When guests come to Hong Kong, they often want to do similar things. You send them to the escalator, to see the peak, to a night market; you eat all the dim sum. Not surprisingly, the Big Buddha with the cable car is usually on the list. I have now gone to Ngong Ping 4 times as a result. Luckily, there is always something else you can add to the usual experience.
This is the best loop of Lantau: Start at the Tung Chung MTR, take the cable car to Ngong Ping and the Buddha; take the 21 bus to Tai O for a quick 20 dollar boat ride through the fishing village and the ocean; hop on the 1 bus toward Mui Wo, stopping at Lower Cheung Sha for food and drinks on the beach; then take the 1 bus to Mui Wo, have a drink at the China Bear and ferry back to Central.
You don’t get to see Discovery Bay or Disney–neither of which I have ever been to myself–but you get to see the rest of the island. It is easy enough for a visitor to navigate on their own because of all the signage. It is a full day, but absolutely gorgeous and out of the city. If you are going with the visitors, you can always add variations to the theme: each time I’ve seen a new bit. When I went the first time, I did the main things; with friends I went to the Wisdom Path for the first time (tree trunks sawn in half, arranged in a figure 8, with massive calligraphy etched in); with my parents we went to a different monastery because the main one was under construction; and this week with my cousin we climbed Lantau Peak from Ngong Ping.
Monday we set off with TASS and got to the cable car at 10:45 where we found no line whatsoever (weekday after a big vacation weekend?). We were at Ngong Ping by 11:30. We bought sandwiches at the authentic Subway in the authentic village, then walked around the bronze statue, took pictures of the views, and bought some pocari sweat for the hike. We set off from the village at 12:20 and started climbing the giant stone steps.
This is the easiest way to to Lantau peak. It is a 1 kilometer hike from Ngong Ping, and a few kilometers from the peak to the next nearest trail head. You start more than halfway up the mountain, so you aren’t utterly exhausted by the time you get to the top. The wind and smog made it more difficult than the stairs did, but it was worth it.
At the top we ate our sandwiches and discussed expat life. It took us almost an hour to get up all the steps, only 1 kilometer away from our starting point. From there, it is 3.5 kilometers downhill to Tung Chung Road, where you can catch a bus to Mui Wo, Tai O, or Tung Chung. We went to Mui Wo for the ferry, and bought McDonalds ice cream and baked goods and cheese from the bakery.
The odd thing about this hike is the trail estimates and difficulty. The distances and estimated times to finish them overestimate ability and speed rather than the usual generous guesses the SAR make for HK’s nicely groomed trails. From Ngong Ping to the peak was apparently 1k, and the sign suggested it would take 30 minutes; we hiked it in a little under an hour. From the peak to Tung Chung Road is 3.5k, and the sign suggested it would be 1.5 hours–putting us at the road at 3pm. We arrived at the road at 2:59 after a quick down hill trek with occasional jogging.
With aching knees and hips we wondered how the sign was so accurate. Normally they overestimate the time, for example Dragon’s Back is supposed to take many hours rather than the 1.5 we did it on over the weekend. This hike is much harder, and you should take a couple bottles of water, snacks or lunch, and be prepared to take breaks. Footing and steep climbs are challenges here, so watch where you put your feet. It is possible they base times on distance only, and not on difficulty at all. Though I wonder if the eerily healthy 60 year olds playing music finish it in the estimated time window.
It is always fun to have guests, but it is important to add things to your own experiences. Find new things to tack on if you can’t avoid seeing the same sights again. Fortunately, there is plenty to add. Each time I’ve been to the tourist sites, I manage to find something new.