Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Holiday in Hong Kong

I know, I know - I make a resolution to write more about my personal life, and then, the very next one is another travel blog!! My excuse is that this one is actually a catchup post - from our Hongkong trip way back in May! Remember the whole Fobisia hoopla?? - well, believe it or not, we did manage to fit in a few other things besides cheering on Manasi!! Now, it's been a few months, and my memory is not what it used to be - so fair warning, this one might be a little sketchy!!

The first night I was in a Novotel near the airport. It was a really weird feeling - I can't remember the last time I had been in a hotel room all by myself!! I had the next day all planned out - visit the Big Buddha - quite sure that Ajey and Manasi were both happy to miss this one! My hotel was actually part of a huge mall - the Citygate - and there's also a MTR station right in the mall, so quite a convenient place to stay. After a quick breakfast, headed to the cable car station - also a few minutes walk away. Was a bit surprised to see that the ticket counters were not that crowded - but wait a minute, the counters have been very cleverly designed, concealing the waiting areas - didn't see the winding queues until after I'd bought my ticket!! Wasn't really the best time to be standing outside - sticky and hot - at least it was a covered area!!

Novotel Citygate

To date, most cable cars I had been on were a pretty short ride. Here - the Ngong Ping 360 experience - the cable car took such a long time! Well, it's actually about half hour, but seemed like forever - stopped being fun pretty quickly, especially when we were crossing the Tung Chung Bay. The gusty winds meant that the cable car was swinging quite a bit - I can get motion sick on a car-ride to the grocery ride - so this definitely wasn't doing me any good!! The brave-at-heart can upgrade to a Crystal cabin, with glass floors to enhance the experience, for the rest of us the Standard cabin it is! The views are actually quite spectacular - especially of the airport, with the landing strip in plain sight!

Tung Chung Bay crossing

View of the airport

South China Sea

The final destination of the cable car is the Ngong Ping Village - well, not so much a village as a tourist center! A really good food court - I had an awesome falafel roll at a place called Ebenezer's, surprisingly, they also served a wide variety of Indian food - the usual fancy Chinese restaurants, and for those who want to play it safe, even a Subway!! Shopping, of course - the usual touristy, souvenir shops, but quite highly priced - especially to someone used to Shanghai shopping!! There are also a couple of other attractions - a light and sound show about Buddha's life, couple of movie theatres, a Bodhi wishing tree and some other activities for younger children. Kind of a tourist trap - I did browse in a couple of stores, but the Buddha was beckoning!!

Outside the cable car station

Food court

Bodhi Wishing Tree

How far am I from...?

At 34m, the bronze Big Buddha is the tallest, outdoor seated Buddha - it is one of the 5 large Buddha statues in China. The three platform base resembles the Temple of Heaven in Beijing - giving it the name of Tian Tan Buddha. Over 250 steps lead to the base of the lotus throne - the Buddha as always is serene, peaceful. The day I visited - slightly overcast, misty clouds swirling around - the Buddha appeared to be ethereal, the enigmatic half-smile even more mysterious!! At the base of the statue are 6 smaller bronze statues - all making offerings to the Buddha, each of them with a similar serene expression. It is a beautiful location - the green hills, the expanse of the South China Sea and the tranquil Buddha - perfect for a solitary excursion!! Also located nearby is the Po Lin monastery - the Big Buddha is actually a newer addition to the ancient monastery - and the meandering Wisdom Path - a refreshing walk through the beautifully laid out tea gardens.

Climbing up...

At the base of the Big Buddha

Offering to the Buddha

Po Lin monastery

Ajey flew in later that night, and the next morning his parents joined us from India. It was a busy Fobisia day - in addition, we also changed hotels, moving from Lantau Island to Kowloon - Holiday Inn on the Golden Mile. The Golden Mile is exactly what it sounds like - hi-fashion, designer stores, glittering window displays, tons of window-shoppers!! Ajey and I explored a bit - we actually found a decent Indian place for dinner - and then ended the day with a stroll down the Avenue of Stars along the Victoria Harbor in Tsim Sha Tsui. Most of the celebrities who have 'Stars' on this Avenue are Chinese or Taiwanese - the Bruce Lee statue is probably the only thing we recognized - but the view across the harbor is spectacular!!

Avenue of Stars

The one place we wanted to take Ajey's parents was the the Peak Tower, but that had to wait one more day - a really cloudy day again, and besides, we got caught up in Manasi's soccer games!! That evening, we decided to head all the way around to the southern side of Hong Kong Island - shopping time, Stanley Market!! There's no way to get there by MTR, but we thought we had plenty of time - so decided to take a bus ride, a really, really long bus ride!! Quite scenic, through the not-so-polished part of HK, a lot of greenery, a great view of the famous Repulse Bay - unfortunately, by the time we reached our stop - the market was closed!!! Seriously, no self-respecting market in Asia closes at 6pm!! And you would think the concierge at our hotel would mention closing times when we were discussing possible bus routes!!

Well, no one really wanted to get on the bus again, so we took a taxi to SoHo, in the heart of the Central District. What an amazing place - 3 or 4 narrow streets, on a hillside, all connected by a giant escalator - tons and tons of restaurants, every possible cuisine, a very bohemian, party-town feel to the whole area!! For some reason, I can't find any pictures of these 2 days - seems very unlike me to have not taken photos...but they're nowhere to be found - really strange! Dinner was done - but still no shopping - so we then headed to another famous landmark - the Temple Street Night Market. The last time we were in HK, Ajey and I thought we found amazing deals in this Night Market - after 2 years of living in China, and shopping in Shanghai, we find ourselves incapable of shopping anywhere else!! Everything we found in the Night market this time around, was easily twice as expensive as in Shanghai - and there is much less bargaining!! So again, no shopping!!

Last day in Hong Kong - Peak Tower it is!! The biggest attraction here, of course, is the Viewing Terrace which overlooks Victoria Harbor - panoramic views of both Kowloon and HK skylines. The heavy clouds didn't really look promising - sure enough, it was drizzling lightly by the time we reached the Tram. The next big indoor thing is the Madame Tussauds Wax museum - always a lot of fun! Ajey's mother really got in the spirit of things, and posed enthusiastically with both the celebrities and the political figures - ranging from Brangelina and Amitabh Bachchan to Barack Obama and Gandhi!!! There is a large number of local celebrity statues, which we didn't recognize - but overall, it is a pretty decent collection!! The view from the terrace wasn't really that good - thanks to the weather - but Ajey and I made a discovery. The Burger King in the mall has a balcony - it's actually the smoking area, I think - but it has an amazing view of the skyline too!! Plus, it has a roof - so you're not worried about getting your camera wet while taking pictures!!

Tram tracks

View from BK balcony
Last night in Hong Kong - another hotel change, back to Lantau, closer to the airport for our early morning flight next day. The missing pictures are going to bother me - where in the world did I save them?? Still, I'm so glad to have this post done - I do hate to skip things, and now I can finally get back to the present!! Until next time - signing off!!

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