Guide to Visiting Hong Kong’s Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
Learn how to plan a perfect trip to these Lantau Island attractions
One of the most popular Hong Kong attractions is the Big Buddha on Lantau Island which is surrounded by the Po Lin Monastery, the slightly-touristy Ngong Ping Village and miles of hiking. While it’s one of the many things to do in Hong Kong with kids (my 9-year-old daughter absolutely loves it), I recommend it as a day or half-day outing that anyone will enjoy because Lantau Island is one place where you can actually see how beautiful Hong Kong is.
The goal of this post is to show what there is to do at the Big Buddha in order for you to plan a visit accordingly. (For those of you who might be new readers, I lived in Hong Kong for five years and return frequently.)
Table of Contents
- What Is the Big Buddha?
- How to Get to the Big Buddha
- Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
- Things to Do at Ngong Ping Village
- The Big Buddha
- Eating at Po Lin Monastery
- An Important Place of Worship
- The Wisdom Path
- Hiking on Lantau Island
- Tips for Visiting Big Buddha in Hong Kong with Kids
- How Much Time Do You Need?
- Other Things to Do Near the Big Buddha
What Is the Big Buddha?
The Big Buddha (its official name is Tian Tan Buddha) is a 34-meter bronze statue that was was built in 1993 and faces north to overlook mainland China as sort of a guardian. While its youth is somewhat surprising to many, the site draws religious pilgrims from all over Asia.
Visitors climb 268 steps to reach the top of the Buddha, where panoramic views over Lantau Island are worth carrying camera gear for.
The Buddha’s installation catapulted the nearby Po Lin Monastery—an incredibly important Buddhist sanctum where a number of monks live (pictured above)—to popularity as well.
How to Get to the Big Buddha
It is easiest for most people to take the MTR (subway) to Tung Chung Station. Take Exit B (knowing your exit is extremely important at big Hong Kong stations). Then you have two choices.
Walk about a block to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for a 25 minute ride up to Ngong Ping Village. After exiting the cable car in Ngong Ping Village, walk another easy 10 minutes or so to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery.
Or, walk to Tung Chung Town Centre and take New Lantao Bus 23, which takes around 45 minutes. Then, you’ll need to walk less than 10 minutes to the Big Buddha.
If visiting the Big Buddha with kids, I highly recommend that you opt for the cable car.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
If you’re staying in one of Hong Kong’s luxury hotels with a good concierge, always let them know what your itinerary is because you just might be surprised by the convenience they can add. We have purchased Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car tickets through the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong concierge desk and most recently through the Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong concierge with no service charge. This allows us to skip the queues at the cable car entrance. Even though we arrive early, ticketing queues are still quite long. There is a special line for people with advance purchase tickets to exchange vouchers for wrist bands to ride the cable car.
After receiving wrist bands, there’s a queue to enter the cable car. The glass bottom cable car queue is significantly shorter than the regular cable car.
If your budget permits, opt for the glass bottom cable car, called a Crystal Cabin. This experience is a serious highlight for my daughter. We passed over bits of the South China Sea, roads and lots of greenery.
The 25 minutes fly by.
Things to Do at Ngong Ping Village
The cable car from Tung Chung ends at Ngong Ping Village where, of course, you’ll be able to purchase photo souvenirs of you just after entering the cable car.
Here, you can see the Buddha at a distance (as you can on the cable car), take a restroom break (they are very clean, at least when we were there), grab a snack, souvenir shop or even sit down for a full meal.
The one thing I would recommend you do with kids in tow or if you need a refresher regarding the life of Buddha, is to catch the short Walking with Buddha film here which gives a brief run-down of Siddhartha Gautama’s path to enlightenment. He is the man who ultimately became Buddha. The show runs every half-hour, but it could make the visit to the Big Buddha a bit more meaningful to some.
From Ngong Ping Village, it takes about 10 minutes or so to walk to the Big Buddha. Perched up on the hilltop, you can easily figure out where to go.
Note that there are a variety of stray animals that roam Lantau island from sleeping dogs (someone must be feeding them because they keep to themselves) to water buffalo (the latter you probably won’t see in touristy spots). Ignore them and move on.
The Big Buddha
Climb the 268 steps to a viewing platform where you can walk around the entire statue for lovely views of Lantau Island and the Po Lin Monastery. It is free to walk up to and around the Big Buddha. To be honest, we never really spend more than a few minutes up here.
Eating at Po Lin Monastery
At the base of the Big Buddha, right before you climb up the steps, there are counters selling tickets for vegetarian lunch or snacks at the Po Lin Monastery.
However, before we even arrived in Hong Kong, I mentioned to the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong concierge that we were planning on eating at the monastery’s Vegetarian Kitchen so they took the liberty of making us a reservation for lunch in the VIP room. I didn’t realize reservations were possible (and, like other things in Hong Kong, I’m not sure that they are) so all we needed to do was go directly to the VIP room and pay after being seated (before our lunch was served).
We have also purchased lunch from the counters below the Big Buddha. They’ll offer you the ability to buy the same VIP lunch there, too.
This is what the VIP room entrance looks like.
You’ll see it on the left hand side after walking into the monastery. At 11:30 a.m. on weekdays there are very few people eating (most Hong Kong residents eat around 1:00 p.m.).
After being seated at a table, the multiple-course lunch is served almost all in one go. It’s possible to be in and out in less than 45 minutes. I was not expecting the food to be as good as it was and it’s far too much for two people to eat.
The menu has been the same for what seems like forever. We’re served jasmine tea, mixed mushroom soup, egg rolls, asparagus with cashews and other veg, fried bean curd with lemon sauce (sort of like a dessert and very good), black mushroom stir fry and white rice. It isn’t Michelin-star quality but it’s good enough. My daughter enjoys it quite a bit. There is no a la carte menu. I paid $138 HKD per person which is less than what we normally spend in Central for lunch. The non-VIP meal is available for less.
Adjacent to the Vegetarian Restaurant is a snack center shop with desserts and other Chinese style vegetarian snacks. You can buy snack vouchers at the same counter below the Big Buddha.
And while we’re on the subject of food, your only other choice up here is to walk back to Ngong Ping Village or bring your own.
An Important Place of Worship
While a tourist attraction, it is important to keep in mind that the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are religious sites for many. My daughter was fascinated by the incense offerings and I think was a cool cultural experience for her.
It is possible to buy incense at nearby stalls to make your own offering.
There are candles nearby for lighting incense. It takes a while for it to light properly. A kind observer helped my daughter get it right.
The Wisdom Path
If your kids can manage about a 15 minute walk from the Big Buddha statue (keep in mind this is a day of a lot of walking anyway), it is worth seeking out the Wisdom Path.
It’s a chance to see a green side of Hong Kong as you round the corner from a touristy area to a path covered by a canopy of trees. It’s peaceful, beautiful and nothing like the Hong Kong skyline.
The Wisdom Path is a series of 38 steles engraved with Chinese version of the centuries-old Heart Sutra prayer. The steles are laid in an infinity shape. It’s very peaceful to walk through.
Hiking on Lantau Island
Believe it or not, Lantau Island is full of really amazing hiking trails. People do hike up to and around the Big Buddha but going either uphill or downhill is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It’s a rugged multi-hour adventure that you’d not want to do without help or being in excellent physical shape.
Alternatively, there is also the Lantau Trail which does a nice loop on the island. Most people hike it in sections as it’s quite big (43 miles) but you can catch just off the Wisdom Path. Research the sections in advance so you know where you’ll wind up. I highly recommend hiking in Hong Kong, if you have the time.
Tips for Visiting Big Buddha in Hong Kong with Kids
If you think your kids won’t dig Chinese food at Po Lin Monastery, plan to eat at Ngong Ping Village (pictured below) where there is an ice cream shop, Starbucks, Subway, sushi and I think even an Indian food place.
My daughter had no problem turboing up the 268 steps to see the Big Buddha, counting each one along the way. Visiting the area is a lot of walking for toddlers so a stroller is best for them (left at the base of the Big Buddha).
How Much Time Do You Need?
We’ve managed to squeeze in visits in less than 4 hours door-to-door once because I had an appointment at The Mandarin Spa to get to. I think this is a bit aggressive as the MTR back to Central takes about 45 minutes alone and the cable car alone is 25 minutes each way. We have taxied to Ngong Ping 360, which I don’t recommend cost-wise from Central unless you’re really pressed for time.
But you certainly don’t need a full day to visit the Big Buddha unless you plan to hike the Lantau Trail.
Other Things to Do Near the Big Buddha
If the vegetarian lunch at Po Lin Monastery doesn’t appeal nor do the generic offerings in Ngong Ping Village, you should taxi over to Tai O fishing village. It’s one of the only remaining villages with Chinese stilt houses suspended over water (makes really great photographs). Ask your concierge for recommendations but perhaps try the Tai O Crossing Boat restaurant for roast goose or the many street stalls. Buy XO sauce here.
Site affiliate partner Viator offers guided day tours with almost everything I mentioned above and more. It starts with a coach ride to Cheung Sha Beach (Hong Kong’s longest beach), Tai O, the Big Buddha, lunch at the monastery and cable car back down.
Citygate Outlets is right next to the Tung Chung MTR station at the base of Ngong Ping 360. If you like discounted shopping, I recommend you stop in here. I stop in for the Shanghai Tang—a Hong Kong luxury brand that is one of my favorites in the world—outlet which retails prior season merchandise at steep discounts.
Have you visited the Big Buddha? What was your experience like?