Towards the end of our time in Hong Kong, we went on a hike with our host Mark to see the Tian Tan Buddha – a giant Buddha statue on Lantau Island. Mark warned us that the hike would be tough, with lots of steps, and he kept saying he would have to go slowly and take many breaks. We started out decently early in the morning, just after 9am, and I was psyched. Who doesn’t want to see a giant Buddha?
Mark’s information turned out to be a little too accurate for my liking. I didn’t count, but I think we did about a MILLION steps. The humidity was super high as it had been all week, so I decided to be thankful at least the sun wasn’t out. But there was no problem with Mark needing breaks, because I think I needed even more breaks! So much for feeling in shape!
I jealously watched the people on the sky ride above us, and kept telling myself we were so much better off for doing this by foot! Not surprisingly, the trail was not crowded. No one else is silly enough to attempt this on foot! We got to the top of the first hill and checked out the helicopter landing area, used for rescue. So far, so good – we didn’t need to be rescued.
After that we went down for a while and then back up again, and when we ascended the next large hill, Mark informed us we were about “1/3 of the way there.” I had never wanted to harm a couch host before that moment…. We climbed and climbed. We sweated a lot and turned around to enjoy the views more often than we needed to. After three hours of hiking up, up, up, we were finally there!
It wasn’t just a Buddha as I expected. It was like an entire miniature tourist trap-y town, at the top of a mountain! So strange. There were stores and restaurants and 7-Elevens and even a jump roping workshop on a stage. Who knew? We watched the jump roping, walked through the tourist trap section, and sat and ate a picnic lunch with a view of a huge gate and the Buddha, still several flights of steps away. It was rejuvenating.
We climbed the 268 steps(!) and finally we were up close. The surrounding mountains were lost in the clouds for the most part but when the clouds blew away the view was gorgeous. We were also able to go inside the base underneath the Buddha and learn some interesting facts:
- The building of the Buddha took 12 years.
- The Buddha statue faces north to look over the Chinese people.
- It sits 26.4 meters atop a lotus throne and is 34 meters high, including the base.
- The body made up of 160 bronze pieces.
- The face is cast as a single piece in order to get the expression just right.
- The statue sits on a three-story altar modeled after the base structure found in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven (Tian Tan), Beijing. Hence the name.
- The right hand of the Buddha is raised to deliver a blessing to all.
At the bottom of the Buddha we went to visit the Po Lin Monastery, which was a quiet and remote monastery before it made it to the world map when the giant Buddha was erected in 1993. It is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums and is currently home to many devout monks. It also has a nice garden with birds, fruit and flowery scents.
After our hike to the big Buddah, our host took us to Tai O – a small, traditional fishing village in Hong Kong. We enjoyed walking through the rows and rows of stalls with more unidentifiable dried fish products. Never had the phrase “something smells fishy here” rung so true! We walked to the end of the island where the old, British colonial police station has been turned into a (rather pricey) hotel, and enjoyed the views of the water, boats and bridge.