Buddah’s Belly isn’t just the name of a restaurant in Santa Monica, it’s a real destination in Hong Kong. Imagine my surprise when, during a Sunday afternoon excursion to the peaceful island of Lantau, I found myself walking through a doorway into the belly of the world’s largest bronze, seated Buddah. The locals call it “Big Buddah” and, at 112 feet tall, it’s a major tourist attraction. The monks who operate the nearby temple have turned the whole thing into a ‘meal ticket.’ They’ve opened a vegetarian restaurant deep inside the statue and in order to gain admittance you have to purchase either a lunch or snack ticket. I paid the minimum and got a bottle of water.
Right next to the “Big Buddah” is Lantau Peak, one of the largest mountains in Hong Kong. My colleague wanted to hike to the summit, taking a “path” that consisted of thousands of rocks placed into the side of the mountain, forming a nearly 80-degree climb that makes the stairs on Adelaide look like a walk down Rodeo Drive. And it gets better: There are snakes. I foolishly agreed to the climb, despite the fact that I was wearing a wool sweater and sport coat. 25-minutes and one snake later, I knew I had made a mistake. “Does the rest of the ‘path’ look like this … and how much longer is it?,” I asked a couple of hikers who were on their way down.” “For an experienced hiker, it’s about another hour to the summit,” one of them replied, “And the rest of the trail is just as steep as this, with no break in the ascent.” “Hasta La Vista, Baby,” I called to my colleague, “I’m heading back to Buddah’s Belly for some grub.” But we didn’t go back to the Buddah. We spent a pleasant hour wandering through pathways that led to the town below.
No visit to Lantau would be complete without a quick visit to the Tai O fishing village. The guidebooks call it the "Venice of Hong Kong," but -- while some spots in Hong Kong have a European feel -- Tai O is distinctly Asian. Small houses are built on stilts and weave their way through a series of winding docks and bridges. Everything in Tai O revolves around the ocean. Area residents leave plates of fish in the sun in front of their homes to dry. They sell all kinds of fishy merchandise -- everything from dried fish necklaces to stewed fish heads -- in an outdoor market. I ordered something they call "Chinese Pizza" -- a crepe filled with local greenery and special sauce -- and it was delicious.