Going to see the Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha, was hands down my favorite part of my trip to Hong Kong. It's a 34m (112ft) tall bronze statue of a Buddha Amoghasiddhi. It's a major tourist attraction, in Ngong Ping on Lantau Island, not far from Hong Kong International Airport.
Even getting there was an adventure! We took the train to Tung Chung, where you can get to the Buddha by bus or cable car. While the bus ride is cheap, it's about a 45 minute ride careening around sharp corners up a steep and winding mountain road, marveling at how the bus hasn't plunged to everyone's death yet - not the best choice for my motion sickness-prone mom.
Alternatively, the Ngong Ping Cable Car is about $20 per person and takes 25 minutes. It's definitely worth it. I've never been on such a long cable car ride in my life! It's amazing how high you go, too. I kept thinking that my dad and younger sister would have such a hard time going because they're afraid of heights. Although my mother, older sister and I do not share that burden, the possibility of an accident certainly crossed my mind as we progressed higher and higher. But I thought, believe in the engineer. After all, it was engineers that determined how this amazing system would work!
It's a very scenic ride, and much smoother than the bus ride would have been. I definitely got excited when the Big Buddha first came into view.
The cable car terminates at Ngong Ping, and you exit right at Ngong Ping Village. There you'll find restaurants, tea houses, souvenir shops, the Walking with Buddha attraction, and of course, Starbucks! To approach the buddha statue, you must make your way through the charming village.
Finally, you'll reach the Buddha. This particular buddha is the Wisdom Buddha Amoghasiddhi, associated with destroying envy. There are 268 steps to reach the statue, which was built in 1993. On the steps we ran into some people from Vietnam, which made my mom happy.
There are three floors underneath the statue, and having purchased a snack or meal ticket allows you entry into the upper levels. The particular thing to see there is a relic of Gautama Buddha. Surrounding the statue are six smaller statues kneeling before the Buddha with offerings like incense and flowers, known as The Offering of the Six Devas. Walking around the platform, the view is quite nice since you're so high up.
Don't miss the Wisdom Path during your visit. It's a close walk from the statue, featuring 38 calligraphies from the Heart Sutra on wooden columns. They're set in a figure 8 to symbolize infinity, and are impressive to look at.
After walking around so much, we were ready for our lunch at Po Lin Monastery. I definitely recommend buying meal tickets, available at the base of the steps to the statue. Not only will you get access to the upper levels there, but the vegetarian meal is healthy, filling, and delicious. Pictures weren't allowed, but we sat in a casual restaurant setting and were given 4 dishes and rice to share. Even though we were full after finishing all that, we had to buy a bean curd dessert at the food stand outside. That warm tofu with slightly sweet ginger sauce just can't be denied!
At the end of our visit, we had to explore the temple portion of the monastery. It seems like the buddhists of Hong Kong are really into their incense. It's sold in many forms, from the regular bamboo skewer size to sticks as big as baseball bats. So much smoke everywhere!
I would definitely rank this experience as my #1 thing to do in Hong Kong. Not only is a pilgrimage to a buddha a meaningful and cultural affair, but it was also a nice change to be away from the cluttered city and immerse yourself into nature and fresh air. Tian Tan Buddha is nowhere close to being the biggest buddha statue in the world (the Spring Temple Buddha in China is four times the height of the Tian Tan Buddha, making it the tallest statue in the world), but is the biggest buddha I've seen to date and a very worthwhile excursion. It's a great place to connect with your spiritual side.