Lantau Island, Hong Kong, China

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

To most travelers Hong Kong consists of both sides of Hong Kong Harbor, the very built up north shore of Hong Kong Island and the equally built up Kowloon across from it.  Hong Kong, however, also consists of the Outher Islands, the so-called New Territories on the mainland, and the south side of Hong Kong Island, providing many opportunities to escape from the crowds in beautiful places by traveling only a short distance.

Lantau is Hong Kong's largest, most mountainous, and least populated island and seemed to hold enough attractions to warrant a daytrip.  I don't usually write about my experiences in a strictly sequential order, but this turned out to be such a great day that I thought I'd describe it in the manner of the "Perfect Day" form so popular in travel publications.

To get to Lantau I took the Metro through Kowloon and part of the New Territories and then across the world's longest road/rail suspension bridge, built to Lantau for rapid transport to Hong Kong's new airport in the late 1990s, to Tung Chung village, a highrise new town near Chek Lep Kok International Airport.  After browsing around a huge new factory outlet shopping mall adjacent to the Metro station, I hopped on the nicest municipal bus I've ever been on for the ride across Lantau mountainous spine, along the island's tropical southern coast, and then 1,500 feet up a spectacular mountain road to the sights of the Ngong Ping Plateau.

Ngong Ping is a high flat area between mountain peaks on two sides and hilly slopes rolling down towards the South China Sea in the other directions.  It's the site of the Po Lin Monastery, the largest temple in Hong Kong, overlooked by the Tian Tau Buddha, the world's largest statue of a seated Buddha, constructed way back in the 1980s.  The three-course vegetarian meal at Po Lin is described as a must so I figured I'd give it a try, envisioning myself sitting on the floor dining among wise monks discussing religious philosophy, only to find myself eating mediocre tofu and mushroom-based dishes in a cafeteria setting surrounded by hundreds of tourists.

I decided to go for a wander from Po Lin to perhaps wander part of the Lantau Trail, a hiking path the runs the length of the island over its highest peaks, but the sultry heat and humidity got the better of me.  After checking out the Trail of Wisdom, a rather new trail of more than 30 of Buddha's sayings inscribed on halved tree trucks erected on a hillside, I settled on a ralatively level hike around a peak with speactacular views over the International Airport and  the Pearl River Delta towards Macau.  Despite this being crowded Hong Kong, I only passed two other people on the two hour hike.  I'd love to return someday in a cooler season to hike more of the spectacular highland trails throughout Hong Kong.

Next I took the bus down the mountain to the far end of Lantau Island and a small fishing village named Tai O, described as the Venice of Hong Kong, where most houses are built on stilts along canals.  A tout talked me into a taking a short boat ride through the canals and out to sea to view local pink dolphins.  This wasn't really a "swimming with the dolphins" type of experience, but I did see a few dolphins, which for all I know could have been pink plastic buoys placed there by the boat tour operators, but I can't complain for a price of $20 HK (about $2.50 USD).

I made my friend of the day while sitting on a bench enjoying the sunset over the harbor.  An old man named Chung sat beside me and began chatting.  Chung had lived in Tai O all his life, where he had been a fisherman in his younger days.  He told me about life under the Japanese occupation in the 1940s and how little Tai O had changed over the years even as Hong Kong had changed.  In response to my question about how Hong Kong had changed since reverting back to Chinese control, he said that most people in Hong Kong are not political and little had changed, that people distrusted the Chinese government but also never had much affinity for the British colonialists.  As the minutes until my bus's departure were deindling, Chung changed the subject to the hand fans he pulled out of his bag.  I knew those kumquats he offered me weren't just a friendly gesture!  But since Chung seemed like a nice man, I bought two fans from him anyway under the condition that he throw in a bag of his kumquats to seal the deal.

As dusk was falling I took another bus to the ferry terminal at Mui Wo, where I had dinner at a waterside table at an outdoor seafood restaurant overlooking little fishing dinghies in inky black Silvermine Bay, enjoying the salt air while adding my shrimp, clam, crab, and peanut shells to those already strewn all over the floor.  My return to Hong Kong Island was on the open back portion of a ferry that was nearly deserted except for a large group of Christian missionaries from Michigan and Indiana who sang hymns like "They'll Know We Are Christians", "Amazing Grace", and "I Trust In The Lord" the entire way back.  They were all very friendly, even to a sinner like me who had had a couple beers with dinner, and invited me to join in, an unexpected end to a great day in Hong Kong.

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