The world’s largest seated Buddha is on top of a mountain on a small island off the coast of Hong Kong. There are two ways to get to Big Buddha, also known as Tian Tan Buddha. The first is to walk there. I believe it’s called the Wisdom Path. If I had to guess, a 10-15 mile walk. Through the trees and over several mountains. The path is wooden in some areas, stone in others. It would have to take an entire day to get there and back. But nonetheless, it is not handicapped accessible. Although I don’t know if I would have attempted that path if I were an Olympic gold medalist.
The second option is to take a cable car tram. We opted for this. We had two options – a crystal floor or the standard floor. We chose the crystal floor, which was essentially a glass floor, for the ride up and the standard for the ride down. I would recommend saving the money and going with the standard both ways.
This tram was probably the longest I’ve ever been on, with several turns and long, long stretches over mountains and mountains to get to the final stop. Probably a 25 minute ride each way. Each car can hold roughly six people. And the cars were extremely accessible. They slowed at the loading and unloading points and I simply rolled right in, and right out. The staff was amazing and did not make a big scene over the process. I don’t like unsolicited attention, so this was greatly appreciated.
Once we got to the top of the mountain, we had a short walk, maybe 5 minutes, to get to the bottom of Big Buddha. And that’s when it got tricky. Big Buddha was at the top of 268 steps. Tony and I knew this beforehand and had discussed that he should go alone and enjoy the experience and I would observe from the bottom. After all, what were the options?
After we took a few photos from the bottom, I told Tony to hand me his bag and jacket and that I would see him at the bottom when he got back. He started pacing back and forth, looking around in a strange way. I was headed to sit by a bench when he turned around and said, “Let’s go!”
“What? Go where?”
“To the top. I’m going to pull you up.”
“Why? That’s way too far and you’ll hurt yourself.”
“You can’t miss this. We can do it and we’ll just stop and take breaks at some of the platforms if needed.” I have always been grateful for the people in my life and acts like this are exactly why!
After a little bit of debate on my side that it wasn’t really necessary, I found myself turned around, ready to be pulled up the first step, when a very nice gentleman stopped us and told us the staff would drive us up the back of the mountain if we asked.
Who would have known? I could have completely missed out on this experience had Tony not been so adamant on getting me to the top. We shuffled through a few people directing us here and there, and eventually found ourselves in the monastery next to the Big Buddha. We waited patiently as the staff arranged for a vehicle to come pick us up, personally, to drive Tony and me to the top of the Big Buddha.
While we waited, we got to experience a bit of the monastery that we would have never seen if it wasn’t for my disability. Monks in their natural environment. Beautiful and peaceful gardens. It was gorgeous.
The pickup truck pulled up and one staff member who knew English helped us communicate with the driver as to the amount of time we would need at the top. We indicated that about 20 minutes would suffice. He told the driver what he needed to know, helped put the wheelchair in the back of the truck, and we drove off. It was a short ride up the back of the mountain, maybe five minutes. It must have been a service road as it was in excellent condition.
Once we arrived at the top, Tony pulled the wheelchair out of the back and we began our journey around the Big Buddha. It was much different than I expected. Not as peaceful as I had hoped and full of tourists. People everywhere. There was even an ice cream shop in the hollow of the statue.
But I made it to the top! We rushed through taking photos and seeing as much of Buddha as we could. I felt bad having someone just sit in a truck out back waiting for us. We went back as quickly as we could and headed back down. At the bottom, the driver attempted to communicate with us and was so very kindly going to drop us off wherever we wanted. There were shops, restaurants, the monastery…all sorts of places he could have dropped us. We were fine with walking as long as it was flat, so we opted for an area near some tourist shops.
We browsed along the overly crowded tourist shops when we encountered an elderly local woman making corn on the cob out of a very small shop. The grill she was using was round, old, and smoking. But it was effective. Tony tried the corn and loved it!
He commented afterwards how cool it was that the people on this mountain had come up with a creative way to turn the Big Buddha into a tourist site while still allowing the local people to have their businesses running. And that doing so really added value for the tourists. It was a very true observation.
We visited a few other monasteries on our trip. Although they were all tourist attractions, the beauty each of them had was astonishing. It was exactly like you see in pictures and read about in books. They were all accessible, with ramps permanently built for even the smallest step. And what fascinated me the most was that some of them had multiple religions all practicing out of the same building, something I would have never thought existed anywhere.