A May 2005 trip
to Lantau Island by Re Carroll
Quote: Just an hour away by ferry, Lantau is a lush, green, and peaceful sanctuary from the crowds and noise of Hong Kong. Home to the world’s largest outdoor bronze Buddha, traditional fishing villages, and sandy beaches, it will also soon be home to Asia Disney.
We chose not to take an organized tour, but traveled by metro from Kowloon to the island’s main town of Tung Chung and used Lantau’s local transportation. Riding one of the island buses was an adventure in itself. The road to the monastery is steep and winding, with a number of blind curves. Signs stating to slow down for curves were consistently disregarded by the driver – he’d been traveling this route for so long that he could have done it with his eyes closed. Luckily for us, he kept them open. It was fortunate that we hadn’t eaten a big breakfast since our stomach landed in our throat a few times when the bus jolted over a couple of dips in the road. I got a bad case of the giggles as I gripped the seat in front of me to avoid sliding right off the seat. For those who like roller coasters, save the money you’d otherwise spend at Disney and ride the buses on Lantau.
Visiting the island sans organized tour proved an excellent strategy, because the Buddha was almost totally obscured with fog and rain when we arrived, and I was pretty disappointed not to be able to see it. Fortunately, within a few hours, the clouds disappeared, the sun shone down, and Buddha appeared.
After Buddha, we set out to explore more of the island, and it wasn’t long before we left the crowds behind to get lost in the back alleys of Tai O and walk through some of the lush green countryside. When the day was over, we hopped a ferry for a leisurely cruise back to the Central ferry terminal in Hong Kong. The numerous barges and container ships along the route illustrated why Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest harbours.
Disney will be opening its multi-resort complex at Sunny Bay in September. Anticipated admission price will be HK per adult. The metro line to Sunny Bay has mouse-head windows – kind of cute, but that cuteness is going to change Lantau. If you are looking for a quiet, peaceful spot, get here before the mouse does.
Lantau is a hiker’s dream, with numerous walking trails cutting across mountain tops and through valleys. One of the more scenic walks is listed in a free brochure from the Hong Kong Tourism Board called "Hong Kong Walks." The 3-hour trip takes you from Po Lin Monastery to Tung Chung town centre.
Other spots on Lantau worth a visit include Tung Chung Fort, with its Qing dynasty cannons dating to 1832, and Cheung Sha, almost 2 miles of white sandy beach.
Lantau has taxi service, but they are expensive (HK from Po Lin to the ferry terminal). Your best bet is the buses – they run regularly, and many are air-conditioned. From Tung Chung, bus no. 23 goes to Po Lin. From Mui Wo ferry terminal, bus no. 2 goes to Po Lin and no. 1 to Tai O. Air-conditioned buses cost a few dollars more, but even if the bus isn’t air-conditioned, don’t worry, because the ride up and down the mountain roads provides enough of a breeze through the open windows.
Vehicles drive on the left, so be careful when crossing the road.
The Kimberley is a huge complex with a two-storey marble lobby complete with pool and waterfall, tour desk, and numerous upscale shops. The bell captain is located on the main floor, with registration one escalator or elevator flight up. The staff was very professional and pleasant, and we were impressed with the hotel’s outward trappings. The wide corridors had a Japanese "feel" to them, with lattice work and mirror details along the walls that resembled tatami rooms.
Our room was equipped with all the necessities: toiletries, cozy duvet comforters on the twin beds, A/C, kettle with an assortment of teas and (instant) coffee, English newspaper delivered to the room daily, and satellite TV with English channels so Jim could catch up with BBC. The minibar was located under the sink in the bathroom, and fortunately, had extra room available for our bottles of water purchased at a local market at a fraction of the minibar price. Interestingly, there were two separate closets – one full size and another half height – suitable for jackets or skirts but not dresses or robes.
The beds were quite hard, but the hotel information binder mentioned that soft overlays were available at no charge. A call to housekeeping had us set up with a feather bed type of mattress pad that made the bed much more comfortable.
The closest electrical plug for the kettle was on the floor, which was kind of strange. Our only complaint was the size of the room, or rather, lack of size. Between the twin beds, desk, miniscule table, and two chairs, there was hardly any room to move.
The bathroom was even tinier. Closing the door meant bumping your knees if you were seated on the commode, but the room was spotlessly clean and totally outfitted in marble from the sink to the floor.
The location of the hotel was excellent, just a few blocks from Nathan Road, Hong Kong’s "Golden Mile" of upscale stores, and about a 10-minute walk to the Star Ferry terminal. TsimTsaShui metro station was less than 5 minutes by foot, and the quiet oasis of Kowloon Park was just a few blocks away.
The hotel has a number of amenities and services that we didn’t explore: health spa, golf driving nets, room service, babysitting service, business centre, café, lounge, and two large restaurants, one serving Chinese and the other Japanese food.
Overall, the Kimberley is a good, moderately priced hotel, and we’d stay there again, but hopefully in a larger room. The posted rate for the room was HK$1,200, but you can barter for a discount if booking in person or at the airport.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 6, 2005
The Kimberley Hotel
28, Kimberley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon
(852) 2723 3888
The buffet was huge: rows of hot dishes, cold salads, appetizers, and desserts to die for: steamed prawns, oysters on the half shell, roast beef with a crispy exterior and rare center, tempura prawns and vegetables, samosas, baked fish, steamed pumpkin with corn, a couple types of escargots – big and bigger, sushi, fresh salmon, boiled pigs’ feet, spareribs, winter melon soup with duck, green curry vegetables, avocado halves with fruit, and more. Especially intriguing were the chefs at either end of the restaurant. One was preparing fresh crepes for sliced duck and another was in charge of a large hot pot where he’d cook your choice of crab, beef, or assorted mushrooms and other vegetables.
Dessert, always my downfall, was just as tempting. Hot off the griddle, a chef prepared mini egg rolls with chocolate sauce while another made red bean paste buns. Beside them, shelves groaned with a horde of tempting offerings: mango custard, hot soy custard, soufflé in orange shells, cheese cake, tiramisu, black forest cake, ice cream, assorted pastries, and lots of fresh fruit.
This was definitely a case of eyes being bigger than the tummy, because the quality, quantity, and choices of food were such that it was hard to resist trying at least a little bit of everything. Not only did the food look good, but it was good. I’m ashamed to admit that we went for seconds, and even a bit of a third. Fortunately, that night we got some exercise after dinner by waddling down to the waterfront to watch the laser show.
The restaurant has three separate dining areas, including a nonsmoking section. Dinner is served between 6:30 and 9pm. Without a reservation, we were lucky to get in at 6:45pm, so I’d highly recommend reservations if you are planning on dining later. The restaurant also has a daily breakfast and lunch buffet. All major credit cards are accepted.
Another good deal at the Park is their Marigold Bar with 2-for-1 drinks during happy hour, which happens to be the whole time they are open (3pm to midnight). Complimentary snacks are provided: bowls of dried peas and raisins and nuts mixed together, as well as a mini buffet with chicken wings, spring rolls, mini samosas, and a hot "stew" made with salmon and snails in cream sauce. Forget snacks – this could be a meal.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on June 6, 2005
+86 2366 1371
We wanted to get a sense of daily life in the village, so we bypassed the main street and spent a couple of hours navigating back lanes and almost-hidden alleyways. The market was an interesting place to browse through. Although there was a bit of the usual tourist fare, cheap jewelry, postcards, fans, and tacky memorabilia, the majority of the stalls were filled with dried fish and seaweed, live crab, eel, and prawns, as well as shark fins. One place even had a full-sized shark that had been dried and hung from the ceiling. In another spot, an enterprising senior was selling homemade dumplings, as well as jars of herbs for medicinal use.
There were signs advertising main temples, but we were more interested in the small temples and shrines that we discovered purely by chance. Some were little more than a pedestal with incense and a bowl of oranges as an offering.
As well as the stilted houses near the water, there were also quite a few sheet metal-coated houses. Lines of fish were strung out to dry in front yards, and people were huddled over tiny kitchen tables to play a noisy and energetic game of mahjong. The preferred method of transportation seemed to be via bicycle, and cyclists carried their groceries or packages on long poles balanced atop their shoulders.
Buses from Tai O run regularly to Tung Chung, Po Lin Monastery, and Mui Wo ferry terminal. Exact fare is required. Schedules and costs are posted at the bus stop at the entrance to town, across from the large parking lot.
Behind the bus stop are the public bathrooms, which are very clean and equipped with toilet paper, soap, and a hand dryer, which are not necessarily all that common in public areas. There are also large signs discouraging the practice of spitting on the street. I guess some aspects of commercialization are a good thing.
The Buddha is seated in a Lotus meditation pose and has shoulder-length ear lobes meant to represent wisdom and happiness. Unlike most of the other larger-sized Buddhas in China, which face the south, this one faces the northeast, towards Beijing. This was done to recognize China as the home country, because Hong Kong was still under British rule when the Buddha was constructed. The base of the Buddha is a model of Tianten, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, hence the Buddha’s name. Near the foot of the stairs is a large bronze cauldron that was created in 1997 to commemorate Hong Kong’s independence from Britain after 165 years.
Opposite the Buddha are six smaller bronze statues known as "The Offering of the Six Devas" and are posed offering flowers, incense, lamp, ointment, fruit, and music to the Buddha. These offerings symbolize charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation, and wisdom, all of which are necessary to enter into nirvana. Recently, some visitors have tried to toss coins into the hands of these devas for good luck; however, this is considered disrespectful and not appreciated.
Underneath the Buddha pedestal is a three-storey building that houses the Merit Hall, Dharmadhatu Hall, and Memorial Hall, basically a museum with pictures, exhibits, and information on Buddhists and their faith. The walls are covered with pictures of Buddhists. I overheard a tour guide telling his group that the size of the picture was in direct proportion to the amount they had donated to the monastery.
Filled with colourful orchids and lights shaped like a lotus flower, the Merit Hall is the first hall you enter. A statue of Ksitigarbha, a Bodhisattva, sits in pride of place near the curved stairs and was carved out of a piece of nanmu wood that had been aged over 500 years. The second-floor focal point is a painting of 160 Bodhisattvas listening to a teaching, and it took the artist 7 years to complete the painting. The third floor, closed during our visit, houses tiny rice grained-size relics of Buddha’s body. Legend says that these crystal-like pieces were found where he had been cremated. Currently, only China and Sri Lanka have these relics.
The Buddha is open from 10am to 5:30pm daily. I think an independent visit here is your best bet, since it is very common for the Buddha to be enveloped in clouds or fog in the early morning. Rather than the unfortunate souls who couldn’t wait for the weather to clear up before boarding the tour bus for their next stop, we were able to wait for the fog to dissipate and rewarded with clear views of the Buddha.
In the late 1970s and '80s, the monastery raised funds to construct The Tian Tan Big Buddha. Although the Buddha is Po Lin’s most recognized sight, the monastery also uses its funds for building many lesser-known places, including almost 200 schools throughout poverty stricken areas in China. In order to pay for upkeep of the monastery and the Buddha, as well as carrying out their missionary work, they ask for donations, and no matter what temple or room of the monastery we entered, there were donation boxes visible throughout. There was no pressure, though, either to make a donation or to convert to Buddhism, and our time wandering through Po Lin was peaceful and relaxing.
The monastery grounds are quite extensive with temples and buildings spread throughout. Large Buddhist scriptures hang from the walls inside the temples and the scent of incense is prevalent. One of the most colourful sights is an altar with a trio of bronze statues representing Buddha in his past, present, and future lives. The Tei Tan, circular pavilion, and stone gate at the front of the monastery are also impressive.
Another big draw at Po Lin is the vegetarian meal service, which is offered between 11:30am and 5pm. We opted for the basic meal which cost 60HKD per person and included entrance to the museum at the Tian Tan Buddha. We entered a huge hall set with large tables and presided over by a host of servers. There was already quite a large crowd, so it was a noisy and busy place. An orange-robed woman brought us a large bowl of chunky vegetable soup and a pot of Jasmine tea. There was quite a bit of time lapse after this first course, and we started to wonder if we’d paid 60 simply for a bowl of soup, even though it was tasty. Just as we were ready to leave, another waiter wheeled a cart to the table and unloaded the rest of our lunch – four separate dishes, as well as a big pot of rice. We eagerly dug into two fat egg rolls stuffed with chopped vegetables and rice, a colorful assortment of mixed vegetables heavily flavoured with ginger, steamed oyster mushrooms with bok choy, and a type of stew made with tofu, sweet corn, and peas. The food was very good although it was a challenge for us to eat soft tofu with chop sticks.
There is a deluxe lunch available for $100HKD per person, and it looked like there was an extra dish included with fruit. Frankly, we couldn’t eat all that had been provided, so I can’t imagine trying to get through even more food.
Po Lin is open to visitors from 9am to 6pm daily. There is no charge to enter the monastery or the grounds. No pictures are allowed within the monastery temples.
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