Thursday, 10 September 2009

Home at last, but first Lantau

Hong Kong by night

Big Buddha (Tian Tan) at the Po Lin Monastry on Lantau

Stilted fishing village of Tai O on Lantau

Although my last blog was from Hong Kong and should have concluded the trip, we did have one further day in Hong Kong and I think this deserves a short blog as well.

Since our flight home wasn't until 23:15 we had one whole day in HK to spend sightseeing. We chose to visit Lantau Island (In Cantonese - Broken Head). The shape of the island gives a good idea of why it has this named. Lantau is where the new airport is located, on reclaimed land. The old Kai Tak airport on Kowloon still exists, but is no longer used for commercial air traffic. The new airport was opened in 1998, one year after HK was handed back to the Chinese.

This island also hosts HK Disneyland. We didn't visit this as we've already been to three other Disneylands at various times! Our coach tour of the island took us to see Tai O, an original stilted fishing village and one of the places to see pink dolphins. Sadly we didn't see any.
There are two small temples in the village, one Buddist and one Taoist. Although small and now overtly commercial, they were well worth the visit and the insides were exactly as I envisaged a small temple to be.

Our main visit was to see the BIG BUDDHA at the famous Po Lin monastry high up on the mountain range on the island. This is not the biggest Buddha in the world, but is regarded as the largest sitting Buddha. It is over 26m high and weighs over 200 tonnes. It is made of cast bronze panels over a steel frame and is, of course, hollow with lots to see inside.
The Buddha sits in the lotus position.

The monastry is home to a number of Buddist monks. Their number is decling but nevertheless it is a fine example of a Buddist monastry and is really majestic inside.

The adjacent vegetarian restaurant is world famous and we were able to have a set veggie lunch whilst there. As a true omnivore I would have preferred some real meat protein, but I have to say that the meal was tasty and worth the money.

On our return to our hotel (which by then we had booked out of) we had a several hours to kill before returning to Lantau and the airport (!) so we decided to go for a walk and see some more of the Kowloon area. The first thing I did was to check the prices of electrical goods. Although there is no tax on items purchased in HK, the price paid was surprisingly similar to back in the UK. There were no longer bargains to be had on electrical goods. The range of food stuffs was again similar to that in any UK supermarket with the exception of a few fruits I hadn't seen before and a few brand names that rang a feint bell from home, some years ago, and no longer available here.

The small apartment blocks that many HK families live in really are tiny and I can see why they like to get out whenever possible. 500 square feet per family of 5 is not a lot of room. I think our guide on the first trip said that most HK Cantonese live in the New Territories. Whilst I can't refute that, a subsequent guide suggested it was not accurate and many more did live in the HK and Kowloon areas. Certainly the size and number of apartment blocks we saw suggested a substantial number of local residents.

So, what were the highlights of the trip?

I wouldn't want to single out anything in particular as 'the best'. Everything was new and exciting. I think we would go back and visit each and everyone of them again, given the chance.

I do think that HK was the most exciting from the point of view that it was very different, although visiting Ularu and Rotorua came very close.

I'd like to thank all the people we met on our trip. We met friends and relations, associates and correspondents and even an American couple who had worked on a project at Martlesham when I was there, although our paths had not knowingly, personally, crossed at that time.

We have been shown the greatest kindness everywhere we went and people could not have been more helpful.

There were no major disasters on the trip. Our baggage was always in the right place and flights were generally on time. Only the trip from Adelaide to Auckland was messed up as Qantas forgot to tell us the flight times had been moved up by an hour. We still got to Auckland the same day (just), via another route and were given admission to Qantas' lounges during the two 3 hour stop overs.

We avoided any major illnesses and if there are no signs by the weekend it looks like we also avoided swine flu as well!

Now, where shall we go next?

73 de Sam and Shirley

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