The very mention of Hong Kong usually conjures up images of skyscrapers, high-end restaurants and crowded shopping streets. There is, however, another side to this seemingly busy Asian territory. I discovered early this year, on my maiden trip to the Far East, the little-known wonders on the island of Lantau. This is the island on the Pearl River that houses Hong Kong’s bustling international airport. But barely a 20-minute drive away is an idyllic village called “Ngong Ping”.
Why I Chose Ngong Ping Over Disneyland
Most first-timers with a Hong Kong visa prefer a trip to the famous Disneyland on the same island of Lantau – incidentally, the largest island of this nation. However, for those of us who prefer quietude over cacophony and natural sights over manmade rides, Ngong Ping Village offers some relief. Quite unlike mainstream Hong Kong, this hamlet, located on an undulating, hilly terrain, is a paradise of sorts – lush green mountain vegetation on all sides, a quaint marketplace lined with dainty shops, and a chilly climate, uncharacteristic of its subtropical position.
A Cablecar To Fly You There
There are several ways to reach Ngong Ping from the airport, but the prettiest way, undoubtedly, is to take the ropeway. You can take a taxi or a bus from the HK arrivals area and get off at the Tung Chung stop. The cable car ride begins from here. It is possible to buy tickets on the spot, but I had prebooked mine on Klook to avoid the queues (which get longer as the day wears on).
The Gondola Ride
The cable car ride is aptly named “Ngong Ping 360” for the 360-degree views of Hong Kong that it provides. The standard gondolas are glass-walled but have an opaque floor. For a slightly higher fee, you can get yourself a crystal cabin which is transparent on all sides. The premium gondola is worth the extra charge as it lets you view the forestlands, walking trails, treetops and many other gorgeous things without hindrance. The ride takes 30 minutes each way, and offers plenty of time to soak in the picturesque Lantau Peak, aerial views of the South China Sea, the amazing multi-layered road network of Hong Kong and several of its islands, bridges that connect the islands, and ships at the harbour. (If you ever plan to enter this country through another route, take a look at this set of information to help you prepare better.)
The Village Walkway
This high-tech village has free WiFi and is split into three sections: Village Square, Bodhi Path and Country Market. The village square is essentially the place for eateries. There are teahouses and umpteen restaurants and cafes waiting to serve you exotic teas and cuisines from Hong Kong, China and other international flavours. The Bodhi Path has the information centre and some installations from the Buddhist culture. The final section of the village walkway is the country market which has a string of shops selling a lot of unique cultural things, such as chopsticks, art, silver, gadgets, souvenirs and a lot more. When shopping
Buddhism In Lantau
Beyond the village walkway is the religious part of this island. After you have crossed the iconic white gate and the sprawling paved route, you will reach the palatial shrine area. This is preceded by a circular stage with flags all around it. To your right will be a stairway (with countless steps) to a giant statue of the Buddha – Tian Tan monument. You can either take on the arduous climb to the statue or stay back and explore the Po Lin Monastery.
Po Lin Monastery
This Buddhist monastery was built in 1906 in traditional Chinese architecture. The courtyard has a huge stand for worship purposes, around which devotees offer their prayers by way of lighting incense sticks. The scent of the incense wafts throughout the courtyard and perhaps inside the main shrine which has three large statues of the Buddha that represent his past, present and future. I am not a religious traveller, so without dwelling too long before the temple, I headed back to the food lane for some lunch.
Eat Like A Hongkonger
The average HK local has 5 meals a day, the last one being a sort of midnight snack (wow! 🙂 ) which is consumed hours after dinner and called “siu yeh“. While they have plenty of meats on offer, vegetarians will find sufficient options without having to resort to other cuisines. Dim sums, baos and congees apart, Hong Kong offers interesting soup bowls which are large enough to be the entire meal. Being China’s Special Administrative Region, the place is big on flavoured teas. They even have a tea museum!
Beyond Ngong Ping – Lantau Peak
For those who love to hike, Lantau Peak happens to be the second highest peak in Hong Kong at 934 metres. Also known as Fung Wong Shan, the peak is clearly the tallest on Lantau Island, especially when viewed from the Ngong Ping plateau. The trek begins from the same point as that of the Wisdom Path which passes a tea garden. If you are not up for the entire thing, just do the Ngong Ping Fun Walk and come back.
Nei Lak Shan Country Trail
If you are of the courageous type, attempt the Lantau Peak hike early at around 4 am. This will give you enough time to reach the peak in time for a glorious sunrise. You can spend the night at the youth hostel along this trail, or just bring your own tent and sleeping bags if you prefer roughing it out. The Nei Lak Shan country trail will give you ample opportunities for bird photography and an insight into subtropical plants.
Useful Information For Hong Kong
- Indians must apply for pre-arrival registration for Hong Kong before the trip. RedCarpet Assist ensures hassle-free visa application.
- Hong Kong Dollars is the official currency of the country. However, some shops happily accept US dollars if you run out of HKD.
- Most locals do not speak much English (if at all). So, come prepared to play some long rounds of dumb-charades 😉 (Just kidding! If you’re lucky, some expats or English-speaking students will help you out.)
Which version of Hong Kong do you prefer more – city or village?
Have you heard of any other offbeat places here?
Let me know through your comments below. 🙂