This is the part of the trip I enjoyed the most: the Big Buddha and the tiny fishing village of Tai O, which is not so tiny, really stole my heart. The only bad thing about this place is that Tai O was freaking crowded but I am more than sure that it was worth it.
Tian Tan Buddha – 天壇大佛
This tourist attraction is one of the best in Hong Kong in my opinion, it is really something that you must check out and can help you understand better chinese culture. Despite what you could think, the buddhist complex was built in recent times; the construction started, indeed, in 1990 and finished three years later.
At the entrance of the complex there is a beautiful chinese-style gate and along the path you can find some chinese statues portraying the different generals that are commonly associated with the signs of chinese horoscope. We went around to check out which one was ours and took some photos of it. A bit ahead you will encounter many flags waving like in those tibetan villages on the Himalayas, I really thought to have gone to Tibet for a moment!
You will be surprised because to reach the Buddha, you will have to walk up a long and steep stairway. It is quite tiring especially when wind is freaking strong and hinders you from going up like it happened to me but it is a nice hike since you will be awarded with a beautiful view over the surrounding area where you can spot the Po Lin monastery. The hills were quite nude and there was nothing besides the monastery, just nature and green – I wonder where all those tall skyscrapers have gone now? 😉
The major attraction is the Big Buddha located at the top of the stairway. The Buddha is really imposing and definitely will live up to your expectations, believe me. At the feet of Buddha, you can find six Devas making offerings to Buddha and also some souvenir shops selling jade and buddhist rosaries but I warn you, everything is really expensive there! I heard the wooden rosaries you find here are made by the monks in the monastery and exclusively sold here.
Po Lin Monastery – 寶蓮禪寺
The buddhist complex includes the Po Lin monastery, which was built on the right side of the Big Buddha. The monastery was built prior to the construction of Tian Tan Buddha. It was, indeed, founded by a few chinese monks from Mainland at the beginning of the 20th century. It is the most appropriate place for buddhist monks to settle down because here it is very peaceful, no sign of civilization for kilometers! This place is pretty wild but bear in mine that we are still in Hong Kong, the city of the thousands skyscrapers, as I like to call it ahah
The monastery is pretty huge with the main shrine hall flanked by two minor halls. All of them treasure three Buddhas that represent the past, the present and the future. All around the monastery you can find statues that represent the various deities of chinese folk religion like the already mentioned gate-guardian red god. The monastery is very colorful and beautifully decorated, the colours remind me of the Korean temples, which I like very much :3 There are dragons carved on the columns that sustain the complex, dragons are omnipresent in China – no wonder why they call themselves sons of the dragon!
Outside the monastery, you find many street vendors selling souvenirs and food but about this I will speak about in a another article later. There is also a big incense box, one of my favourite features of chinese temples, because you can take nice photos with the incense’s smoke spreading around. Ah by the way! Be careful of the cows around, they are freaking huge and go stubbornly after you if you are eating food ahaha
How To Reach:
Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin monastery are both located on Lantau Island, the same island where you land if you come by plane to Hong Kong. It is on the left side of the main Hong Kong island. There are two ways to reach this place:
- By bus until Tung Chung and then from there you use the cable car. I guess it is most scenic way to go up but unfortunately I did not use it so I cannot give you much info.
- Or you use the bus which is less crowded but much slower. Also taking the bus is quite expensive since Lantau Island is very far away from Hong Kong. In my case, luckily, my boyfriend’s uncle works in the bus company operating on Lantau and he granted us free transportation ❤ Take the bus number E11A outside HSBC Main Building to Asia World Expo via Tung Chung, once there you can take bus number 23 in the town centre to Ngong Ping Bus Terminus.
Tai O – 大澳
Tai O is a traditional fishing village located on the most western point of Lantau Island. It is very far away from Hong Kong, more or less two hours, but this made possible for the village to keep their charm and not become another anonymous place filled with skyscrapers.
During British rules, Tai O was used as smuggling port for tobacco, guns and drugs and after Chinese Civil War it welcomed refugees from Mainland especially Cantonese and Hokkien people. You can still see the clothes that they used to wear and ancient items villagers used in a small museum at the entrance of the village. There you can read some history about the village enriched with old photos showing how Tai O looked like in the past.
Two strong points of this village is salt production and, of course, fishing, which has always been at the base of their economy even though in recent time it fell into decandency. Locals still fish but it does not bring as much income as before therefore youngsters usually move away when they graduate from their schools.
Nevertheless Tai O succeeded in retaining its fishing village charm and essence. The village is very picturesque with its stilt houses built on the water and the countless shops selling weird local food like every kind of dried fish, even puffer fish. There are also several bridges connecting the various parts that make up the village and everytime I walked on one, I was afraid it was going to fall ahah
Tai O has many small and very local restaurants where I stopped to eat an excellent Noodle Soup and strangely, fish is not on any menus here, given that it is a fishing village. My boyfriend told me that they only eat fish on special days since it is a precious food. By wandering around, you also find a big temple on the central square. I guess this temple can be compared to our cathedrals ahah inside the temple is really colorful, unlike our churches, and there are these spiral-shaped things hanging from the ceiling. From what I could understand, they are a sort of candels that spread the smoke around and you burn it when you want to pray to some gods. The temple was really popular, many people were there praying, among them even a few children, and this made me happy because these beautiful traditions will be passed down to the next generations and not be lost 😉
How To Reach:
- If you are willing to visit Tai O, I advice you to exploit the moment and go visiting the Big Buddha as well since the two places are quite near and public transportation is expensive. It is not worth to go to Tai O and then go back to visit the Big Buddha, just a waste of time and money.
- When you reach the Big Buddha, just in front of the chinese style gate, get on the bus number 21. It takes 30 minutes to get there.
- To go back, you do not need to worry, they have plenty of buses going to Tung Chung where you can get on a bus towards Hong Kong island.
I will write more about Hong Kong, stay tuned 😉