Hong Kong: Big Buddha & The Peak

It wasn’t all sunning ourselves on the beach when Little Jack’s Little Mother came to visit last month. Not only did she take part in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Half Marathon (and get a damn good time to boot) but I also managed to give her a whistle-stop tour of some of Hong Kong’s top sights. It was great for me to become a tourist in Hong Kong again, especially as many of the sights I hadn’t got round to seeing myself. Places like Victoria Park, Tamar Park and the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade were top of our list so Little Mother could continue her running training, but here are some of the ‘big-hitters’ we got round to in the 10 days we were in Hong Kong together…

Off to the Races

Happy Valley racecourse
Happy Valley racecourse

The average tourist in Hong Kong will visit the legendary Happy Valley racecourse in order to watch the weekly horse racing which takes place here every Wednesday. And, of course, we did that too. But we also got to see Happy Valley from a completely different angle. Determined to find exciting places for Little Mother to run, we wandered over to Happy Valley to test out the approx. 1 mile running track which circles inside the horse racing track. It’s completely free, mostly empty and you don’t have to book. It’s just closed on Wednesdays due to the racing. Due to all the construction work that was going inside, it took us quite a while to find the track and we ended up getting it confused with the ‘jogging’ (ie. meander slowly/practise tai chi/sleepwalk/simply stand still) track. We eventually found the proper track and I sat round the edge whilst Little Mother did her thing. It was fantastic to be sat right in the centre of a stadium which gets ram-packed with people every Wednesday night. We got to witness the electric atmosphere firsthand when we returned to the stadium the following Wednesday night. At just $10 (less than £1) entry, it’s a cheap night out (provided you don’t lose your fortune on betting) with beers on tap, tasty food, lots of entertainment and the occasional race in between too. In our infinite wisdom, we had no idea what the odds meant and couldn’t find the programmes so just bet with each other based on randomly shouting out the number of a horse at the beginning of the race. The loser had to buy the McDonalds at the end of the night. These were seriously high stakes. All in all, it’s a good night out and there’s a real buzz because of the sheer amount of people there. Though I think Little Mother was more than a little distracted by the refreshingly warm patio heaters dotted around the place…

Big Buddha House

The ascent to the Tian Tan Buddha
The ascent to the Tian Tan Buddha

I was particularly excited about visiting the Tian Tan Buddha (‘Big Buddha’) on Lantau Island as it was a major tourist spot I’d yet to see. Oddly, I genuinely didn’t expect it to be as big as it was. I knew it was called Big Buddha for a reason but it was quite a shock to see it up close. There are two ways to get to the iconic landmark. From Tung Chung MTR station, you can either get the cable car (which had a humungous queue) or take the bus which takes around 50 minutes. Little Mother isn’t great with heights so we opted for the bus, managing to snatch the last two seats on the number 23 bus from the Tung Chung bus station. It costs $17 each way and is quite a scenic bus ride. You’ll get dropped off just by Ngong Ping village and as you exit the bus, you’ll already be able to see the gigantic statue.

It’s free to enter the Buddha, but you pay in sweat and tears as there’s 268 steps to climb. Though, from the reactions of some of the other tourists, you’d think it was 20,268 steps. Half of the ascendants looked ready to collapse or cry or both, all whilst looking in pain at the smug Buddha they’re risking their lives to see. I’m not the fittest person on the planet but I practically skipped up compared to the majority of others. It was definitely worth climbing up to get close to the Buddha – you only really get a grasp of just how big it is when you’re right next to it. On top of that, you get glorious views over Po Lin Monastery and the Lantau Peaks. It was good to show Little Mother the side to Hong Kong which is so rarely portrayed – its lush green countryside. After climbing back down, we amused ourselves at some of the bizarrely translated trinkets and souvenirs you could buy at the stalls below before heading back on the 23 bus. I definitely think I’ll go back and hike to Big Buddha in the future, though hopefully that won’t end with me crawling up the 268 steps like most of the other tourists were.

Peak-a-Boo

The view from Victoria Peak
The view from Victoria Peak

Somewhat typically, we had fantastically clear weather for most of Little Mother’s trip and then the day we headed to Victoria Peak, the haze arrived. It’s definitely worth going on a clear day although we still got a cracking view, even with the mist. Continuing our theme of not just following the tourist trail, we skipped the Peak Tram after seeing the huge queue and headed up on the 15C, which is an incredibly scenic route. Even if you go up/down on the tram, I’d advise doing the opposite journey on the bus as you get some spectacular views on the way up – and it’s cheaper. In true Hong Kong style, the top is home to a giant shopping centre. You can pay to go to the viewing deck, or just look over from the top of the shopping centre for free. Even on this foggy day, it was a great view so I can imagine it’s something else on a clear day.

In particular, I was eager to see the view after sunset so we hovered round the Peak for a couple of hours waiting for it to go dark. Feeling it would be rude to turn down the invitation, we indulged in some Haagen Daazs ice cream as we waited, then returned to the shopping centre roof to see Hong Kong in all its lit-up glory. It looked good in day time but seems to come alive at night, and it was great to see the world’s most famous skyline from a different angle than TST. Freezing cold but satisfied with our view, we headed back down on the bus.

Guess who’s back? Dragon’s Back. DSC_0866Even though she’d run a half marathon, there was no way I was going to let Little Mother leave without taking her on a hike, so I picked one of my favourites. It’s a wonder Dragon’s Back is still one of my favourites considering last time I hiked it I ended up stranded in the woods in pitch darkness, but I’d learned from my mistake and this time we headed off to Shau Kei Wan MTR station early. From there, we took the number 9 bus to To Tei Wan from exit A3 at the station, armed with picnic goodies and drinks. I’m a little bit smug that Little Mother has tried to get me into running for years and never succeeded, yet I had her hooked on the first hike we went on. We both thoroughly enjoyed it. It was quite chilly but clear and the views were (as they always are) really stunning. Dragon’s Back is also nice because you get different sections along the way – some stunning panoramic views, some steepish climbs, some shaded woodland. It’s a nice Hall of Fame of Hong Kong hiking.

We rounded off by enjoying an ice cream at Big Wave Bay at the end of the hike, before Little Mother excitedly got to fulfil her ambition of getting on a ‘Scooby Doo’ minibus back to the MTR station. Being the anti-social introvert that I am, I’ve always been adamant that I like to hike on my own, but it was quite nice to have some company on this one, particularly as it was quite surreal that I was hiking with my mother… in Hong Kong. In fact, despite still being a fan of solo travel, I really enjoyed the 10 days or so we spent in Hong Kong together. She didn’t eat the food, her room was the size of a matchbox and I had to get up at 3am to watch her run the half marathon, but I really appreciated Little Mother flying thousands of miles to come and see me and I look forward to our next travel adventure together!

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