WHAT’S IT LIKE? It is possible to fit up to 17 passengers in one of the cabins of the Ngong Ping Skyrail, or 10 seated on either side along the benches. For our ride from Tung Chung Terminal up to Ngong Ping village, there were just six of us. And four were petrified.
Thankfully, this was because of vertigo rather than any high wind conditions or genuine danger. The ride is extremely safe, and if the wind picks up, the ride is closed. It’s a brave undertaking to open a visitor attraction, that as a result on average, will be shut for 90 days a year, but that’s what has been done with the Ngong Ping 360. For that, and for the fact that it is an astonishing achievement, it deserves a round of applause for the engineers, Hongkong residents and Skyrail-ITM. The ride time is 20 to 25 minutes, and passing two angle stations located at Airport Island and Nei Lak Shan (passengers stay onboard for the whole ride) a series of slow, but spectacular swoops of the cable takes you from 30m to 135m along a 3.5-mile cableway.
THE HIGHLIGHT: On the way, there are views of North Lantau Country Park, the South China Sea, Tung Chung Bay and, most impressive of all, Chek Lap Kok Airport, while just before the top is reached, there’s the chance for a photo call from an automatic camera (you can buy this at the top station).
OTHER ATTRACTIONS: When you get there, you’ll find the new village set on a 1.5-hectare site. Architecturally designed to incorporate traditional Chinese features with landscaped gardens it’s an inoffensive, anonymous place, overshadowed and upstaged by the huge 250-tonne bronze Tian Tan Buddha on the hill. There are gift shops of various descriptions, and several restaurants as well as a 7-Eleven and a Starbucks Coffee shop.
Depending on the ticket you have bought, you will have the option of visiting some of the attractions in the village. We tried Walking with Buddha, a “multi-media experience that explores and explains the life of Siddhartha Gautama (the man who became Buddha) and his path to enlightenment” .
So much for the marketing. This is the history of Buddha as conveyed by audio tape and cartoon. There are seven?scenes, or eight if you include queuing for the final entrance to the exhibit while being told by a disembodied voice (American accent for English-speaking visitors) that we should turn off phones so as to not disturb other people’s experience, not take photos or video and make sure to keep the headphones on at all times. This advice was on a loop, and repeated several times while we waited, so we all pretended we had not heard, and took off the headphones.
At first, we saw a statue of a Buddha under a Bodhi tree while scented mist was blown over us. Then, we got through to a theatre to watch a cartoon of the early life of the Buddha. We then walked though a dark wood (the symbolism here is a little heavy-handed), watched another cartoon, then finally walked through to a room. This might have seemed rushed were it not for longeurs between each new room. During one of these, a colleague told me that the cartoon had been hard for her to follow because her audio system had failed, “I lost my words,” she said. She was in a better position than me, who was lost for words.
Finally in the penultimate room (“The Temple” ), we picked out a plastic leaf with some wisdom written on it and then bizarrely fed it into a machine with a Buddha statue sitting on it, this statue glowing with light as it ingested each leaf. Finally, we walked through the roots of a giant artificial Bodhi tree reading Buddhist wisdom both on the floor and on the walls, and escaped into another gift shop.?It is difficult to fit a man’s life into 15 minutes, but the tour did make 15 minutes last a lifetime.
Passing up the opportunity to try the other attractions: the Monkey’s Tale Theatre and Ngong Ping Tea House, we visited the Po Lin monastery below the Buddha. It is in two parts with the new one at the front, and the old one at the back. In the courtyard between the two, there is a large billboard showing how fundraising is coming along. I assumed this was for repair of the old monastery, but was told in fact it was for funds to tear the old one down and build a new one.
The visitor is then in a quandary: donate, and help destroy the most beautiful – and old – thing up there, or not donate, and feel bad about not contributing.
?Still before the journey back down, we fortified ourselves with the dim sum upstairs at the Pak Log Garden restaurant, where the food was hot, delicious, served quickly and with a minimum of fuss. Then, it was back to the cable car, and another white knuckle trip ride down for six of the eight. At least, we all smiled for the photo this time.
PRICES: Journey of Enlightenment Package US$18.64, children US$9.64; peak days US$19.92/10.28.?Includes return Ngong Ping Skyrail, entry to Walking with Buddha and Monkey’s Tale attractions.