Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tai O & Dragon Boats

After leaving Big Buddha, we took a bus down the mountain to the fishing village of Tai O. Parts of it felt more like taking a trip back in time. The first thing we saw after alighting from the bus was a bustling pier filled with racing teams, beer tents, radio tents and crowds of onlookers. (This was not the back-in-time part.) 

We were in luck. It was the Tai O Dragon Boat Races. We have been trying to catch some races since our arrival, but have always been gone from HK or had a conflict. This time we were right where we needed to be. Dragon Boat racing is a huge sport in Hong Kong. There are club teams from almost every village and group and there is even an international race (which we missed when we were in Singapore). Dragon boat racing is similar to crew but with more oarsmen and a drummer who beats out the pace for the oarsmen. 

The boats are also similar except for the dragon head at the front and the tail at the back. The teams wear colorful shirts and there is pageantry in the drawing for lanes and loading of the boats.

The fans line the pier and the waterways and it seems a lot like any summer sporting event - lots of beer.

Once the racing starts it is quick and fun with the drums beating at an increasing pace getting the crowd up and cheering.

After watching some of the racing, we took a short 20 minute boat ride that took us through the village and into the sea to look for dolphins. The village is definitely a step back in time. The villagers make their living from the sea and because they sit right on the water, the homes by water's edge are built on stilts.

We even made some friends along the way.

The ride out to the dolphins proved fruitful, but they are so quick that they eluded capture of film. This little tuna fish didn't.

Upon returning to Tai O we took a walk through the markets and the residential parts of the village. The main product for sale is dried fish. You can find all parts of almost any kind of fish and seafood that has been dried and put up for sale.

As we wandered through Vesper treated up to a few local favorites. We had bar-b-qued dried cuttlefish (very tasty) and a local egg waffle that was a real treat.

We left the market area and walked through a residential area along the water. The homes are made of every material imaginable and built very close together or in clusters.

A surprising sight is the fact that most all of the homes were open to the street with no one home. It is a very trusting village. There is a bridge that connects the two shores of the village. Vesper says it is a fairly new addition. Before there were boats that were pulled across by a rope system with a charge for each crossing. The water is only about 20 to 30 feet across. The bridge has certainly made life easier for both villagers and visitors.

While wandering on the far side, we again saw village life up close. We did notice that cats were the pet of choice in Tai O.

Every now and then we would coma across a small shrine set in someone's home or between buildings. There were even carved gates.

After our exploring we left the waterfront portion of the village and came back to present time. We headed across a park like area in search of dinner. Vesper had a favorite place and she has not steered us wrong yet.

We enjoyed a traditional Chinese dinner and relaxed a bit before getting our next bus to Mui Wo. What we saw of Mui Wo is the ferry terminal area. Upon arrival you feel very welcomed by the bright signs. Even though we could not read them, they seemed very hospitable.

Dockside one can see the transportation of choice for the locals to get to the ferry.

The last leg of our journey was a ferry ride back to Central. As we raced the Macau Ferry back home, we relaxed and reflected on a great day's adventure.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Big Buddha

When you ask natives of Hong Kong what is a can't miss sight to see, the first suggestion on everyone's list is Big Buddha. He sits on top of a mountain on the island of Lantau. There are several ways to get there, but we chose the most popular one - the cable car. After taking the MTR (subway) from Central to the end of the line in Lantau, you can board a cable car for a ride across the bay and up the mountain. The morning was cloudy and so we headed off into the mist.

The ride is about 25 minutes long with heady views of both land and sea. For the truly adventurous, there is a hiking path the goes up the mountain underneath the path of the cable car.

In case you are wondering how we got such a great shot, we opted to take the Crystal Car which has a glass bottom. Ken was a little leery about the idea, but he was outvoted and actually decided it was a great option once he saw how great the views were.

The farther we climbed the closer we drew to the clouds until the cars ahead of us began to disappear into them.

We finally reached the top and entered Ngong Ping Village. It is an area filled with restaurants, shops and a tea house.

After wandering through the village, we headed to the temple with Big Buddha atop. There is this beautiful gate and a long path lined with statues that leads to the (what else?) stairs.

The Buddha is most impressive. Thought the temple has been on top of the mountain for quite some time, Buddha is a relatively new addition. It was a a rather quiet place until the arrival of Buddha and the cable car, and now it is one of the most popular tourist sights in Hong Kong.

We decided not to count the stairs (too daunting) but suffice to say there were a lot of them. Along the way there were some trees I had never seen before that looked almost too perfect to be real. But they were.

Once we arrived at the top, Shayne prepared for her bid to get on the Yesterdog wall of fame. For those not from GR, Yesterdog is the greatest hot dog emporium in the world. If you have your photo taken somewhere interesting wearing a Yesterdog hat or shirt, you may have your photo up on the wall. I think this shot should be worthy.

We went through the temple and saw an amazing array of art and statuary. The views from the balconies are beautiful even with the clouds. Luckily by this time much of the cloud cover had burned off and we could see fairly well.

On another part of the grounds is the Po Lin Monastery. It is a peaceful place dedicated to the remembrance of those who have passed on.

The last area atop the mountain is a hiking trail that (for us) ended at the Wisdom Path. On the way to the Wisdom Path we passed some homes and some tea fields where some women were tilling.

The Wisdom Path is in a swale between mountains and consists of a path surrounded by carved wooden pillars. The carving is in ancient Chinese characters and difficult to read but the belief is that if you walk the path you will gain wisdom. I sure could use some so I hope they are correct.

There were a few final views of Big Buddha as we headed off for the next part of our day in the fishing village of Tai O.