Letting the lungs of Hong Kong take your breath away

A 700-year-old temple on Lantau Island. Photo Crystal Jones / NewsMail
A 700-year-old temple on Lantau Island. Photo Crystal Jones / NewsMail Crystal Jones

THERE are very few places in the world that can seem to transport you to another realm entirely, but without question, Lantau Island is one of them.

When I first arrived in Hong Kong, the first thing I noticed was the grey sky, the thick, humid atmosphere and the fact the air had a slight smell.

Not necessarily a revolting smell, but a stale, industrial aroma that I'd slowly get used to for my 10 days abroad.

It was a different story entirely once I got to Lantau Island.

After a week in the hustle and bustle of Kowloon, I'd finally had the chance to visit a place I'd read about with wonder ever since I started planning my trip to China.

It took three bus rides and one adventure on a bumpy ferry for me to get to Lantau Island - but this magical place was well worth it.

Shortly after we arrived by ferry, we were taken on a winding bus ride that took us up a mountain shrouded in greenery and speckled with an occasional butterfly or wildflower.

The island is the largest in all of Hong Kong, and as a tour guide told me, the government is keen to leave it as natural as possible and not over-develop it.

As we journeyed higher up the mountain, a pair of beautiful buffalo wandered past the bus - apparently farming was once a lucrative industry on the island and the cows were set free by the largely Buddhist community when these farms were abandoned.

Its magical forests and ocean breezes are responsible for Lantau Island being nicknamed the lungs of Hong Kong and it only takes a moment on the island to note the contrast.

Instead of air like that in the city which smelled a little like stagnant water, there was fresh breeze.

The pure white sands and sparkling water of Cheung Sha beach was the first stop, where I got to dip my feet in the South China Sea.

Aside from one lifeguard, a couple of workers keeping the beach tidy and manning a kiosk, the beach was practically deserted.

We were then taken on a boat ride through the Tai O fishing village, famous for its stilt houses where fishing families live above the water with a peaceful tranquillity.

A little boy waved to me from his father's arms as I gazed at the Chinese lanterns and potted gardens that adorned their balconies.

A little boy waved to me from his father's arms as I gazed at the Chinese lanterns and potted gardens that adorned their balconies.

A tour guide told me that the Tai O fishing village probably wouldn't be there next time we returned, which seemed a shame.

A 700-year-old temple was especially captivating at the fishing village, and I languished there for as long as I could, taking in the scent of incense, the beautiful antique statues and the piles of perfect fruit given as offerings.

For the cost of a coin or two, visitors are encouraged to light some incense sticks and say a prayer to the deities in the temple. I had the chance to do this and felt honoured to be kindly welcomed by local families who were also praying in the temple.

With only about 45,000 people, Lantau Island has a very small population compared to the rest of Hong Kong.

Many young people leave the island to work in the city, only returning for weekends or to see their parents - and I can only imagine how much of a therapy this island must be for those who are immersed in the daily grind of the non-stop Hong Kong culture.

Everywhere you look on the island is something to take your breath away.

Even from a distance, the huge 85-foot high statue of Buddha can be seen above the mountains at Ngong Ping.

The statue is the largest of its kind in the world, and was crafted from a mixture of bronze with a small amount of gold.

The inside of the building beneath the beautiful bronze statue houses a number of artworks depicting Buddha's life and two tiny fragments of bone said to have once belonged to the man himself.

Nearby on the mountain is the Lo Pin Monastery, a number of souvenir shops, vegetarian food shops and a restaurant that cooked my tour group a delicious feast fit for a king.

I was told a new wing of the monastery was being built so that people could have their accommodation there, and it seemed donations were being collected for its creation.

The museum area beneath the bronze Buddha is also a shrine to the many volunteers who financially aided the monument's construction.

A cable car ride back to Hong Kong's main islands was especially exhilarating, and took about 45 minutes travelling through picturesque mountains and over the ocean between the islands.

Once you let go of your fears and realise you're flying through the air like a bird, it's an incredibly free and peaceful mode of travel as the wind whistles all around you.

I only got to spend one day at the western part of the island, but I am sure one day I'll be back sooner or later to spend more time in this enchanting place.

Topics:  china hong kong travel

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