Standing amidst Hong Kong's imposing skyscrapers belted with numerous pedestrian bridges, cars speeding by beneath your feet like in a science fiction movie, you'd be surprised to know that there are green, idyllic havens just a short distance from the city. Hong Kong Island itself is one of the 260-plus islands that make up the region. Some islands are so small that they look like a little molehill in the vast South China Sea; the largest one after Hong Kong is Lantau Island.
The international airport is located here, on a patch of reclaimed land off the north coast, as well as Disneyland, a major tourist attraction. Most locals remember visiting Lantau Island during school field trips when they were small, some recall its history as the home of local fishermen. Over the past two decades, Lantau Island has also become an expatriates' paradise where non-Hongkongers escape after a day of work to a place that feels like an exotic getaway.
Even locals who have lived on this island for a long time would tell you that Lantau Island has largely escaped over-urbanisation and has retained most of its charm. Just half hour from the financial heart of Central, Lantau Island is a world apart and, like many places in Hong Kong, it is multi-faceted and multi-cultural.
There are many ways to explore the island. In the northeast is Discovery Bay Golf Club, Silver Mine Bay beach and Mui Wo – all of these areas are well-populated. This itinerary leads you southwards towards the fishermen's island of Tai O and vicinity for a truly unique experience.
For a speedy arrival, take the MTR from wherever you are and head to Tung Chung station, the main entry point on the island. Then, change to Ngong Ping 360, the 6-kilometre-long scenic cable car route that will fly you across Lantau in a spectacular journey.
There are several types of cable cars to choose from: Standard Cabin, Crystal Cabin (with a glass floor for all-round unobstructed views), Private Cabin (queue-free priority boarding to avoid the crowd) or 360 Sky Lounge (decked out in Swarovski crystals). Hop on and enjoy the 25-minute ride that offers a breathtaking view of South China Sea. Apparently, some Lantau Islanders use Ngong Ping 360 for their commute, so it is not a tourist trap, but a real means of public transportation for the locals. Please note that, though absolutely comfortable and 100% safe, these scenic cable cars are not for the faint-hearted.
Walk of Faith
The famous Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are a short walk from the Ngong Ping Village where you get off the cable car. You can also get there from Tai O fishing village on the west end of the island. A winding road takes you along the beautiful coast lined with villas hidden behind lush sceneries.
Arrive just before 6 pm for an atmospheric (and less crowded) visit. All the tourists have left by then, and you might find yourself face to face with the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings and Guan Yin in the silent darkness of the temples. But be aware, you are never truly alone here as this is the permanent residence of the monks. So please keep the volume down and set your cellphone on vibrate lest you disturb their prayers.
Wander around the gardens and pagodas, take some photos by the fountains, and for a real challenge, climb the 268 steps up to the Altar of Heaven where the Tian Tan Buddha sits, and admire the lofty view from here. The 26-metre-tall bronze statue took 12 years to complete, and the result is an unforgettable work of art.
You can also talk a walk along the unique Widsom Path, lined with towering wooden monuments showing verses from the Buddhist Heart Sutra prayer. Follow the route, shaped like the infinite sign, while taking in the vast South China Sea all around you. Religious or not, you will find this a humbling and most memorable experience.
A day trip is nothing without good food, and with its history as a fishing village, Lantau Island is well known for its seafood that is displayed live in numerous tanks set up outside every seafood restaurant. We recommend where the locals go, so look for a restaurant with lots of people. For a quick bite, stop by a local eatery, order some Chinese herbal tea and tuck into noodles, tofu desserts and other light fare. Homemade prawn preserves, salted fish, dried calamari and seaweed make popular souvenirs for those who want to re-create island flavours back home.
A far cry from the bustling city, Lantau Island gives you an insight into the diversity of life in Hong Kong a place to experience the calmer side of this normally hectic city.