Po Lin Monastery
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrA charmingly colorful Buddhist sanctum, set high on the Ngong Ping Plateau of Lantau Island , Po Lin (or Precious Lotus) Monastery, is one of the most striking attractions that you’ll find in Hong Kong. Once upon a time it was known to but a handful of faithful disciples and was secluded by mountainous terrain and lush vegetation. Nowadays, thanks to the construction of the adjoining Tian Tan Buddha (and nearby Ngong Ping 360 cable car system), it is one of the city’s most easily accessible attractions, although still not one of the most visited. Many would argue that the relatively minimal crowd is what makes this one of Hong Kong’s most enjoyable wonders to explore. Intricately carved, colorfully decorated and home to important relics, Po Lin is a delightful place to discover and a serene getaway from the hustle of Hong Kong’s city center.
How the Monastery Came to LifeThe monastery was initiated by three Buddhist monks, who migrated to the region from China’s eastern Jiangsu Province, at the beginning of the 20th century. Disciples of the Jinagtian Monastery, the three monks found this site to be particularly fitting and peaceful, and the construction, known initially as ‘The Thatched Hut’, consisted of nothing more than a small, thatched-roof stone house. As its popularity grew, with the region’s most devout residents, so did the structure. A plot of arable land was cleared for the growing of crops and within merely two decades, it was home to an ever-increasing number of followers and resident monks.
The first main hall, the Hall of Great Perfection, was built in 1928 with collective efforts from monks, nuns, and laymen from all over the island. Soon after, a series of temple halls, dining halls, and pagodas were added. Today, there are over 21 separate sections which make up the grand monastery, only a handful of which are open to the public.
Tian Tan BuddhaPo Lin Monastery is synonymous with the Big Buddha statue, built here in 1993 and, although the abbey itself should be considered a bona fide attraction, the 34-meter tall statue (the largest of its kind in the world) demands the most attention.
The statue’s inception dates back to the late 1970s, after the Chinese Government granted the monastery a 6,000 square-meter plot of adjacent land. Construction began in 1981, and is today regarded as a magnificent example of Buddhist architecture. Central to its reverence, is the fact that the design’s primary goal was to include the Buddha’s 32 main physical characteristics, as outlined in the sutras.
It took artists from the Guangzhou Institute of Fine Arts almost three years to complete a plaster model, sized to one-fifth of the intended scale. Every single feature of the gigantic statue has specific meaning, from the pearl and shell headdress symbolizing wisdom, perfectly shaped eyebrows representative of full moons, the right hand signifying acceptance and the left, resting on his lap, calling disciples to pray.
Construction to scale was made in the Astronautics and Science Plant in Mainland China and the 202 separate pieces of bronze, were carried to the site on Lantau by land and sea. Buddha’s face, which is a single piece weighing 5 tons, was the last (and most difficult) to reach the site. With much ceremonial fanfare, the cap adorning Buddha’s head was the final piece added to the completed statue, on the 13th October, 1989.
Tian Tan Buddha opened to the public in 1993 and, together with the Po Lin Monastery, it is nowadays known as the ‘Buddhist World in the South’.
What You Can Expect When VisitingThere are almost 4,000 people a day who take the extremely scenic gondola ride to Lantau, many of whom take the short walk to visit the Big Buddha. The statue, with its vertiginous 268-step staircase (well worth the effort!) is by far the busiest spot on the island at any given time, which actually makes the Po Lin Monastery itself a wonderful place for some quiet contemplation.
The base of the Buddha statue is home to three separate halls which you can visit, as well as plenty of souvenir shops and various eateries including the ubiquitous Subway. Once past the over-commercialised section, you’ll find the Buddha, and superlative views granted from the top which are absolutely breathtaking.
If pressed for a recommendation, many visitors would advise against lunching at the food-section at the statue and, instead, enjoying a quiet and delicious Chinese vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery.
Both the monastery and Big Buddha are free to visit, yet a HK$75 ($9.75) ticket is needed to step inside the base of the statue. Opening times are from 10am to 5.45pm, every day of the week. If you suffer an aversion to disproportionate crowds, then we suggest you don’t visit on Sundays or any religious days, as the site gets overwhelmingly crowded with faithful pilgrims as well as tourists and locals.
To get the most out your visit to the monastery and surrounding attractions, plan to spend a half-day on Lantau Island.
How to Get ThereThe most enjoyable way to reach the Po Lin Monastery is via the cable car, found nearby the w-MTR station at Tung Chung. Alternatively, you can take bus #23 from the Tung Chung Town Center, for a 45-minute ride to Lantau. It will be about a 10-minute walk to the monastery from the final bus stop.
- Ngong Ping 360
- Ngong Ping Cultural Village
- Tian Tan Buddha
- Tai O Fishing Village
Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.
Author: Laura Pattara. Last updated: Jan 26, 2015