Was so excited about today since Hong Kong is my most favorite big city in the world. This somewhat surprises me because I usually don’t like big cities – mainly because they are so overwhelming and I have no sense of direction. However, that is never the way I feel in Hong Kong. I seem to be able to figure out how to get everywhere and rarely get lost. I find it fascinating instead of overwhelming. This will be my 3rd time here and I’m VERY EXCITED!
Woke up early for the sail-in with Barbara’s commentary as we sailed into Victoria Harbor. Unfortunately, it was very foggy (as it seems to be almost daily) for most of our sail-in. But she did point out some highlights on both the Hong Kong island side and the Kowloon side. I did get this picture of a little fishing area set in front of the modern high rise buildings of Hong Kong. It was such a great contrast.
Like we did the last time we visited Hong Kong, our ship will be docked on the Kowloon side of Victoria Bay. We think this is the best place to be because Ocean Terminal is huge and lined with all kinds of shops and restaurants – and then connected to a series of hotels and more shopping malls. For the three days we will be here, you could literally just get off the ship and never leave this complex if all you wanted to do was shop and eat!
Upon arriving we went on a ship’s half day tour to Lantau. We had never been there and decided it would be fun to do this time. Lantau is the largest of the over 200 islands that make up the greater Hong Kong. When the new airport was built here in 1998, more people moved there. Our bus took us through the tunnel under Victoria Harbor and once on HK island, we went across a long bridge to Lantau. We stopped at the town of Tung Chung where we got on the cable car that would take us to Ngong Ping 360. It was a spectacular four mile (took 25 minutes) journey with a 360 degree view of Tung Chung Bay, the mountainous area surrounding it, the new airport and the Buddha. This is one of our first views of the Giant Buddha from the cable car.
At Ngong Ping 360 there are several things to see, the most impressive being the Tian Tan Buddha. It is the world’s tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha – better known as the Giant Buddha. It sits on a lotus throne which consists of three levels. While you can see the statue from the Ngong Ping area, to get close or pay homage, you must climb the 268 (steep) steps until you reach the feet. The Buddha faces north toward Mainland China. It sits in the same position assumed by Sakyamuni Buddha when he attained enlightenment under the famous bodhi tree. The body is made of 160 bronze pieces; the head was forged using bronze and gold which glitters and glows under sunlight.
We climbed the steps to the top (and have this picture to prove it!)but did not go up into the three-tiered alter area. But we saw about two dozen monks who did, and as they circled the giant Buddha from one level to the next, they were chanting what I assume to be prayers. Also from the top you had wonderful views of the hills below. While it was a steep and somewhat rigorous climb, especially with the heat and humidity, it was well worth it.
The climb down was much easier and from there we went to the Po Lin Monastery which is one of Hong Kong’s famous historic Buddhist sanctums. It has attracted countless pilgrims over the years and has several traditional religious structures such as the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha which was built in 1970 where the pilgrims can worship the trinity of the Buddha. This is a picture of it from the inside – so many bright colors and details to observe. And you can’t even see the prayer areas on either side of this alter. As we came out, we saw these monks on the grounds of the monastery. I’m assuming they were here on a pilgrimage. They also serve a vegetarian feast here, but that was not part of our tour – would have been interesting.
We met our group back at the Ngong Ping Plaza. It has lots of little shops and cafes there. It also had a multi-media show called Walking with Buddha which I think would have been interesting to see if we had had more time. You could easily spend a day here. One of the drawbacks of not going in a group (or having reservations in advance) were the long lines at the cable car station. And, that was half the fun – they were large cars (we had only 6 people in ours) and very quiet. Doug had time to make a quick purchase before heading back (a Chinese walking stick) and then we went back to Hong Kong the same way we came.
Since it was getting to be later in the afternoon, we had a Thai lunch in the mall/terminal that had been recommended to us by the head of the Pinnacle Grill. It was very tasty and we also used that time to catch up on some e-mails, etc.
After that we just started walking from the ship toward the busy Nathan Street (called the Golden Mile) with all its stores, restaurants, etc. that go up as well as all along the street. So, when you are looking for something, you have to remember to look up toward the tops of the buildings as well. It is always busy with lots of traffic and people – and very alive and exciting. We wanted to go to the Kowloon Park which we had never been to before. To get there we passed a mosque where the men and women were separated into two worship areas. We were invited to come in and look around but it was going to get dark soon, so we just walked on.
Kowloon used to be a walled settlement. The Chinese government feared attacks during the Opium Wars with the British during the 19th century, so they ordered a walled fortress to be built here. In 1987 when the land became a city park, archaeologists found the foundations of the original south and east gates. They were incorporated into what is now the Kowloon Walled City Park. To get in, you have to find the few openings in these stone walls which run along the busy Nathan Rd.
We did find the park and what a surprising oasis! In the middle of this super busy area, just a block away is a true garden with lots of green space and water fountains. We heard birds sing and could smell the flowers. In one area we saw some people doing Tai Chi and others doing martial arts. There was a pond with modern looking art sculpture. There were many quiet areas with benches where people were reading or just sitting and taking a break from their busy lives. The park just went on and on for blocks. Near the end we came to a big pond with a footbridge and all kinds of water birds, including a large group of pink flamingoes! Now that was a huge surprise! Like everything I’ve found in Hong Kong, you just keep unpeeling one layer and then another with wonderful surprises in each one. And that is how this park unfolded before us.
And it was only the darkness that made us start on our way back toward the ship. It was hard to leave this quiet, peaceful place. We did get a bit lost trying to get back to the lower level but people are so friendly and helpful, so we made it. But while we were trying to find our way from this higher level, we were able to see the lights of Hong Kong from a different perspective.
We walked for many blocks enjoying the lights of the city at night. There were so many, it almost looked like it was still daylight! We ended up at the Clock Tower and stand where we went for the 8 p.m. sound and light show that takes place every night. From the Kowloon side, you look across the harbor to see all the tall buildings along the water on Hong Kong island light up like the 4th of July – and to music. We have seen this on our last two trips here, but it still is a fun thing to experience.
It had been a long first day and we were too tired to sit down to a nice dinner, so we grabbed some ice cream and a bowl of Chinese soup before going back to the ship (a nice change from the many course dinners we’ve been having on the ship!) Our ship looks great at night, and many people along the dock took pictures of themselves in front of our ship. I can see why with the ship and the lights from Hong Kong – doesn’t get much better than this.
And so while this was our third visit to Hong Kong together (Doug had come on business a few times as well) there are still so many new things to discover. This was a day of many “firsts” for us. But we are looking forward to the next two days exploring some of our favorite “old haunts” we’ve loved before.