Lantau Island: how to spend a layover in Hong Kong

The tranquil enclave of Lantau Island is a stone’s throw from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong…

If you’ve got a stopover in Hong Kong, like us, and would prefer not to spend the day walking about the city – here’s an option for you: Lantau Island. The forested island offers such a wealth of activities you can easily spend at least a day traversing it, and better yet – it’s about as close as you can get to the international airport. We were only in Hong Kong for a day on one of our trips back to Dubai, and wanted some culture, so here’s what we think is the best way to spend a 12-hour layover on Lantau.

Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

Tian Tan Buddha, Lantau Island

What might seem like an incredibly historic and spiritual site might disappoint you when you learn it was built 20 years ago simply with the intention of making it a tourist draw. okay, so it’s not quite that transparent – and that isn’t intended to take anything away from it’s impressiveness, because it’s certainly worth the trip. It’s a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and one of the largest seated Buddhas in the world (a claim to fame if we’ve ever heard one). Even more impressively, the statue is 34 metres tall, weighs over 250 metric tons, and was constructed from 202 bronze pieces. Though it’s not steeped in history, it’s certainly now revered across the country – and you’ll find many worshippers gathered there on any given day.

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Po Lin Monastery, lantau island

Metres away, the fantastic Po Lin Monastery provides a century or so more of modern history – and was constructed in 1906 by three monks visiting from the Chinese mainland. The main temple is wonderfully intricate, and houses three bronze statues of the Buddha – representing his past, present and future lives – and dozens more smaller Buddhist sculptures.

Tian Tan was constructed as an extension of the monastery. The entire area is a peaceful, lush and forested enclave amidst the furor of the city, despite the swathes of crowds there no matter the day. Unfortunately, the influx of tourists has also meant a Starbucks and a Subway have also crept into the near vicinity, but if you can ignore that for enough time for you to visit – and avoid the kitschy souvenirs and such – you’ll be in for a treat.

Both Po Lin and Tian Tan are free to enter, though you’ll pay extra if you want to go inside the big Buddha. Allow about two hours to look around both, and another couple of hours around the area if you want to take a look at some of trails and hikes.

Ngong Ping Cable Car

Ngong Ping cable car, Lantau Island

This was a point of contention for us, not least because it was rather on the touristy side, but also because it was also on the expensive side. For 233 HKD (if you book online, before the day you’re due to head up) you can get a trip up the mountain in a crystal car (with a glass floor), and back down in a standard one. Considering if you show up on the day and try and book a one way trip in the crystal car it’s 200 HKD, or 145 HKD for a standard cabin, it’s actually a pretty good deal. When you book online you’ll choose your time – though it won’t matter if you show up early or late either side really, it’s just to space out the crowds.

Ngong Ping cable car, Lantau Island

After having bitten the bullet and done the trip (you can get to Tian Tan by bus for a much, much cheaper price) I would actually recommend it. The view from above the mountain over the out over Kowloon and the airport are spectacular – and it’s a good 20-25 minute ride, so you’re certainly getting your money’s worth. The crystal car is nice if you can get it for the online price, but if we were showing up on the day we probably wouldn’t spend extra on it.

Tai O

Tai O, Lantau island

This charming little fishing village is surprisingly found less than 15 minutes drive from the tourist mecca of the island’s imposing Buddha and monastery complex. Even more surprisingly, it seems to remain relatively unaffected by said complex’s tourism draw, and remains a quaint and picturesque village built on the shores of the island’s mud flats.

The main draw of Tai O is its spindly fishing houses built on stilts overlooking the river, which haven’t changed seemingly since the Tanka people constructed them generations ago – and they aren’t about to just because 2018 has arrived. There’s not much to the village – it’s simply a nice place to walk around and take in the life of the fisher folk – but if you’re partial to a trip out on the water, there’s only too many people happy to take you. The Chinese White Dolphins are known to frequent the waters around here, and for a reasonable price, one of the townspeople will take you out in one of their boats to try spot them.

Tai O, Lantau island

There’s a fantastic dim sum joint on the main street (of which its name I am not sure, but it’s about the only restaurant crammed with people at all times. It’s on the main drag as you walk in to the village – carry on and don’t turn off that road), where each dish will cost you no more than 25 HKD.

If nothing else though, it’s simply a great way to spend the afternoon wandering about and taking in the sights, and smells, of drying fish heads.

CityGate outlet mall Tung Chung

Lantau Island
If, like us, the heat is overbearing and you manage much less an afternoon, and much more an hour or so wandering around Tai O, then this outlet mall provides welcome refuge from the sun’s rays. It’s also not half bad. Be prepared for crowds though, and worse crowds if you’re heading in on a weekend. You better believe that stores like Coach and Michael Kors have barriers at the entrance, and at peak times operate on a maximum store capacity, only letting people in when others leave.
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