Double Happiness: Urban and Natural Adventures in Hong Kong, Part I

This year I’m thankful for a family that knows holidays are when you see each other, not days on a calendar. My lovely sister and her husband hosted Thanksgiving a week early for 20 of our nearest and dearest. It meant we could all be together without stress and could still make actual Thanksgiving available for other branches of the family who couldn’t come to Seattle. For Rick and me, it meant that the holiday was a perfect time for some exploring. Domestic travel was out—everyone flies during Thanksgiving—but living on the West Coast gives us access to Asia. With our family holiday celebrations completed early, we spent the long weekend in Hong Kong.

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Hong Kong!

First, the redeye. Lord, that was awful. You have to stay up late (our flight left at 1am), lose an entire day crossing the International Date Line, and then can’t sleep on the plane because your knees are pressed against the seat in front of you and your neighbor has the farts. But the real benefit—the one that makes it worthwhile—is that we landed at 7am. We staggered off the plane, freshened up, and went out exploring.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is located on Lantau Island, about 40 minutes outside of the city center.  Also on Lantau is the Big Buddha, or Tian Tan Buddha. There is a sky tram that takes you to the top, the Ngong Ping 360, but only once you run a ridiculous gauntlet of tourists. We went at 10am when it opened, and the line already snaked between two floors. DO NOT TAKE THE TRAM UP TO THE BUDDHA. Walk 150 feet to the bus station, pay $17.20 Hong Kong dollars (approximately $2.25 US; you need exact change or an Octopus public transportation card) and take the bus up to the top. The bus, like everything touristy in Hong Kong, is clean and convenient. It makes no other stops, winds up the mountainside for about half an hour, and deposits you on the Buddha side of Ngong Ping, the fake-Buddhist village made as part of the tourist experience.

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The Buddha from Ngong Ping

I get it, the Buddha was built in the ’90s and is a major tourist destination, but we liked our time there. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours, especially if you’re up before the crowds. We perused the village and had a pretty great meat platter at Ngong Ping Garden Restaurant—it was Thanksgiving, after all—and then climbed the 268 stairs to the Buddha.

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Like turkey, but better

The Big Buddha was built in 1993, and despite its popularity is a real destination for practicing Buddhists. At 112 feet tall (34 meters), it’s a surprisingly peaceful statue, nestled on top of the hillside rather than dominating it. It’s free to visit but you can also pay to explore the interior halls. Being cheap and non-religious, we kept to the free portions.

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Getting started

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Halfway up

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Made it!

The cable car is $290HK for a roundtrip ticket, about $37 per person. We opted to pay the $160HK per person ($20 US) to take it down. Be sure you do it in at least one direction, because the views are worth it. It’s a 20-minute tram ride through the sky with views of the airport, the landscape, and of course, the Big Buddha.

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The real view was when we got off the cable car and saw the INSANE line of people waiting to go up. Tour bus after tour bus was parked in front, and there were hundreds of people in line. Maybe a thousand. Seriously, I tried to take a picture of how huge the line was and I couldn’t capture it. Just know that the line starts at the bottom, up the escalator and then winds through the second floor. I need to repeat it here, DO NOT TAKE THE TRAM UP TO THE BUDDHA. There is nothing up that hill—up any hill—that is worth that kind of line.

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So. Many. People.

After our late-night/plus-a-day/early-morning flight, we were pooped. We took a very expensive cab ride to our hotel, the JW Marriott, and after freaking out over how gorgeous it was, went to bed.

Much more about our adventures to come…

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