?).
The Po Lin Monastery was founded in 1906 as a simple hut and wasn’t named the Po Lin Monastery until 1924 when an official Buddhist monk moved to Hong Kong from mainland China as the abbot of Po Lin Monastery.
The Po Lin Monastery remained a quiet monastery and temple on Lantau Island until the 1980’s when the expansion of the Po Lin Monastery continued to grow and develop to become a world renowned buddhist institution.
I grew up watching Hong Kong tv shows that seem to always go to Lantau Island to eat vegetarian food.
We made sure to go buy our meal tickets to try the famous vegetarian meal from the Po Lin Monastery. They sell individual meal tickets or set meals for set number of persons, so of course we went with the 4 person set.
Each meal plan comes with 2 options. The deluxe meal versus the general meal. The Deluxe meal sounded a bit fancier possibly some more complex vegetarian dishes. We could go into the restaurant any time after buying the meal ticket. Since we weren’t quite hungry yet, we decided go on a little hike up the stairs to The Big Buddha.
The Big Buddha is actually part of the Po Lin Monastery, so technically we didn’t leave the Monastery as we waited to get hungry for lunch. It is located across from the main buildings of the Po Lin Monastery at the top of the hill over looking Lantau Island and apparently can even be seen from Macau (on perfectly clear day). You really can’t miss the Big Buddha when you’re in the area.
Between the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery is a circular platform alter thing that reminds me of the Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. Does anyone else feel that way too? It’s location was perfect to take pictures at since it sits right at the base of the hill where the Big Buddha is.
We snapped a few group pictures and even a family selfie. And on a clear day, like the day we were there it was actually kind of hard to get a good picture of the Big Buddha. Plus it would have been nice to get a little more shade with some clouds.
There are 268 steps to climb to reach the Big Buddha and was surprisingly not as hard to climb! The steps are nice and even and there are a few flat steps (area) to take a quick break at if needed.
And in our case, perfect areas to stop for a couple pictures.
Once at the top of the steps, you are greeted by the Big Buddha right above you. And now he just looks gigantic! He is actually 112ft tall (that’s his height sitting down, can imagine how tall he could be if he was standing up? lol)
At the top of the stairs, there are 2 levels kind of structured like the circle thing at the base of the hill. The first level at the top of the stairs are 6 lady statues known as “The Offering of the Six Divas” each are holding a different offering for the Big Buddha.
And at this level we walked all the way around the Big Buddha. And interestingly, there were quite a few people standing along the base of the Big Buddha under one of his lotus leaves for shade.
Our lunch meal ticket actually includes the entrance fee. There is a little souvenir shop right at the entrance, but most of the place is a sacred place. Can I call it a cemetary? From what I understand, there are name placards lining the walls. One very famous person resting here, is Anita Mui.
But if you want more shade you can actually go inside but you cannot take pictures. Here is what the exit looks like.
There is a second level inside of the Big Buddha and I believe that’s the actual area that requires a ticket. That’s where there were some beautiful old traditional (religious?) art work and scriptures on display.
Back outside, we spent a little more time just enjoying the view. From here you can get a better view of the traditional Chinese roof tops of the Po Lin Monastery.
And then we were finally ready to head back to the main Monastery complex for a late lunch.
As we descended the stairs, we glimpsed back for a couple more glances of the Big Buddha and it was at this moment, when I was reminded of a classic Hong Kong movie. Do you remember the opening scene for Infernal Affairs? Have you seen the Hong Kong trilogy? or Have you seen the American version (that does not take place here at the Big Buddha)?
We headed back toward the Monastery again and watched this dog “guide” the van into the parking lot.
We wandered around the Monastery a little bit looking for the restaurant/food area. We walked the wrong way and spent a little more time looking around. The construction of the temple is relatively new but follows the design of an old traditional Chinese building.
We had already purchased our meal tickets, but another thing thats quite well known at Lantau Island / Po Lin Monastery is eat the tofu dessert.
There are 2 separate entrances for the meal you have chosen. If you the regular meal you would be eating in a place that looks like a cafeteria. Where as the deluxe meal makes it look much more like a fancy Chinese restaurant.
We handed the ladies at the entrance our meal ticket and were seated immediately with hot tea.
After our hike, we only knew that we paid for the deluxe lunch (VIP) and didn’t really know what we were going to be eating.
The Soup of the Day was served rather quickly after sitting down. On that day, it was pumpkin soup. It looks like your typical Hot and Sour soup, but luckily it tasted nothing like that. The large family sized bowl of soup was enough for 6 bowls rather than 4. So we each got (half) seconds.
Once we cleared out soup, the rest of the dishes were served one after another rather quickly as well. There were 5 additional dishes and we ate all of it with out any left overs! (but then again, we wouldn’t really have any place to take our left overs anyways)
According to the menu, they called it “Deep Fried Spring Rolls” which are Egg Rolls (dish on the Right). This one wasn’t really special to me at all. Unfortunately I’m spoiled with the amazing vegetarian egg rolls at my local temple in San Diego who also use taro as the protein replacement and that one is hard to beat.
The menu listed the dish in the top left as “Asparagus with Mixed Mushroom and Cashew Nut” but in our case it was replaced with snap peas. This is your typical Chinese stir fried vegetable dish. But I really enjoyed the crunch from the snap peas and cashews. It was also not very oily.
The most unique dish to our family was the “Fried Lotus with Potato Paste” (bottom left). At home we usually only eat Lotus root in our soup, so it was actually very interesting to bite into the crunchy lotus root along with the soft potato paste.
“Braised Assorted Vegetable with Button Mushroom and Fugus” is dish in the far back. Sorry, I didn’t get a good picture of this dish. This was very similar to the mushroom dish you would usually get at a Chinese banquet dinner.
Our favorite dish of all was actually the “Deep Fried Bean Curd Sheet with Lemon Sauce” (the dish with the lemon slice on top). The taste reminded me of a light sweet and sour dish or orange chicken but with lemon instead. The bean curd sheets are crispy and flaky. They didn’t even get soggy from the sauce.
Everything was served with white rice.
And then we took the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car back since we got the round trip tickets. This time, there was no line and we ended up sharing the Crystal Cabin with another couple.
Since the cable car wasn’t full, we felt much more comfortable moving around. I even sat down on the glass in the Crystal Cabin.
By the time we got back to we got back to Tung Chung MRT, took the MRT back to our stop and finally walked back to our hotel it was only about 4pm. We spent the rest of the evening hanging out around our hotel.