Header image courtesy of @wnjay_wootthisak (via iStock)
As far as local landmarks go, few can compete with the iconic, 34-metre-tall Tian Tan Buddha (also known as the Big Buddha) that gazes out over the scenic hills of Ngong Ping in Lantau Island. Symbolising the harmony between man, nature, and faith, this stately statue—billed as the world’s second-largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha—was unveiled as an extension of the Po Lin Monastery in 1993. It has since been welcoming masses of visitors in search of an immersive cultural and religious experience.
Now, given its renowned status as a major tourist attraction on Lantau Island, there are numerous ways of getting to the Big Buddha, ranging from cable cars to buses; but in the spirit of the statue’s symbolism (or just to avoid the crowds), we say the best way is to eschew vehicular modes of transport and make the pilgrimage by foot! Multiple hiking routes go up to the site with varying levels of difficulty and distance, so you have no excuse not to lace up your walking shoes and get some steps in. From easy-breezy to downright daunting, here is your ultimate guide to hiking to the Big Buddha.
Distance: 5.5 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Beginner to intermediate
Elevation gain: 400 metres
Total time: 2.5 to 3 hours approx.
Boasting majestic views over the turquoise waters of the Shek Pik Reservoir, the Shek Pik Country Trail is a relatively easy yet scenic hike lying in the southeastern reaches of Lantau Island. Covering a distance of 5.5 kilometres with a 400-metre elevation gain, this trail has its moments of sharp inclines but is on the whole gradually slopping. As long as you are reasonably active and have a steady pair of shoes, the hike should be perfectly doable.
With that said, we won’t lie—the initial stretch is a bit of a workout. Beginning from South Lantau Road, the first 15 to 20 minutes of the hike consists of a series of steep staircases that will have you huffing and puffing (you might even be tempted to turn back!), but persist and we promise it gets less strenuous; and soon your efforts will be handsomely rewarded.
Coming up to the halfway point, you will reach the C1506 lookout point, where breathtaking views overlooking Shek Pik Reservoir in its full, shimmering glory and its surrounding mountains await. This middle segment of the hike is minimally shaded, allowing for unobstructed photo opportunities, so snap away to your heart’s delight!
A big draw of this trail is that it offers varied scenery and ever-changing terrain, keeping things interesting. After passing the Shek Pik Reservoir, the flat, sandy dirt path transitions to rocky, rugged switchbacks sheltered by groves of leafy trees. There are some jagged, and uneven surfaces that require more careful manoeuvring, so be mindful of your footing here!
As you get closer and closer to Ngong Ping, the massive wooden pillars of the Wisdom Path and the Big Buddha will come into view, helping you navigate the remainder of your hike. Meeting you at the end of the trail is the entryway of Wisdom Path. It’s a requisite visit for anyone visiting Ngong Ping, so definitely check it out before heading up to the Big Buddha. The dense series of wooden columns inscribed with verses of the Heart Sutra is truly a sight to behold.
Distance: 4 kilometres approx.
Elevation gain: 412 metres
Total time: 2 hours approx.
If you want to take the cultural experience up a notch and bask in a slice of history alongside the wilderness, then Fat Mun Ancient Trail is the route for you. Traversing Lantau North Country Park, this four-kilometre hike starts from Shek Mun Kap and follows along the Tei Tong Tsang Country Trail to Ngong Ping. Peppered throughout the path are ramshackle Buddhist monasteries, temples, pavilions, and other visual echoes of the past, offering you a journey into history and a peace-filled atmosphere conducive to contemplation and reflection.
During the Chinese Civil War, many Buddhist monks fled south from mainland China and took refuge in this quiet, sequestered nook of Lantau Island, accounting for the vast number of temples and monasteries built here. The Fat Mun Ancient Trail served as the main route for monks living in Lantau North to reach Ngong Ping. Over the years, most of the worship structures have been neglected and are now no longer in use. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still explore around and soak in the historical ambience.
A quaint little hamlet that rests a third of the way up Lantau Peak, Shek Mun Kum Village and the many temples within are worthy of touring before you begin your hike. In particular, the Tung Chung Lo Hon Monastery right at the entrance of Tei Tong Tsai Country Trail boasts some stunning shrines and a great vegetarian eatery for you fuel up beforehand.
Once you set foot on the trail, you will find yourself going steadily uphill most of the way; but fortunately, the shaded, well-defined dirt paths and stone steps make the inclines a lot more manageable. Along the path, you will pass by numerous historical sights like the Sup Fong Dou Coeng Temple (十方道場), Wah Yim Kok, and Fa Hong Monastery, as well as tranquil creeks, to keep you company throughout the two-and-a-half-hour hike.
When you reach the western flank of Lantau Peak at the final stretch, the trail starts to level out, leading you to Dong Shan Fa Mun Gate. From there, simply continue on the flat, concrete path of the Ngong Ping Fun Walk, making a right turn around ten minutes in when you see the sign that directs to Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Walk for another five minutes and you will arrive at your destination!
Distance: 5 kilometres approx.
Elevation gain: 617 metres
Total time: 3 hours approx.
Proudly standing at a whopping height of 934 metres, Lantau Peak is the second-highest mountain in Hong Kong and one of the most alluring hiking destinations for locals and tourists alike. It’s not hard to see its appeal—the hike commands prestigious 360 views overlooking the Lantau shoreline and beyond, along with unmatched sunrise vistas that are guaranteed to be permanently etched into your memory.
Starting from Pak Kung Au and following Lantau Trail Section Three, the five-kilometre trek to the Big Buddha is decidedly steep with lots of stairs, but not overly technical; and you will be done with it in about three hours. However, if you are itching for a few extra kilometres, you have the option of hiking back down to Tung Chung via Tei Tong Tsai Country Trail.
The first 15 minutes of the hike mostly consists of shaded dirt paths, but very soon the trail breaks free of trees and gives way to an open ridge, on which you will be surrounded by expansive, uninterrupted scenery. Yet, as any hiking enthusiast would know, such exposed terrain is practically synonymous with windy conditions—so prepare accordingly!
Continue progressing upwards for approximately two hours and you will make it to the crest of Lantau Peak. Expect to scramble on all fours through some rocky sections and beat off overgrown bushes and branches, but we promise that when you reach the summit—and there’s no mistaking it, for the breathtaking sights overlooking the island alone are indicative enough—the payoff will be worth it.
From there onwards, the rest of the path descends steeply to the outskirts of Ngong Ping. The end of the trail is marked by a clearing where you can make a left turn to enter Wisdom Path or continue straight ahead on Ngong Ping Fun Walk, which will lead you to into the touristy heart of Ngong Ping where the Big Buddha resides.
Click here to read our full guide for hiking to the Big Buddha via the Lantau Peak Trail.
Distance: 8 kilometres approx.
Difficulty: Intermediate to advanced
Total ascent: 563 metres approx.
Total time: 4 hours approx.
A legendary trail running parallel beneath the cable car ropeway, the Ngong Ping 360 Rescue Trail is best described as a seemingly endless series of steps and stairs. It’s a fun and exhilarating experience no doubt, but get ready for a challenge. If the name has not given it away already, this route was originally constructed for cable car maintenance and emergency rescue purposes. The objective is to be as efficient as possible, so don't expect the trail to spare you by zigzagging around and easing you into a gradual ascent.
Connecting Tung Chung and Ngong Ping Village, the full hike from Tung Chung MTR station clocks in at around 8 kilometres with the trail itself just under six kilometres long. As expected—given its intended utilitarian function—the path is well-paved with wooden and cement stairs, and largely unshaded. So on that note, be sure to slather on that high-SPF sunscreen and bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially if it’s a sunny day!
For all its difficulty, the trail is as straight forward as they come, as you will be guided by the cable cars hanging overhead pretty much the whole way through. Steep inclines are featured right at the begin of the trail, foreshadowing a treacherous climb to come. And at around the 30-minute mark, you will catch glimpses of Tung Chung Bay and the Hong Kong International Airport at a distance.
As you continue uphill, crossing deep valleys undulating hills, do take time to appreciate the scenic surrounds and forest greenery. Sure, at some point or another, your legs might turn into noodles and the cable cars gliding above you will feel like a mockery of your ambitious pursuit, but just keep trudging on and the bragging rights will be yours forever once you conquer this wicked trail!
You will get a good idea of how much you have left to go (suffer) when you see the Tian Tan Buddha emerging closer and closer into view. On reaching the end of your journey, the path converges with Lantau Trail Section Four, and that’s when you will know that you are just steps away from Ngong Ping Village. We recommended taking a much-deserved break here, perusing the souvenir shops and admiring the architectural gems before making your way up the final 268 steps to the Big Buddha!
Click here to read our full guide for hiking the Ngong Ping 360 Rescue Trail.