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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The most magical day of travel- visiting the Great Wall of China

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It is a rare occurrence, but sometimes in life you do and experience something amazing. The day we went to the Great Wall, someone was either looking down on us and smiling or we were randomly dealt an optimal set of circumstances. Either way, you know something is special when hours later, you are still smiling from ear to ear.

Our day started relatively uneventful. We ate a big breakfast (which in hindsight was a very good idea, but at the time felt over-indulgent). I devoured my way through frosted flakes, yoghurt, breakfast tea, white toast, mushrooms, hash browns and 2 lots of scrambled eggs whilst my friend had similar (except with bacon and sausage instead of the veggie alternatives). Before we could set off for the Great Wall, we had to sort our transport out for Xi’an, where we were headed the next day. We booked train tickets and waited for a taxi to take us the hour and a half distance to the Great Wall.

Our cab driver was awesome- despite speaking only in Mandarin and me not understanding a word (as was typical of our China travels, my travel companion was incredible in that he speaks and understands are fair amount of Mandarin), he was so friendly, smiley and helpful. The journey to the Great Wall took an hour and a half and we were very excited when we arrived! We were seeing the Great Wall from the Mutianyu Great Wall, located in the Huairou District of Beijing. Upon arrival, our eyes met a large wooden sign baring the name of that part of the Great Wall. We meandered through the shops, cafes and restaurants that line the way to the coach station. Once there, we travelled uphill in a bus (for about 5 minutes) before arriving at another point where we were due to get the cable car from. We clambered up hill, in positive spirits but already exerting a good amount of energy.

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The signs marking “The Great Wall Culture Exhibition Center” and “Mutianyu”.

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The walkway to the coach station

Having completed the steep climb to the cable car station, we stepped into the deep red capsule and we were hoisted uphill towards the great wall. I tried to make conversation with my travel companion (who was suffering from vertigo but had decided the best way to combat it was to frequently face heights- he’s cool like that) and got our first glimpse of the Great Wall, a beige stretch of stone extended along the hill top.

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Our first glimpses of the Great Wall

We arrived at the cable car terminal at the top and walked straight then left, climbing some stairs before we saw a viewing deck. From here, we climbed again and found a stone statue/plaque, marking the Great Wall.

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A sign pointing us in the right direction                 Getting closer to the Great Wall

Through a little arch, we reached the flat ground of the wall itself. And it was spectacular; to the left, we saw trees, hills and in the far distance, an urbanized area. The sun was shining bright against a bright blue sky and to the left, a natural untouched landscape drew the eye- abundant with more hills and gravelly floor.

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Our tourist moments…

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The sun and the moon… on opposing sides of the Great Wall

And we walked and walked, across flat land, slight inclines, steeper hills with steps. Through majestic viewing towers, dark inside but for the burst of natural right that tore through the archway and offered some beautiful views.

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The inside of one such viewing tower

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The wall in all it’s glory

Since we had arrived so late (at 15.30, and the Great Wall shuts at 17.30), we knew there would be a point where we had to turn around. We got to a very steep looking high point on the wall. My friend said “maybe we should climb it?”, and after the realisation that I’d probably only get to do this once in my life, I readily agreed.

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The little square in the lower-middle part of the picture was where we started our climb from

We started to climb the steps, high in volume (numerically) but narrow in width. About halfway up I felt my breath going in shorter bursts. My friend was starting to suffer from Vertigo again. The Great Wall had emptied because it was getting late. But we climbed onwards, reliant on each other for support. The sun had faded a bit now, sunset was approaching, leisurely creeping across the sky. We were confronted with some steeper steps that were shorter in width and so I took the lead at this point of the climb. And eventually we reached the platform we were aiming for, at the pinnacle of the steep ascension.

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WE MADE IT!!!                                                    The sign saying “no tourist section past this point”

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One of the climbers we met climbing back down

I don’t know if it was too much to call the moment euphoric. It felt close. We had reached a point which no tourists were allowed beyond. The wall was now silent aside from us and we met some qualified climbers (in jackets and climbing boots) who had descended from beyond the “no tourists allowed” point. They seemed really impressed that we had made it up to where we were, and were incredibly smiley. The ease with which they skipped back down the slope and onto the flatter parts of the wall was impressive.

Knowing that (at least amongst this expanse of wall) there were just the four of us, a stunning sky, the stonework of the masterpiece that is the Great Wall and the sun winding down on one side of the wall whilst the moon started to glow on the other, was unbelievable. We were just happy.

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Pictures of the Great Wall at sunset

On the climb back down. Happy. A smile stretched across our faces. When we almost got stuck in a cable car because it was 17.30 and the guy who operated the cars thought all the visitors would have left by now (thank goodness for shouting)- still happy.

Because you travel for moments like this. I couldn’t begin to imagine what I’d feel on the Great Wall. And what I did eventually feel was akin to something magical (corny yes, but true). This was a highlight of globe-trotting. This was what reaffirmed to me that getting out there for a few months instead of heading straight into work or doing a masters was worth it. We returned to where we were staying and ate a ridiculous amount of food. The next day we would be heading onto Xi’an in China, just in time to celebrate my travel companion’s 22nd birthday.