Sited atop Lantau Island on the Ngong Ping plateau, lies one of the most frequently visited sights in Hong Kong – the Po Lin Monastery.
There’s enough to see and do in and around the monastery to consume a vacation day or more, so plan ahead.
The trip there is an adventure in itself. Take the MTR (the excellent Hong Kong subway system) to Tung Chung. Outside at the bus terminal, board the No. 23. The ride can take an hour or longer and winding your way up the mountainside provides a pair of delights. Riders get to see some of the superb countryside and seaside near Hong Kong and at the same time experience the harrowing joy of a typical Chinese roller coaster bus ride.
Founded in 1924 as a sanctuary for Buddhist monks, the Po Lin Monastery offers superb sights both inside and out. The view from the top looking out over the sea and mountainside is breathtaking.
You’ll be free to look around at the exterior, which provides a superior example of the architecture and art of the period and style. The monastery is festooned with small statues and inscriptions. The surrounding grounds make it easy to imagine the tranquility that motivated the monks to make it their home.
You can experience a small taste of that lifestyle for yourself by purchasing a meal ticket and enjoying the vegetarian lunch prepared by the monks in the dining hall.
Inside the temple, it isn’t necessary to remove your shoes, nor to wear long pants as required by Buddhist temples elsewhere. Simply acquire an incense stick and offer three bows to the ancestors who watch over the monks and their sacred building. Place your incense sticks in the holder and then enjoy the many colorful and intricate carvings and decorations.
Visitors can even stay overnight and see the rising sun the next morning. The view of the light spilling onto Fong Wong Shan Mountain, twice the height of Victoria Peak, has inspired the monks for decades in their peaceful retreat.
From the temple gate, look out toward the top of Muyushan Mountain. You’ll be able to clearly make out a large copper statue of the seated Sakyamuni, reaching 26 meters (85 feet) high. Sakyamuni was the sage of the Sakyas, a Buddhist-Lamaist (Tibet) god and the historical Buddha.
Here known as Tian Tan or The Big Buddha, the statue was constructed over a steel frame and completed in 1993 after a 10-year construction effort. It sits atop the plateau, reached by climbing 268 steps.
Stand at the base and take in the setting first. Around the pedestal is a three-story exhibition hall containing a large bell. Rung 108 times per day, it is said to relieve the 108 vexations. As you listen to the chimes, you can take in the many finely carved Buddhist figures.
Then walk up and glance around to take in the view the Buddha has, from an island twice the size of Hong Kong itself. You’ll begin to feel, perhaps, as the monks do about Lantau Island and the Po Lin Monastery.