During my recent visit to Hong Kong, I awoke on Sunday to heavy clouds and rain. The showers, however, were over by the time I had finished breakfast, but it was still pretty hazy outside. Nevertheless, I decided that this would be a good day to get my money’s worth from the three-day transport pass that I bought when I arrived at the airport on Friday evening.
My first destination for the day was Lantau Island, out near the airport. When I took the train in on Friday evening, I saw cable cars going up a mountain, and while I had no idea where they were headed, I pretty much knew that I wanted to get on one. Some quick internet research told me that the destination was Ngong Ping on Lantau Island, home to Hong Kong’s Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery. Now how can you possibly go wrong when there is a trip to see Buddha?
It took about 45 minutes by subway to get from my hotel (point A on map below) to the Tung Chung MTR station (B). Directly outside the station are huge apartment complexes and the Citygate Outlet Mall, which I found out later is one of the best discount outlets in Hong Kong with 70 retailers including Hilfiger, Coach, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Brooks Brothers, Bally, Laura Ashley, Armani, and Ralph Lauren. I had not come to Hong Kong to shop (although, from the looks of it, I might have been the only one who hadn’t), so I headed straight to the Ngong Ping Cable Car station.
There was quite a long queue at the station, but some touts were offering guided tours of Ngong Ping, a visit to a local fishing village, and, most importantly, line cutting privileges. There was a young woman from Boston immediately in front of me in line, and we both jumped at the offer. So, for an extra US$20, we were able to avoid what had to be a 90 minute wait. After paying for our tickets, we went immediately to the front of the queue and got on the next car along with two Hong Kong locals and three visitors from Bangkok.
The cable car ride took 25 minutes to take us 3.5 miles to the top of Lantau Island. Not too long after it had started, the gondola made a 60 degree turn and we then headed up the mountain. As we rode, we had fabulous views of the terrain below, the airport, and the South China Sea. The locals from Hong Kong pointed out several sites as we rode. We could also see several people hiking to the top on trails below the cable car lines.
After we reached the top (C), we located our guide, Ivan, and he immediately sent us to a bus that took us down the mountain to Tai O fishing village (D). According to Ivan, Tai O is one of the few remaining traditional fishing villages and the homes are built on stilts above the water. The Tanka were unable to own land, so they used old and damaged shipping boats to build shelters near the shore for injured fishermen, old people, and women with infants. Over time, these evolved into the stilt houses that are there today.
We walked through the small village and saw many vendors selling live and salted fish. Most amazing was the dried fish bladders (maw) that were priced at HK$19,800 (US$2,500) each! Apparently, the fish maw is loaded with collagen (as are bird’s nests and shark fins, ingredients found in many Chinese soups), so they are highly desired.
We took a 40 minute boat ride out to the sea with the hope of spotting dolphins that live there. While we did not see any, we did see the ongoing construction of a new island near the airport, which to me is far more interesting.
Back on land, we went to the local Taoist temple where there was lots and lots of incense. I can’t even pretend to understand what this religion is all about but there were several interesting looking statues of what I assume were deities. The small temple was full of smoke from all the incense that was burning.
The bus took us back to Ngong Ping Village on the top of Lantau Island where Ivan led the tour group to Ngong Ping Piazza, a two-year old path and garden that connects the major attractions. At the entrance to the piazza is a traditional Chinese gate, called a Pai Lau, that is built in the style of the Qing Dynasty to match the Po Lin Monastery. The gateway leads to 400 foot Bodhi Path next to which are statues of the “12 divine generals” flanked by lotus-shaped stone lanterns. Each of the generals represents a two-hour block of time in the day, has a fierce look on his face, is armed with a weapon, and has an animal in his headdress that represents one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac.
At the end of the piazza is the stairway that leads to the Big Buddha. According to Ivan, there are 268 stairs, one for each of the rules of Buddhism, and anyone who walks up the 268 stairs will experience Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:
- Life means suffering. (You will suffer as you go up the stairs)
- The origin of suffering is attachment. (You have to start at the bottom)
- The cessation of suffering is attainable. (You can reach the top)
- The path to the cessation of suffering. (The stairway)
The Big Buddha is 112 feet tall, weighs 280 tons, and is made from bronze except for the face that is made of gold. Construction began in 1990 and was completed in 1993. On a clear day, the statue supposedly can be seen from Macau, but that was not the case on the day I visited.
By this time of the day, the clouds had begun to encircle the Big Buddha’s head, so most of us opted to pass to walk to the Po Lin Monastery rather than climbing the stairs to the Big Buddha. The Po Lin Monastery dates back to 1906, but it is still a work in progress. A Scripture Library, a Dharma Hall and a Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, which, not surprisingly, will contain ten thousand statues, are all under construction.
As we approached the Po Lin Monastery, the air was thick with smoke from burning incense. This was not from the standard small sticks that are common at Buddhist temples but rather from the largest joss sticks that I have ever seen. The temple at Po Lin contains three bronze statues that represent Buddha’s past, present and future lives.
By the time I was ready to take the cable car back down the mountain to Tung Chung, low clouds were covering most of Ngong Ping. The first five minutes in the cable car were a bit eerie since the fog enveloped the gondola and we could not see cars in front or behind us as we floated through the mist.
Quick Bangkok Update
This past week, the Four Season’s Hotel in Bangkok hosted the 13th World Gourmet Festival. The hotel brought in eight master chefs to prepare the food that made them famous. The chefs were:
- Shiqin Chen from La Rei at Il Boscareto, a one Michelin star restaurant in Italy;
- Diego Irrera from 1884 Restaurante Francis Mallman in Argentina’s Mendoza Valley;
- Igor Macchia from La Credenza, another one Michelin star restaurant in Italy;
- Michael Mina, the owner of 18 restaurants in the U.S. and executive chef at his namesake restaurants in San Francisco and Las Vegas;
- Victor Quintillà Imbernón from Lluerna Restaurant in Barcelona;
- Masa Shimakawa from ONYX restaurant in California;
- Frédéric Vardon from Le 39V Restaurant, a one Michelin star restaurant in Paris; and
- Galvin Lim from Les Amis in Singapore.
On Wednesday evening, a friend, who is a local wine importer and distributor, and I went to a six-course dinner prepared by Lim with wines selected by Jeannie Cho Lee, the first Asian Master of Wine. The night began with a very nice dry Champagne and a starter of King crab, caviar, and black radish. The second course was scrambled egg with eel and tomato paired with a rich Australian Chardonnay. The third course was angel hair pasta prepared with chili and small, red, dried shrimp that was served with a German Pinot Noir. The main course was Australian Wagyu beef in a truffle sauce served with spinach and a delicate potato soufflé and accompanied by a Chilean Bordeaux-style blend. Although the wine was very good, it still seemed a bit disappointing for the main course to be served with only a Chilean red. The fifth course was a small parfait with apple foam that was paired with a spectacular Grande Cru Classé vintage Sauternes. The dinner ended with a dessert plate that contained a scone, some chocolate, a small ice cream, and chocolate liqueur jelly. A picture of the menu with a description of the food and details on the wines is below.
Kop Khun Krab.
© 2012 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.