With no Lonely Planet and little research, I decided to stay on Lantau Island. I was just not keen on the big city crazy busy, especially after Tokyo, and I was hoping to have a look at the traditional, old part of Hong Kong, if such a thing still existed.
I do not know whether it was because I tried to look for an accommodation a day before the visit, or it is actually hard to find an accommodation on this island, but the only things I could find were the hostels which were booked out and require YHA membership as well as the seaside resort hotel, not great according to a review. But it sounded like it was just old hotel that the reviewers did not like about it, so I figured it would be okay. AUD240 for 2 nights was way more than what I had planned to spend, but I could not be bothered to keep looking. Quickly put my credit card detail on Hotels.com and I was good to go.
Arriving at Hong Kong Airport, I was stuck again. Not enough coins to pay exact fare on the buses, and people come up with conflicting suggestions on how I should travel to Mui Wo. Apparently nobody really goes there… This could be disastrous, or interesting… I took the advice of an uncle, the volunteer ‘airport ambassador’ in white jacket, and took the route S1 bus to Tung Chung terminal, and then changed to NLB line bus to Mui Wo. I opted to getting an octopus card (the pre-paid ticket for all public transport, some restaurants and more in Hong Kong) again – must have refunded last one last year – and it was the right move. 150 bucks gets you a card with HKD100 credit. No need to worry about the exact fare (they will never refund the change on buses, but they’ll gladly take a larger sum when you have coins or notes to pay more). And unlike Melbourne’s shocking electronic ticket system Myki, the ones in Hong Kong and Singapore are actually very quick and show you the balance in a large screen that you can actually read.
So that’s how I was on a bus going through a very steep and twisty winding road – secretly hoping I was driving a sport car here – and I checked into an old hotel by the sea, Silvermine Resort, out of season, and dragged the suitcase up the stairs to my room – ‘hill side’ which actually look down on some park area where construction workers are stocking some materials. In absence of lace curtain, my heavy curtains remained closed pretty much all the time for the 2 days.
I went for a walk to the pier, checked out the shops, noted quite a few westerners. I wonder if those people are long-term expats who chose to stay here for a quiet and spacious housing over the high-rising condos in the centre of the business districts… But apart from them, it is a pretty quiet town, with cats about the markets, dogs cross the streets slowly.
It is a pretty place at sunrise.
Next morning I took a bus to Po Lin Monestry and its great Buddha. I opted for an early morning bus at 8am, rather than the next one at 10. I knew that the Buddha was to be open to public only at 10am. But I was hoping there were other places I could see, like the temple. I was not too far off on that one, but it was not much to look at, lacking the depth of history, and currently adding a new enlarged main worship building. I don’t particularly care for a modern temple. I guess my reason is not so much of a spiritual one but more architectural or cultural. In addition to the boredom, it was VERY cold. It was 10 or so down in town. But up here, after coming up a long and steep hill climb road, it was pretty chilly and I wished I did not put away the leather gloves and Uniqlo’s wind-block heattech jeans!
When the gate opened at 10am, somehow I was the first to climb up the 260 or so steps, and went straight into the base of the Buddha. It is free to come up to see Buddha up close, but paying 30 bucks give you access to the display room at the base of the Buddha, and some snack and tea? at the Monastery. Having already spent over an hour killing time down there, I was not so keen on going back just to get a snack I’d already paid for. I mean, 30 bucks is pretty small amount, and it is a donation to the big temple. When I came down, I headed straight back to where I came from, and found a bus to Tai O at the bus stop.
Tai O is close to the western edge of the island. The guide book tells you about the ‘floating village’ and seafood using local fishery products. A friend suggested that I might like Tai O when I described what I was looking for – the authentic, non-touristy experience. Well, she understood my wishes right.
The community of stilt houses was very interesting. It reminded me of some sci-fi anime show I used to watch as a kid. Why do these people live in a rusty metal house so close to the water? There are houses already falling apart, and others lost due to fire.
You walk along the ‘public’ path but find yourself crossing between somebody’s living room and kitchen… or work area and storage… or their kitchen and their farm. People are sitting in the dark of their house’s interior. You hear the steam from pots cooking lunch here and there, and see some people sipping noodle from a bowl. Others are wrapping their dried fish to bring to the market.
On the solid ground, houses look more or less the same. They are made of tin panels, dark inside, and feel the presence of uncles and aunties having lunch or chopping some fishes.
Only in a few houses did I hear people talking to each other, maybe having a lunch together. This makes a contrast to the sound of mah-jong pies from a house or cafe pretty much around every corner in Mui Wo or even the more visitor-oriented part of Tai O where restaurants line the main street. Why is it so quiet and why do they stay in the dark house?
My camera’s battery went flat, with a spare battery yet to be purchased, so I took a bus back to Mui Wo early. Starting with the cold, it was already quite a morning. Still got one more day before the flight out of Hong Kong just before the midnight…