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December 28th 2012
Published: December 28th 2012
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Days 4-5 - December 27-28

On day 4, we headed off from Bangkok to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is such a high-energy place. It feels like New York City of the east! Non-stop, bright lights, great transit system, crowds at all times of the day and night. It is fun just experiencing all of the energy. After getting to the hotel, we went down to Victoria Harbor to see the "Symphany of Lights" show where they offer a coordinated laser, light show from the buidlings on Hong Kong island. We then explored the area around the hotel.

On day 5, we got an early start and took the famed Star Ferry from Kowloon over to Hong Kong island. The ferry ride offers some great views of the Hong Kong city-scape. We then made our way to the Victoria Peak tram. We figured the view from Victoria Peak would give us a good sense of the city layout. The tram ride was fun and very steep. I think the conductor said it was the steepest tram in the world and I belive it! If the cable that pulls the tram up the track ever broke, we would definitely be doomed! The views from the top didn't disappoint. Incredible views of the harbor and the tall buildings at the base of the mountain.

We then wandered back to the Central metro stop and boarded a train that would take us to our next destination - Bug Buddha. The promise of Big Buddha is that you take a scenic, serene, cable car ride up over some mountains and then descend into a little village with a working monestary and a hill-top bronze statue of Buddha. All very reflective, contemplative, calm, etc. Well, the execution of this event is a little different from what I had expected in some ways. First, you arrive at the cable car and notice an array of "Big Buddha" tour packages available for your convenience. Ok, well, they have to make money somehow to support their community. You then get to the ticket counter and notice there are a few different types of cable cars you can take - all for a different price. They have the Standard cable car (I.e. the cheap one), the "Crystal" cable car which offers a see-through bottom, and then there is the "VIP" cable car. I swear Elvis Presley designed this car. It was all pimped out with purple-glitter and I'm sure it had a wet-bar in there somewhere! And then, when you go to get on your cable car (and yes we did pick the cheap one), they come around with cameras to capture the moment for you. No doubt you will be offered this picture later on - for a price. The whole thing was just a bit "Disneyland"ish - but hey, they have to make money somehow.

So off we go on the cable-car ride. It was very peaceful and offered great views of the various green hills along with an interesting veiw of the Hong Kong International airport. You could watch planes land and take-off from a pretty unique vantage point. Not a bad thing. The cable car ride took about 25 minutes before descending back down into the main village of Ngong Ping. But before getting to the village, you have to go through the gift shop to purchase your beautiful pre-cable-car ride photo - along with perhaps a nice Big Buddha beer bottle opener. Ok, ok, they have to make money somehow. You then get into what feels like a brand-new shiney village which is repleat with a Starbucks, Subways, and various souvenir shops. It once again, felt like you just walked into the Disneyland food court. But ok, you are here to see the Big Buddha and the monestary anyway, so you make your way through the little village and start the climb up to the Big Buddha statue. The statue itself is huge and the calm gaze of Buddha's eyes seem to stare right into you as you walk up the stairs. This part of the experience was more in line with what I had personnally hoped for. Very unique. At the base of the Buddha statue was a museum which we didn't go into. I had read some mixed reveiws about it and decided it wasn't worth the extra ticket price. (But hey - they have to support the museum somehow.)

We then walked over to the monestary. This too was more of an authentic experience with the monks chanting, praying, etc. I do note that they are currently buidling what appears to be a mega-monastery behind the current one. Actually, given how conflicted this experience had been so far, I am kind of hoping that what they are building is a new monastery and not some new Big Buddha casino/restort! But anyway, we left the monestary and took one last walk through Potemkin village, before getting back into the cable car for the ride back. But not before one more click-click-click of the cameras as we got inside the car. Wouldn't want to miss out on that post-Buddha photo would we? Then finally, one last trip through yet another gift shop (yes - one at each end of the cable-car ride - but hey, they have to make money somehow.), All-in-all, not a bad experience. Just a bit of a schizophrenic experience. Is this place trying to be Buddha Disneyland? (Ironically, the Hong Kong Disneyland resort is one train stop prior to this one.) Or, is it trying to be a spiritual, reflective kind of experieince? It just seems to try to mix these two otherwise incompatable experieinces into one.

Ok, back to Hong Kong with Big Buddha behind us. Our train lets us off in Central Hong Kong. We then made our way to "Mid-level Escalators". These escalators are one big elevated moving sidewalk that go for about a half a mile. We used the escalators as a way to explore different parts of the city. We got off the escalators and wondered through "the Fong" which is an area of clubs and resturants, before heading over to the IFC mall for a late lunch. After lunch, we made our way back to the hotel, before heading off into the night to visit a noodle shop Steven wanted to try. Steven really liked the noodles and while eating, we met a couple of exchange students who offered a few other places to try. Finally, we wandered through the Temple Street night market. I love walking through the various markets and it was fun just soaking up the energy of this amazing city. All-in-all, a very full day!

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