Monday, November 1, 2010

The Real Hong Kong (Part 2 of 2)

Considering it was a Monday night, I was rather impressed with the number of locals, expats, and businessmen that were working the various bars of Lan Kwai Fong. The two of us being exhausted from a long day of train and bus rides with quite of bit of walking, as well, didn't put us in a position to have a late night. Instead, we propped up Clarke Quay style on a concrete wall and enjoyed a beer reminiscing about the long day that was. Walking back to the MTR station afterwards, we ran into a guy who was on the same flight as us from Singapore, who also corrected my pronunciation of "thank you" in Cantonese in the airport (in case any of you care it is "M̀h'gōi", pronounced as "Mm guy"). It was the only word my friend and I knew going to Hong Kong, but is very powerful because it also means "excuse me." This is essential when traversing the crowded trains of Hong Kong, especially during rush hour when everyone gets to know the people next to them a little bit better than they would like to. Back to the main point of me even mentioning this individual. He was a fellow New Yorker (I do consider myself a New Yorker having being born in Manhattan and living there for a few years plus it is easier to explain to people here than to start explaining what Connecticut is), who we shared a friendly conversation with about Hong Kong, future plans, looking for some good New York style pizza, etc. It is always nice to see a familiar face, even for the short term, in such foreign places. We then caught the train back to Kowloon to crash at the same hostel as the previous night.

The third and final day in Hong Kong had us up bright and early once again. That Tuesday we spent the majority of our time between two islands. The first place we went to was Lamma Island, an easy twenty minute ferry ride from the central business district of the city. Having gotten there so early in the morning, there were few tourists, if any, out and about. This made for hassle free trekking through the island. Lamma Island was a very chill and laid back, which made for a real change of pace after being in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong for two days. Once the ferry dropped us off at the docks, we made off for a beach that was twenty minutes by foot. From our walk, it seemed like much natural beauty to be found through the random villages that popped up here and there. When we did make it to this beach, it was pretty much deserted (as expected at 9 A.M.). This was great for relaxing and taking pictures of the landscape. So we perched up on these rocks off to the side of everything and took in the outstanding view of the South China Sea. An hour or so passed by before making ways to the pier to catch a 10:30 A.M. ferry to the mainland as we had even bigger plans in store for the day.

The second half of Tuesday was devoted to Lantau Island, adjacent to Chek Lap Kok Island where the airport can be found. One of the big attractions of Lantau Island is the cable car ride, which provides tourists with breathtaking views of the South China Sea, the mountain range, and the airport. More importantly, it was critical for us to see the former biggest Buddha statue in the world that was at the end of this journey to the village Ngong Ping.

It was a one of a kind experience to climb the 268 stairs that led up to this shrine to get to see what is still a place that people go to for prayer. The statue itself was remarkable up close as we both sat there pondering how it was built and the symbolism behind Buddha, himself. There were amazing views of the bay close by and Lantau Peak, the second highest in Hong Kong to provide further entertainment. What sealed the deal was getting to see real monks strolling around Buddha, going about their daily lives. In fact, we almost got to ride the cable car down with them; this could have made for an interesting conversation if we had been given the chance.

With spare time left on our hands, we began walking to Lantau Peak in search of anything of interest. We found more than we expected at the base of this mountain. First, leading up the side of a nearby knoll were many long pieces of wood with Chinese characters inscribed in them. I immediately thought of it as a "Chinese Stonehenge" of sorts. We read the description about it as having some relation with learning about one's self and a deeper meaning of life as we know it. We walked up and through this area to observe the many structures before looking to get to the other side of the hill. At the top, we had an even better vantage point of both Lantau Peak and the bay we had seen at the Buddha statue. This probably was the highlight of the trip as we were able to enjoy our final few hours in Hong Kong with an incredible view of the bay with Lantau Peak to our left and Buddha off in the distance to our right. We had gone so far off the beaten path to get to this point that few people were in the surrounding area, making for an even better experience. We stayed and looked out over the foliage and sea from these giant boulders on the mountain for quite some time before heading to the airport in time for a 6:10 P.M. flight home.

Mission Accomplished. We had seen as much as one could have seen in roughly three days on Hong Kong and its many islands. From the inner city to being up in the mountains and hanging out at a relatively remote beach; we had seen every type of terrain that Hong Kong had to offer. It was a great experience in every way and I do hope to go back to this economic hub soon to be able to see the things I missed out this time around and get to interact more with locals, too. As with almost everywhere else I have visited up to this point, I highly recommend a visit to Hong Kong for both NUS exchange students in Singapore and to any Westerners at home deciding where to travel to in Asia. Thanks for reading about this three day extravaganza I got to take part in, stay tuned for posts about my trips to Indonesia and Myanmar in the coming weeks!

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