You’ll find Hong Kong filled with Asian beauty, history and intrigue. You’ll enjoy the huge mix of old and new. After the First Opium War (1839-42), HK was ceded to the British Empire; later Kowloon and the New Territories were added. In 1997 it became a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China. The population of seven million is about 64% ethnic Chinese. The deep natural harbor is beautiful and there are outlying islands to visit. This post will focus on Lantau Island, twice the size of Hong Kong Island itself.
Public transportation is usually our choice when traveling in new places. On this one-day trip we used six modes of transport: our feet, of course, bus, escalator, train, taxi and ferry. The day begain outside our lodging on Stubbs Road, part way up Victoria Peak. We walked down the hill to a bus stop, boarded a double-decker bus and chose the front seats on the upper level. We had a great view of traffic, the streets and shops and enjoyed a most exciting ride down that steep and winding road to the bus terminal! Across the street from the terminal we entered the train system’s sparkling clean, white MTR/Central Station, rode escalators down three levels and boarded a slick railway car. Inside we felt like we’d entered a giant caterpillar—there were no divisions between cars, just bendable accordian-like ‘joints’. Fascinating! On this route you can also go to Disneyland and it’s a 24 minute ride to Hong Kong International Airport.
Emerging from the train onto Lantau Island, we boarded a bus and enjoyed the scenery on the 20-minute ride to the site of the Tian Tan Buddha on the grounds of Po Lin (Precious Lotus) Monastery. The Buddha is popularly called The Giant Buddha; reaching 111 feet (34 meters) high and seated on a three-story pedestal . It is said to be the world’s largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha. Climbing the 268 steps is invigorating and the view from the top truly stunning. Lovely Bodhisattva sculptures are perched at the edge of the walk around the Buddha at the top; inside is a three-story exhibition hall and museum. Begun in 1976 and completed in 1993 it has been named one of the “Ten Engineering Wonders in Hong Kong”. The lovely Po Lin Monastery was established in 1906. Our vegetarian meal there was colorful and tasty; and their orchid gardens were spectacular.
After enjoying the lovely gardens and grounds of the monastery, we took a taxi to Tai O, once a garrison, now a fishing village with simple traditional homes set on stilts, colorful boats with modern motors lined the waterways. I prize the fresh-water pearl necklace I bartered for there. Tai O is one of 47 villages on the island. Note the gravesites on the far hill in the large photo. A bus took us to the ferry landing and we rounded out our day using our sixth mode of transportation.
Hong Kong is especially comfortable for English-speaking tourists as its citizens study English through at least Primary School. Many folk speak excellent English; and many are conversant mostly in their own area of business. English is one of the official languages and is used widely in government, academics, business and the courts. Government signs and road signs are bilingual. Still, it’s very helpful for visitors to know a few basic phrases in Cantonese: Hello (do je), Thank You (M Goy), Yes (hai), No (M hai).
We’ve learned to purchase an Octopus Card, “one of the earliest and most successful electronic currencies in the world” according to Travel China Guide. T he cost is HK$50 (about $6.45 US), and is good for three consecutive days of unlimited travel via bus, tram, train, some stores and restaurants, parking lots, etc. We love to visit Hong Kong; we’ve been there four times, once while celebrating our 20th anniversary. Very likely there is another visit in our future, especially as it’s a good stopover on our jaunts to and from visiting our daughter and her family in Perth, Australia.
Suggested reading: I find Leo Buscaglia’s description of meeting his meeting a young man named Wong at Star Ferry; their friendship began when Wong said, “You teacher. You teach English me. I teach Hong Kong.” In Buscaglia’s book: The Way of the Bull.