Our flight back was late in the evening and after having checked out of our Airbnb apartment during our first stay in Hong Kong we had the problem of working out what do with our luggage (one of the few downsides of renting through Airbnb). Chris had the idea that if we took the metro back to the airport we could store the luggage there at the left luggage facility and then take the option of going back one stop to Tung Chun Station to explore Lantau island. Once there we bought tickets for the Ngong Ping cable car that would take us across the bay up into the mountains of Lantau Island. The main attraction at the top is the Big Tian Tan Buddha statue, which is part of the Po Lin Monastery.
There were only a few other people in front of us on the queue before we boarded one of the capsules of the cable cars, although I am sure it can get busy at times. We had a capsule completely to ourselves and we whizzed up into the air. At first we could see the airport, planes were constantly taking off and landing on the runways built on reclaimed land, over the Chinese Sea. The cable car then made a left turn and we were up across the water of the bay and slowly approached the steep hillside of the Island. Underneath we could see some hiking tracks and a few houses and shacks but no people. Then we were over the lush green forest, climbing higher and higher. After another hill had passed, we could suddenly see the statue of the Buddha through the thin mist. It looked like it was floating above the surrounding countryside – what a beautiful sight! The Buddha statue increased in size the closer we got to our final stop, Ngong Ping Village.
On exiting the cable car station we found the village to be more like a purpose built shopping and dining destination, than an authentic place where people would live. The “fake” shops and restaurants were of no interest to us and we quickly walked past them, heading towards the Buddha statue. On the roadside were lots of dogs lazying in the afternoon sun, Jerome was a bit wary of them at first as he is mostly terrified of dogs, but they did not seem to interested in any of the people walking by. The path to the Big Buddha was flanked on both sides by statues of the Twelve Divine Generals. Each of the Twelve Divine Generals that guard the main statue symbolize a different animal from the Chinese Zodiac, each is also armed with a particular weapon, and represents two distinct hours of the day. Jerome was seeking his favourite, the Dragon.
At the bottom of the staircase leading up to the Tian Tan Buddha statue, we were aware for the first time, just how massive the statue really is. We started to ascend the 268 steps and the closer we got the more it grew in size, in fact it is the largest outside Buddha statue in the world. At the top of the pedestal we stopped to take in the 34m high bronze figure on a lotus throne, it faces north to protect all Chinese people, before taking in the surrounding view. We could see the higher peaks of the Lantau mountains surrounding us, and the Po Ling Monastery below, home to the most important Buddhist sanctum in Hong Kong. In the other direction we could just about make out the sea in the haze and the outlying islands.
Next to the staircase where we had ascended were Six Statues of Bodhisattvas, three on each side, then inside the pedestal of the statue we found a small museum filled with paintings and details of the Buddha’s scriptures and articles about his life and teachings. Once we had circled the statue we descended the stairs again and instead of heading straight back to Ngong Ping Village we walked along a road signposted towards the Wisdom Path.
The road wandered around the grounds of the monastery. We passed some abandoned houses and closed restaurants that looked like they might never open again. Nature had already taken over parts of the buildings and it seemed like not many people ventured into the woods. We enjoyed our little venture away from the tourists and Jerome was happy to run along the empty paths.
After a short walk we stumbled onto the Wisdom Path, an installation of a series of wooden posts, arranged in a figure of 8, which are engraved with sutras, Buddhist prayers. The posts were on a little hill, from which we had a closer view of the mountain in front and we could see the hiking paths going up and a long the mountainside. Sadly we did not have enough time to venture any further along either of these hiking paths but we made a mental note that we would plan a proper hike on one of them when we might return to Hong Kong
After our stroll and exploration of the Wisdom Path we walked back to Ngong Ping Village and boarded the cable car back to Tung Chung station heading for the airport, having enjoyed our last day exploring in Hong Kong.