My itinerary took me to Hong Kong for four nights. It was a stark contrast from my time in China. I landed on Saturday evening in the Yesinn Causeway Bay Hostel in a tall, 9 story building and headed straight out to the madness of Lan Kwai Fon. It was especially mad for two reasons. Firstly, it’s just how Hong Kong is – one big expat party, with some people claiming to work around the partying. Secondly, because it was the closest Saturday to Halloween, everyone took to the streets in fancy dress. Not just Halloween outfits either – I passed giant pandas, bananas, gorillas and even a Lance Armstrong (a guy sporting the yellow jersey, glasses and plastic needles taped to his arm).
I came to realise, Hong Kong has it all. Skyscrapers, nature, gadgets and places to relax all on your door step in an interesting blend of east meets west. Here’s what I covered in my four nights.
On Sunday, I hiked the Dragon’s Back with Prashant, a friend of mine who’s had relocated to Hong Kong earlier this year with work. He’s the writer of the Leadership In Devotion blog. Using the instructions here, we spent a good couple of hours taking in the views as we trekked up and down the terrain (thus why it’s called the Dragon’s Back). The sign you see marks the start of the well signposted route coming off the Number 9 bus. You can continue the trek another hour or so looping round the island and ending up at Big Wave Bay Beach, where you can get a shared bus back to the nearest MTR station.
I hadn’t realised how close Macau is to Hong Kong. When I found out that it’s just a one hour ride from Hong Kong Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan for about 150 HKD each way, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for a day trip. Even though it’s a ferry ride, you still need to fill a departure card and officially leave the country. Stamps and all. I can see it being a very convenient way for Brits to get another 180 days to explore the country. My arrival card at Macau aptly had the “Address of Stay” as “N/A – Day Trip”. The ferry terminal and the ferry itself had wifi which was very convenient.
At this part, you’re probably wondering where the “free(ish)” bit comes from. Well, If you’re not familiar with Macau, it’s the Las Vegas of The East. Statistics suggest that more money passes through Macau these days than Las Vegas too. In order to channel punters from the ferry and airport arrival terminals, the casinos run free shuttle buses to/from the casinos – no questions asked. They’re actually competing for your business. Having stayed at the Wynn Encore Casino in Las Vegas in June, my unnecessary affiliation with this Casino chain meant I’d head there. The other, more important reason for choosing them was that the location is pretty close to the Ruins of St Paul, the location where I wanted to be on the island. So, I jumped aboard the bus and it sped off to the casino. You’ll see just how busy it was below…
After entering the casino I headed to the roulette tables, winning enough to cover both ferry trips, cashed up, changed my spare Chinese RMB, used their exceedingly plush toilets and left. Outside, the casino there was a small park with some keep fit equipment. Shortly after finishing a few sets on the chin up bar, I noticed two guys each on a different park bench. The one guy with his head in his hands and the other looking over at me and then at my bag. I think it was obvious who’d won some money and who had lost. So I quickly headed off to inspect more of the island.
As you move from the casino area to the centre of the island, you move through dingy shops interleaved with jewellers through to a busy town. It was only a 10 minute walk till you started seeing some of the Portuguese influences on the island and the hustle and bustle of a usual small town.
Taking some narrow winding streets with some interesting food shops (marinated cattle skin), you end up at the Ruins of St Paul. Looking back from the steps, you can see the skyline of traditional buildings with the infamous casinos in the distance.
After walking back to the Wynn, I jumped on another empty bus back to the harbour. One useful thing to note about the Hong Kong – Macau ferry from Turbojet (the company I used), is that although your ticket is assigned to a particular time, you’re able to turn up earlier and wait in a stand-by queue and jump on if there’s space. You can’t of course do that if you’re late though. With ferries every 15 minutes, you’re better off booking a later ticket than you would expect to return.
Getting home by 18:00 that evening, I had enough time to join Prashant at the Swish Muay Thai club he goes to in Causeway Bay. It’s the first time I’ve tried that particular martial art and I was lucky enough to be trained almost one-to-one with decent trainers from Thailand. Although I tore the skin off the massive blister twisting into the kicks and my feet were stinging by the end from planting kicks into the pads, it was great fun. I’m tempted to do more when I hit Thailand.
Not put off by the torrential rain on Tuesday, I headed to Lantau Island. The island is home to the world’s largest (26m) seated bronze buddha statue called Tian Tan Buddha and the Wisdom Path. To get to the island, you take the MTR (subway) to Tung Chun, where you can get a cable car up to the Nnong Ping village and a short walk from the Buddha statue. With a choice of normal or glass floored cable car carriage, I opted for the glass to help cure my vertigo and watched a the rain trickled off the bottom of the cart and into the forests and water below. The mist, wind and rain was so bad that at times, you couldn’t see anything out the window and then all of a sudden you’ll have another carriage come out the mist and pass you. Pretty spooky when you’re in your own private carriage (bonus of choosing the glass floored carriage on a rainy day).
By the time the cable car arrived at the terminal, the rain was pouring heavily. Although my waterproof jacket would probably have been fine, I didn’t trust my rucksack to withstand a couple of hours of the heavy rain. One extra large and expensive poncho later and I headed towards the Big Buddha. I couldn’t take my camera out to take pictures of the statue because of the rain. I had to make do with shots from the odd market stall on route. It was quite pleasant though, I spent more time taking it in than taking snaps as I walked the steep steps up to it. I did get this one with the statue half visible through the clouds.
A 15 minute walk from the Big Buddha is the Wisdom Path and the Heart Sutra. With the weather as bad as it was, I only saw one other person on the way. Once I arrived though, I felt it was so worth it. In front of me were the thirty eight columns in a figure of eight to symbolise infinity. Thirty seven of them are carved with calligraphy reminiscent of bamboo tiles used for writing in ancient times with one left empty to symbolise the concept of “emptiness”.
You’d think visiting sights in the bad weather isn’t a good idea, but standing alone in the pouring rain, seeing these columns through the mist in front of me was pretty magical. I must have stood there for a good 20 minutes just taking it in. As I walked away, I felt upset that I couldn’t get a picture of it. I decided to find the nearest shelter, take my camera out, hide it in my hood for protection and walk back to the columns. From there, I could take some snaps and then run back to the shelter. The first picture is what you see as the cover photo, with the second below showing the calligraphy in more detail.
Reading the description board next to the monument, it describes the Heart Sutra – the perfection (infinity) of wisdom of Buddha. It articulates the doctrine of “emptiness”, saying –
“This ’emptiness’ must not be understood as the denial of phenomenal existence – it is not nihilism. What it teaches is that everything is dependently arisen from conditions: an event (a ‘thing’) occurs if and only if the adequacy of conditions obtains. Since everything is dependently arisen, there is no such thing as an eternally abiding entity. The doctrine of emptiness also spells out the relativity of all views. When one a quires this Wisdom of ’emptiness’, one will realise that all physical and mental events are in a constance process of change, and accordingly everything can be changed by modifying the conditions. Understanding the relativity of all standpoints will also prevent one from becoming irrationally attached to things. In this way, one will come to be free from all mental obstructions, and attain to prefect harmony and bliss. At the same time, with the understanding that all are dependently arisen, one will reassure and make good use of the conditions that are available, realising the ideal of benefiting oneself and others.”
Understanding the concept of emptiness, alone in this place couldn’t be more applicable. It felt like one of those unexpected things you do in a trip that end up leaving very significant memories.
Sham Shui Po
Heading back from Lantau island, I stopped off at Sham Shui Po, where I was told there was a big market. A eBay addict’s dream – everything from gadgets, clothes, travel gear and strangely some drills. No postage and packaging to pay either. There were maybe one or two of each stall selling different things. Some stuff was brand new and some used. I’ve never seen so many iPhone and iPad cases in one place.
Being more familiar with how I use my gear on the road now, I stocked up on tech and travel stuff. Cables, waterproof diving bag, camera strap. All dirt cheap. Having regretted not packing a couple of hiking base layers, I picked up some of those too for about Â£7 each too. Hong Kong should be on every travellers list, if only as a stop off to stock up on gear for your travels.
Avenue of Stars
The Bruce Lee statue on the Avenue of Stars was a mandatory pilgrimage for me in Hong Kong. There were more people crowded round his statue than all of the other statues put together. Visiting it included a 2 HKD ride on the famous Star Ferry to take in the harbour views.