Lantau Island

Travel Update: Lantau Island

This week we mostly kicked back and relaxed in Hong Kong itself. Aside from generally getting to know our neighborhood, Amelia and I went to Lantau Island with some friends from school. Kat was in Malaysia for the weekend, so she was stuck in Kuala Lumpur with adorable monkeys and elephants (and Patrick, another friend from school) instead of hanging out with us. She won’t make that mistake again, I’m sure.

Lantau Island is like the Buddhist Rio de Janeiro, insofar as it has a gigantic statue of Buddha. Being as I know almost nothing else about Rio de Janeiro (aside from being reasonably certain that it is not in Hong Kong), I’m afraid I won’t be able to expand on that analogy for you. Instead of telling you how Lantau island is like or unlike Rio de Janeiro, from this point on I will just have to tell you what Lantau Island is like and let you take it from there.

I hear that Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on Rio de Janeiro. Maybe you can draw the comparisons yourself?

We didn’t leap right into Big-Buddha-viewing mode, of course. That would be like having dessert first – not something I would admit to in such a public forum. Instead, like the mature and responsible adults that we are, we scheduled our day so as to see as much of the island as possible, which required that the Buddha go last.

We first took the ferry across from Hong Kong Island to Discovery Bay, an idyllic tropical paradise on the eastern end of Lantau that is populated predominantly by expats (read: British Commonwealth expats).

Dbay Lanterns
Perhaps the Chinese lanterns have been put up as a cover?

It’s a little striking to go from the crowded, noisy, urban, sometimes-dilapidated and mostly Chinese-inhabited streets of busy Hong Kong to the pristine beaches and clean, open, modern spaces of mostly-European “Dbay”.

They actually call it that. I am not making any uncouth insinuations.

Dbay Open Spaces
I don’t get it. Why are there trees? Is there, like, a 7-Eleven hidden in the middle there?

We caught a bus across the island to Tai O, a historic fishing village on the western end of the island. It has, for the most part, resisted the push towards urbanization. As far as I can tell, this has mostly been by virtue of having few inhabitants and no money.

Tai O Docks
Guess how many expats live here.

We disembarked right next to the docks, where local entrepreneurs were advertising motorboat rides featuring pink dolphin sightings. Robbie, one of our companions, is a pretty enterprising guy himself. After negotiating a 20% group discount off of the roughly CAD$2.50 ticket price, he tried to finagle a guarantee of pink dolphin sightings. No such guarantee was obtained. This did not dissuade the emboldened Robbie from guaranteeing such a sighting to the group.

I think you know where I’m going with this.

Lantau Surf
We saw some lovely coastline, but dolphins were not to be seen.

As a consequence, we-the-group have decided that Robbie owes us a pink dolphin sighting. In particular, we’re now pretty sure that he is legally required to dress up as one for Halloween (which we will be meeting up for in Japan). I’ll let you know if he is a man of his word.

The Guys
Rob is on the right, Eric (and his pills – more on that later) are on the left, and Thaddy’s in the middle.

Despite its challenges, Tai O did not lack for charm. The tiny village housed a local heritage museum (mostly showcasing traditional fishing methods) and was jam-packed with street vendors and their wares.

Fresh Fish
Step 1: Get fish. Step 2: ???. Step 3: Profit.

The inhabitants clearly took pride in their village; their street-side shrines were well-tended, and they had a little Catholic Church that was startlingly well-maintained.

Tai O Shrine
Relative to most of its Hong Kong siblings, this shrine is straight-up baller.
Tai O Church
Actual name: Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The Catholic Church knows its market.

Amelia and I ended up buying some mystery meat and sharing it with our friends. After each of us had tried it, we decided that it was chicken (despite its somewhat pork-y flavor). This was for Eric’s benefit, as he would prefer to keep his mystery meats kosher.

As delicious as our mystery meat was, it was not very interesting to look at. Instead, here is a picture of something that we did not buy:

Pufferfish
Googly eyes: Nature’s most potent natural defense.

Having satisfied our curiosity and our hunger, we hopped on to another bus and were whisked away to Ngong Ping, which is the tiny tourist village next to the Po Lin Monastery. The Monastery previously built and currently manages the Big Buddha statue.

Amelia and the Big Buddha
Ngong Ping’s claim to fame: You can sort of see the Big Buddha from there.

Not having much interest in the tourist town, we made our way to the Big Buddha. We quickly discovered two of the consequences of building a giant statue on top of a mountain: (1) you have to climb the mountain to get to the statue, and (2) no matter how far you have to go, the giant statue always looks deceptively close. Luckily, the bus had taken us most of the way up the mountain, so we only had to climb for a long time (as opposed to a really long time).

Chris and the Big Buddha
See how happy I am? Well, I haven’t climbed to the Buddha yet.

Amelia wasn’t feeling so well, but luckily Eric is not afraid of conforming to stereotypes. With the kind of foresight that only a hypochondriac can have, he had transformed his travel bag into a small pharmacy. With Eric’s (and Pfizer’s) help, the whole group made it up the mountain without complaint.

It’s hard to give a sense of scale to the Buddha. Suffice it to say that it’s pretty big.

Amelia and the Big Buddha (Again)
Notice Amelia in the bottom-right. The Buddha is a fair ways behind her.

The dias beneath the Buddha houses a small museum and holy site. For me, it was actually the highlight of the trip; there were some really breathtaking figurines and relics. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed throughout the complex.

We headed down the mountain to the Po Lin monastery, home of a number of shrines and a reasonably popular vegetarian restaurant.

Po Lin Monastery
The shrines were very nice. We did not investigate the restaurant.

The shrines were decked out in lanterns and sculptures and all manner of ornamentation. Fortunately for us, photography was permitted in the monastery. I don’t know what this says about where the monastery lies on the spectrum of Buddhist holy sites.

Po Lin Interior
The interior decorations of the monastery were pretty intense.
Po Lin Shrine
Three golden gods in one of the monastery’s shrines.
Po Lin Doorframe
This is a doorframe. They take architecture pretty seriously at Po Lin.

Craving food (and not considering vegetarian fare to be included in that term), we returned to Ngong Ping for delicious, meat-based dishes. We were not dissuaded from this goal even by the highly adorable animals that the monks had cleverly positioned near the village gates.

Amelia with Ox
I know what you’re thinking: Ox-tail soup would be amazing right now.

We had our dinner (Amelia and I had pizza and a lamb-and-chicken falafel, if you’re curious) and got in line for a cable car down to the nearest MTR station (which, as you may recall, is the subway in Hong Kong). There were two lines that stretched out of the cable car building, each apparently of equal length: the regular line and the Crystal Cabin line. We chose the Crystal Cabin lift, which was slightly more expensive but seemed to be moving slightly faster.

Once inside the cable car building, we realized that this was a mistake.

Cable Car Lineup
See all those people? All but the rightmost line are queueing for the Crystal Cabin.

It turned out that the Crystal Cabin line was much, much longer than the regular line. It took us over 90 minutes to get  into a cable car. Moreover, it turned out that the benefit of the Crystal Cabin was the glass floor – a feature not enjoyed by the afeared-of-heights among us, and not useful to the shutterbugs at that late and dark hour.

Our cable cars meandered above the forested mountains for some time before finding their way to the urban northern end of Lantau Island.

Cable Cars in the Night
Note that we did not take these photos through the floor of our cable car.

The cable car station is situated near to the MTR station, but their proximity did not prevent us from stopping at a McDonald’s for ice cream. Having sated both our eyes and our bellies, we piled on to the MTR and headed home.

This was just one day of a relatively sedate four-day weekend. Our lax schedule was no accident. Next weekend we will be traipsing through Singapore for all four days, burning up all the energy we saved this week. Expect a lengthy post.