香港 Snapshots: Hong Kong

Visiting Hong Kong was such a fantastic experience; I had visited before but I’ve found that blogging and taking pictures of the world around me when I travel really makes me engage with what I’m seeing and as a result I feel like this time I actually experienced the city. When you take pictures of a place you really pay attention to what’s going on, and thinking of what you’d like to write about forces you to think about what you’re seeing. I definitely think this is a good way to travel; even if no one actually reads your blog about the place you visited, writing down what you did and carefully thinking about the place while you’re there gives you a better memory of it. I know that my mother would tell me this is why she forced me to write a holiday diary when I was younger, but for me it’s the fact that other people will potentially see it that adds the drive to properly record my trip.

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I have already written the obvious posts; the posts about the Buddhist tourism spots in Hong Kong and the amazing food, but I haven’t gone through the rest – we were there for 10 whole days so we did a fair amount of exploring. Here are some ‘snapshots’ of various things we saw and did while we were there, some are mini posts in themselves and some are just single pictures that I felt like sharing as part of my experience.


You may have noticed in my previous posts that we were visiting Hong Kong around Chinese New Year (19th February this year). This was great but also an inconvenience; there were loads of New Year themed decorations around but as New Year is a public holiday in which people visit family, most shops and restaurants took 4 days off.

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There were sheep themed displays in most shop windows, the market was selling New Year’s decorations, and there was an impressive Chinese Zodiac animals display in the IFC building. Half of the animals were in one main display and the rest were scattered about the mall. We hunted them all down. The last one we were looking for was the dog, as some of our group were born in the year of the dog. When we finally found the dog it was a poodle. Yes, a poodle. I’m sorry if you love poodles but they are not the majestic dog of the Chinese Zodiac (for the record I’m’ a rooster, not a dog, so there is no bias there). I think the pig was my favourite, so big and fluffy looking. Pigs aren’t normally fluffy but they certainly suit it. I also liked how the rat was riding the Ox, as it was in the original story.

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Chinese New Year in Hong Kong was a lot like being in the UK (or other western countries) during Christmas, the holiday atmosphere was palpable, and much like our New Year there were of course fireworks. We went to watch them on top of the IFC building (we did spend a lot of time there for some reason). Sadly there was very little wind on that day and the fireworks created a smoke cloud that swallowed the later fireworks, making the display a brightly coloured cloud. Enjoyable but not as impressive as it could have been.


We visited a market on one of our first days in Hong Kong. The market filled both sides of the street, creating a narrow path through the stalls. There were a number of New Year decorations as well as ‘copy’ brand watches, key rings with car logos (presumably so you can pretend to own whatever car you want without actually spending the money), fans, traditional clothing, a paint-by-numbers stall, and a huge variety of other wares.

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I bought a card for my mums birthday at the spectacular pop-up card stall (said card has since been destroyed by a poodle, might explain my distaste for the poodle statue) and as a group we got paint-by-numbers canvasses to try in the evenings. I found that Hong Kong markets are also one of the last places you can buy iPhone 4 cases, a blessing as mine had died (I dropped it…). The market was definitely a good place to grab cheap goods, very good for souvenirs too.

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On one of our adventures we found a statue of the chief manager of HSBC between 1870 and 1902, Sir Thomas Jackson. Interesting to see as HSBC has been in the news of late for helping wealthy people avoid tax. Not sure if Sir Thomas would be pleased with this criticism of his bank; he helped build the bank into the main bank in Asia. He became known as ‘the architect’ for the work he did for the bank, so it seems right that he got a statue for his efforts. He was also made a Baronet for his contribution to the bank.

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Hong Kong was a fantastic city, full of colour, food and history. I would certainly go back there again and I would recommend it to anyone visiting East Asia. Not quite China, with notes of the UK and it’s own unique atmosphere, there’s nowhere exactly like Hong Kong.

天坛大佛 A Cloud with a Bronze Lining

While researching this post I realised that we covered a trilogy of Buddhism in Hong Kong; the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery, Chi Lin Nunnery and finally the Tian Tan Buddha. These appear to be the must-see tourist destinations in Hong Kong; interesting that they are all Buddhist despite only around 20% of Hong Kong being Buddhist. Clearly this is a religion that knows how to attract attention (in a good way). That is not to say that Buddhism is not an important element in Hong Kong; when Hong Kong returned to Chinese control in 1997 the Queen’s Birthday was replaced by the Buddha’s Birthday as a public holiday.

Tian Tan Buddha, 天坛大佛, is a little out of the way, on the island of Lantau, towards the South of Hong Kong. There is a cable car from Ngong Ping station but we chose to get the bus as it was pretty foggy and the bus was much cheaper. The bus ride was pretty enjoyable as we got to see a lot of the island. The bus struggled going up the hill and when we went downhill it felt like the driver was taking out his frustration at its crawling pace up the mountain by racing down the twisting mountain roads. This was a little scary but it certainly added to the experience.


We were pretty worried that the Buddha would not emerge from the cloud that hugged most of the island. Luckily he appeared as we approached the hill, sitting atop the mountain, looking out over the island. I have actually been to the Tian Tan Buddha before when I was much younger but the fog was much heavier and we barely even saw his knees through the cloud, so I felt lucky to finally get to see it.

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Arriving at the bus stop, we walked through the grand white gates towards the path up to the Buddha. Lining the way on either side were the 12 Heavenly Generals, said to defend the Buddha of healing. There is a general for each animal of the Chinese zodiac, which corresponds to a time of day and carries a different weapon. These are fictional generals, rather than great figures of history and also feature in Japanese Buddhism as lesser kami. I will not picture all twelve of them here as they all looked fairly similar but here are four for your viewing pleasure.

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Past the generals we got a good look at the plaza at the bottom of the Buddha’s hill, which featured a dais with coloured flags and some dogs looking for food. I thought they were stray at first but I think they belong to the monastery and they were trying their luck at getting a bonus dinner.

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The Tian Tan Buddha is a statue of the Buddha Amoghasiddi. While I do not pretend to know anything about Buddhism, I can tell you that this Buddha’s name means ‘he whose accomplishment is not in vain‘ and he is associated with the accomplishment of the Buddhist path and the removal of the evil that is envy. The Buddha statue was built in 1993 to symbolise the harmonious relationship between man and nature, people and religion. I suppose the Buddha does appear harmonious but the feat of building a giant 250 ton Buddha on the top of a mountain does suggest the conquering of nature rather than harmony with it. I’m not entirely sure if all people have a harmonious relationship with religion either, but that’s a debate I do not wish to get into. I suppose it is a nice sentiment.

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Once you’ve climbed the 268 steps up to the Buddha you can walk around and admire the (hazy) view of the Po Lin Monastery and surrounding mountains. The path around the Buddha features six Devas (spiritual beings that are not gods but better than humans, a little like the Japanese kami) that are offering the Buddha flowers, incense, a lamp, ointment, fruit and music. These represent the things necessary to enter nirvana, symbolising charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom.

There were signs in front of every Deva statue telling people not to throw coins in several different languages, however there were a lot of people trying to get the coins into the statues’ hands. This is apparently for good luck. There was one enterprising little boy of around 7 that was collecting up all the coins that had missed and fallen to the floor. He got a lot of coins as the people throwing did not have great aim.

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The Buddha was built of 202 separate pieces of bronze and contains a steel support inside to keep him sitting serenely atop his mountain throne. Inside the halls below the Buddha are a collection of scrolls and manuscripts (photos were banned I’m afraid) which are worth seeing. You cannot go inside this Buddha like the one in Kamakura but the view was pretty spectacular, I can imagine it would be even better on a clearer day. Interestingly all of the other great Buddha in China (there are 5 total) face South, but as the Tian Tan Buddha is to the far South, he looks North over the rest of China.

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Heading down from the Buddha we went to check out Po Lin Monastery. The monastery is much older than the Buddha, founded in 1906 by three Zen masters, and is now an international Buddhist retreat. The monastery had beautiful colourful architecture and great carved pillars featuring dragons. There were several dogs walking around the monastery which got into a bit of a fight at one point when the monks tried to get them to move out of the way of a car transporting building materials through the courtyard. I got a lot of pictures of the monastery but to be honest there was very little I could find about the history of the place so just enjoy the pictures!

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After we headed back from the monastery towards the Buddha we checked out the ‘village’ to the South that went down towards the cable car terminus. I say ‘village’ because it was a collection of shops and restaurants, I doubt anyone really lives there. They had a display of cable cars from all over the world lining the street as well as several cartoony sheep statues for the Chinese New Year. The fantastic masks you see pictured below were outside a shop dedicated to Peking Opera. I bought some flowering tea at one of the shops, which is the tea that blooms into a beautiful flower when you add hot water. I haven’t tried it yet but the example looked fantastic.

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The Tian Tan Buddha is well worth visiting and a nice trip just outside of Hong Kong, taking you away from the built up city to a mostly rural island. There are other activities you can do there such as visit a fishing village and go walking, so if you have lots of time when you visit that might be something else to try out while you’re there. The Buddha and the monastery are free, it’s just a matter of transport.