For our last day in Hong Kong, we wanted to visit the world's largest seated outdoor Buddha on the island of Lantau. There are several ways to get there, one is to take the ferry from Hong Kong island, but in recent years they have built the award winning Chek Lap Kok airport on reclaimed land on the far side of Lantau, so it seemed to make sense to us to take all our luggage to the airport and then visit the Po Lin (Precious Lotus)monastery and the Buddha from there. When we arrived at the airport, we found that we could check in our luggage for our late evening flight, even though we would not be departing for another twelve hours. This seemed like a great plan, so we hurriedly reorganized the cases and our packs so that we would have the minimum amount of things to carry with us for the day. We smiled with self-satisfaction at our cleverness.
Off we headed to Lantau and the newly-opened cable car ride to the Ngong Ping Plateau. Suddenly Anil realized that he had left the bottle of wine in his suitcase. He had originally intended to carry it in his hand luggage, but with the sudden change in plans when we found we could check in our cases early, he had forgotten to take it out. The prospect of having broken glass and red wine on all of his clothing was too grim for words. He worried about it most of the day. I told him that perhaps the lucky MOP would see us through this crisis and as there was nothing we could do at this point, he should just stop thinking about it an enjoy the day.
When we arrrived at the base of the mountain and the cable car station, we found that due to the holdiay, there was a ninety minute wait for ride to the top. The lineups were extremely well managed, and as we were in the open air with a lovely sea breeze cooling us, we actually enjoyed the time. There were few foreigners in the queue and we watched the families with children as they patiently waited for their turn to ride the new cable cars. Everyone seemed to have a cellphone with a camera and all were taking tons of photos of themselves at every turn of the line. We couldn't help but smile at their enthusiasm. The excitement really mounted when we neared the loading platform and everyone wanted their taken photos with the tram car in the background. It was a little old hat for us after growing up with the trams at Banff and Whistler, but we took great delight in watching all the others - especially the children.
The 5.7 km ride to the top was fabulous - we were able to look out over the South China Sea and the hills of Lantau island. Eventually, the Tian Tan Buddha statue (34 meters high - weighs 202 tonnes) appeared in the distance - a wonderful way to see it for the first time. We spend the afternoon touring around the Buddha complex and having a vegetarian lunch at the monastery. Once we had seen enough, we decided to take a bus to a nearby village instead of returning on the cable car. We were not disappointed with our decision - we arrived at the sleepy town of Tai O just as the sun was setting.
What really sets the village of Tai O apart is the hundreds of stilt homes that line the small inlet. The people here are traditionally fishermen and they used to make their own salt from the sea, in order to preserve the large catches of fish. They no longer make their own salt, as it can be purchased much cheaper from mainland China, but they still practice the traditional methods of salting the fish and people come from all over Hong Kong to buy the dried fish from the villagers. As we were walking through the fish market (surprisingly not too smelly) we were approached by an elderly gentleman who spoke exceptionally good English. He told us that the temple in the market was closing but if we wanted to walk for about a half hour, the temple at the other end of the village would be open for us to view.
We strolled along through the stilt village and he told us what life was like for the fishermen and their families. We were fascinated to learn that what appeared to be houses were really boats that had been raised up on the stilts years ago (about 15 feet above the water) and then covered with aluminum sheeting to make a more permanent settlement than existed when the boats were moored in the harbour. This arrangement provided a safer existence for the fishermen, protection from high tides and the occasional typhoon. Now the homes had all the modern conveniences, electricity, running water and televisions. We could see into many of the open windows as we walked along, everything looked clean and comfortable - all the basic things that people need to survive, but not much more.
We really enjoyed our walk with this delightful gentleman - he had a very broad vocabulary, even though he told us that he did not have much formal education. He said that he had learned his English during the time of the British, and liked to practice using it when foreigners like ourselves happened to be interested in learning about the area. It is moments like these that keep us eager travellers. At the end of the visit, he pulled out a few small trinkets that he wished to show us - hoping we would purchase something to take away with us. As we are not planning to buy things along the way, Anil asked him to accept 20 HKD - the last of our local currency. He seemed pleased and wished us well on our journey.
We hurried to catch the next bus back across the island to the base of the cable car where we would transfer to another bus that would take us to the airport. We swiped our Octopus cards once again, this time the display showed us that we had a negative balance, the cards could not be used again until we reloaded additional funds onto them. This created a bit of problem - how were we going to pay for our final bus ride, probably less than 20 HKD when we had no local currency left? Perhaps we should have kept the bill that we gave the old gentleman, but we were happy to have parted with it at the time. We decided to cross that bridge when we came to it - and settled into the ride up and over the Lantau peaks.
Once we arrived back at the town of Tang Chung, we got off the bus and waited at the bus stop for the airport bus to arrive. We were wearing our ipods during the long trip over the island, and had enjoyed the comforting music as we hurtled down some of the most narrow, twisting roads that we have ever been on. At the bus stop, we asked another ipod wearing local traveller whether we would be able to use the Octopus cards again, now that they had a negative balance. He explained that we would have to add more money to them in order to use them again, but we told him that we were heading to the airport to leave Hong Kong and hated to add more money under the circumstances. To our surprise, he pulled out a 20 HKD bill and said the ride was on him. A wonderful example of "pay-it-forward". We thanked him for his kindness - he just smiled and waved us onwards.
Off to the airport, a short wait in air-conditioned comfort and then our flight to Bangkok. The end of a wonderful stay in Hong Kong and Macau - almost too many wonderful memories to capture in this journal.