Asleep At Heaven's Gate

Tian Tan Buddha | Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Tian Tan Buddha is one of the most famous tourist spots in Hong Kong, located in little Ngong Ping village, a tourist trap if ever there was one. Nothing could possibly denote the cultural significance of the statue and Po Lin Monastery better than pizza and kebab and t-shirt and souvenir shops. Although the Ngong Ping 360 cable car from Tung Chung tries its best.

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The Tian Tan Buddha was constructed in the early 1990s and is currently, at 34 meters, the second tallest bronze buddha statue in the world, and one of the five large buddhas in China. This one is unique, however, in that unlike the others, which all face south, Tian Tan Hong Kong faces north.

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If visiting Hong Kong it’s easy to take a trip to Ngong Ping, but I highly recommend skipping the cable car ride. The queue is overly long. The cost isn’t worth the wait. And the views are only good looking forward, since behind the cable car station is the airport which isn’t exactly visually appealing, unless you’re into dirty tarmac, storage hangars, and other industrial type things. Take the bus instead and then walk up the 268 steps the statue and enjoy the views from there. But be sure to have other plans for Lantau Island, because visiting Ngong Ping isn’t exactly an entire afternoon kind of visit. But the buddha is impressive, so give it a look.

Chinese New Year in Hong Kong a.k.a. How to Spend 2k in 5 days.

Chinese New Year has come and gone, and so has a chunk of my savings. Traveling during major holidays is always expensive and, generally speaking, staying at non-shite hotels in major cities is a bit pricy as well. Such was certainly the case last week in Hong Kong. Between elevated holiday plane ticket and hotel prices, and a little bit of shopping for new blue jeans, the expenses piled up quick. But hey, the food was good.

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I visited Hong Kong about three years ago and didn’t expect I’d go back. The truth is the city didn’t leave much of an impression on me. I thought it was kind of just an expansive shopping mall. I stayed in Kowloon and was constantly harassed on the street by men hawking watches and hash, and I was actually happy to leave after a few days of traveling. However there was one part of the trip I loved, and that was my trip to Lamma Island, which you can read about here. And it was with that knowledge that I did this visit a bit differently.

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First, I stayed on Hong Kong island instead of Kowloon. It was more expensive, but a much better environment. Second, I spent most of my time out of the city, this time on Lantau island. Third, I avoided pretty much everything famous or touristy and tried instead to get around to some of small villages of Hong Kong. It was the combination of all these things made the experience surprisingly peaceful and relaxing for a trip to such a densely populated area.

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Hong Kong City was a great break from Hanoi. The weather wasn’t great, but it didn’t rain. The traffic can be busy, but it’s calm and non-predatory, which was a great change from my current day-to-day. People obey traffic lights and don’t drive or park vehicles on sidewalks. The public transportation is punctual, reliable, and clearly mapped and signed. And then there are the trams themselves, slow and uncomfortable, but incredibly charming with their antique interiors and unique exteriors completely painted in vibrant advertisements for various services and products from Coach Purses to ice cream brands to investment banks.

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While I think much of Hong Kong seems like much of many other major world cities, one thing I love about it is the unique character of each district. There are the midlevels of Soho with its endless series of escalators lined by shops, restaurants, and bars. There is the bright shininess of central’s skyscrapers and all the south Asian women sitting and playing cards on flattened cardboard boxes on the footbridges. There is the grime and faded paint of the older apartment buildings, laundry strung outside windows and blowing in the wind fifty floors up. There are the mountains that dwarf even the tallest of tall buildings, verdant and shrouded in mist in the mornings.

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Three years ago Hong Kong left me unimpressed and thinking I’d not go back. Last week left me quite pleased and thinking a third trip is probably in the not-so-distant future. Waterfalls and Caribous know what I mean. Ask them.

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Doing stuff in Langkawi, Malaysia

Parasailing in Langkawi

All over Langkawi are opportunities for various water sports. There are banana boat rides, jet ski rentals, island hopping, parasailing, and various other opportunities. The opportunities are so widely available that reservations aren’t required. Just show up at a beach, approach a payment booth, and then you just have to wait your turn.

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I got a bit lucky when I went parasailing. The going rate is usually 100-120 ringots, about $30, for a 10 minute ride, but I managed to get myself a 15 minute trip for whatever I was willing to pay. I was kicking around Pentai Tenga, which is the longest beach on the island and also a fairly quiet one since most most people are just a little ways north at Pentai Cenang. While there I was chatting with some local men who were about to head over to a small island to get blazed. I asked if I could jump on the boat with them just to go see the island and they said sure. While there they asked if I wanted to go parasailing and I gladly accepted the offer. Later I paid them 80 ringots since that’s all I had on me at the time. They were happy to accept but told me I didn’t need to pay them anything, which just further assured me that Malaysian people are the nicest I’ve ever met.

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Parasailing itself isn’t quite as thrilling as I had hoped for. It was fun and offered incredible views, but compared to skydiving or cliff diving or even just riding a jet ski, the thrills are minimal. But, for the views, it is incredibly worthwhile, especially if you land yourself a sweet deal like I managed to do.

Langkawi Sky Cab and Sky Bridge

Located just a 15 minute drive from the Airport, 30 from Pentang Cenang and Kuah Town, one of the most famous attractions of Langkawi is the cable car ride to the top of Machincang Mountain with its peak height of 708 meters. The cable car ride is 2.2 km long and boasts the world’s longest single span cable at over 900 meters. The ride to the peak takes about 15 minutes and offers some beautiful views of the mountain range and the see in the distance. And if your fellow passengers are quiet, you can here the sounds of animals in the forests below. While the ride itself is enjoyable enough, the views aren’t quite as spectacular as I had hoped. But for the cost of 35 ringots, about $10, it was still worth it.

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Also located at the top of Machincang Mountain is the Skybridge, a suspension bridge built above the forest canopy. However, the bridge was under repair while I was there so I could not visit it. In fact, it seems, from the research I did before my trip and more I’ve done since, that the bridge is pretty much constantly under repair and is rarely open. This was the one disappointment of the trip, because it was one of the things I was most looking forward to, as the Skybridge offers the best panoramic views of the island. But hey, life is full of disappointments, and in the big picture of things, not getting the chance to walk on the Skybridge ranks pretty low in terms of significance, so no worries.

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If you visit Langkawi, the Skycab is worth the price, but check ahead of time weather or not the Skybridge is open if that is something you desire to see. And here are a few more photos from Machincang.

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Mangrove Nature Tour in Langkawi

Yesterday I took a boat tour through the mangrove forests surrounding the northern islands of Langkawi. The tour was operated by LeBaron Resort, which is one of many tour operators. I chose the Baron tour because it was longer and more informative. So, for 110 Ringot, about $31, I was picked up at my resort at 9:30 and returned at about 4:30.image

We first visited some bat caves before heading into the mangroves where we joined by various monkeys that ate peanuts and tried to steal our water bottles. From there we proceeded to eagle feeding grounds where 10 or more Eagles circled above and dove into the water for food. After all that we stopped at a secluded island for swimming and then went on to a hidden lagoon that was nestled behind a rock face and fed by the ocean through a small hole at the base of the wall.image

Our tour guide was knowledgable and gregarious and the tour was good overall, albeit a bit over long considering the heat. But if you’re looking for a sightseeing tour that is a bit more thorough and informative, Baron is highly recommended.

Langkawi, Malaysia: Paradise

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It was nearly six years ago that I started dreaming of visiting Malaysia. But time or money was always short and a connection at KLIA from Sydney to Seoul was the closest I came. Until now. I am here on Langkawi Island spending a few days in relaxation while renewing my visa.

The island is beautiful. Traffic is calm and slow. There are beaches and monkeys and Palm trees. Prices are reasonable. There is delicious fresh fruit juice and some of the nicest people I’ve met in my life. So far it is met all hopes and expectations I had. Well, except for the sky cab and sky bridge. but more on that later. For now here are some images of paradise.

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