Note: I’m terribly behind on blogging a week’s worth of travel itineraries, but I’m working to keep you updated! Thank you for being patient.
Ever since I moved to Guangzhou last July, my go-to escape—for both legal and personal reasons—from the South China port has always been Hong Kong.
Although one could argue the two cities are quite similar (Cantonese dialect and food), every time I cross the border, so many things remind me just how much better Hong Kong actually is.
Other than the obvious internet freedom (hate AP for requiring lowercase #journo), I love being in a city with societal norms closer to those with which I am familiar. Sure, rude people are everywhere, and with downtown Hong Kong being such a hub for overworked businessmen in finance, the city isn’t always that pleasant. But I can say with confidence that whenever I make a trip to Hong Kong, I fall in love with it over and over again.
This time, I wanted to explore a different side: Lantau Island, about a 40-minute subway ride from downtown and is frequently visited for Disneyland and Tian Tan Buddha. Since I’ve never been a fan of amusement parks and having been to both Disney parks in America, I skipped Disneyland and opted for a peaceful weekend retreat living in an Airbnb deep inside Ngau Au Village in Tung Chung.
Having arrived in Hong Kong at dinnertime via KTT “Special Class” (nothing that special, unfortunately), I found an amazing Vietnamese banh mi shop in Sham Shui Po before hopping back on the subway to go out to the island.
From the Tung Chung station, I had to then take a taxi to the entrance of the village, where I met my Airbnb host Terry. At this point, the skies were dark so he handed me a flashlight before we walked through the woods. He pointed out the fireflies, which he said don’t appear unless the air is truly fresh. He was trying to distract me from the potential scariness of walking in the dark through the woods, he later admitted. But I wasn’t deterred. This was the city oasis I was seeking.
I walked into the house to see a group of young Chinese girls, hanging around in the kitchen. I took my seat on the couch in front of the TV, as Terry checked me in. As it turns out, the girls also were staying in the house. The Airbnb is a certified three-story vacation house, so it can host at most 16 guests, each with their own bedrooms and bathrooms. As I talked to one of the girls, I found out they were here for a Jehovah’s Witness convention at AsiaWorld-Expo—which, along with the airport, is within a 10-minute taxi drive from the village. Trying to be open-minded, I asked them to elaborate on what it means to be a Jehovah’s Witness (hasn’t had the best rep). The Mainland girl simply responded with, “Search online.” What great representatives. I suppose I should be grateful that the opposite didn’t happen—attempting to convert me. Miffed, I decided not to take them up on their offer to join them again after checking into my room.
My room had a great view of Tung Chung and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car up to the Big Buddha. But the view from the rooftop was even better. It’s a shame I forgot to get a photo during the day, but it felt great to be able to look out and feel rather secluded. The high-rise buildings you see of this nighttime shot is just the public rental housing units. Otherwise, this side of Hong Kong hasn’t yet been tarnished much by development, although it certainly is beginning to show the signs.
With the clean air and only sounds being that of nature outside, I slept quite well—which is a huge plus given my permanently shitty sleep. The next morning, I set out to hike the Big Buddha, but with the heat and humidity so unbearable even just walking out of the village, I succumbed to my host’s suggestion to just take the cable car. And thank God I did, because although wishful thinking had me assume that hiking would have only taken two or three hours at most, when you take the cable car up and see the treacherous path, it looks like at least four hours of hell, followed by certain heat stroke and potential death.
Anyway, before the cable car, Terry offered to walk me to Tung Chung’s wet market, his daily breakfast spot, and the bus station to the cable car. He could finally show me what the village looked like during the day, and it was beautiful.
As for his breakfast spot, it’s located on the second floor of the Tung Chung Estates (public rental housing) and has a great view of the mountainside. And it’s SO local. So Hong Kong. I mean, really, beef ramen, fried egg, milk tea, and buttered toast. He was so kind that I felt compelled to pay for his meal—which was only a couple bucks anyway.
Satisfied, I headed off to take the cable car. As it was still before 10 a.m. and it had just opened at 9 for weekends, I hardly had to wait to get tickets or get on the cable car. Since I’ve tried the glass floor one (or dubbed “crystal cabin”) in Taipei, I didn’t feel like paying extra for it again. And I was happy with the somewhat foggy but still expansive views on the way up—with a family from Seoul!
Given that it was still early, the village that greets you at the top on the way to the Buddha was relatively quiet, something you don’t realize you should appreciate until a few hours later when the crowds come 😛
Since I missed out on the real hiking up this mountain, I ventured out on a decent trail on the peak called the Wisdom Path. Some mosquitoes got to my leg as I hiked, and there was a herd of random (read: smelly) cows on the way, but the views were amazing and reminded me why the phrase “breathtaking view” exists.
Next up: Take the bus to the Tai O terminus. Remember, it is unbearably hot, so walking through a village under the blazing sun is the last thing any of us would want to do, but I ended up having an amazing time.
Similar to when I hiked in Taipei, I walked farther than the crowds, so I found myself down an alley where I got to capture some amazing shots of the fishing village houses. I followed some signs and came across an adorable coffee shop run by a mom and her family. She seemed so kind when I wandered in, marveling at where I was, when she came out and invited me in. She showed me the amazing views from the rooftop.
The mom gave me a whole spiel about “opening my heart” and how she doesn’t charge anything (menu does have prices) and it all made me feel so welcomed. Then she saw some girls wandering about…and she invited them in. And as I sat right there, she gave essentially the same spiel, slightly adjusted but still with the “I don’t charge anything” BS. Now, don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed having the rooftop all to myself and enjoying the amazing view of the river that reminds me of Venice. This mom said since she opened just half a year ago, her guests have already filled 16 guestbooks worth of glowing comments and reviews. I only saw at most two that she gave me, but I still wrote my own nice review and Instagrammed my experience. Nevertheless, I don’t know how I quite feel about this woman. Her, let’s say, method has tinges of fakery and tip-seeking to me, aka how to run a successful business in the alleyways of a fishing village.
Whom I assumed was her husband served me my drink and food (literally tuna and melted cheese on the tiniest cuts of toast I have ever seen), and gave me a complimentary pot of lavender tea (which I saw from comments in the guestbook is a thing they do).
Taking into consideration all this business-oriented behavior masked as innocent kindness, I paid but didn’t bother tipping. BUT before you cast me as a bitch (hope it’s not too late), I posted TWICE on Instagram raving about this “hidden gem,” of course without mentioning my doubts. I also added to her apparently all-important guestbook. Most importantly, those two thumb-sized pieces of bread were just ridiculous…
After walking around a bit more, I waited in line (heat. un. bearable.) for the bus to head back to Tung Chung and stop by the Citygate outlets.
But oh, my GOD. Avoid Citygate if you hate crowds, because if there were ever an overcrowded mall full of Mainland Chinese tourists who had just debarked their buses directly from China and rushing to stuff their suitcases with all the designer brands, THIS IS IT.
Surprisingly, that terrified feeling didn’t faze me as I was walking around, and I’m thankful that only in hindsight am I realizing how hellish the experience actually was. Perhaps the day’s extreme heat fried my brain too, so I mentally wasn’t able to process much, only having the goal of exploring as much as possible 😛
I had some sub-par fish cake noodles (“top” dish, my ass) at Tsui Wah before making the long trek back to the village, revisiting the wet market on the way. When I finally made it back, I went straight to the first floor and sat down in the kitchen to rest. My host Terry offered me a cup of cold water and surprised me with a lovely mango chocolate tart, because he had mentioned how he would get me something for paying for his breakfast—not that I had really expected anything. But I was so happy!
The highlight of the day—and the whole weekend—was the conversation Terry and I had while he sat on the couch and I in the kitchen. Since the Chinese Jehovah Witnesses weren’t back yet from their convention, I asked about them, which prompted a whole discussion on China, its oppression, its history, its people, and his own family having escaped to Australia, with half of his family split between Hong Kong and Australia. Truly, I loved finally being able to discuss Chinese history and government with someone who also has similar (often negative) opinions of such topics, especially after reading so much lately on China and, well, living in the country for over a year.
#humblebrag screenshot of his review of me after the stay (check out his listing on Airbnb):
My first full day on Lantau Island left me exhausted but definitely very satisfied 🙂