The Complete Guide to Hong Kong's Lantau Island

Big Buddha , Hong Kong
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Lantau Island

Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Lantau Island is the biggest of Hong Kong’s 261 islands, but despite easy accessibility, it remains lightly developed compared to others. Visiting Lantau Island is largely about stepping away from the dense, urban hustle of Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. Life is a little slower—but not too much—and the roads are a little windier. In a country that boasts the largest number of skyscrapers on earth, the extra personal space on hilly Lantau Island feels welcome.

Lantau’s relative peace isn’t exactly far away. Hong Kong International Airport is directly adjacent—all the more reason to set aside a few days for enjoying Lantau Island before flying out.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: For the most comfortable weather, visit Lantau Island between late October and December. Spring is also pleasant, but the months between May and September are hot, humid, and sometimes plagued by tropical cyclones.

Language: The official languages in Hong Kong are English and Mandarin Chinese; however, more people speak Cantonese. Roughly half of the population speaks English.

Currency: Hong Kong Dollar (HKD); prices are often written with $ or HK$ before the amount. Other currencies such as Chinese yuan and U.S. dollars are often accepted but stick to using Hong Kong dollars whenever you can.

Getting Around: Taxi is the default way for getting around Lantau Island; the blue ones cover only Lantau Island. Taking one of the NLB buses (New Lantau Bus company) is an inexpensive way to reach places not accessible with the MTR rail system. Uber is technically illegal in Hong Kong, but it’s widely available.

Travel Tip: Major attractions on Lantau Island such as the Po Lin Monastery and Disneyland become inundated with domestic tourists on weekends and holidays, especially during spring and fall. Try to visit popular places on weekdays, and ask your reception desk about Hong Kong festivals and conventions that draw a crowd.

Parade at Hong Kong Disneyland
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Things to Do

There are just enough things to do on Lantau Island to merit staying there a few days. No worries if you’re booked on another island: Regular ferry connections and the MTR make reaching Lantau for day trips easy enough.

Although taking boat excursions to see the highly-threatened “pink dolphins” is a popular activity on Lantau Island, the WWF Hong Kong and other conservation groups discourage the practice.

  • See the Tian Tan Buddha Statue: The Tian Tan Buddha statue at Po Lin Monastery is one of the largest of its kind in the world. The 112-foot-tall bronze statue weighs over 280 tons and sits prominently at the top of 268 steps. The “Big Buddha,” as it’s called locally, isn’t old (it was finished in 1993), but it’s impressive still the same. Enjoying panoramic views from the Ngong Ping 360 cable car while getting there is part of the fun.
  • Go to Disneyland: Even if you’ve been to one of the Disney theme parks elsewhere or the option seems unappealing after traveling around the world for something “different,” reconsider. Hong Kong Disneyland is much smaller and slightly cheaper than its U.S. counterparts. Perhaps the most interesting part is getting to see the Chinese twist on familiar attractions along with cultural nuances at play. You’ll also enjoy plenty of people watching!
  • Explore Rural Villages: Mui Wo is a small town located in Silvermine Bay on Lantau Island's eastern side. The air is fresh, seafood restaurants are inexpensive, and Silvermine Beach is the best around. Mui Wo is also the start and finish of the 43-mile-long hiking loop known as the Lantau Trail. Finishing the whole loop is hardcore, but you can still enjoy day hikes or rent a bicycle to reach even smaller villages. Tai O village on the southwestern side of Lantau is another interesting stop.

Explore more Hong Kong activities with our full-length articles about looking around Discovery Bay, things to do in Hong Kong on a budget, and must-see attractions in Hong Kong.

What to Eat and Drink

Hong Kong rests easily among the best food destinations in the world. With so many islands and bays in the area, seafood lovers have it made. Menu items in restaurants and open-air food centers around Lantau Island are so fresh they’re often still moving! The Mui Wo Food Market is one such food court that serves dim sum to a large crowd in the mornings then switches to noodles and seafood at lunch.

If a squirming menu makes you squeamish, numerous eateries serve delicious Cantonese cuisine and Western staples. Vegetarians shouldn’t miss an opportunity to enjoy the restaurant in Po Lin Monastery. For a simple snack, quick meal, or inexpensive noodles, call into one of the many cha chaan teng (tea restaurants) scattered around the island. Although the food on Lantau is good, you’ll have to cross over to Hong Kong Island to find restaurants that earned their Michelin stars.

Compared to the rest of Hong Kong, Lantau Island’s nightlife isn’t very rowdy. That said, you’ll still find plenty of restaurants, hotel bars, and ex-pat watering holes for enjoying a locally brewed San Miguel.

Where to Stay

Lantau Island is home to just enough hotels to suit all budgets. Of course, hotels near the airport and Disneyland are the priciest. Finding accommodation anywhere becomes challenging during the Lunar New Year festival.

Small, coastal villages such as Mui Wo and Tai O have some great choices for inexpensive accommodation with a view. Backpackers may want to check out the YHA Ngong Ping SG Davis Youth Hostel; facilities are simple, but Po Lin monastery, the Ngong Ping Village market, and local hiking are only a 10-minute walk away.

Getting There

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) sits atop Chek Lap Kok, an island of reclaimed land connected to Lantau Island's northern side. The town of Tung Chung is only three miles from the airport; taking a taxi or one of the regular airport buses is fast and straightforward. Blue taxis travel only to destinations on Lantau Island.

Culture and Customs

  • With a population of 7.5 million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places globally—that works out to roughly 17,565 people squeezed into every square mile! Don’t expect as much personal space or the typical buffer for waiting in lines as you enjoy at home.
  • Shaking hands is common in Hong Kong, but a firm squeeze is uncommon. Lower your eyes a bit to show respect when greeting older people. For fun, you can greet people in Cantonese by saying “nay hoe” (how are you?), but with English so widely spoken, you’re more likely to hear “hello.”
  • Smiling is good in Hong Kong, but winking can make people uncomfortable—don’t do it!
  • White foreigners in Hong Kong are sometimes referred to as gwai lou (“foreign devils”). Although the term is seemingly derogatory, context matters; it isn’t always used as an insult.
  • Chopsticks are the default utensils in Hong Kong; however, Western utensils are readily available. Use good etiquette when eating with chopsticks, and avoid the most frequent mistake made by foreigners: using chopsticks to point at different things on the table!

Money Saving Tips

  • Tipping in Hong Kong isn’t expected, but leaving a little gratuity is a kind gesture. A 10-percent service charge is included on most hotel and restaurant bills. You can still tip a few extra dollars for outstanding service. Always try to tip in cash directly to the waitstaff, and be discreet to prevent any possible loss of face. Keep some HK$20 notes (around $2.50) handy for bellboys and staff at upscale hotels. You can round up fares and let taxi drivers keep the change. Leave a few coins for bathroom attendants.
  • As is customary elsewhere in Asia, some friendly haggling is expected when buying from independent shops and markets.
  • Even if merchants accept payment in U.S. dollars or Chinese yuan (many do), you’ll often lose on the exchange. Use Hong Kong dollars (HKD) for all transactions.
  • Hong Kong and Macau are popular destinations for travelers from the mainland, even more so during big events. There simply isn’t enough room at hotels and attractions. Lunar New Year (January or February) is obviously a big event, but also watch out for the National Day holiday (the first week of October) and Labor Day (the first week of May).
  • Compared to other places in China, alcohol is pricey in Hong Kong. Most venues and hotel bars have happy hour specials; pay attention to posted fliers or ask the staff.
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The Complete Guide to Hong Kong's Lantau Island