Wednesday, February 21, 2024
HometravelSpectacular Hong Kong

Spectacular Hong Kong

Gazing out of a transparent floor-to-ceiling crystal cable car, the pristine sky and striking panoramic vistas of Lantau Island took my breath away. A few weeks had passed since a heavy downpour triggered flooding that engulfed the metro stations and streets of Hong Kong.

The new crystal cable car offers astonishing views of Lantau Island and Hong Kong landmarks including the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge and Tung Chung Bay.

These sunny days were a great contrast from the regular rain I had seen on previous visits to Hong Kong. When the Sun gleamed brightly over the South China Sea and the sky was clear, I was able to completely appreciate the stunning beauty of this island.

To create a fresh travel experience from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, 10 customised crystal cabins have been added to the cable car fleet using Asia’s largest bi-cable ropeway, which spans 5.7km to offer marvellous aerial perspectives. Unsurprisingly, my travel companions and I had a great time throughout the 25-minute trip, clicking our cameras nonstop to snap dozens of pictures.

As we were leaving the Tung Chung Cable Car Terminal, we overlooked the new settlement of Tung Chung, which is part of the new development of Lantau North. Formerly known as Tung Sai Chuang, it has a more than 1,000-year history and serves as a significant passage to downtown due to its proximity to Hong Kong International Airport.

Looking down from a cable car, we could spot Tung Chung Bay, a popular fishing spot for local residents. It is home to the Shan Tau wetlands, which is designated as a site of special scientific interest. From a distance, we caught a glimpse of the 50km Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which features artificial islands and the longest six-lane undersea tunnel in the world.

From a bird’s-eye perspective, the higher we went, the more natural scenery we were able to take in of the 22km² Lantau North Country Park, which includes several popular hiking locations such as Sunset Peak, Nai Lak Shan and Yi Tung Shan.

After landing on a plateau, we had a stroll through Ngong Ping Village, which is lined with a thread of traditional Chinese shophouses offering a variety of local delights, handicrafts and creative mementos that honour the purity of culture and spirituality. Street art on some of the walls also depicts the way of local life and surroundings.

Tian Tan (Altar of Heaven) is home to a huge bronze statue of the Buddha.

The New Pai Lau arch and a landscaped garden welcome visitors to Ngong Ping Piazza by showcasing traditional architectural art from the Qing era. Trimmed with 40 lotus-shaped stone lanterns, you may walk down the long Bodhi Path where a collection of 1.8m-tall stone sculptures of the 12 divine generals serves as guardians and represents the signs of the Chinese zodiac.

At the end of the walkway, visitors are welcome to stand in the middle of the lotus-shaped Di Tan (Altar of Earth), a ceremonial religious ground, and make prayers for wealth, success, safety and good health. A short distance away, we climbed a long stone staircase with 268 steps to Tian Tan (Altar of Heaven), which houses a colossal bronze statue of the Tian Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha.

Sitting atop Mount Muk Yue, it took 12 years to create this holy 250-tonne monument that stands for the stability of Hong Kong, the wealth of China and world peace. Its design celebrates the finest sculptural art of the Sui and Tang dynasties when Buddhism was at its pinnacle.

According to the 32 physical characteristics of the Buddha described in the sutras, the face was modelled after Buddha Vairocana of the Longmen Caves for its tranquil beauty, while its clothes were based on the soft flowing lines of the Buddha Shakyamuni figure in Cave 360 of the Dunhuang Grottoes.

Back to Earth, we went farther back in time to 1906 when a group of Chinese Buddhist monks from Jiangsu province built the Big Hut as a site of practice. It was later renamed Po Lin Monastery in 1924 and worshippers can now offer prayers at the Hall of Skanda Bodhisattva, the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha, and the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

After leaving the temple, we trekked down Wisdom Path to calm our minds and spirits while avoiding the crowds and bustle. A tranquil 900m natural trail led us to a rocky lawn where the Heart Sutra’s whole verses are etched on 38 towering wood columns by renowned calligrapher Jao Tsung-I.

Located at the base of the Lantau Peak, they represent wisdom and fulfilment, while the tallest one is left unfilled to convey a sense of emptiness, which reflects mental clarity rather than loss.

In the afternoon, we boarded a bus and travelled for 20 minutes to Tai O Fishing Village, which has managed to preserve its endearing cultural heritage. Thanks to the advent of the Ngong Ping Cable Car, this old community has developed into a popular eco-friendly tourism destination where visitors can learn about history and enjoy local life.

Po Lin Monastery boasts first-class Chinese craftsmanship.

It’s home to a fish market and hundreds of shophouses selling diverse dried seafood, freshly baked pastries and mouthwatering local dishes like steamed cuttlefish, fish balls and egg waffles with various fillings that are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside.

Strolling across Sun Ki Bridge to the other side of the bank, visitors can reach Kwan Tai Temple, which was built in the reign of Hong Zhi of the Ming dynasty (1488-1505), to pay homage to the God of War and Righteousness, who is reputed to protect all residents from devils.

Taking a 20-minute cruising tour along a canal is another popular option for visitors to unwind while admiring a cluster of iconic stilt houses, the General’s Rock and the former Tai O police station, which has been transformed into the Tai O Heritage Hotel.

From the green mountainous land, we headed to downtown Hong Kong the following morning and boarded the retro Peak Tram to admire the breathtaking views of Victoria Harbor and skyline from 396m above sea level.

A budget of US$102 million (3.7 billion baht) was poured into its significant makeover in 2021 as a tribute to its past and earlier tramcar generations since operations began in 1888. It now sports the classic Peak Tram Green and the terminus has been revitalised to provide passengers new interactive riding experiences through five multimedia exhibition zones.

With a fresh aesthetic, a 10m-tall sculpture of the Eye of Infinity with a light display acts as a receptionist to guide visitors as they pass through the Central Terminus. The Go Wild At The Peak tunnel portrays the diverse wildlife there with an immersive visual display.

A wide collection of antiques, historical pictures and vintage trams are on display in the Beating Heart, An Icon Is Born and Once Upon A Tram zones, where visitors can discover more about the tram’s centennial history.

Wisdom Path is flanked by 38 towering wood columns that contain lines from the Heart Sutra.

Then shifting to the road, a vintage 1920s-style Ding Ding fleet has stationed itself for an impressive 60-minute TramOramic sightseeing tour. It offers audio guide service in eight languages to take visitors back to the heyday when Hong Kong was known as the Pearl of the Orient.

The 4.4km route, which goes from the Causeway Bay Terminus to the Western Market, illustrates how the old and new have coexisted in vibrant commercial neighbourhoods. The Causeway Bay area is crammed with shopping centres and retail shops of both local and international brands, while Happy Valley Racecourse continues to be busy with fortune seekers every Wednesday between September and June.

Star Street serves as a haven of elegant restaurants and hangout spots, while the Admiralty district houses such government buildings as the Central Government Offices (or Justice Place), the Legislative Chamber and the Chief Executive’s Office as well as the Statue Square.

The entire final day was spent at Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, where we went on a fun ghostly adventure with several Disney villains. To evoke the spooky mood of Halloween, a series of new wicked performances are available in various entertainment venues as the theme park is wonderfully decked with pumpkins and multicoloured lighting until Oct 31.

The famous villains from fairy tales including Maleficent, the Mistress of Evil from Sleeping Beauty, sea witch Ursula from the Little Mermaid, and evildoer Dr Facilier from the Princess And The Frog gather for the award-winning musical Let’s Get Wicked to perform their spells.

At the same time, fans are invited to show their own style in a theatrical fashion show that draws inspiration from classic characters such as the Queen from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, the Queen of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland, Hades from Hercules and Cruella from 101 Dalmatians.

We then continued to ride the Hyperspace Mountain indoor roller coaster, the 3D Iron Man simulator, the Ant-Man And The Wasp: Nano Battle spaceship as well as the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars for further heart-pounding thrills.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the local culture and savour a range of delectable seafood dishes in Tai O Fishing Village.

Our journey came to an end with a sneak peek of the World of Frozen, which is slated to open on Nov 20. This brand-new themed land is designed to resemble a classic Norwegian village, complete with stunning landscape, cutting-edge technology and thrilling attractions like Frozen Ever After and Wandering Oaken’s Sliding Sleighs to celebrate Summer Snow Day.

TRAVEL INFO

KTC World Travel Service has joined hands with Ngong Ping 360, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort and AirAsia to offer special promotions for KTC cardholders until Dec 31.Customers can purchase round-trip tickets for the Ngong Ping Crystal+ and standard cable cars for 1,550 baht per person.Starting at 4,400 baht per person, the Disney Premier Access (Fast Lane) ticket for eight attractions includes food coupons.AirAsia offers three daily flights between Bangkok and Hong Kong, as well as one daily flights from Chiang Mai or Phuket to Hong Kong, starting at 5,900 baht per person.For more details, call 02-0123-5050 or visit ktc.cards/KWT-addline-FB.

The revamped Peak Tram and the terminus provide visitors new riding experiences through multimedia exhibitions. Photos: William Furniss

The TramOramic tour has long been a popular choice to explore downtown Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is gearing up for Halloween.

The World of Frozen will open its doors to welcome guests next month. Photo © Hong Kong Disneyland Resort

Stone sculptures of the 12 divine generals stand on both sides of Ngong Ping Piazza.

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