Hong Kong

Written by on January 6, 2013 in Asia, General with 0 Comments

I first visited Hong Kong 12 years ago on my first round the world trip and really loved it the first time around, so I jumped at the chance to build in a short stopover in round the world ticket to check it out during the holiday season.  I landed around 7a after a pleasant flight in my little pod up front on a Cathay Pacific 747, and took full advantage of their arrivals lounge.  After a nice shower, a big breakfast and lots of coffee, I jumped on the bus and headed to my hostel in Hong Kong Central to drop my bags before heading out to explore.  I can’t remember why, but on the last trip, I hadn’t made it out to visit the Tian Tan Buddha (aka, the Big Buddha), so made it my priority for today.  I think I must have been sick or something the last time.

Anyway, had I looked at a map before arriving in Hong Kong, I would have realized that the Buddha was actually right next to the airport .  Doh!  So, after lunch at a spot with lighting fast wifi, which I took full advantage of to upload a bunch of pictures and a couple blog posts, I hopped back on the MTR (metro) and headed almost all the way back out to the airport.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that at the base of the cable cars that were about to whisk me up to the Big Buddha was an outlet mall and a huge movie theater complex.  As most of you know, I love going to the movies and with all the new ones out for the holidays, I was now very excited to have a Big Buddha – Hobbit double-header.  It was overcast and threatening rain, and I didn’t know a soul in Hong Kong, so it had the making for a perfect Debbie afternoon.

I bought a RT ticket for the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and hopped in, not realizing that the one cable car actually takes 25 minutes and whisks passengers 5.7km, travelling between Tung Chung Town Centre and Ngong Ping on Lantau Island.

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The cable car offers panoramic views of the Hong Kong International Airport, South China Sea, the Tian Tan Buddha Statue, as well as the flora and fauna of North Lantau Country Park.  Too bad it was a gloomy and overcast day.

On the fourth stretch over the hills/pathways below, you could finally see the Buddha, which was definitely BIG… one of the 5 big buddha statues in China.

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I hopped off the cable car and had to walk through a few blocks of tourist trap shops and photo opps with cartoon characters before looking up the several flights of stairs to the massive Buddha perched at the top of the hill.

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I made my way up the stairs to check him out up close and snap a few pictures. Hi!!

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Tian Tan Buddha was finished in 1993 and is a major center for Buddhism in Hong Kong.  It was named Tian Tan because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  I thought these statues were quite cool, too.

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The Po Lin Monastery, which was founded by 3 monks in 1906, is also on Lantau Island.

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It was very colorful and had some beautiful flower arrangements on the steps leading up to it.

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There were some monks praying, but it seemed more like a tourist attraction than a religious place to me.  Just an opinion.   I don’t think my head was into it after seeing the Buddha as I was more excited to race down the mountain on the cable car to catch my movie!

Unfortunately I had not taken into account the massive line that had formed and had to wait an hour before boarding, and then the half an hour down.  Had it not been gray and gloomy and starting to rain , it would have been a really pretty ride down.  I got to the box office and the movie had started 10 minutes before.  Damn. I had to settle for “Jack Reacher”, the only thing showing in the next hour was Jack Reacher.  Tom Cruise was going to have to do.   There was pretty tight security monitoring all the theaters in the place, or I might have attempted to movie-hop to the next showing of the Hobbit.  Oh well.  I did get my popcorn fix!

I jumped on the metro and decided to hop off in Kowloon to check out the Temple Street night market.

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It was buzzing with people and stands selling everything from Chinese paintings to knock-off handbags to mini travel stores selling mini mag-lites, luggage locks and pen knives.

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They also had several places selling local food that were jammed with in-the-know tourists and locals alike.  I strolled around for an hour or so, sampled some street meat (aka, chicken skewers) and walked towards the waterfront to check out the skyline by night.

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Hong Kong’s skyline is gorgeous at any time of the year, but they went all out in decorating some of their skyscrapers with Christmas lights.

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In fact, a lot of the streets and malls throughout the city were adorned with holiday decorations.  The whole city seemed in the holiday spirit, despite the temperature being a balmy 75 degrees.  I took the star ferry across to HK Island and found a place advertising Belgian beers…a sign that I had to stop there to indulge in a giant Hoegaarden (my favorite beer) to break up the walk back to my hostel in Causeway Bay.

I finally checked in around 10:30p and was given the key to my room, a 9 person female dorm which had 3 sets of triple-stacked bunk beds with one small bathroom to share amongst the 9 of us.  Half the girls were already in bed trying to sleep and half were getting ready to go out for the night!  Glad my ear plugs and eye mask were close at hand.  I had brought a bottle of Pinotage from South Africa and had a couple glasses to wind down before finally taking an ambien to knock myself out.  Jet lag, I guess.

The ambien did the trick and I slept til 11a, which was really nice.  I had no agenda for today, other than to go see the Hobbit and wander around some more, so I found out it was playing at the Grand Cinema at a place called Elements, which turned out to be a beautiful high end shopping mall.  I didn’t need to do any shopping, but it was quite enjoyable watching everyone else in the holiday spirit.

I was disappointed with the movie, but simply enjoyed being at the movies.  Afterwards I was going to walk back to the waterfront, but then saw a sign for a few high end hotels and decided to check out the lobby bar at the W, where I’m sure I could enjoy a glass of wine (or three) along with their free wifi in an upscale setting where I could pretend I wasn’t a backpacker for the day.   How appropriate that they had Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc by the glass – another one my favorites!

I wasn’t about to let a Saturday night in Hong Kong go to waste, so packed up my stuff and headed to Lan Kwai Fong, an area with a lot of Western bars and restaurants that were popular with expats.  How times have changed!  Or maybe my memory was foggy, as I remembered it as a small street with a few trendy bars and restaurants.  Now it was a few streets of pubs and bars that were far from trendy and were getting packed with “mainlanders”.  I finally stumbled upon a steakhouse called Wagyu, which had a nice menu and good vibe…and free wifi.

Wifi has become my crutch when out alone at dinner or even at bars…especially on a Saturday night.  Pop my computer open and do some writing, email friends and family, or research the next place and I’m happy and quickly get over being out alone.  I’m surprised more places don’t invest in having free wifi…and making sure it works at all times.  Those two words have dictated where I stay, eat or drink in countless places on this trip.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not online all the time.  But, if I can’t get online when I’d like to, or when I go to a place that offers it but then it doesn’t work or has a weak signal, it drives me crazy.  Wifi is one thing I know I will enjoy in Asia, remembering how scarce and expensive it was in Africa.

Anyway, I had a great steak and a one too many glasses of wine and made my way back to my crummy hostel well after midnight.  I almost didn’t make my 8am flight in the morning as I got to the airport 45 minutes before taking off for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.  Luckily, I was able to sweet talk my way through immigration, security and was one of the last to board before take off.  I was extremely hung over and still half asleep, but I made it.  I found my friend Deborah on the plane and gave her a quick hug before slumping into my seat and passing out for the duration.

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