After a long travel day, it was our first full day in Hong Kong and first day exploring. We had plans to see the sights of Lantau Island, take a cable-car ride and climb 268 steps to the Big Buddha.
Despite the long day of travel, with the time change we still woke up pretty early (before 6am) except soren, who managed to sleep a bit longer due to exhaustion until Astrid’s gymnastics and constant chatter eventually woke him.
We only had the one night at Skycity Marriott, we were moving to our city hotel that afternoon. That meant we had to take advantage of the impressive buffet breakfast for our only visit.
The first morning of buffet breakfast is always fun, so much to pick from. After 12 days we were literally saying ‘ergh more food, lets eat All Bran’. Or at least the kids, Anto and I ate a lot of curry. The first morning though, we feasted on a variety of curries, a cooked to order Asian soup for Anto and dumplings. There were also pastries with fresh mango and more tropical fruit than you could poke a stick at.
The hotel, being located next to the airport, had a lot of flight crew and business men. The kids got a lot of attention and lots of American tourists chatted to us, commenting about how we must be on ‘vacation’ especially when the kids had waffles with honeycomb and chocolate sauce for breaky. We may have let them go a little crazy prior to walking around in the heat all day.
The restaurant had lovely views of planes taking off and landing, which kept our plane obsessed kids happy. It also had good coffee which kept the adults happy. After we had suitably stuffed ourselves stupid, we packed up, checked-out and headed out to explore Lantau Island.
Lantau Island is the largest of Hong Kong’s islands (at 147 square kilometres) and contains the Lantau Peak at 934m. There are several tourist attractions on Lantau Island and we were planning to check out a few. The best known is the Tian Tan Buddha or ‘Big Buddha’. Tian Tan Buddha,is a large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni, completed in 1993, and located at Ngong Ping. The statue is sited near Po Lin Monastery and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and faith.
There was conveniently a free shuttle from our hotel to Tung Chung station, where it was a short walk to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. You can access the Big Buddha by bus, which is significantly cheaper but reportedly just as, if not more scary as the road up to Ngong Ping is quite windy and steep (and takes an hour each way). The cable car is supposed to offer fantastic views of Lantau Island and the airport and the kids are cable-car fanatics so we figured we’d just do the cable car.
We knew the cable-car got busy so were glad we got there around the opening time of 10am. The line for tickets wasn’t too long but we still had around a 40 minute wait to get onto a car. The wait was hot and stuffy and lots of tour groups were getting let in quicker, but once we finally made it on, it was good to be moving.
The cable-car takes around 25 minutes to reach Ngong Ping. The trip starts at the Tung Chung Terminal, runs across Tung Chung Bay to an angle station on Airport Island, where it turns through about 60 degrees before returning across Tung Chung Bay. It then runs up the Lantau North Country Park to another angle station near Nei Lak Shan, before finally descending to the Ngong Ping Terminal. The trip did offer panoramic views over the North Lantau Country Park, the South China Sea, Hong Kong International Airport, the Tung Chung valley, Ngong Ping Plateau and surrounding terrain and waterways. It was quite hazy but the trip was worthwhile just for the views.
As you approach Ngong Ping, you can see The Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery. The Buddha is certainly hard to miss, even from a distance!
After all our cable-cars in Europe I have obviously (mostly) gotten over my fear of them as I was barely phased. To be fair it was not that steep (or fast) compared to many we had done.
Once off the cable car you are deposited into Ngong Ping 360 – the very touristy village at the base of the Buddha and Monastery. Before you enter the village you have walk through the souvenir shop, where you are thrust your photo from the cable car (which was actually good but we didn’t buy).
Ngong Ping 360 is reportedly ‘a culturally themed landscaped garden’ which gives inspiration of what you can do while in Hong Kong. There were in fact lovely gardens and sculptures and fun photo spots that the kids enjoyed.
We didn’t stop for too long to look at the food or souvenir shops as it was getting hot. We headed straight for the Buddha and figured we might as well get the stairs over and done with.
Soren was a bit tired and requested an ergo ride up the 268 (quite steep) steps but Astrid walked. We’ve definitely walked many more stairs in some of our recent trips up towers and churches through Europe. It was significantly more hot and humid in Hong Kong though!
Those stairs were steep and it was a hot and sweaty walk up but the Big Buddha sitting at the top of the staircase is indeed a sight to behold.
There is no charge to see the Buddha but there is a charge to enter the museum below the Buddha. It wasn’t going to hold much interest for the kids so we were happy to have a walk around and check out the (hazy) views over Hong Kong. On a clear day (does Hong Kong ever have ‘clear’ days, you can reportedly see to Macau from the Buddha).
The statue is named Tian Tan Buddha because its base is a model of the Altar of Heaven or Earthly Mount of Tian Tan, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. One of the five large Buddha statues in China, it is enthroned on a lotus on top of a three-platform altar. Surrounding it are six smaller bronze statues known as “The Offering of the Six Devas” that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These symbolise the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.
There were a number of monks wandering around, who were almost bigger tourist attractions than the Buddha.
We were definitely already melting in the heat so it was time to head down the steep stair case for some shade and a drink. Down was definitely easier than up!
Back down the bottom, the kids had a snack in one of the shaded areas near the Monastery, while we watched dragonflies and people lighting incense.
Astrid and Soren were fascinated by all the incense being burnt, but even more so with the cows and monks wandering around.
There is a well-regarded vegetarian meal you can have at the Monastery but we were too full from breakfast so decided to wander back through the village and take the cable car down before it got too busy.
On our trip back through the village (which also has lots of food options) we did a little chopstick shopping but Soren was getting pretty tired so was keen to go and sit down in a cable car, or at least we were keen to keep him away from breakable things.
Luckily the line for the cable-car back was much shorter as most people were still having lunch in the village. There was only about a 5 minute wait and had the cable car to ourselves on the trip back (they were filled to capacity of 8 on the way up).
Again, there was a pleasant breeze when we were moving and a lovely view of the airport as we cruised over head so we did some more plane watching.
Back at Tung Chung station we only had a short wait for our shuttle back to the Skycity Marriott. Due to an emergency toilet visit by Astrid 30 seconds before the shuttle arrived we missed the half hourly shuttle and had to suffer another 30 mins in stifling heat. Soren was over-tired so I popped in on my back in the ergo and did laps of the shopping centre to enjoy the air conditioning and send him off to sleep (which thankfully worked).
We made the 1.30pm bus and were back at the hotel shortly after for a quick pick up of our bags and the free shuttle over to the airport. The transport gods were on our side and we were straight off that and onto the airport express train, which very efficiently whisked us into the city (Hong Kong Island).
Soren had about an hours rest in the ergo and then woke up for the airport train. The airport express is the most efficient way into the city and takes a mere 28 minutes from the airport to Hong Kong station. It’s much more expensive than other MTR trips ($100HK each per adult each way) but very efficient and pleasant.
Our city hotel, the JW Marriott, also had a free shuttle from Hong Kong station, and again we only had a short wait, so our transfers with bags was rather straight forward, with minimal walking. It’s good when it works! We made it to our hotel by 3pm.
For our next 5 nights in Hong Kong we’d booked a deal through Cudo at the JW Marriott. Once we were checked in we were impressed with our room that had lovely corner windows and great views towards Victoria Peak (and down to the pool). It also had a pretty huge bathroom, so we weren’t going to suffer for our next 5 nights.
After a hot day we headed downstairs for a promised swim. We’d all been looking forward to that during our hot walking! The pool was lovely except our swim was interrupted by another toilet emergency (this time Soren) and him slipping on the pool tiles and whacking his head. At this point we gave up and decided it was time for dinner since we’d skipped lunch.
Keen for some quick (and not posh) local food, we found a local food hall 1.5km away and walked back out in the heat. Eventually we found our way there, and it seemed a longer walk as we didn’t yet have our bearings and it was hot out. It was a long walk for Astrid’s tired legs.
Once we arrived we were the only white people eating in a local establishment (this usually happened to us in Singapore). We had a little trouble finding anyone who spoke English and our pointing at pictures on menu skills weren’t getting us too far.
Eventually with the help of a fellow diner, who translated, we ordered fried rice with chicken and egg, salt and pepper tofu, BBQ pork with cabbage and steamed eggplant with garlic and vermicelli noodles. Our translator also kindly made sure that 2 of the dishes were in fact vegetarian (not always a given!). He also let us know that the woman we had been ordering from had been trying to give us free soup.
The kids went nuts for the soup. God only knows what was in it, it definitely wasn’t vegetarian judging from what was floating in it! Apparently it tasted like popcorn and seemed to contain lots of revolting things.
The food was amazing and despite none of being that hungry due to the heat and huge breakfast, we inhaled all of it. Soren even loved the spicy stuff and both of them loved the eggplant and tofu dishes. The wait staff kept sneaking the kids peanuts and thought it was hilarious tourists were eating with locals.
Despite eating at a low-cost local place, dinner still cost around $30AUD. This is very cheap for Hong Kong, but not the cheap prices you can get for food elsewhere in Asia. It was still an awesome value meal though and one of the best of the trip.
It was getting busy as we left and it was a hot and sticky walk back but it was our first view of Hong Kong by night as all the city lights were coming on.
Decided to grab our free nightly cocktail (as part of our package) at the hotel bar on the way up to our room. Yes with kids in tow. Seemingly small over-tired children at their fancy bar wasn’t at all unusual.
I had a ‘snowy rose’ (with actual rose buds) and Anto had a ‘distinguished patron’, which was a bit like a gin sour. The good-humoured bar tender put on a cocktail shaking show for the kids and they got complimentary spicy snacks.
It was now 8pm and we all tired after a long hot day, so they thankfully didn’t take long to go to sleep. The super-comfy beds and magical air-conditioning helped!
Statistics for the day: The temperature for the day in Hong Kong was 29 to 34 degrees Celsius, with an average humidity of 65%. The apparent temperature reached 41.9 degrees in the late afternoon, so no wonder we felt hot coming from Canberra Winter! The total walking for the day was 11.5km.
Next up, celebrating Anto’s 40th by riding the Peak tram, a hike around Victoria Peak and a 6 course dinner!