From Kowloon it is a short trip by Hong Kong’s efficient Mass Transit Railway or MTR to Lantau Island. Lantau Island is near the home of Hong Kong’s new airport, Chek Lap Kok. (The airport’s name has nothing to do with what happens after the seat belt lights are illuminated on the airplanes.) Hong Kong’s new airport is slick and modern but Becky and I miss the old airport, Kai Tak.
Planes landing on old Kai Tak’s Runway 13 split a narrow slot between Western Kowloon’s apartment buildings. We recall looking out of our airliner’s window on approach and counting the charcoal grills on the nearby, really nearby, plane-level roofs of the adjacent apartment buildings. In its time, Kai Tak was considered one of the most dangerous commercial aviation airports in the world. Arriving at the old airport was a thrill, particularly if you had a window seat. But this time, on this trip, we’d only have our memories of the old airport.
I digressed. We did not go to Lantau Island to visit the airport. Nor do we go to trigger flash back memories of landings at Kai Tak. After all, we’d already experienced both and we would return to Chek Lap Kok all too soon. Instead we journeyed to Lantau Island to see the nearby Tian Tan Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery .
The giant Tian Tan Buddha was, prior to 2007, the tallest bronze outdoor seated Buddha in the world that’s not adjacent to a Starbucks. OK, I just added the Starbucks part, but that is also undoubtedly true too. Hey, once you have four qualifiers to a world record why not add as many more as you can? And I’m still trying determine if there is a taller outdoor seated bronze Buddha that was erected after 2007 or if “prior to 2007” is merely another gratuitous qualifier like “adjacent to Starbucks.”
We reached the Buddha by taking the long Ngong Ping gondola lift. The 3.5 mile long cable car starts near the water not too far from the airport and ends over 1800 feet higher in a Disneyland-style village near the base of the Buddha. The lift is an impressive feat of engineering, at least if the cars don’t fall off. (Fortunately we only read about these things after we complete the excursion.)
At the top, 268 steps take you to the base of the metal Buddha. From the distance, the Tian Tan Buddha looks big; at the statue’s base it seems enormous. Wow, there’s a lot of bronze tied up in the statue. The statue is so large that it can reportedly be seen from Macau on a clear day. That’s a claim that is hard to verify. We’ve never seen a clear day in the region.
A Buddha this large is undoubtedly impressive. But we liked the adjacent Po Lin Monastery better. One of our favorite things to do on this trip was to visit a variety of Buddhist religious buildings. They all seem to have a nebulous inherent peacefulness that is hard to attribute to any particular feature. And nothing beats the spectacle of the visitors torching off massive quantities of incense rods of all sizes. No self-respecting visitor can be seen torching off just one measly stick of incense at a temple. It is just not done.
More pictures have been uploaded to Picasa.