Big (Tian Tan) Buddah and Po Lin Monastery, Hong Kong

There are some tourist destinations, no matter how cliche’, are still worth the visit.  The Big Buddah or Tian Tan Buddah and the Po Lin Monastery, on Lantau Island, is a “must-see” if you travel to Hong Kong.  It is the largest sitting Bronze Buddah, but really that is besides the point.  Even if it was the unsexy “eleventh largest” Buddah, it’s still worth the trek.  The mountain-top location, and the Buddah’s benevolent gaze from the heavens, not to mention the thousands of devoted Buddhists who make the pilgrimage every day, can make the most virulent non-believer give pause to Buddah’s existence.

To get there, just hop on the MTR (metro) to Tung Chung Station.  From Central (downtown Hong Kong) it’s about one hour.  But the ride is extremely pleasant, efficient and cheap.  From there follow the lines to the busses or cable car.  When I was there the cable car was not working, so it took another hour to maneuver the mountain roads that snaked around the coast.  Surrender to the cattle-prod tourist-like feeling and enjoy the gorgeous ride.   It’s amazing going from one of the most congested cities in the world to the sparsely populated mountains and coast within 90 minutes.

It’s free to climb the 268 steps, but if you want to go inside the Buddah, you need to buy a ticket for about $5.  Since I traveled all this way, I bought a ticket.  It was nothing extraordinary; a relic, some really commercial memorabilia, but I didn’t want to miss anything.  I also paid extra for the vegetarian meal at Po Lin Monastery.  If you are with a group, get the meal.  I was solo so I was served some bland vegetables and white rice.  When I asked my waiter if I could have what the others were eating, he told me I could get the more interesting dishes if I was in a group of three or more.  Had I known, I would have gone to the outdoor cafe, and ordered a la carte.  The cafe’ is actually nicer and the food looked better than what I had in the “red-carpet” guest diningroom.

Like any tourist sights, there are souvenir shops and many hidden “costs” and donation boxes at every turn.  My only advice is the meal, do the a la carte cafe.  Other than that, climb the steps, walk around, contemplate, and absorb everything infront of you.  It’s extraordinary.

What solidified my decision to take a day and travel to The Big Buddah was when I ran into a fellow New Yorker waiting in line at the Pacific Coffee Company, a delicious Hong Kong coffee chain.  His wife is a banker and they have been living in Hong Kong for the past year.  I asked him if there was one place he would recommend that a visitor should see while in Hong Kong.  He said without hesitation, The Big Buddah.  “Even if you aren’t into spiritual things,” he said, “you have to see it.”  He was right.