Lantau Island

Less than an hour from Hong Kong’s forest of concrete, steel and glass, is a piece of paradise. Billed as Hong Kong’s ‘most beautiful island’, Lantau is west of the main city and only a short ride on the MTR from Kowloon. The big draws on Lantau are the giant Tian Tan Buddha, the Skyrail that takes you there, a fishing village on stilts, and two unbelievably beautiful beaches.

Although twice the size of Hong Kong Island, only 10 per cent of Lantau is habitable as it is mountainous and covered in thick forest and brush. The sense of peace on the island is almost palpable, which is probably the reason there were once over a hundred Buddhist monasteries scattered across its length and breadth.

Things began to change dramatically along Lantau’s north-western shore when Hong Kong’s new international airport was built on Chek Lap Kok island in 1998, just off Lantau’s coast. Consequently, a new town developed at Tung Chung on the main island, its soaring towers mocking the island’s isolation and tranquility.

Then, in August 2006, the Ngong Ping 360 Skyrail started operations, linking Tung Chung to the Po Ling Monastery and the giant Tian Tan Buddha perched on a hill in Ngong Ping. Ever since then, busloads and trainloads of tourists have been descending on Lantau, to visit the magnificent and imposing statue. For 20 minutes, in gondola-style cable, visitors glide over a crumpled, green mountainous landscape, and quiet coves and strips of white sand as they make their way to Tian Tan. The ‘Big Buddha’ is breathtaking and watching it rise from the foliage from inside a cable car is an unforgettable experience.

When the 112-ft (34 mt) statue was unveiled in 1993, it was the tallest, outdoor, seated, bronze Buddha in the world. While the Big Buddha is seated on a lotus throne right on top, there is a three-tier altar beneath, encircled by six smaller bronze statues with offerings in their outstretched hands. Near the statue, you can stroll through an artificial ‘village’, where wooden logs inscribed with a Buddhist text, the Heart Sutra, is carved into them. The experience is accompanied by traditional Chinese music playing from loudspeakers and competes with guides vying for the attention of their tour groups!

After visiting the Tian Tan Buddha, it would be foolish to call it a day and take the bus back to Tung Chung. Instead take a bus further west of Tung Chung, down the picture-postcard coast, to Tai O. This is a quaint fishing village, where the residents live in stilt-houses. The construction is simple – when their boats were no longer seaworthy, the residents of Tai O placed them on stilts rising out of the water, and converted them into homes. Apart from fishing and making dried, salted seafood and fish paste, the locals used to produce salt in saltpans that used to fill up when the tide washed in. Walking through Tai O, along the main thoroughfare and down narrow alleys between stilted homes, is like ambling through a living museum and an experience not to be missed.

And, finally, we have another wonderful surprise for you: two virgin beaches – Cheung Sha and Pui O – on the southern fringe of Lantau Island. Both beaches are walking distance from eateries but far enough to be secluded. Strolling along the soft, warm sand while waiting for sundown is the perfect way to end your date with Lantau.