I knew there must be a reason why I don’t visit Tai O (located at Lantau Island) as often as, say, Cheung Chau, or Lamma Island. My last Tai O trip was by accident – we wanted to go to the Big Buddha but didn’t get off at the right bus stop – so this time round when Chris and I went out specifically to go to Tai O, we were… mindful of the time necessary.
Oh my, what a debacle. First we had to take the train all the way to Tung Chung, which is the main town on Lantau Island. That itself is a 30 minute journey. Then at the Tung Chung bus terminal, we wait for some thirty minutes to get onto the bus, as the buses plying the Tung Chung – Tai O route was small, and they don’t allow standing passengers.
And then on and on it went, the bus going through the mountain side, a good hour journey. By the time we reached Tai O, both of us were tired, hot and exhausted… ready for our first refreshment of the day.
Winter in Hong Kong has many benefits. Apart from its fashion advantage, this is probably the best season to explore the many hiking trails in Hong Kong. I don’t know about you but I don’t fancy perspiring like a pig in heat mounting the slops in the oppressive hear of summer.
Which is why when I was invited to go for the easy trail (I am speaking in relative here) of Discovery Bay towards Mui Wo at Lantau Island one cold Sunday, I agreed without a second thought.
(P.S. I could go on and on and on about the principles of having second thoughts, which comes second nature living here, but that could be as long as its own post and will be totally irrelevant here)
Where was I? Oh yes, the hike. We took a quick, painless and surprisingly modern ferry for a thirty minute journey from the Central pier towards Discovery Bay, the start of the trail.
The Discovery of Discovery Bay
Discovery Bay, also nicknamed as the Delivery Bay, was chokeful of expatriates and their babies with the omnipresent maids. As this was my first visit here, I was quite taken by surprise. In my mind, the Discovery Bay was more of a laid back, rustic beach town, probably with some sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and electric cars. I was only right in one count out of three. DB was more of a residential Disneyland than an actual expat village with character. It would be pointless to visit, unless (of course) you have friends who lived here. I imagine the living condition here to be great, secure and predictable… very much like Singapore.
When I first moved to Hong Kong in mid of summer 2009, I couldn’t understand why the locals were overjoyed with the soaring temperature. What was so great with stinky armpits and sweaty foreheads? Perhaps I have lived in Singapore for too long, summer is a “year-long” season for me.
Then came winter, of which I enjoyed tremendously. Donning outfit after outfit of winter bests, seeing your own breathe fogging up right in your face were new experiences to me.
Too soon winter was over, and suddenly it is hot all over again in Hong Kong. But this time round, I start to see this season of holiday through a Hong Kong-er’s eyes, and begin to understand why summer in Hong Kong can only be described as fabulous.
It is the beaches. With over 200 outlying islands, and a long coastline full of spectacular bays and beaches, there are more than enough beautiful beaches in Hong Kong to frolic your days away at.
So I don my new swimming trunk (thanks Dennis!) and slap on luxurious amount of sun block, and off to the beaches I went to explore.
Hong Kong outlying islands provide an endless supply of fascinating spots for the newcomers (like yours truly) to visit. This sunny afternoon I decided to sail for Mui Wo, located some 30 minutes by fast ferry from Central Hong Kong Island.
Over the weekend one of my BFFs came over to Hong Kong for a visit. I left the planning to her, and to my surprise she wanted to visit Lantau Island, a place I had always vowed to go but never did.
Lantau is a Cantonese word that means “broken head”, but Chinese call Hong Kong’s largest island Tai Yue San (Big Island Mountain), a name that refers both to its size and elevation.
(Actually, “Lantau” also means something else in Cantonese, but I am too much of a good boy to explain it here, hehe.)
Our original plan was to visit the island at noon, but due to some mishap (a distressing combination of failed telco connection, excessive shopping, late sleep in and general miscommunication), we spent hours trying to get our troop together, during which Cheryl was evidently getting more and more anxious by the minute.
Nevertheless yours truly managed to elicit a smile from her for the camera, even while she was frantically trying to reach out to her travelmates at the end point of the MTR line, at the Tung Chung station. This is the point where we were to board the cable car up to the peak of Lantau Island.
The 5.7 km Ngong Ping 360 is a cable car system linking Ngong Ping with the centre of Tung Chung, where the MTR station is located at. The two of us bought the most expensive package, which include a return trip in a crystal cabin and entry to some shoes at Ngong Ping.
So, what is a crystal cabin?
You got it right – it’s a glass-bottomed cabin! Those close to me will know I am terrified by heights, so it was a downright reckless decision for me to even consider boarding this cabin. But board I did, and to be honest, the ride up wasn’t as terrifying as the ride down. The floor cabin felt fake somehow, like a large LCD display.
The scenery on the way up was amazing. We saw the famous Lantau Trail, which takes hours to hike from the Ngong Ping plateau to the peak of Ngong Ping Village. Every now and then we also saw some lone tombs (perhaps of famous people) which were reasonably well kept. They made me wonder, how on earth the relatives of the deceased come to visit every year? There was no visible trail, no flat ground for helipad of any sort… that remains a mystery to us.
Finally we reached the upper cable car station is the 1.5-hectare Ngong Ping Village, just west of the Po Lin Monastery complex (under renovation during our visit) and includes several themed attractions; Walking with Buddha and the Monkey’s Tale Theatre. These were included in our package but due to the short time we had for the trip, we couldn’t make it for either shows.
To be honest, I found that Ngong Ping Village is a perplexing mix of Chinese architecture with Western modernity. Although the buildings were definitely oriental, the shops are not. You get to see some Western cafe, popcorn stall, even a Starbucks. Which kind of a bummer for those looking for an authentic Chinese experience, especially with the gigantic Buddha statue nearby.
On the hill above the monastery sits the Tian Tan Buddha, a seated representation of Lord Gautama some 23 m high (or 26.4m with the lotus or just under 34 m if you include the podium). There are bigger Buddha status elsewhere, but apparently these are not seated, outdoors or made of bronze.
It weighs 202 tonnes, by the way. The large bell within the Buddha (in which you are not allowed to take photos) is controlled by computer and rings 108 times during the day to symbolise escape from what Buddhism terms the ‘108 troubles of mankind’.
The podium is composed of separate chambers on three different levels. In the first level are the six statues of Bodhisattvas, each of which weights around two tonnes.
On the second level is a small museum containing oil paintings and ceramic plaques of the Buddha’s life and teachings. No photography is allowed at the museum. Entry is free if you eat at the monastery’s vegetarian restaurant, Po Lin Vegetarian Restaurant. However, you can also opt for a cheaper ticket which allows you some vegetarian snacks (redeemable at the monastery at the foot of the hill), or exchange it for a bottle of water and an ice cream of your choice.
Cheryl and I opted for the later, of course. The weather was scorching hot, and the climb was decidedly arduous. However, it’s well worth climbing the 260 steps for a closer look at the statue and surrounding views, which was breathtaking for city dwellers like us.
After such an exhausting hike, Cheryl and I made our way down the hill and made a beeline to Ngong Ping Tea House for some authentic tea cultural experience, of which we were not disappointed.
Like Cheryl said, we should have culture with convenience. LOL.
That marks the end of our excursion to Lantau. How much did I spend? Well, we spent about HKD290 for the cable car package, about HKD50 for entry to the Tian Tan Buddha exhibition hall, and another HKD100 for the experience at tea house.
A bit steep, you say? Well, here’s a recommendation for you:
The budget cabin! Just make sure you remain perfectly stationary during the 25 minutes ride, failing which the fall will not make a pleasant experience…
… I am joking of course. The said “cabin” is probably for some maintenance work, but it cracked us up nonetheless.
Click here for the full set of photos of Cheryl’s trip to Hong Kong. Hope you had a blast, girl… and thanks for listening to my endless problems. I told you, your turn will come! Hehe.