Travel 2008 – Hong Kong, Day 3

Monday, 10th November 2008 – Hong Kong, Day 3

After a good night’s sleep, we got up latish, and went for breakfast in the Ambassador Club in the hotel. With a wide range of options, it was very good indeed, especially the freshly cooked omelette I went for. After that we set out to explore, with an idea that we would go to Lantau to see the Tian Tan Buddha, known popularly as the Big Buddha, all 34 metres and 250 tonnes of him (yep, he’s big).

First though we had to find our way to East Tsim Sha Tsui station and – after walking down what felt like hundreds of moving walkways – onto the MTR, which was confusing to start with (though a local took pity on us when we clearly didn’t know where we were going and pointed us in the right direction). After we’d managed to buy a tourist pass each, we found our way on and headed out towards Tung Chung station. The MTR is very good, especially to anyone whose experience of public transport includes the London Underground in all its horror – though you do walk miles between platforms at the interchanges, for example at Central! And of course we were amused by the signs at the barriers that said “Please present your Octopus!” even though we both knew the Octopus is the payment card used on the system, just like the Oyster cards in London. I still say an oyster is easier to carry than an octopus… And less likely to cling to the inside of your pocket I should imagine!

From the Tung Chung station we walked over to the cable car to Ngong Ping 360 Village, and were pleased to find very short queues, and almost empty cars. The ride to the top is not terribly cheap, but it is the quickest, and certainly the easiest, way to get there. You can walk up if you want to, but as the walk down apparently takes 2 to 3 hours and it’s hot and there’s no shade, the cable car (which takes around 20-25 minutes) is certainly a far less painful option. You could also go up by bus, which takes around an hour and costs a lot less, but apparently uses quite a winding route. As I get sick on buses this didn’t seem like a good idea either! So the cable car it was. The views are impressive, with the airport looking like a toy from up there.

At the top the first thing you find is the village (which is a tourist trap, admittedly a very shiny tourist trap, but best ignored unless you came to Hong Kong to go to Starbucks).

We settled for walking straight through and over to the Buddha, to walk up the 268 steps to the top.

Admission is free but there are ticketed options which allow you to have a vegetarian meal at the Po Lin Monastery, or there is a cheaper option that lets you onto the upper level of the pedestal that the Buddha sits on, as well as into a not very exciting exhibition (though there were one or two attractive paintings among the inexplicable calligraphy, as well as some miniature engravings that were worth a close look). However, for less than £2 you also get a free ice cream and bottle of water as a reward when you come back out! And very welcome it was too.

The Buddha really is amazing, especially at noon. It faces North so you walk up towards it to find it has the sun behind it. I couldn’t resist a couple of experimental photos, needless to say.

Oh, and the scenery from up there is beautiful as well:

Anyway, after that we took a stroll round the monastery, which was much like any other Buddhist monastery we’ve visited so far, and would probably make a lot more sense to me if I did some reading round the subject.

Anyway, some of it was very beautiful, and there were more photos, before we headed back down to Chung King, realising that our plan to go up to the Peak as well was now out of the question as we were running out of time.

Instead we went back to the hotel for afternoon tea:

After which it was time to shower, change, and stop off for the cocktail hour in the Ambassador Club, before we headed out to Central to meet Cheryl and her boyfriend Ed for a trip on the Star Ferry and then dinner. She’d said we should meet in front of Marks & Spencer but neglected to mention that there are at least 15 different exits (and there may well be more for all I know) from the MTR station at Central. We ended up on Connaught Road, which didn’t appear to be anywhere near an M&S, so a quick exchange of texts saw us stay put while they came to find us. We’d probably still be there now otherwise… A quick trip back across from Hong Kong to Kowloon on the Star Ferry was needed to allow us to admire the view:

Once we disembarked we hooked up with Glyn at the Kowloon terminal end (he’d just arrived from London in the afternoon), before we were whisked off for dinner at a Chinese restaurant that Cheryl knew. The food was superb, the wine considerably less so, and the service was mostly well-meaning but baffled – and to Westerners baffling – as we tried to persuade the staff that a) we had a booking, and b) we would like something to drink. That aside the mutton was delicious…

The sizzling beef excellent…

The sweet and sour fish light and crispy…

And the prawns with chillis so good that I went on eating them long after I should have stopped!

From there – so stuffed with food we needed to walk – we headed for the Temple Street Night Market, watching people putting up Christmas decorations and trying not to get lost as Cheryl wasn’t too sure where she was going.

Once at the market we boggled at the knock-off copies of all sorts of goods you never wanted, ignored the tailors’ touts (we debated taking the line “What do you mean, do I want a tailor? Are you saying I look scruffy?” but decided it would be a waste of effort) and wondered at the stuff people buy. I don’t want – or need – a “Gucci” bag, especially a mispelled one! Glyn had forgotten his sunglasses so he bought two pairs for around ten quid, and then bought his brother a pair of seat belt covers (Tim apparently has a thing about Nismo goodies even though he now drives a Toyota – I wonder how long it will be before he notices that these are labelled “Nissan Moter Sport”). From there we wandered round looking at the fortune tellers, where I was talked into having my fortune told. To my vast amusement he told me I have a handsome husband (!), that I’ll live to be 96, that I’ll come into money in the next three years, and that I should wear grey (no thanks!), black, blue and white, but definitely not red (which I love and which suits me) and yellow (which doesn’t so that’s OK). Apparently also I am very strong physically and mentally, sometimes too strong with people, very much go my own way in things, and am a very good friend. Oh, and I have stomach problems – I didn’t right then, apart from being too full, but if you like to interpret it that way, events later in the week could be read as validating that comment. All the while this was going on, our ears were being assailed by the worst karaoke singer in the world who was warbling away at full blast on the other side of the road, and it was a relief to hand over the $100 and escape to somewhere – anywhere – quieter!

By then it was getting a bit late for us oldies, so we grabbed a cab back to the hotel and retreated to the bar to use our “welcome drinks” vouchers on a caipirinha each, which eventually became three caipirinhas each before bed and complete unconsciousness, though not before we marvelled at the fact that the chambermaids had been in and tidied while we were out, despite the fact that they’d been in earlier in the day too.

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