Monthly Archives: November 2013

Buddha Buddha Buddha Buddha Rockin’ Everywhere

Is that post title in poor taste? Mmmmmmaybe a little but I find it works in this situation just like that time I used a Nicki Minaj song for another travel destination in Hong Kong. Also, I had to sit through Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha so I think this is just fine.

Take a trip out East on Hong Kong’s MTR on the Tung Chung line and ride it all the way to the very end. Your Octopus card will take a bit of a hit once you tap to exit the turnstile but where you’re headed is well worth the price. Follow the signs with the picture of a gondola (not the kind you see floating in water – the kind that takes you over rivers and mountains) and find your way to Ngong Ping 360 – your gateway to the world’s largest Buddha.

Don’t pay for the glass-bottomed gondola because in reality it’s not really worth the extra money AND it also forces you to look down at the ground beneath you and if you are like me (and have a natural fear of heights – even though I’ve bungied and jumped out of airplanes) then you will not want to look down. The view out of the windows is spectacular enough and can make you queasy as the gondola slightly sways with the high winds as you travel above Lantau Island to the monastery.

As you make your way through the peaks and valleys look down and see that there is a trail that you can take to and from the monastery and it reminds you that before modern conveniences, like this gondola, the only way to get there was by foot. Passing over this trail just makes your legs tired and even seeing people scattered along it as the gondola passes over them makes you ever so glad that you don’t need to take that walk.

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As the gondola makes a final turn you see it in the distance. The Big Buddha. It’s much larger than imagined, even if you know the dimensions. It was a similar experience for me when I saw Picasso’s Guernica for the first time. I knew it was large and extremely detailed but seeing it in person brought to light just how impressive a piece of art it actually is. The Big Buddha is no different. There are numerous hills in every direction but the only one you look at has Buddha sitting on it.

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After you have left the Gondola it is a quick walk through a highly Westernized area that has a yoghurt shop, a cafe and even a Subway – because you know the monks like to “Eat Fresh” too. Once through this area you make your way down a white stone pathway and essentially just follow the people as they are all going to The Big Buddha – also you can’t miss it because it’s Big.

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Once you have had a look around the Buddha and have taken in the 360º view of Lantau Island walk through the monastery grounds and see the dogs that live there and, when I was there, even a yak can be seen walking around and walk along the trail to the Wisdom Path which “traces a series of 38 wooden steles (upright monuments) containing verses from the centuries-old Heart Sutra; one of the world’s best-known prayers revered by Confucians, Buddhists and Taoists alike. These steles display the Chinese version of the prayer, based on the calligraphy of famous contemporary scholar Professor Jao Tsung-I, and are arranged in a ∞ pattern, which represents infinity.”

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After walking through the monastery and the short trail that led you out to the Wisdom Path it is time to head back and catch the gondola before they stop running. As you sit in the gondola take in the beauty of the island and the Buddha one last time because you never know when if you will ever be back and to be fair the Buddha is not rockin’ everywhere like my title suggests, it just rocks here but the journey here is well worth it.

 

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Breaking Lab – Ice Cream & Science in Hong Kong

I feel as if Jesse Pinkman would say something like “Yeah science!” if he knew something like this existed. I’m talking of course about Hong Kong’s best ice cream and it’s not being made in the traditional way. Equations and recipes are scribbled in yellow dry erase marker on the windows of this ice cream shop which make it look more like Mark Zuckerberg’s dorm room from The Social Network than they do a place that sells ice cream, but this isn’t a normal ice cream shop.

Nestled in Tai Hang behind the Causeway Bay Sports Ground is Lab Made, a popular destination for those seeking to escape the heat and humidity or for those just looking for some delicious ice cream.

I happened upon Lab Made because a friend of mine currently living in Hong Kong told me about it and I’ve never been one to turn away ice cream, let alone ice cream that is prepared using science and chemistry as a guideline. Yes, I realise that making regular ice cream uses science as well but the main reactant used by Lab Made makes it more science-y. They use liquid nitrogen.

Now before you go all crazy on me and “flip out!”, as Jerry Maguire said, it’s all perfectly safe. I mean I’m here writing about my experience there so clearly I’m not dead from the liquid nitrogen. If you don’t believe me, click here, it will tell you everything you need to know about the process and how they safely use it. Feel better? Good. Because this place is pretty cool.

What also makes Lab Made great is their menu – it’s always changing. Like a great restaurant that serves catch of the day or whatever is freshly picked that day from the farm, Lab Made does the same. All of their “ice creams are made from scratch, using real, fresh, quality ingredients so there’s no need for additives, colourings or preservatives.” The menu is always changing which means you may never be bored by their selections, it also means that you might be there every single week (which is a smart business tactic because this place is addictive). During my visit I had the lemon meringue sorbet. It was tangy, juicy, full of awesome but not overpowering citrus flavour from the lemon and it was served on a bed of mini meringues that dissolved on my tongue while I put spoonfuls of sorbet on my mouth. After I was finished, I licked my bowl clean (not my finest hour, but certainly not my worst) and wanted more but knew I should not. Like I said, it’s addictive.

Clearly this place is doing something many things right,

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The Air Up There – Hong Kong Style

I think I have already established that I have no real problem with heights. So it should come as no surprise that in every city I visit I try to get up to a view point that puts me above it all and Hong Kong is no different as it is home to many observation decks that can be visited for free – you just need to get there by traversing the multiple walkways and overpasses in order to get from one street to another. It is doable and I highly recommend it because the views from these observation decks provides a whole new perspective on what the city is like.

First up is the Bank of China Tower which is the building designed by I.M. Pei and is, all-in-all, pretty spectacular and is the most recognizable out of all of the buildings in Hong Kong. It’s the one Feng Shui experts don’t like because of it’s hard lines and angles. Boo hoo, it looks pretty cool to me and was my first stop on my skyscraper tour. Please note that a valid photo ID (passport, driver’s license, etc.) is required upon entry or else you won’t be able to get in. They use your name and assign you an ID that gets you up to the 43rd floor. I happened to visit the observation deck on a somewhat cloudy day so visibility was limited but I could still see the other buildings. I was treated to this spectacular view of most of Central Hong Kong and some of Kowloon:

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2 IFC in all it’s Dark Knight glory

From here I could see my next destination: 2 IFC, the building prominently featured in the above photograph as well as in the 2008 film The Dark Knight – which is really why I wanted to go into that building in the first place. I love Batman, it’s no real secret. I used to order pizza from the local pizzeria under the name Bruce Wayne, some of the friends I made in South Africa call me Harvey Dent on account that they think I look like Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent from The Dark Knight and I even wrote my college essay on Batman and why he was/is my hero (I said he stood up for the good people and against the corrupt and things of that nature). And yes, I got into college…and graduated.

At 2 IFC you will need to navigate through the people and mall and follow the sings – which is very easy – and after providing a valid ID and receiving a badge allowing you access, make your way up to the 55th floor. Now, up at the 55th floor it is more than just a view of the city, it also chronicles the monetary history of Hong Kong. This view just so happens to be provided by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority so why not throw in a little bit of history for the visitor as well? I learned things about Hong Kong’s money that I didn’t even realize like, for example, they have a plastic reader (it’s essentially a piece of hard plastic folded together) that the blind can use in order to see how much money they have. They do this by matching the bill up to a braille symbol on the plastic which indicates the bills denomination. This is all made possible because the dollar bills are different sizes. I think that’s pretty cool.

After reading as much of the information as I could handle I took in this view:

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Bank of China Tower in view

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The Peak observation deck near the top

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One IFC in the forefront

Lastly, I went across the bay to Kowloon to the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton and to the Ozone Bar. Dubbed ‘the highest bar in the world’ Ozone has the vibey ambiance and view make this an experience not to miss. The bar is open to everyone, not just hotel guests, and getting there is half the fun but not for the claustrophobic. The elevator is thin and narrow and decorated with black padded panels that look like stones seen in front of walkways leading up to houses in suburban America.

The elevator doors open and I am greeted by vibrant-yet-dark mood lighting and the sound of soft dance music pumping through the speakers and I look out beyond the glass and see the main area of the bar and the view it has of Hong Kong. The coast is bathed in neon lights and the hills are black and speckled with yellow lights telling me that yes they in fact are still there and have not disappeared in the night. The prices for drinks are what you would expect for a place like this but given the view of Hong Kong it provides I sat around for one drink and enjoyed the Hong Kong skyline.

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Not a view from the bar, but from the same area.

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Rock The Kasbah, Hong Kong Has Moroccan Food

Labeled as a “restaurant that is a feast for all the senses” Kasbah does not disappoint.

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the vibrant city of Hong Kong is a Moroccan restaurant that is quietly making a name for itself by word of mouth, reputation and of course its cuisine. I visited the restaurant because a friend had been there from a previous trip to Hong Kong and enjoyed it so much that he wanted to go again.

A few blocks away is the loud, boisterous, and somewhat gaudy Lan Kwai Fong where many of the expats and tourists alike congregate around the bars, nightclubs and restaurants as well as on their steps. Literally, people just hang out and drink and laugh and talk on the steps of those establishments. If that is not your particular brand of vodka, as Danny Ocean would say, then I suggest you take a trip away from Lan Kwai Fong, cross Wyndham Street, walk up some stairs decorated with orange metal that has been constructed and fitted to be used as a seating area and at the top of the stairs make a left and within a few short minutes you will be at Kasbah.

Once through the large and dark wooden door you are transported away from Hong Kong. There aren’t any large neon signs or crowds of people in your way but the traditional North African music and aromas from around the room help to drown out the busy city just beyond the door.

As you sit down you are treated to comfort and relaxation in the form of cushioned couches and chairs. The menu is diverse and has something for everyone ranging from the traditional Tagine – the “terracotta cooking pot in which the classic Maghreby mix of sweet and spiced fruit, vegetables and meat is slowly simmered” to a pita filled with grilled lamb.

For starters, I recommend the homemade hummus, pita and tabbouleh. Everything is fresh. The hummus is divinely prepared and presented along with warm, freshly-baked pita that makes you wonder how you could ever buy flat pita bread from the market ever again. The tabbouleh is created with care and you can see that it is hand cut and not run through a Cuisinart and ruined by being turned into a mush.

The delivery of the Tagine is eye-catching and when it is presented in front of you and the top is removed the steam and delicious smells from the dish fill your nose and make you want to dive right into the meal. The pita sandwich is presented in a very simple but effective way, wrapped in foil and cut in half to reveal the expertly grilled and marinated lamb and accompanying vegetables and sauce that I cannot name because I dove right in and began inhaling the sandwich. Truly delicious.

The decor feels North African without being kitschy or over the top. The stone-coloured walls have hand painted symbols, maintaining the Moroccan style, and the black ceiling recreates the night sky and is adorned with colourful lanterns in varying shades of red, yellow and green. The bar even has a variety of hookahs with the tallest being roughly four feet tall. The mood lighting adds to the cool ambiance and really sets the scene for what is a terrific spot to sit and relax after a day of sight-seeing in Hong Kong.

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The orange metal seats leading up to Kasbah

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Let’s Go To The Peak, eak, Let’s Go Get Away

I re-worded Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’ because, well, I could and it fits in this situation. Sort of…

The Peak in Hong Kong is the one stop that you need to make on a trip to Hong Kong. If you only have one day, go to The Peak. If you have two days, make one of them about going to The Peak. If you have three days…you get the idea, and yes, the ‘t’ in The Peak is capitalised because it’s that important so clearly you must go there. If you don’t then you are missing out on one of the best views of Hong Kong, scratch that, make that The best view of Hong Kong.

Now, I made my way up from Central Station and I saw signs that directed me to The Peak Tram. It’s very simple, I followed them. Sure, I went around and up and down and over streets and even through a church parking lot, but I found my way there as long as I kept walking uphill.

On an unassuming street corner, except for the tourism signs that point to it. There is a large stone-tiered fountain with ‘The Peak Tram’ in large brown letters just at the top of the fountain. This must be the place. And since I happened to be really lucky I saw a long long long line wrapped around the fountain and into the building. My journey then continued up along and on the road because I decided to walk from there. I wasn’t going to wait in that line, this isn’t Disneyland – although it is only a 40+ minute ride on the MTR away – I thought walking was the right choice. Was it a good idea or bad idea? I’ll let my sore calf muscles tell you that answer. But their answer is different from mine because they don’t have a brain – so they don’t have an answer… It was a good idea.

After sweating up a storm in the nighttime humidity that is Hong Kong, which even saw me take off my shirt so it would not get soaked through with sweat (yeah, gross I know, sorry about that image I just put in your brain…or am I?), I finally made it up to the top where the steady, and heavy, wind dried me off (another nice visual for you). Once there, I was treated to an awesome view of Hong Kong at night.

Apparently there’s a viewpoint where you can pay to go on top of a building and get the same view of Hong Kong (that’s just a little bit higher) as opposed to a spot that is free… What sounds better: A free view or one where you have to pay? The answer is, almost always, free. So that’s what I did. From up there I could see the 2 IFC building, the Bank of China Tower, the ICC building, the HSBC building and most of Kowloon across the water. It’s a great way to see the city and even better at night because the the city is literally lit up and you can see that it is alive. Even if it was foggy, I am sure the lights would shine through just like Rudolph’s red nose.

Once I was done taking in the view I made my way back down the road because the line for The Peak Tram was over 45 minutes long and it was deemed that the walk back down would take as long as the wait at the top. It was also less sweaty on the way down and a great way to end my first night in Hong Kong.

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