Thanks to an excellent suggestion by a friend (h/t Ryan), I decided my first sightseeing excursion in Hong Kong would to be to see the Big Buddha, or Tian Tan Buddha, a statue that sits near Po Lin Monastery on Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, in Hong Kong. As a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (a former colony of Great Britain), Hong Kong is composed of three main areas, with a few small islands scattered in between, known as Hong Kong Island, Lantau Island and Kowloon (part of mainland China). To get to Lantau Island, you can either take a ferry, a bridge or the subway system; I took the subway all the way to the last stop on the island (note: tourists can buy a special 24-hour subway pass that is good pretty much everywhere for $55HKD, or about $7US; each way to Lantau is about $24HKD so its a good deal). The metro is clean, easy to figure out, and very efficient — and not to worry, everything is in both Chinese and English.
Once you arrive at Tung Chung station, normally you can take a cable car to the top of the mountain. Unfortunately, it is undergoing maintenance so they are offering a shuttle bus up and down the mountain. Ughh. I couldn’t find the bus stop and didn’t have correct change required for the bus ride, so I missed 4 buses while trying to figure this out! Once I got myself situated, the bus took about 45-minutes curling around streets and trugging up the mountain like the “little engine that could” before we reached the Buddha pavillion. I didn’t think it was going to take that long, but you are basically driving from one side of the island to the other, all while seeing the Buddha off in the distance. At the pavilion you can walk around and see the Big Buddha from below before walking up what seems like never-ending steps to stand right beneath it. I am a rock star after climbing the Great Wall of China, remember!
Included in the Buddha entrance fee is either lunch or a light snack. While I opted for the snack, it was actually more like a lunch — Asian veggie noodles, an assortment of dumplings and other dim-sum offerings and either coffee, tea or a soda. The entire cost for both the transportation up the mountain and entrance to the Buddha was just under $10US. What a bargain!
I have also had the opportunty to check out the nightlife in Hong Kong. A city full of westerners and ex-pats, there is quite the lively bar and club scene. Most people in Hong Kong speak English as well as Cantonese and have been very friendly. The food that I have eaten out has been pretty good — and the drinks are terrific since they don’t have to strictly measure the liquor like in Sydney! In fact, it turns out that I won’t spend as much as I budgeted for this city — most things have turned out to be less expensive than what I thought! #thankgod
The view from my hotel is amazing, which overlooks the bay of Hong Kong Island. However, its been a little rainy and foggy distorting the view from time to time. With that said, I am staying a terrific hotel, Hotel Icon, which sits right on the bay on the Kowloon side. Magificent views, great service, including free Wifi (and for this traveler, it’s a luxury) and free access to the mini-bar (no alcohol, sorry, but all the diet coke and m&m’s you could want!).