The most famous attractions on Lantau (in addition to Disneyland) are the Giant Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, both situated on the plateau of Ngong Ping at an elevation of 738m (2,421 ft.). The Buddha is so huge that you'll have your first glimpses of it en route. More than 30m (98 ft.) tall and weighing 250 tons, it was erected in 1993 as the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha and can be seen as far away as Macau (or so it is claimed) on clear days. Some 260 steps lead up to the Buddha itself, but first you should stop at the ticket office at the bottom of the steps to purchase a meal ticket, since the other reason people come to Po Lin is to eat. The monastery is famous for its vegetarian lunches, served in a big dining hall (see "Where to Dine"). Your meal ticket doubles as your admission ticket to a small museum inside the base of the statue, but there isn't much to see here. Rather, the best part is the view of the surrounding countryside from the statue's platform, which is free. The Giant Buddha is open daily from 10am to 5:30pm.
It's a couple minutes' walk onward to the colorful Po Lin Monastery, largest and best known of the dozens of Buddhist monasteries on Lantau. Po Lin (which means "precious lotus") was first established more than 100 years ago by reclusive monks; the present buildings date from 1921 and 1970. The ornate main temple houses three bronze statues of Buddha, representing the past, present, and future; it also has a brightly painted vermilion interior with dragons and other Chinese mythical figures on the ceiling. You'll probably want to spend about a half-hour wandering through the grounds here, but the best thing to do is dine on vegetarian cuisine .
As for other things to do on Ngong Ping, about a 15-minute walk from the Giant Buddha, at the foot of Lantau Peak, is the Wisdom Path, designed in a figure eight to symbolize infinity and marked by 38 towering wooden pillars, each bearing a portion of the centuries-old Heart Sutra in Chinese characters. If you're truly adventurous or energetic, you can continue the climb to the top of Lantau Peak, the second-tallest peak in Hong Kong (1,000m/3,281 ft.); plan on 3 hours for the hike up and back.
Just a couple minutes' walk from the Buddha is also Ngong Ping Village (tel. 852/3666 0606; www.np360.com.hk), a Disneyesque interpretation of a traditional Chinese village with white-washed walls and landscaping. It's home to the Ngong Ping Cable Car as well as souvenir shops (my favorite is the Chopstick Gallery) and restaurants. There are also two minor attractions: Walking with Buddha, a multimedia museum that describes the life of Siddhartha Gautama (who lived 2,500 years ago in Nepal and became Buddha), his path to enlightenment, the origin of Buddhism, and the religion's subsequent expansion around the world; and Monkey's Tale Theatre, which presents a computer-animated comical story with a moral twist about a selfish monkey who, with the help of the Monkey King, learns about greed, humility, friendship, and kindness. Admission to either is HK$36 for adults and HK$18 for children; tickets that bundle attractions with the cable car are also available. Ngong Ping Village is open Monday through Friday from 10am to 6pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 6:30pm (also the operational hours of the cable car).
From Po Lin, you can take the cable car to Tung Chung's MTR station; or you can board buses that will take you back to Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay) or Tung Chung (I always check departure times upon arrival at Po Lin, so I don't have to sit around after a just-missed bus). Energetic travelers can even opt to hike down to Tung Chung in about 3 hours. In Tung Chung, shoppers might want to check out Citygate, Hong Kong's only outlet mall and located right next to the MTR station.
A Tai O excursion
I used to love going to Tai O, a small fishing village once famous for its salt-making industry on the northwestern end of Lantau. It wasn't so much for the stilt houses here, which were never very attractive anyway, but for the slow pace of life; the only way to cross the creek dividing the village was on a boat that was hand-pulled along a rope. A drawbridge now spans the creek and Tai O has grown. But travelers in search of sustainable tourism might want to make a detour here to stay overnight in one of the stilt homes or to visit its protected mangroves. Most people combine Tai O with a trip to Po Lin Monastery.
Visitors can experience life in Tai O through several programs, including an overnight homestay in one of the stilt houses (HK$120) or a boat trip along the Tai O River, all of which provide local residents with jobs. Tai O is interesting also for its protected mangroves and migratory birds. For more information, contact the Tai O Cultural and Ecological Integrated Resource Center, 61-63 Wing On St. (an address it shares with the Hong Kong YWCA), Tai O (tel. 852/2985 6310).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.