When I first started planning for my trip to Asia, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of suggestions people shared with me. One thing that kept popping up for Hong Kong was a day trip to Lantau Island.
When people think of Hong Kong, they think of high rises, densely populated streets, lots of noise and constant energy. Lantau Island’s lush greenery is a nice reprieve from that.
In actuality, I spent little over a half day at Lantau Island, which left plenty of time to head back to the city and explore Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
If you’re in Hong Kong for more than two days, I’d definitely recommend spending part of one of them on Lantau Island. If you go early, you can be back in the city in time for a late lunch, and avoid crowds at the same time.
Where is Lantau Island?
Hong Kong is made up of over 230 islands, along with a part attached to mainland China called Kowloon. The largest island, Lantau, is where you’ll find the airport, Tian Tan Buddha and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Disneyland would be reason enough to head to Lantau Island (#DisneyFan), but when I was in HK, I didn’t have time for Disneyland. Instead, I headed to Lantau Island to check out Tian Tan Buddha and Tai O Fishing village.
Lantau is the largest island in HK, and possibly the easiest to get to from the city. To put it in perspective, it’s almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but at much lower population density.
What to do on Lantau Island
Tian Tan Buddha
A 112 foot bronze statue atop a hill is the main reason people head to Lantau Island.
It’s almost 270 steps to the top, but once you’re there, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the mountains and sea. Underneath the Buddha, you’ll find a small museum about Buddha’s life and his path to enlightenment.
Although only constructed in 1993, the site draws interest from visitors all over Asia. While both the Buddha and monastery are tourist attractions, it’s important to remember they’re also religious sites.
Po Lin Monastery
This is the Buddhist monastery that owns and operates the Tian Tan Buddha. It’s located at the base of the Buddha, and free to visit. The temples are beautiful, and colorful.
There’s also a well known vegetarian restaurant inside the monastery. I just grabbed a few snacks, but really enjoyed the sesame balls and red bean paste bun.
Tai O Village
Tai O is one of Hong Kong’s few surviving fishing villages, and currently part fishing village, part tourist destination. Once home to the Tanka people, Tai O used to be an important fishing port. Now, Tai O is famous for its stilt houses on the waterfront.
You can catch bus 21 here from Ngong Ping Village, it’s about a ~20 minute trip. We did so, and then took bus 11 from Tai O back to the Tung Chung MTR station (~40 minutes).
When you get off the bus in Tai O, the first thing you’ll see are locals trying to sell you boat tours, with the promise of seeing pink dolphins. We didn’t do one of the tours, opting to explore the village on foot.
Tai O is the kind of place that’s best to come without a set agenda- we wandered down the side streets, through markets, in and out of the stilted house lanes. As you’re wandering, you’ll see salt fish and smell shrimp paste (aka fermenting fish) at every turn.
In total, I think we spent just over an hour here- plenty of time to get a feel for the village without committing too much time from our day.
I wanted to visit because I’d heard Tai O is the kind of place that’s best to visit sooner rather than later. Like the rest of Hong Kong, it’s easy to imagine this area decades from now being commercialized, with stacked high rises.
How to get to Lantau Island
From Hong Kong Island, it’s about a ~45 minute ride on the MTR to get to Tung Chung station.
Assuming you take the MTR, you’ll exist the Tung Chung station. To get to Tian Tan Buddha, you can take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ($~24 round trip), or bus 23 ($~4 round trip).
Ngong Ping Village is a small area at the base of the Tian Tan Buddha, meant to be a receiving area for the cable cars. Pre-warning: It’s very commercialized- there’s a Starbucks and Subway.
When I visited Lantau Island, the Ngong Ping cable car was down for maintenance, so we had to take the bus. The cable car is 25 minutes each way, and the bus takes about ~40 minutes.
To take the buses on Lantau Island, you’ll need exact HKD, or a pre-loaded Octopus card. I bought an Octopus card on my first day in Hong Kong, because I knew I’d be using public transit throughout my trip.
On My Next Trip
Much like Hong Kong, Lantau Island is home to a lot of great hiking trails. You can hike up to and around the Big Buddha, but it’s not easy. I’ve heard it’s a rugged, multi-hour journey.
Another option, the Lantau Trail brings you on a loop around the island, 43 miles in total, and is a great way to see more of nature if only for a few miles.