Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I love Hong Kong

After our time in Macau it was time to leave by high-speed ferry to Hong Kong which is an hour away. The ferries are either catamarans or hydrofoils. This is the jetfoil that we took. They are like a big jet inside with blocks of 2 to 6 airline type seats across. They are jet-powered and are very fast.
Since both Macau and Hong Kong are SARs (Special Administrative Region) of China there is passport and immigration procedures at both ports. I didn't have any issue this time coming and going. So from the Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong island in Sheung Wan it was a few minutes to the Conrad Hong Kong hotel by taxi. It is located right near the Admiralty MTR and right above the Pacific Place shopping mall. The hotel is very nice but just like everything in Hong Kong, they jam-pack as much as they can into the smallest of building footprints. We were given a room on the 52nd floor which was an executive level floor with access to a lounge with the most amazing view of Hong Kong and Kowloon. This was the view from room 5222.
The Conrad is the building in the reflection of the other one. This picture was taken from the pool level.
Within minutes of being in the room, there was knock at the door and a butler had tea and chocolates for us.
The last time I was in Hong Kong the tall building in the background was not there and in fact the area surrounding that building, ICC (International Commerce Center), is still under construction and isn't a very happening place. There is a Ritz Carlton in that building and of course there is a shopping mall at the base.

I have a personal love affair with Hong Kong for several reasons. First of all, this was the very first city I had ever visited in Asia and it has always been very special to me because it began my addiction to travel in Asia. The second reason, which should be the first reason, is that Hong Kong saved my life. The vacation I originally planned to Hong Kong was actually to Phuket, Thailand, but something told me not to go to Phuket and go to Hong Kong instead. We arrived in Hong Kong on Dec 25, 2004 and if you remember anything about December 26, 2004 you'll know that there was a massive tsunami that killed over a quarter of a million people in 15 countries. So we woke up on Boxing Day to the news of the tsunami that would have killed us because we were planning to be on one of the beaches that was completely washed away. Both Phuket and Hong Kong have emotional connections for me. The third reason I love Hong Kong is because of the food. It's so easy to find really good food and any kind you can think of. The last reason I love Hong Kong is because speaking Chinese is not necessary thanks to the British. 
On the next day in Hong Kong, we headed out to Lantau Island where I had been wanting to visit for a long time. I wanted to see the Giant Buddha, but getting there is quite an ordeal. From Hong Kong Central you have to take a 35-40 minute MRT ride almost all the way to the airport at Tung Chung where Hong Kong's only outlet mall is located. From there you have two options to get to Ngong Ping at the top of a mountain where the buddha is. The first option is by cable car which doesn't look fun if you have a fear of heights. It is also kind of expensive at about $16USD roundtrip and takes about 20-25 minutes. When we got there the queue was 45 minutes long just to buy the ticket. The other option which is equally as adventurous is by bus. The Lantau island buses are coach style public buses so they are a little more luxurious than a public bus. It also only costs $3.20 roundtrip and takes about 40-45 minutes. Guess which option we took? I think we waited all of 5 minutes for the bus once we purchased the tickets. The bus driver drove it like it was a mini cooper buzzing along the south of France, but the views were amazing. It barely felt like 45 minutes and when everyone exited the bus I didn't think we were in the correct place because it didn't look like we were where we should have been. 

But as soon as we got out and looked around, it was a little hard to miss the giant statue of buddha located at the top of a nearby peak. You have to walk through a little village area and there are 240 steps to the top of the peak to reach the Tian Tan Buddha

The statue is magnificent and was everything I hoped it would be. It was hot and unbelievably humid but it was well worth it. Your entrance ticket includes a viewing of a relic inside the temple under the statue and you get an ice cream snack too. We must of walked around it several times and the views were beautiful. 

Back at the bottom of the steps is the Po Lin monastery which has a vegetarian restaurant and a very old temple. It was quite a serene setting. After about 2.5 hours at the peak we took the bus back down and it took much less time going down the mountain than up. We ate at the Food Republic at the Tung Chung Center and had very cheap but great food. I had xiao long bao and noodles. Another 40 minute train ride and we were back on Hong Kong island. Later that evening after a dip in the pool we ate Shanghai cuisine at a place in Pacific Place mall.
Fast forward to the last day in Hong Kong was spent walking around Central and spending more time by the pool getting some last minute relaxation before the late night flight back home. I love Hong Kong and always will. I don't think I will ever get tired of visiting. 

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