By: SHANNON MURPHY
Living on Okinawa, you become quickly aware of the fact you are on an island that is only 70 miles long and 7 miles wide. Sometimes you feel the urge to get off, just for the sake of avoiding island fever. So, we booked a trip to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving week with the kids. It was a quick, direct flight from Okinawa (only a little over 2 hours to arrive.) Hong Kong is one of those places that offer something for everyone. There is amazing shopping, local markets, dining and cultural experiences, harbor cruises, breathtaking scenery from high peaks, horse racing, and much more. We had the pleasure of spending four days in Hong Kong with our children during Thanksgiving week and left wishing we had another day or two to explore. With so many options to see in Hong Kong, it was difficult to narrow down our sightseeing choices – especially with kids in tow, you can’t go, go, go until you are no longer able to move your legs!
While we were checking in at our hotel, we noticed a pamphlet for Lantau Island and the Big Buddha. It looked interesting, and it is definitely one of those sites we probably would never have a chance to see again. The pamphlet had pictures of the Ngong Ping cable car ride high above the waters of Tung Chung Bay, photos of the amazing Buddha statue, the beautiful temple of the Po Lin Monastery, and wonderful scenic views from Lantau Island. So, we decided to forego Hong Kong’s Disneyland and instead go see the Big Buddha. Telling you it was a good choice is a BIG understatement. Big Buddha would be smiling upon us after all.
We were staying on Kowloon Island, approximately a 30 minute metro ride from the Tung Chung Station where we would then transfer onto the Ngong Ping cable car. The cable car ride was 25 minutes, high above the waters of Tung Chung. If you are scared of heights, don’t worry because there is a 40-minute ferry ride option. The views from the cable car were amazing, so I would recommend it over the ferry ride if you can stomach the height. Once we arrived, we had to walk through a village built especially to entice tourists to spend money. It even had a Starbucks and a Subway… what?! A quick stop for a chai tea latte to warm up and we were back on our path to see the Buddha.
The Buddha is only 20 years old, built in 1993. It took 12 years to complete the statue. The project cost $60 million Hong Kong dollars. Its official name is Tian Tan Buddha, but more commonly referred to as Big Buddha. It is 34 meters tall, weighs 250 tons, and faces north to look over the Chinese people. You do not have to practice Buddhism to appreciate this popular sight. It costs nothing to climb to the top. You can be face to face with the statue in 268 steps (quite a workout!), but it was an amazing experience to stand below it and be in awe of its grandeur and massive size. His right hand is raised to deliver a blessing to all. Once at the top, you will find amazing scenery of Hong Kong’s many islands, mountains and sea.
The Po Lin Monastery sits below the statue, across a plaza. The monastery was originally built in 1924 as a small temple, but additional buildings have been added over the years. While we were there, we could hear the Buddhist monks chanting melodies. You could walk up the steps and see them in the hall on bent knees. No pictures were allowed. There are amazing gardens surrounding the monastery, and you can smell incense burning, as a sign of offering. It also is believed that burning incense purifies the atmosphere and reminds us to purify our minds.
My 6-year-old still talks about our Hong Kong trip often. He remembers how many steps it took to get to the top (he counted!) Experiences like these make me so proud. Knowing I’m instilling an awareness of different cultures, languages, and sights in my two children. Even if you are not able to leave your city and go explore another culture, go check out some books at a library. Yes, physically walk in there and touch real books, flip pages together, and talk about what you see. If you have a chance to see Hong Kong, don’t miss the Big Buddha. He’ll be there waiting for you with his gentle smile and sign of peace.
Other Interesting Hong Kong Facts
According to the World Bank, the 2011 population of Hong Kong was 7,071,600.
Hong Kong is made up of 235 islands, with a land mass of 1,104 km2 (426 sq mi.) It has an amazing transportation infrastructure to assist its residents and tourists to get from island to island.
- Hong Kong was under British colonial rule for more than 150 years. This ended in 1997 when China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Hong Kong is called a Special Administration Region of China.
- Although Hong Kong is ruled by China, it is a separate customs territory and economic entity, making it possible to enter into its own international agreements regarding commercial and economic matters.
- Hong Kong is the birthplace of many famous people, however, many Westerners would be most familiar with Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. They even have an Avenue of Stars, modeled after Hollywood’s Walk of Fame in California. You can find the stars for both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan on the Avenue, as well as 100 other stars.