The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Tranquility at Ngong Ping

Last week my 4-year-old boy was on mid-term break from kindergarten. We spent the first three days going to the playground, the clubhouse's playroom and doing fun indoor activities at home, all in addition to the usual homeschooling I do with him even on school days. It was all fun, and my son was happily engaged wherever he was brought to and whatever activities I put in front of him. However even I must admit it was getting too routine and frankly a little boring. On Thursday, we joined another family on a trip to Ngong Ping, and we had such great fun. This was an excursion I'd been meaning to do as a family for a year now, but we either can't get a free day on the weekend or the weather sucked. Plus I'd heard of the legendarily long queue for the cable car - especially worse on weekends and holidays - and I can't think of many things worse than wasting my time waiting in a queue. Even though it was a weekday, there was still a queue for tickets. I followed hubby's advice and purchased our tickets in advanced via the Ngong Ping 360 website, which helped avoid part of the queue, but I do dislike having to book a set time for ticket pickup because there are too many variables when going anywhere with kids and it's almost impossible to be right on time. Thankfully everything worked out well, and we enjoyed the rest of the excursion with leisure.

Waiting to board a cable car bound for Ngong Ping:

A good view of Hong Kong International Airport from the cable car, my other favourite place in HK:

Great views from the cable car of the undulating hills. The Big Buddha is visible on the left of the shot:

My friend and her family have resided in Tung Chung for the past year, and they often use the cable car to visit Ngong Ping, so the boy and I had knowledgeable guides to show us around and help us take our photos. Upon disembarking the cable car, we had to go through the so-called Ngong Ping Village, a retail and entertainment centre which I liked the least of all we saw that day. Although the development of the Village (and hence the cable car) allows for easy access to Ngong Ping, this area is quite commercialised and too touristy for my liking, and we just zoomed right through to the interesting stuff. We are not Buddhists, so I admit I didn't pay much attention to the religious detail of each item (until now, researching for this write-up), but I enjoyed looking at them and I appreciated the serenity and tranquility of the area.

The pai lau (gateway arch) that leads towards the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery:

The Bodhi Path on the way to the Big Buddha, flanked on either sides by the Twelve Divine Generals and 40 lotus-shaped lanterns:

Each of the Twelve Divine Generals symbolises an animal from the Chinese Zodiac, armed with a particular weapon, and responsible for guarding two hours of the day. This is General Vajra armed with a sword, representing 7pm to 9pm and Dog of the Chinese zodiac:

At the bottom of the stairs to the Big Buddha. The boy at first thought it was called the "Big Booger", but he was quickly taught the correct name:

Climbing all 268 stairs to the top, and the 4-year-old did it all on his own!

A closer view of the Big Buddha at the top of the stairs. Pre-bought lunch tickets at the bottom of the stairs (to eat at the Po Lin Monastery Vegetarian Restaurant) will give free entry into the three floors of exhibition halls underneath the statue:

A panoramic from the top of the stairs (click on image to view a larger image):

A short hike on the nature trail to the Wisdom Path:

The Wisdom Path follows 38 wooden steles (upright monuments) containing verses from Heart Sutra:

The steles are arranged in a figure 8 to symbolise infinity:

When it was lunch time, we headed for the Po Lin Monastery Vegetarian Restaurant, where you could opt for regular (HK$60) or for VIP (HK$100). I first heard about this restaurant through this blogger, who strongly recommended the VIP option. My friends have previously tried both VIP and regular, agreeing that the VIP was better, but that the regular was also acceptable. The food is set, which apparently hasn't changed for at least a decade! I knew that there wouldn't be any room for allergy requests, so the boy ate cheesy bacon and spinach muffins that we'd made the day before, and he was perfectly content (even refusing a spring roll!).

The Po Lin Monastery Vegetarian Restaurant. The VIP section is located further in:

Mushroom and tofu soup, which was tasty and rather viscous:

The spread for three adults. The more people you have at the table, the more variety of dishes. The food was good quality and tasty enough to make me forget that this is a meat-free meal:

We had a great day out at Ngong Ping, topped off with a surprisingly good vegetarian lunch. Now I just need to convince hubby to have a meat-free meal.

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