Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

Today saw my last day in Hong Kong and I am sad to be leaving so soon. As I would have to carry my luggage around for the duration of the day, I chose a low impact ride in the cable car up to Ngong Ping Village and the Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. This was also convenient in terms of transport as the Airport is built next to Lantau Island on reclaimed land and so only a short bus ride away.

After checking out and a quick visit to the post office, I got the MTR to Tung Chung. Fortunately my book was easily accessible as, despite the looming clouds, every man and his dog seemed to arrive at the same time as me and I had to wait in line for over an hour. This wasn’t so bad with the adventures of Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam in the Barrow Downs to keep me company. However, I was a relief to take my backpack off when I finally made it to the cable car.

I think I may have been jinxed in terms of ever seeing a good view, with either smog or night blocking the way whenever I ascend to a viewing point. Today was no different, though this time the culprit was slightly different in the form of looming clouds that threatened to open at any moment. Fortunately, the rain held off until I made it to the airport, where I can here it now tapping away a merry tune on the roof.

Despite the mountain mist, the views down valleys and at least a little way out to sea were impressive. My favourite point of the cable car ride was a young boy exclaiming that a cloud wreathed mountain was a volcano about erupt. Disembarking from the cable car, I made my way through Ngong Ping Village, the section of which I saw having a decidedly Disneyland feel to it. Much to my amusement I passed several cows wandering around the main square on my way to the steep climb up to the Big Buddha.

The statue was undeniably impressive, as it should be as the second largest outdoor sitting Buddha. The amount of effort and craftsmanship that went in to casting the 250 metric tons of bronze is astounding. After descending from the statue I enjoyed a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery and viewed the dazzling hall of ten thousand Buddhas before finally making my way to the airport where I now sit writing this.

Next stop: Seoul.

Walking the Dragon

When I first came across the urban trail in Hong Kong called the Dragon’s Back, it would have taken me the same amount of restraint not to walk it as is required to prevent me from entering every bookshop I pass. That is, a level of discipline I do not possess was needed, so from day one I knew I would be winding my way along the Dragon’s back sooner or later.

The Dragon’s Back is a part of the eighth and final section of the Hong Kong trail. This section stretches from To Tei Wan to Tai Long Wan (Big Wave Bay) and was the route I walked today. While the official site considers the route as very difficult and taking 3 hours, I would say it is only moderately hard. As for time, it took me two hours but I was pushing myself as I enjoy the challenge of maintaining a faster pace.

But I digress, let us return to the beginning. My day did not have an auspicious start and I ended up take three buses instead of one to get to the start of the trail. This was – in part – my fault as the nature of how to ride the Hong Kong Public Light Buses still eludes me and I am terrible when it comes to shouting for anything, let alone demanding a bus pulls over because it has missed my stop. Ah… these English sensibilities of mine. Clearly this is something I must learn to overcome in the future – I cannot forever be adding hours to planned travel times just because of a dislike of “conflict”. Sometimes I fail to understand my brain.

Anyhow, after making it to the stop, only forty minutes later than intended, I embarked on my quest to climb up to the Dragon’s Back. Years of walking the wild(ish) cliffs of Guernsey had prepared me for this moment and I bounded up the first hundred and fifty steps before slowing to a slightly more maintainable speed. After all, it is important to pace oneself I wasn’t tired.

Making it to the Dragon’s Back, or rather the connecting ridge of the trail, I was transported for a moment back to Sarnia cherie and the sweet cliffs of my homeland. For that precious second, as I gazed down at waves crashing on granite, I saw not the bamboo and machilus trees but instead was surrounded by brambles, gorse and wind swept blackthorn. It was naught more than a fleeting fancy, but it invigorated me nonetheless, and I mad my way along the ridge with renewed vigour.

What goes up must come down, and so it is with any hike. All to soon I found myself descending from the Dragon’s Back and into the tree lined second half of the trail. This section of the route was extremely pleasant, with the worst of the sun blocked by gordonia trees and a few streams crossing it here and there.

Eventually I hit the road and followed it until I finally reached the last descent to Big Wave Bay. This certainly lived up to its name, with a large number of surfers all gathered in the shallows. The extremely jealous part of me tried to console itself by pointing out how the waves broke too soon but in truth my heart sang out with longing for the ocean as it always has and always will. Instead I was forced to merely walk the beach in search of shells and lost treasure

My quest over, I returned to the hostel, catching the correct bus this time, and enjoyed a little Lord of the Rings before eating a well deserved bowl of wanton noodles at Mak’s Noodles.

Buddhas and the Market

Today dawned bright and late. After yesterday’s hike, I decided to have a more relaxed day, with considerably less walking. So after a leisurely breakfast I naturally headed to the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple north of Kowloon. While the train ride was relaxing, the 431 steps up to the temple were slightly less so. Fortunately, the marvellous golden Buddha statues that lined the path cheered me on with the promise of beautiful views and level ground when I reached the top.

Despite my visit coinciding with a group of school children who were all trying to complete some kind of questionnaire or scavenger hunt, the temple itself was undoubtedly impressive. The name of the Ten Thousand Buddha Temple is something of a misnomer as there are in fact almost 13000 Buddha statues in the main hall alone. Sadly the nine level pagoda was under maintenance and I was unable to climb to the top. Nonetheless the views were still spectacular, offering a stunning contrast between the urban and natural landscapes of Hong Kong.

After descending, I made my way back to Hong Kong Island and headed over to Stanley. This was a little nerve wracking as I had forgoton to make a note of where to disembark and of the bus number I needed to catch. There was a part of me worried that I was going to end up in some tiny village with no idea how to get back. Thankfully my memory didn’t fail me and I made it safely to Stanley.

Stanley is possibly the earliest settlement on Hong Kong as records of the initial Chinese fishing village date back to the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620). My reason for going to this scenic little town was the market. There is just something about narrow roads lined with trinkets that draws me in. I often find myself humming the one or two lines of Portobello Road from Bedknobs and Broomsticks that I can remember as I wind my way through piles of keychains, electronics and authentic looking knick knacks.

Stanley market was no different and is perhaps my favourite market so far as it truly had a mix of everything except food and I was hard pushed not to buy more souvenirs than I could carry. After thoroughly exploring it, I meandered along the waterfront, enjoying a little of the tranquillity that always comes from being near the sea. A full stomach later and I once again boarded bus and then train back to the hostel in time for an early and relaxed night before a planned hike tomorrow.

Hong Kong from on High

If yesterday was all about the less talked of side of Hong Kong, today was all about seeing it from the heights. Another girl from the hostel and I started the day off by visiting the Sky City Church, 75 floors up at Central Plaza. From there we rushed over to St Joseph’s Cathedral to meet up with a skip the queue tour on the tram up to Victoria Peak. This was definitely a wise decision as people can wait for over two hours in line to get on the tram otherwise, whereas we waited the five it took for the tram to arrive.

Victoria peak offered impressive views over Hong Kong. We took pleasant stroll around the peak, giving us a chance to appreciate a little of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After the compulsory photos up on the Sky Terrace we got the tram back down and rushed across the water and Kowloon to hike up to Lions Rock.

Lion Rock was enthusiastically touted by our guide as a better version of Victoria peak looking down on Kowloon. We had hoped to reach it in time for sunset as this is supposed to be particularly spectacular view, however the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley and so it was for us. We watched the light fade from the sky as we doggedly continued upwards.

Eventually we were force to resort to torches but still we climbed, and it was most definitely worth it. The view out over a field of city lights was breath-taking (though this could also be attributed to the final upwards stretch). While we may not have been able to see the Lion Rock itself in the dark, the illumination of the city made this my favourite part of the day.

To finish off we climbed back down and got the MTR back to Nathan Road from where we enjoyed a gentle stroll from the Ladies Market down to Temple Street and the Jade Market. This provided a nice opportunity for us to fill out stomachs with a few skewers of dumplings and meat, although I confess to not being adventurous enough to try the pig’s liver or intestine.

So all in all a marvellous day, the only real drawbacks being the view-impeding smog that seems to sit over Hong Kong like a blanket and my very tired feet.

Off Again

To say the last month has been stressful is an understatement. When I haven’t been studying for a slew of end of semester tests and exams, I have been arranging my Christmas travels in more detail. While some of this planning was no more complicated than logging on to Hostel World and choosing the perfect balance between cost, location and amenities, other sections have proven to be more challenging. Fortunately, the worst of it is over and I can now enjoy my holiday.

I’ve started the Christmas holidays off with a stop in Hong Kong and have certainly enjoyed my first day here, though my feet are glad to be resting. I started the day off by teaming up with another girl from my hostel and going on a walking tour of the central area. Rather than focusing on traditional sights the tour provided an insight into the history of Hong Kong and its politics. The tour guide was wonderfully cheerful and well informed, including telling us where to get the best wanton noodles for lunch after the tour was over.

My favourite piece of history was about a feng shui war between the Bank of China and HSBC headquarters, as well as seeing the two lions, Stephen and Stitt outside the HSBC headquarters.

With full stomachs we rushed back over to Kowloon on MTR and headed up to Mong Kok and Prince Edwards for another tour, this one focusing on some of the social challenges faced by locals. In particular we learnt about the astoundingly high property prices and rents and how the local economy is so dependant on the maintenance of these high costs. For me, I found the existence on coffin houses where people live in cages or bunk boxes stacked upon one another and little bigger than a dog crate particularly shocking. Especially when the rent is between HK$1800 and HK$2500 a month.

After this rather gloomy though important tour a group of us headed off to sample the delights of a dim sum restaurant. I felt the Michelin Star of Tim Ho Wan was well deserved as the food was absolutely delicious and I won’t need to eat for a few years. A lovely pair of Canadian sisters knew all the best things to try and the conversation proved lively and stimulating so it was a shame to part ways.

We concluded the day with a trip on the Star Ferry and watched a somewhat anticlimactic “A Symphony of Lights” over Victoria Harbour.