I awoke this morning to a much better scene than the day before. Visibility was good and I could see the mountains at the other side of Kowloon, and I even saw a few glimpses of the sun. All the weather warnings had been removed, although the weather forecast was for showers, with 98% humidity, mainly as it had rained so much the day before! After a breakfast of a hotdog sausage bun and cereal myself and Clara set off on a trip to see the massive Buddha statue on Lantau Island.
The journey to Lantau Island is quite long and the first step is to get a bus number 12 down to the outlying island piers in Central. From the piers we have to take a First Ferry from pier 6 to Mui Wo on Lantau Island – better known in English as Silvermine Bay. The ferry was very similar to the one we took to Macau last week, but is run by a different company and doesn’t travel quite as fast. As we arrived at the pier a fast ferry was about to leave, these are slightly more expensive than the normal ferries, but take half the time to get there. We boarded the ferry immediately, but it was empty and there were only a few people, mostly tourists going to the Buddha like us.
The 30 minute ferry trip follows the same route as the Macua ferry for about the first 15 minute of the journey. The last 15 minutes veer towards Lantau Island and some of the small bays are visible along the coast. The ferry also goes close to some of the many container ships that dock in the harbour area. Smaller boats frequently unload the cargo and ship it to land. I guess that the Hong Kong harbour must be too shallow (or maybe too busy) for the ships to get close enough!
After getting off the Ferry in Silvermine Bay we took a quick look around the area. Just outside the ferry pier were many bikes parked together in a large area. Clara says that some were to hire but others were parked for people returning from work. The overall feel of the island was much calmer than the built up areas. The island was still very modern with a McDonalds and a number of banks next to the ferry pier, but there were very few cars and it was possible to hear silence if you stand still (something which you’ll never hear on Hong Kong Island).
After taking a quick look at Silvermine Bay beach from a distance – although the weather had improved it didn’t really seem like beach weather – we took a bus number 23 that would take us to the Buddha. The buses on Lantau Island are run by a different company and are more like coaches than buses. Although there are many stops on the route, few are used and many are in remote places so most people get on the bus at the start and get off at the other terminus.
The bus journey followed the winding roads around the coast towards the Buddha statue. The roads are very windy and also frequently go up and down hill following the coastline of the islands that were created from volcanoes. The edge of Lantau Island is the only part that is inhabited as the center holds massive hills – up one of these lies the statue. We were currently on the south side of Lantau Island, the new airport is on the North side which is much more built up. Eventually the bus passess a reservoir, that looks quite similar to the ones in Derbyshire, with a high wall – but obviously much nicer looking! On the lower side of the reservoir is a prison as well as a number of cows grazing on the hill. These were the first animals I’d seen grazing in Hong Kong and the cows look very much like the ones seen on TV in India, very skinny!
After passing the reservoir we took the road up the steep hill – full of roadworks – and up to the Buddha. This is the main tourist attraction on the island and so everyone else was going there too! There were not too many cars on the road, they were mostly buses with the odd taxi and a few lorries. We eventually got to the top of the hill after going through a red light – I think the driver thought he was Michael Schumacher – and got our first look of the Buddha.
The Buddha statue is located on top of a hill with 256 steps (I counted on the way down) that lead up to the statue. The statue is about 30m high and is said to be the tallest outdoor bronze statue in the world. I thought the Buddha was quite old but it turns out its only been around for a few years since the airport was built. Inside the Buddha at the top of the stairs is a small museum and a number of places to put the pictures used as graves (the ones that Clara went to worship in our first week). We climbed the stairs and a little out of breath had a look around the museum and took some picture of the view. After a while the weather started to brighten up a little and we walked back down the stairs all the way back to the bottom (this was a bit scary for Clara who doesn’t really like heights!).
You have to pay to get into the Buddha at the top and when you pay you are entitled to a (what we thought) was a free dessert. Next door to the statue is a buddist monastry and it is here that we could get our food. We had a look around before getting our food, the monastry was bigger than the temples we had visited before and contained bigger halls to hold ceremonies in. There were many people who had come to the Buddha as a pilgrimage and they were praying at the altars and burning incence. As we went to get our food, we found out that it was actually a whole meal and not just a dessert! We were given two dim-sum each, plus a plate of noodles and a bean curd dessert – all for $23 each! The food was nice, but was all vegetarian as the Buddist monks do not eat meat!
After lunch we went to have a look at a new attraction called Ngong Ping (read Ong Ping) village. This is a cable car that has been built between a city near the airport and the Buddha. The cable car does not open until next week and we won’t get time to ride it – it was meant to open a couple of months ago but on the day of opening 5000 people got stuck on it! The village was only half open and there was not really much to look at, so we decided to get a bus back.
After walking back to the Budda we caught a number 23 but to a small town on the edge of the airport called Tung Chung (read Dung Chung). The bus was busy with tourists and locals who had come to the Buddha. Tung Chung was the closest large town to the statue and a hub of transport back to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The bus set off along the windy roads back to Tung Chung. About half way into the ride we had to pass from the south side of the mountains and back to the north side. The only way to do this was over a single track road over the top of the mountains in a bus full of 50 people. The ride up the windy road was slow and sometimes scary as traffic had to wait at passing places to get past. Going up the hill was a 1:8 gradient and the bus was doing no more than 10 mph all the way. After about 15 minutes of going upwards we eventually got to the top. As we got there we could see some major roadworks as the highways agency in Hong Kong were upgrading the road as its currently only a single track and used by many buses. We came down the other side much quicker and eventually got to Tung Chung about 30 minutes after the bus left the Buddha – all this had cost us $16 (about a pound).
As we came to Tung Chung you could see that this was a more developed area. There were many high rise buildings that were obviously quite new, this area had benefitted greatly from the building of the new airport. Lantau Island is now the up and coming island and has much more space to expand than is currently available on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. At the bus interchange we walked to get a number E11 bus back to central. This bus takes a route similar to the airport express train and goes over the Tsing Ma suspension bridge to Kowloon and takes the Western Harbour Tunnel under Hong Kong harbour and back to Hong Kong Island.
The Tsing Ma bridge is very spectacular and very large. This bridge was built to service the new airport and carries a motorway over the water between Kowloon and Lantau Island. The view from the bridge is very good and its only a shame that we can’t get out of the bus to take pictures. The bus ride took about 30 minutes and we arrived back in Central. We took a number 12 bus back up the hill to home where we could have a rest.
This evening we are off out with Clara’s cousin Bonny and her husband Jean.
Things I learned:
Horse Racing is very important to most Hong Kongers. The racing season started last week and every day you see Hong Kongers with the racing paper in hand looking at the odds for the racing.
Stocks and Shares are also very important to Hong Kongers. Most people in Hong Kong have some shares and follow the stock market closely, much more so than in the UK, where the average person would not know if the FTSE was up or down!
There are three different colour taxi’s in Hong Kong. Red ones on Hong Kong Island, Blue ones on Lantau Island and Green one in the new territories.