Hong Kong is one of the biggest cities in the world, renowned for its skyscrappers, public transport and high standard of living. I was in this beautiful city for only eleven hours - landing from Beijing at 11.40 in the morning and heading towards Bangalore at 10.40 in the night.
After completing visa - on arrival - formalities, I was out of the airport by 12 and straightaway headed to the bus stop. The plan was to catch a S1 bus to the Tung Chung MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station, from where I could get on to the Ngong Ping 360 Cable car towards the Po Lin monastery.
Hong Kong is known for its extensive publc transport system - which is actually a 'must have' for a city as densly populated as this. I felt that the roads are quite narrow and driving even a cycle in those streets must have been an experience. Nevertheless, the drivers of the double-decker buses seemed adept at what they were doing and I did not have to worry!
In another ten minutes, I was in Tung Chung - a town which serves as a gateway to the Lantau Island, as it is connected to central Hong Kong via the Tung Chung MTR line. For people coming from the Hong Kong International Airport (which is also in Lantau Island) though, S1 bus was a cheaper and shorter option.
The Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong and hosts many famous tourist spots, including the Hong Kong Disneyland, Ngong Ping 360, Po Lin monastery, the Tian Tan Buddha statue, the Lantau Trail / Peak and a few beaches. Since, my time was limited, I had planned to take the Ngong Ping 360, head straight to Po Lin monastery, visit the Tian Tan Buddha and head back in Ngong Ping 360 itself.
There was a long queue waiting to take the Ngong Ping 360 cable and it took me almost an hour to get on board. But, the effort - and a HK$115 round-trip ticket cost - was worth it. The cable car takes you across the hills and valleys on an exciting 5.7km / 25 minutes journey to the Po Lin monsatery. I took a standard cabin, even though crystal cabin - with a glass bottom - was also available for HK$145.
Apart from the stunning landscapes, the cable car provides a good view of the airport. One could also spot a hiking trail while on the cable. Apparently, this is part of a 70km trail connecting different points on Lantau Island - including Lantau Peak, its tallest point.
Towards the end of the journey, one could also get a stunning view of the Tian Tan Buddha statue - aka Big Buddha, a huge bronze statue of Buddha. The statue towers over the Ngong Ping plateu with lush green hills providing a beautiful background to it.
It is about 10 minutes walk from the cable car arrival point till the Po Lin monastery - and the path is lined by souvenir shops and restaurants. The monastery has a vegetarian restaurant offering a meal for HK$65, which I opted for before taking the footsteps towards the Tian Tan Buddha.
The Buddha statue sits on a lotus throne on top of a three-platform altar - apparently modeled on the circular mound at Temple of Heaven in Beijing. It is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues making various offerings to the Buddha.
I spent a lot of time here, taking pictures of the Tian Tan Buddha and the six smaller statues.
It was about 4 in the evening, by the time I reached back Ngong Ping cable car and boarded the cable car after standing in yet another long queue. If I had more time at my disposal, I could have opted for a bus or ferry transport. Ferry from Lantau Island to central Hong Kong is available from Mui Wo - which also has some beautiful beaches and reachable either by bus (#2) or by foot on Lantau trail.
But, for now, with the limited time available to me, Ngong Ping 360 to Tung Chung and MTR to central Hong Kong. MTR station at Tung Chung is right next to the cable car starting point and cost me HK$19 to go to Hong Kong. Being a week day, the train was filled with commuters and students. The train took about 30 minutes to reach the central Hong Kong station.
My next destination was the Victoria Peak, which gives a good view of the Hong Kong skyline. At central Hong Kong station, I spent a while trying to locate the right exit to go to the peak tram. Apparently, I had to take exit J2 - and I failed to locate it. The exit I took left me stranded in a busy Hong Kong city - with its narrow roads and huge sky scrappers on either sides. I walked almost in a circle, before finally reaching the peak tram station - located on Garden Road next to Bank of China tower and Hong Kong Park - with the help of a few locals.
What waited for me at the peak tram station was yet another long queue. I was getting worried as the light was fading fast and it was looking more and more impossible to reach the peak before its dark. It was almost 6 by the time I got the ticket and the tram arrived - clearly late for a good day view of the city. The round-trip ticket cost was HK$40 and a combined ticket for the peak tram and the viewing terrace at the peak tower was HK$65. I opted only for the peak tram round-trip ticket and decided to take a seperate ticket to the viewing terrace, if needed.
The peak tram was a beautiful experience and an engineering marvel. It climbs at a very high angle, which almost seemed vertical. Within minutes, canopy of the Hong Kong skyscrappers were visible and the tram kept climbing more and more floors with every 'Tuk Tuk' sound it made.
Apparently, the best place to see the Hong Kong skyline from the Victoria Peak is the viewing terrace at the Peak Tower. But, I wanted to check out the old peak road first and found a view point with a decent view of the Hong Kong skyline.
Next, I tried going in to the Peak Galleria - which also had a couple of view points with free entry for all. But, this only made me realize that the best view point is indeed the viewing terrace at the Peak Tower. Soon, I was back at the peak tower, headed to the 3rd floor and entered the viewing terrace after paying the HK$30 entry fee. The viewing terrace was indeed the best place to view the Hong Kong skyline, though a little crowded.
I managed to get some good views and take some pictures as well. I stayed on till about 7.30, then headed back to the peak tower exit to join another long queue of people waiting to get back to the city in the peak tram. About half an hour later, I was back at the Garden Road looking for the way to get back to central station.
At Hong Kong central, I took the airport express train to the airport. The express train is quite expensive (HK$100 for a one way ticket), but was indeed the fastest way to get to the Hong Kong internation airport, well in time for my 10.40 flight to Bangalore.