Hong Kong, Part 5 – Ngong Ping and Tian Tan

Author’s Note: This is the last of five posts looking to the past, to my trip to Hong Kong in September of 2008. Some of the details may be a little fuzzy because it was twelve years ago.

One of my favorite parts of this trip was going to Ngong Ping, for the Po Lin Monastery (which I forgot to walk inside of), and Tian Tan, the giant Buddha. To get there, you take the MTR to Tung Chung station at the end of the Island line. I want to point out just one more time that the MTR logo looks a lot like the Psi Corps logo. I’m just sayin’.

After you leave the MTR, you walk across a courtyard to the Ngong Ping 360, which is a cable car system. I quite like their mascot.

Boarding the cable cars is pretty standard fare for anyone who’s ever been on a cable car before.

One of my friends told me she took a curvy and terrifying bus up to Tian Tan. This way is better, in my opinion, but if you’re afraid of heights you might disagree.

The cable cars go past the Hong Kong International Airport first. The old Hong Kong airport had a single runway and planes basically flew directly into the busy Kowloon downtown- this must have been terrifying.

The newer airport seen here is an artificial island, created in part by flattening two other smaller islands and reclaiming some seabed. Construction of this airport added 1% to Hong Kong’s total surface area by the time it opened in 1998.

The cable car continues onward through a bunch of mountains until you get to Ngong Ping.

At 25 minutes long, the ride is long enough to make friends with your fellow cable-car riders.

It’s really quite spectacular.

Once you clear the bay, the cable cars go over footpaths up the mountains.

The cable car deposits you at Ngong Ping Village, a short walk from the Big Buddha. Lantau Peak (Fung Wong Shan,) the second highest peak in Hong Kong, is visible behind the Buddha.

This is the entrance to the Tian Tan Buddha. The Po Lin monastery is just across the way there, and I was so excited to see the Buddha that I completely forgot to look at the monastery. (This is not my most embarrassing tourism fail, but it’s pretty close.)

The stairway up to the Buddha has 240 steps. I realized about halfway up, while my legs were feeling like lead, that I am not in good shape.

Tian Tan is the world’s largest outdoor seated Buddha, though not the largest Buddha by a big margin. This bronze big boy is 85 feet tall from his base, on a lotus atop another platform.

Surrounding the big Buddha are six smaller (but still very large) bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. Wikipedia says that these symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.

When I set out to see Tian Tan, I thought it was an antiquity. I thought, “here’s a Buddha who’s been here for hundreds of years.” Boy howdy, am I an idiot. Tian Tan was constructed between 1990 and 1993. My niece is older.

Oh, and there’s a gift shop in the base, because of course there is.

In the “things Steven finds amusing” department, this book was in one of the gift shops in Ngong Ping:

What’s the biggest bronze statue you’ve ever seen?

41/52 (and 20 of 30!)


The Great Buddha of Kamakura

When I went to Hong Kong in 2008, I went to see a very large Buddha on a hill-side.  Tian-Tan is 112 feet tall and it sits atop a mountain near a monastery.  It’s enormous and amazing, and I was very excited to see a piece of antiquity.  The problem, I later found out, is that Hong Kong’s big Buddha isn’t all that old.  In fact, it was built between 1990 and 1993, in roughly the same amount of time as it took me to finally pass algebra during my first go at college.

The Great Buddha of Kamakura has no such problems with its ancestry.  The Amida Buddha located at the Kōtoku-in Temple dates from around 1252, and it has weathered storms and earthquakes.  With this in mind, I set about during my last full weekend in Japan to go see a big Buddha.

Kamakura is about 30 miles outside of Tokyo, so it didn’t take long to get there.  Once in Kamakura, a local tram can be used to get closer to Kōtoku-in.


Once you reach the appropriate stop, it’s easy to find the Temple.  Just follow the crowds!  There’s also helpful signage in case of natural disasters.


Sometimes, you see people in traditional garb around temples.


Once you reach the Temple, you’re supposed to cleanse yourself with these little spoon-like things.


…but don’t use the water to cleanse your mouth!


A short walk past the washing station, the Amida Buddha comes into view.


Made entirely of bronze, this Buddha was once gilded.  There are still traces of gold leaf on the head, near the ears.


Clocking in at just under 44 feet tall, this Buddha is only about a third the size of Tian-Tan, but it’s much more impressive because of how long it has been here.


Here’s an obligatory selfie to prove I was actually there.  Honestly, sometimes I don’t think I would believe all the places I’ve been if I wasn’t actually in some of the photographs.


Behind the Buddha, there are giant bronze “leaves” etched with what I assume are prayers.


The detail is incredible.  Remember, this is all metalwork.


When I first walked around to the rear of the statue, I didn’t know what the flaps on the Buddha’s back were all about.  I thought it kind of looked like exhaust ports on a giant robot.  Buddha Gundam!


It turns out that the flaps are windows, because you can go inside the Buddha. This is the view looking up into Buddha’s neck-hole from inside.


The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 destroyed the base of the statue, and it was repaired in 1925.  Further repairs were done in 1960-1961, when the neck was strengthened and measures were taken to protect the Buddha from earthquakes.  This sign inside the Buddha talks about construction techniques used to make the statue, as well as some detail about how it was reinforced.


On my walk back to the train from the Buddha, I stopped for a little snack at one of the many shops along the way.


This is a red bean paste treat.   I love red bean paste in dessert foods.  The only place I see bean paste in foods here in the US is at Chinese or Japanese buffets.  This is a travesty of the highest order.


What’s the largest religious icon you’ve ever seen?