Saturday, March 24, 2018

Buddha Time! Lantau Island.

Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island.

After our leisurely stroll through the Goldfish, Flower and Bird Markets, Bro and I walked to the nearest MTR station and made our way to the Tung Chung MTR station.  Final destination?  Lantau Island.

Based on all the descriptions I had read, I somehow thought Tung Chung would be a small village but it's far from that.  Located near the airport, Tung Chung is....as best I can describe it, a suburb of Hong Kong and like the city, it's filled with high rise buildings.  The MTR station is situated in the heart of a modern shopping center that has all the upscale stores that you would expect to see in any American mall.  In fact, if you didn't know it, you would think you were in an American mall as there were as many, if not more, American and European stores here as there were Hong Kong and Chinese ones.

You can get to Lantau Island either by bus or by cable car.  Of course, we had to do the cable car.  Challenge was finding the station which is supposedly *next* to the MTR.  We spotted some signs but they weren't all that clear.  At one point, we did see a line of people walking in a particular direction and we decided to follow them on the chance that they were going to the cable station.  T'was our lucky moment.  As we neared the station, attendants pointed us to the walkway that led to the escalators up to the station.  There, we queued up to buy our tickets which are not cheap.  A one way ride costs HK$145 which is about $18!


It was a really, really, really long line that snaked its way towards the ticket counters.  After that, it was another long line to board the cable cars.  As impatient as we were at times, the line did move along reasonably well.  In total, I think we were in line for maybe about 40 minutes.  Considering it's a Saturday afternoon, I didn't consider that to be a bad wait.  Each cable car could easily sit 6 -8 people so as soon as one filled up, it moved on.  There were handlers to make sure people boarded quickly.


The cable car would take us for about a 30 minute ride up and over hills to a place called Ngong Ping which is very often described as a cultural village but if the ticket options that are available are any indication, it's more like theme park that offers packaged family oriented activities and attractions sold as an experience called *NP360*.  Of course, you can buy all the tickets on line





From the cable car, we had a view, albeit a very hazy one through smudgy glass, of the airport runway.


At one point, we spotted a trail that presumably connects Tung Chung and Ngong Ping.  We could see people hiking up and down.  Leave it to Bro to hint that we could've done that.  My response was *no time* 😁


I knew we were close when I spotted the large Buddha sitting atop the hill.  That had to be the Tian Tan Buddha, largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha statue in the world.  I have come to the conclusion that every Buddhist country in the world has the largest Buddha of some sort and it's basically based on whether the Buddha is standing, sitting or reclining and how his hands and fingers are positioned (mudras).  Given how many mudras there are, the possible number of *largest* Buddhas in the world is sizeable!


The cable car pretty drops you off right at the entrance to Ngong Ping and from the very first step, you are aware of just how commercialized this place is.  Yes, the buildings are built in an architectural style that dates back centuries but the stores and restaurants they house are catered to entertaining modern crowds.  Speaking of crowds.  The mass of people we left behind at the Tung Chung cable car station are all here!!  It's a sea of people!!

For us, it was well past our lunch time and my hopes of having a lunch in a small village were dashed long ago.  So, we settled for sandwiches at a Subway....yes, the same Subway that you see everywhere in the US.  I think even the sandwiches are the same though I wouldn't really know as I don't eat at Subway when I am at home.  The only other time I've been inside a Subway is when Bro and I took our parents on a roadtrip to LA in 2014.  Out of sheer convenience, we had lunch at Subway one day.  Even Subway was crowded inside though I did manage find a table for two.  It was chance for us to sit for a bit and give our feet a minutes of rest while we ate our sandwiches.


After our quick bite, we followed the signs to the Buddha who is undeniably the most popular attraction here.


Even if you don't see the signs, you can't miss the Buddha - he easily stands out!  Just accept the fact that you have zero chance of getting a photo of the guy without a million tourists showing up in your frame.



We climbed the 268 steps to the first platform level and walked around.

Gazing up Buddha, you can see that his right hand is raised, representing the removal of affliction, while the left rests open on his lap in a gesture of generosity. He faces north, which is unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south.


Surrounding Buddha are six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" that are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These symbolize the Six Perfections of generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary for enlightenment.






The Buddha statue stands 34 meters (112 feet) tall.  It's not surprising that, on a clear day, you can reputedly see it all the way from Macau.  That's a far distance and most likely you would need a telescope or a really good pair of binoculars to spot it!





From the platform, you can also see Po Lin Monastery.  That's where we headed once we made our way back down the 268 steps.



Po Lin Monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks from Jiangsu province. The main temple building houses three bronze statues representing the Buddha of the past (Kassapa), present (Sakyamuni) and future (Maitreya). 


Many visitors were stopping to pray.





I snapped the photo before I saw the no photography sign.  Oops.

I captured the cutest moment of the day here.  A young father teaching his daughter how to clasp her hands and pray. 


The little girl then got the chance to put her hand clasping skills to work as she stood between her mother and father and before Buddha and prayed.  So sad that this photo came out blurry because it was such a heartwarming moment to witness.


We did a quick walk around the monastery and then left.




After Po Lin, we decided we had had enough of Lantau and it was time to head back to Kowloon.  On my original itinerary, I had us going from Ngong Ping to Tai O, a traditional fishing village where the buildings are all on stilts.  There's a bus to the village from the Tung Chung MTR station.  While I was pretty certain that Tai O would not be as commercialized as Ngong Ping, I think both of us were nearing our sightseeing load for the day.  Keep in mind that we just landed in Hong Kong late last night and even though we're doing very well on the jet lag front, I think we're still a bit tired and given how much sightseeing we have in the days to come, there was no need to over do today. We deserve to take it a bit slow today. 😁

This time, instead of taking the pricey cable care back down to Chung Tung, we took the local bus.  Bro had spotted the bus depositing visitors, near the steps leading up to the Buddha.  So we headed in that direction in search of a bus stop sign and we didn't spot one so we kept walking down the road.  Eventually, we saw a parking lot and buses pulling in and out of it.  We decided that was probably the place we had to be.  Bingo!  We got in line and after confirmation that this was the place to pick up the bus to Chung Tung, we waited til one arrived.  A flash of our Octopus cards and we were on board.  I would say it was about a half hour ride, on a winding road, back down the hillsides to Chung Tung.  The moment we stepped off the bus, we knew exactly where we were and how to get back to the MTR station.  We've been in Hong Kong for not even 24 hours and we've used the MTR enough now that we've mastered the system!  I cannot imagine getting around this place any other way!

One more market to visit before we call it a day!