Behold… The Big Buddha

The day we went to the Big Buddha, we were lucky to experience glorious weather even if for my travel companion, we had another cable car to endure. Transportation was efficient (as is typical of Hong Kong) with us taking the MTR to Tung Chung station (which took about an hour from where we were). We then walked to the Ngong Ping Cable Car, which took us up to the mountainous area where the Big Buddha shrine sat serenely.

If travelling by cable car (the np360), you have a few options available to you.  You can take a standard cabin cable car, which has see-through windows but a covered floor, and also slightly less of a surface area available to look through the window. You can take a crystal cabin, with a clear bottom and a larger window surface area than the standard cabin. Or you know, you could slum it in a private cabin (but lets be realistic here).

We decided to go crystal cabin on the way there, standard cabin on the way back. This was a huge triumph for my friend in terms of battling his vertigo- we ended up in a crystal cabin with a lovely family, some of whom also suffered from vertigo, and he ended up reassuring them!

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The NP360 and some views from the Crystal Cabin on the way there…

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Our sunshiney day                                    Seeing the sea beneath your shoes

Upon arrival at the other cable car station, we explored the area surrounding the Big Buddha (a.k.a. Tian Tan Buddha). There is a viewing deck where you can take clear photos with the statue in the background:

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We walked around amongst smaller statues and souvenir stalls.

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The area surrounding the Big Buddha statue

We also came across a wooden fork specifying how many miles away we were from various famous attractions across the globe, which was quite fun to read!

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Only 1972 miles from the Great Wall and 9632 miles to Big Ben!

We climbed the stairs to the Big Buddha, attempting to avoid tripping over the tourists who suddenly stopped at various points to take a picture (we were guilty of this as well) 🙂

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Upon reaching the summit, you are presented with beautiful views of Lantau Island, where the tribute was built:

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Within the Buddha itself is a museum with facts about the Po Lin monastery and surrounding area. The main appeal of the attraction to me, though, was actually standing so close to the statue and admiring it’s sheer scale and beauty. It has obvious significance to Buddhists, but even for those of other or no religions, it is undeniably spectacular.

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As the afternoon drew onwards, we returned to the cable car terminal (see below):

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And on the way back, we saw Hong Kong at night- still beautiful amongst the smog.

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Seeing Pandas, being big kids and getting soaked at OceanPark! (Stint 2 in Hong Kong)

As much as we’ve pretended to be cultural during travel (and some days, managed to succeed), occasionally you need to just be a big kid and have fun. When my travel companion suggested OceanPark Hong Kong, I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited. It had been a while since I’d been to a theme park, and I reasoned that it would not be particular different to UK theme parks like Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.

I was wrong.

We had an absolute blast.

Because OceanPark finds a rare balance between accommodating to all ages, wowing with beautiful animals and giving an equal amount of attention and input to all the themed areas of the park.

And- most momentous at all- this is the place I broke a 13 year ban on eating McDonald’s and ordered McDonald’s chips as sustenance (vegetarian in Hong Kong, since they are cooked in vegetable oil) . To be fair- since all the food outlets in the park are fast food places, it is the lesser of all evils. Better the consumerism devil you know than the one you don’t.

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To get to OceanPark, we took the MTR (train network) to Admirality station and then took the Citybus (Route 629) direct to the attraction. Upon arrival, it was an overcast, grey day- not cold, but not warm without the presence of the sun. In spite of that, the park is awash with colour- both outside (the grass dolphins on the left) and upon entering the main square or centre-point of the park itself, called Aqua City (the photo on the right).

Note that these fountains are present and on automation throughout the day within the park and at night, are lit up in different colours to create a beautiful spectacle.

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The fountains lit up at night

We started our day by venturing towards the Aquarium, an attraction in Aqua City. It is laid out beautifully, with sound effects, coloured lighting in some parts and placards with facts about the marine creatures shown. Here, we saw an array of sealife including ribboned pipefish and stingrays (amongst other things).

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We were in the Aquarium for maybe half an hour/forty minutes. To leave, you pass through a visitor shop (as is common of many themed attractions) and whilst we had fun putting on ridiculous cuddly shark and penguin hats, there was nothing that we felt was justifiable to spend money on.

Over the next few hours, we got to see Pandas and Alligators in the Amazing Asian Animals section of the park (I took a particular liking to An An the panda) and watched a wonderful seal show (for Psychology enthusiasts among us, that was a fairly overt display of conditioning).

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Hi An An                                                               Chilled out panda

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I also enjoyed seeing these little fellows

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A photo from the seal show

We caught the final 15 minutes of a spectacular dolphin show, whereby dolphins were woven into a heroic story. The atmosphere was created by cinematic screens and sound effects. The crowd was enthralled and so were we. Dolphins are undeniably beautiful and talented animals and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t see the show in full.

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Around about this point, it was nearing lunchtime. After my travel companion said a quick hello to an old friend:

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We decided to head to the other section of the part (accessible by train or cable car) since there were more food outlets there. We queued for the cable car- the station of which is built in a section of the park made to look like Hong Kong during it’s British colonisation.

Apologies to those with vertigo for this photo (including my travel companion, who- as always, was amazing and dealt with this):

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We had to wait a while, but finally arrived at the other side of the park and into Marine World. Presented with ample choice of pizza, McDonalds, hot dogs, chicken and the like, we both had McDonalds for lunch. I just settled for chips, whilst my friend ordered a more filling amount of food. Happiness came in the form of the ice cream stall nearby, allowing a chocolate Magnum to complete an incredibly healthy and balanced meal.

Next, we attempted some arcade games- with my friend picking up a few stuffed toys on a frisbee like game and basketball. I failed miserably until the launch the frog onto a lilypad game- the first time in my life I’ve won anything from this kind of arcade stall.

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The arcade stalls

I was kind of chuffed to win my new friend…

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Over the course of the afternoon, we went on a range of rides. Particular favourites of mine were the swings and the rapids, which left us in fits of laughter.

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Swings > rollercoaster (controversial)                Photographing others during their rapids torment

We ended our time at the park in the Polar Adventure section, where we got to meet some adorable penguins and see an Arctic fox.

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We left to queues of people waiting for the bus. But it didn’t matter, because we had a lot of fun that day. The kind of carefree silliness that you need to invite back into your life sometimes. My second stint in Hong Kong was going just as well as the first time round and better yet, there was still more to experience…

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Going around Guilin: the Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan).

For me, Guilin was a first. For my travel companion, he had visited 10 years previously. He remembered this part of China as possessing great natural beauty, a rural kind of charm. This kind of beauty remains in fragments:

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But as with anything, development is a double-edged sword- and as we ventured away from the Reed Flute Cave back to our van, the same machines creating for Guilin were also marring the landscape of what used to be an untouched fishing village.

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See the crane- top right hand corner

But all was not lost, because the Elephant Trunk Hill (Xiangbishan) provided us with a scenic snapshot to enjoy. Better still- whatever age you are- you’re never too old to enjoy a park (well that’s my theory).

The Elephant Trunk Hill gets it’s name from the shape the rocks form, resembling an elephant drinking from the River Li. Entrance cost CNY 75 and you pay more if you wish to climb the hill.

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Apparently, there are carvings in the rocks which provide information on the attraction, but you need someone with local knowledge to give more information about this. We decided not to climb the hill due to budgeting restrictions.

However, we did enter the “lovers park” (not awkward because, more than anything else, it was all humorously bewildering to my friend and I).

The park area is full of steel framed statues and larking around is a must:

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So basically quite unlike parks in the UK. Kids look away now. 

Though we didn’t know this at the time, parts of the park can be lit up at night- we figured this out upon seeing a tree with lights hanging down from the branches. So as a tip, perhaps this would be the best time to visit the Elephant Trunk Hill Park. However, entrance into the park at night is more expensive, so do take this into consideration.

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From the park, you also get views of the river:

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By now, we had completed both the Reed Flute Cave and the Elephant Trunk Hill and we were feeling incredibly hungry. We consulted a park map and located a restaurant on the edge of the park, overlooking the River Lijang. The Homa Cafe is a hidden delight- waiting staff are friendly, and on a cold day- food is incredibly warming.

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My friend tucked into a noodle dish whilst I enjoyed tofu, rice and stir fried vegetables. After swapping drinks (he wasn’t fond of his citrus, orangey tea but I enjoyed it), we returned to the area around our hotel in Guilin and explored the town during the late afternoon.

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Our late lunch at Homa Cafe. 

Our time in China was drawing to a close. But I still had a bit more time in Hong Kong before I approached the other part of my journey and settled down in Melbourne, Australia for a couple of months. And despite thinking I’d seen it all in Hong Kong during my first stint there (see the categories sidebar for my earlier blog posts on Hong Kong), it just so happens I was very wrong. The commercial capital of Asia still had far more to offer…