Hong Kong – Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

This is a throw back from last year, since COVID 19 has shat all over my travel plans this year, I have been torturing myself looking over photos of places I loved.

Like most people, when I first thought of Hong Kong I thought of the heaving metropolis, full of neon lights and skyscrapers. Take a relatively short bus ride into the lush green mountains in Lantua Island and you’re in a different world.

Tian Tan Giant Bronze Buddha, with 268 steps

You can take a bus from central Hong Kong or a cable car, to bring you to the summit where you’ll find the Tian Tan Buddha. My traveling companion and expedition photographer (my sister, Bronagh) fibbed when we set off, telling me that our bus would leave us at the top. This turned out to be a filthy lie, and I almost met my death after climbing these 268 steps in 32 degree heat (top tip, do this before lunch and take your time, they are as steep as they look). On the upside, once you can breath normally and your heart doesn’t feel like it’s going to burst any more, you’re treated to a spectacular view of the mountains and Po Lin Monastery.

View from the Tian Tan Buddha

There is also a small village and shopping area at the base of the Buddha if you haven’t bought enough tourist tat in the city. Walk along a paved avenue with statues of Chinese deities and you’ll reach the Po Lin monastery.

Po Lin Monastery

Like most Chinese monasteries, it’s richly decorated and serene. It has manicured courtyards where pilgrims burn giant incense sticks in huge wracks and pray. Beautiful, calm and smelling fantastic, the monastery is the perfect antidote if a couple of days in busy Hong Kong has left you feeling a bit frazzled.

You can also buy lunch at the monastery, there is a small cafe that sells snacks and light bites. I spoke to other visitors who ate there, and they enjoyed the food. We went for the “deluxe ticket” set meal in the monastery’s dining room (I had almost died after all, after climbing the “Big Buddha”). This was reasonably priced set meal with 7 or 8 dishes including pumpkin soup, mushrooms with leafy greens, vegetables plate, bean curd rolls, spring rolls, and tofu in lemon sauce and endless pots of tea. I’m not vegan, but probably could be if this was the sort of food served daily.

Hong Kong

Throwback from last year’s visit. This time of year makes me wish I was back there.

When a friend heard I was going to Hong Kong, she said “you’ll love it, it’s like New York on crack”. She wasn’t wrong. We arrived after a 12 hour flight in sweltering heat and humidity, to be told that our hotel room wouldn’t be ready for another 7 hours! Exhausted and unable to cope with the heat we trawled around Kowloon for a couple of hours before we decided go back and embarrass the hotel clerk into giving us a room by hanging about a tiny lobby sweating profusely and looking like a pair of extras from night of the living dead. Hey Presto, we got a room within 10 minutes, (sometimes looking like a sweaty mess just pays off).

Night Market in Hong Kong

After a much needed power nap and shower we left to explore Hong Kong properly. If you’ve ever watched Blade Runner this is what night time Hong Kong will remind you of. Lots of neon and hustle and bustle.

Luxury shopping is a big thing and its seems there is Patek Phillipe or Rolex shop on every street. Hong Kong is what’s referred to as an Alpha+ city, due to it’s financial influence and has more ultra high net worth individuals living there than any city in the world. Unfortunately I’m not among these ranks, but the city has something for every budget. The Temple Street night market and ladies market are good choices, but be prepared to haggle.

I was obsessed with puffer fish as a kid, but how are you meant to get this home?

Hong Kong has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and outstrips even Manhattan. The average family apartment is smaller than a domestic garage. For this reason a lot of residents choose to eat out in the mind boggling array of cheap restaurants and street food outlets. I’m pretty adventurous in my eating but there were a few thing I said no to. Tripe (the spongy lining of a cow’s stomach) is a big thing that I had to pass on. However among the best food I ate was at a dicey looking whole in the wall near my hotel. After a long day sight seeing I just wanted something quick and sitting on little stools that look they came from a kindergarten I got huge bowl of soup with wantons for about £2. The woman who brought it gestured at me to try the condiments with it (chilli sauce and another sauce that smelt awful but worked when it was in the soup), my napkin was a roll of toilet paper! it was fabulous.

View from the Peak

Hong Kong, Part 2- Nan Lain Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery

Another throw back from last year.

Hong Kong is diverse and densely populated, to get everyone one where they need to go, the city has one of the best public transport systems I’ve ever seen. As soon as you arrive, invest in an Octopus Card. These can be used to pay for everything from ferries, some taxis, trains, buses, and paying for purchases in convenience stores at metro stations, and you can top them up at any metro station. I know it sounds like I’m geeking out, but the public transport was amazing, cheap, fast and clean.

Exciting as the city is fantastic, but sometimes the heat and the crowds can be exhausting. When you need to recharge you batteries seek out a little oasis of calm like the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery.

The gardens are in the Diamond Hill district and covers 3.5 hectares, in a city with so many people this place provided some much needed chill out space away from the frenetic energy of the rest of central Hong Kong. The gardens are landscaped in line specif rules and methods, and no tree, rock, or plant is there by accident.

View of the tea room in Nan Lian Gardens

The Chi Lin Nunnery located within the gardens, is a series of elegant wooden structures made up of temples, and prayer halls lining courtyards with expertly pruned bonsai gardens and calming pools. Despite being slap bang in one of the world’s hubs of cut throat capitalism, it has a really gentle vibe, and is beyond beautiful.

If you can spare the time I’d recommend spending a day vising the garden and nunnery. If you do there are a couple of different options if want to eat or drink. The tea house is beautiful but is expensive even by Hong Kong standards. The staff are lovely and will take time to explain the different teas, and show you how to brew it correctly. We spent much more than expected here, but in fairness it was our mistake for not reading the tea menu correctly (be careful). A much better option is to go for the set lunch at the garden’s restaurant. Like with the Po Lin monastery, it’s a set vegan lunch made up of several dishes. One of which was monkey head fungus, I know what your thinking (doesn’t sound too appetizing), but it turned out to be delicious. The best food I had in Hong Kong was at these temple restaurants. Go visit these places and try the food, or just enjoy a little bit of chill before going back out into the world.

The water mill