I'm a little nervous because I feel like I've sort of eased into the whole backpacker thing so far, staying first with relatives in Beijing who know the city and speak the language, then sticking with touristy areas like Shanghai/Xi'An/Hangzhou and then the ridiculously-easy-to-navigate Hong Kong, where everyone speaks English and I feel like I'm in a cleaner version of New York or Toronto (albeit one that has more dumplings and noodles)... but starting tomorrow, the Southeastern portion of my adventure begins. Vietnam! Cambodia! Thailand! Countries where everything is cheaper but nothing is quite as reliable! Scams and danger lurk around every corner! (did you guys ever watch Duck Tales growing up? d-d-d-danger lurks behind you... there's a stranger out to find you!! ok random sorry)
Before we get there, however, a few last thoughts on Hong Kong. In my 2.5 days here I've had mixed feelings about Hong Kong. Part of me misses the adventure of traveling in mainland China, but another part (a larger part, if I'm being truly honest) is relieved to find the more familiar comforts of a large, cosmopolitan and well-established city. There were even several points at which I listed all the reasons why I could see myself being very happy living here -- to start with, you have a diverse and international population, all the excitement that comes with living in a major city, super easy and realiable public transportation, amazing food of all kinds, and free internet everywhere you look.
It has the famous-with-good-reason skyline (best seen at night), the longest escalator in the world (which I rode, and then got to the top and realized... crap... it doesn't go down), fabulous shopping bargains, and constant reminders of of the 100-year-long British presence... things I already knew about and expected of Hong Kong.
But what I didn't know is that Hong Kong is mostly made up of green spaces... hills, mountains, beaches, gardens, trees, long hiking trails, parks and gardens galore. Today was my indoctrination into that side of Hong Kong. I took the MTR out to Lantau Island and took a winding bus ride through the mountains, flying around hairpin turns and scaling steep roads to reach the famous Tian Tan Buddha near the Lin Po Monastery. I climbed up the 268 steps with hundreds of other visitors and meandered around the platform for quite some time, staring up at his serene face, looking out at the spectacular view and soaking in the sunshine. After a quick lunch of fish balls and chow mein (delicious), I went back to Hong Kong Island and took the bus over to Stanley (getting a glimpse of the beautiful Repulse Bay en route) to browse the market and stare out at the boats.
Whatever you want, this place has it. Seriously. If you don't believe me, check out the photos:
View from top of Tian Tan Buddha platform: