Tuesday, October 8th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong

It would have been nice to have had congee this morning at Congee King but, unfortunately, this breakfast restaurant was closed for breakfast so we ended up at a busy place across the road (it did not have an English name so I can’t tell you what it was called…). A friendly waitress showed us to a table against the front window and gave us menus that had quite English items on offer for breakfast. We had egg, with chicken and toast along with lemon tea. The egg was cooked as we wanted and the chicken was very tasty. The lemon tea was very strongly lemon but refreshing. The nicest thing was the waitress - They helpfully found one staff member who spoke reasonable English to serve us and she was determined that we would have an excellent meal and invited us back for dinner as well. We may take her up on that. The meal itself was a bargain at $52 for the both of us.

Today was going to be a big day for us. A few days ago I had booked dinner at a restaurant for 7:00 so regardless of what we did today we would have to be back to the hotel before that to get ready for dinner (it is the sort of place you dress up for, really). Of course, this is also the day we chose to go to Po Lin which is quite some distance away.

Po Lin Monastery is on Lantau Island very close to the new airport. It is home to a large golden Buddha statue perched on the very top of a mountain. The order is strictly vegetarian and they are noted for the meals that they offer in conjunction with tickets to visit the Buddha. As we are staying at the far end of Hong Kong it was going to be a bit of a trip to get there but to make it more interesting we went the, now, less conventional way of taking a ferry.

Central Star Ferry Terminal

A short bus ride let us off in Central where we made our way down to the ferry pier. To the right is the pier for the Star Ferry going to Tsim Sha Tsui but to the left is a series of piers for ferries to other Hong Kong Islands. Terminal 6 is the ferry to Mui Wo so we swiped our Octopus ($14.50 each!) and boarded the fairly modern ferry.

Waiting to Board the Ferry

Sitting at the back we got ourselves comfortable for the trip.

Leaving Central

View of the Harbour

A much longer trip than I had thought. The boat leisurely made it’s way out into the harbour past the west side of Hong Kong Island then past Green Island, Peng Chau island, Kau Yi Chau island, Sunshine island, and finally Hei Ling Chau island before finally turning into Silver Mine bay on the massive Lantau Island and docking at Mui Wo an hour after starting off. Throughout the trip most people slept including Mel. There was not really a lot to see along the way with the smog pretty heavy and the islands, though mountainous and covered with trees, were not all that interesting - You had seen one, you had seen them all! For the most part the view was of the water all around us and of boats traveling all around us. I could not sleep so enjoyed the view and checked my email…Can’t get away from it here.

Arriving in Mui Wo

Mui Wo is a small port with a number of small hotels. It does not appear to have changed since my last visit many years ago. I think tourists coming to visit the monastery now use the cable car to visit rather than come through Mui Wo. Many of the people on the ferry seemed to be people that work in the area rather than tourists.

Mui Wo Ferry Terminal

Leaving the decaying ferry terminal we found the bus stop in the adjacent bus station and waited for our bus to Po Lin, #2. 10 minutes later it arrived. It was an old single-decker air conditioned affair that made it’s way along the winding road following the south-west coast of the island and working it’s way up to Po Lin.

Warnings on the Bus

The south part of the island is largely undeveloped as we passed through a number of small villages and a lot of forested landscape. At one point the driver had to be a bit careful working his way around some water buffalo that had decided they wanted to take the road - I am assuming they have right of way. Sitting on the left side of the bus we had a great view all along.

Inside the Bus

It is not long before we passed along on a dam with a prison below then made the final trip up to Po Lin. The entire trip was about 45 minutes of winding and steep roads. The poor bus slowed to a crawl at many points but eventually we were let off right in front of the monastery.

I have visited Po Lin a few times in the past. It has changed quite a lot with the introduction of the “Ngong Ping 360” - A cable car (“bubble”) ski lift that brings visitors from just outside of the airport into the complex. At the top terminal, very close to the bus station, there are now a series of shops (including a 7-11!) that cater to the tourists. In the past it was never this tourist-y. We skipped the shops and headed through a large gate then along a path lined with various warrior statues (and small eating places tucked away on the sides) up to the main entrance to Po Lin.

Devotional Circle

A large round elevated area with water-filled basins around it was a great place to take a look to the right - The giant golden Buddha (“Tian Tan Buddha”) at the top of 240 steps. It is truly impressive.

Tian Tan Buddha

Making our way to the base of the staircase we decided to go for the ticket and “deluxe” lunch for $118 each (slightly better than the “normal” lunch with “better food” we were told). On previous visits the meal was part of any ticket but now this is not the case. I have always enjoyed the food here so I did not mind. We put our heads down for the climb. There are two sets of staircases - one up and one down with a railing between. The landscape all around is quite pretty with evergreens in abundance. It was quite a climb in the heat and humidity so we stopped fairly frequently. I gave up counting the steps after only a few minutes.

Climbing the Steps

At the top of the climb the statue towers over you perched atop a small three-story round building containing several rooms with memorials and a museum. On the forecourt stretching around the base of the building there are a series of statues devoted to praising the Buddha - Six large bronze statues of people each offering different sacrifices. I remember in the past being encouraged to throw coins at the statues to try to land the coins in their hands but this is now prohibited likely due to health and safety concerns…(sigh)

Top of the Staircase

The view from the forecourt of the surrounding countryside is amazing. We could clearly see the entire monastery complex to the right and the new bubble ski lift to the left snaking its way off into the distance over the mountains. The visibility today did limit how far we could see but it was still pretty impressive.

Mel Under the Buddha

I was disappointed to find on the far side a car park at the base of the statue with a number of tourist buses parked there - Of course it is understandable that handicapped people might need assistance but it seemed to me that other visitors would lose some of the effect of visiting by taking the easy way up. Perhaps it is just me?

View of the Monastery

Our ticket also gave us access to the museum located in the base of the statue so we made our way inside past a stall selling ice cream (no surprise there in this heat) and into the ground level whose walls were covered with small rectangular plaques with writing on them and, often, pictures. I learned from an attendant that these are memorials that people can pay to have placed here. There are thousands. We handed our tickets over to be let into the central stairwell that took us up a winding staircase around a large statue with a massive bell suspended above his head (leading me to speculate that it must cause him quite a headache). On the first floor there were more memorials but also a museum that contained a number of beautiful scrolls some of which we were told had been written in blood. The artwork was amazing with a large wooden tableau wrapped around the inner core of the building carved and painted with the images and names of various deities. Mel and I are particular fans of simple Chinese paintings of bamboo, animals or landscape. There is something about the idea of not covering the whole paper with paint but just selectively positioning the subject in one corner or another that is appealing - The simple and elegant lines. A number of artifacts were on display and many were quite old despite the monastery only being around for little over a hundred years (the big Buddha itself was completed only in 1993).

Returning again to the outside we climbed back down to the base of the statue for our return journey, stopping to pick up some ice cream (we can never resist ice cream). The trip down was quite a bit easier and Mel managed to confirm the stair count (yes, 240). At the base of the steps we visited a small monastery shop selling devotional items and souvenirs. Mel picked up a few things and when paying they added a small donation as well. I was looking at the some small free Buddhism books that were quite pretty but as they were written entirely in Chinese I gave them a miss.

It was getting a bit late so we decided to have our meal as we headed to the right into the monastery complex proper. Following the signs we were guided to the left of the main entrance and past a small outdoor snack cafe and into a large building. Of course, with our deluxe tickets, we were shown to an area separate from those with mere standard tickets at the front of the restaurant. I have been here with Chinese people and they are not a big fan of the vegetarian food as they would prefer to have some meat even if it is used sparingly for flavour. I have never had problems with the food and today was no exception.

We started with hot and sour soup - A bit of a favourite of mine and a large bowl was brought to our table for the two of us to share. It was quite bland until I added some sauce I found on the table - Thinking it was soy-sauce I was surprised on tasting it to find it was quite cinnamony - Very nice in the soup. The food then came thick and fast as our table quickly filled with:

  • Vegetables with straw mushrooms and cashews
  • Vegetarian spring rolls
  • Fried bean curd with lemon
  • Steamed Chinese greens with mushrooms


All of it was delicious and served in copious quantities (this I remember from past visits as well). With a bit of time we were able to complete everything on the table but it was a close-run thing. Wonderfully tasty and so fresh. The tea was also extremely tasty and not too strong (a mistake often experienced with Chinese tea).

We were not alone in eating. The rectangular “deluxe” eating area had two tables adjacent to us where a couple of monks appeared to be eating with their family. It was neat to actually see them going about their normal lives in this way - This was tourism but also not at the same time. They are here for a spiritual purpose, this is not a simple tourist attraction.

Leaving the restaurant we visited the buildings of the monastery. A large part of the complex was under renovation including the main temple which was a bit disappointing as I remembered it to be quite ornate but now it was covered with scaffolding. The basement was open so we had a visit there. It has been set up as a temporary temple but was nonetheless quite ornate. One wall had pictures of famous visitors to the temple that I had a look at. The ceiling had bright red beams elaborately inscribed. Two boxed-in statues against the far wall were surrounded by offerings and incense. The main altar to our right as we entered the room had a number of statues on it and several people stopped to show their respect during our visit. A number of kneeling stools were arranged in rows in front. Even here though the construction continued with the occasion bang disturbing what must normally be a very peaceful atmosphere.

Temporary Temple

Leaving the temple we had a bit of a wander around the area. The paved grounds have trees planted throughout and make the whole place very calm. Large incense burners are everywhere some containing very large incense sticks the size of baseball bats on their slow burn. Following around to the side I found myself near the plant nursery filled with young flowers and trees. The sound of chanting came to me and I realized I was not allowed to go any further so I turned around. This is a working monastery.

There is a “path of enlightenment” (literal path) that they say takes 20 minutes but we gave this a miss as we also wanted to visit somewhere else while we were here. Returning back through the gates we found ourselves at the bus station where we found the bus stop we wanted - The bus to Tai O. Disappointingly we read on the posted schedule that the bus would be another 45 minutes but overhearing others talking there was the suggestion that a bus would be by soon so we kept close. This turned out to be a good call as the bus came around only a few minutes later. The bus driver was a bit of a maniac as he sped down the winding road to Tai O, a small fishing village built on stilts on the west coast of Lantau. Only at the last minute did we see any signs of habitation as we approached the village There are no cars in Tai O so we were dropped in the car park at the entrance to the village on the right and a concrete pier stretching into the ocean on the left. We were immediately approached to see if we wanted to go on a boat trip (we later learned that the dolphins are something that people visit Tai O to see) but we gave this all a miss and headed into the village.

Welcome to Tai O

The small path took us between stalls selling mostly dried and preserved seafood though several also had live seafood on offer. We stood for a few minutes to admire what was on display - The massive prawns (8 to 10 inches, some of them) jumping about as they were caught in nets and placed in bags. One made it’s escape and ended up flapping about on the ground to our amusement. There were also a number of large lobsters and many colourful fish being sold.

Turning to the left we crossed over a small bridge leading to the far side of the village on the other side of the water. This used to be a ferry that you had to pull yourself across on - but that is slightly before the first time I visited. Below the bridge a number of tourist boats were lined up ready for use and at $10 for 15 minutes it was quite a bargain. Unfortunately, time was a bit against us so we decided to explore the village a bit more instead. From the bridge the village stretched out on either side of the water with all the buildings built on stilts - Some buildings quite substantial and modern as well. Many of the backs of the buildings had porches were we saw people washing dishes or playing mahjong. I also noticed that waste water just seemed to drain to the mud below the houses.

Tai O Harbour

Continuing to follow the path through the village we passed by a small temple in a town square. A narrow alley leading to the water we found some tourists taking pictures of the rather thin-looking local cats laying about doing not a lot of anything near the water’s edge. Opposite there was a small cage occupied by a number of turtles that were not so amused with the situation.

Cages of Unimpressed Animals

Tai O Harbour

Tai O

Eventually we wound our way to another, more rickety, bridge at the far side of the village that a sign told us had been built after many of the town residents suggested it would make their lives much easier.

Far Bridge

We headed back. Along the way I noticed that there were several people selling drinks in re-used plastic bottles that were obviously not “Coke” and “Fanta”. Seeing dried flowers beside some of these I knew immediately what it was - The flower is hibiscus which you dry then add to water and sugar to make a tasty drink. A short conversation with the stall owner confirmed this so we purchased a bottle - Delicious and wonderfully cold as well. Not too sweet.

Local Resident Dog

Sadly, time was against us. Back at the car park we waited in a rather large queue for the next bus back to Po Lin. The young bus driver was a bit less dangerous heading back up the mountain. To get back we had decided to take the “bubble” so we had a chance now to have a look through the new shops. Oh, look a Starbucks! There was an interesting looking pastry shop but nothing else of real interest as we made our way to the ticket booth. $94 for a one way ticket meant this was not going to be a cheap trip.

Ngong Ping 360 Ticket

The queue was very long and not in the air conditioning. Soon enough we were getting on board one of the pods which we shared with a small family.

Ngong Ping Cars

Leaving Po Lin we quickly rose up in our trip over one mountain. Below us the forest stretched in all directions as far as we could see. A meandering path followed basically the whole length of the trip that I thought looked quite nice though, I suppose, a bit hilly…

Descending Down the Mountain

Climbing over a final peak we were struck by the sight of the airport stretching into the distance on the left.

View of the Airport

It is much bigger than I thought and the view from up here was incredible as we watched planes landing and taking off. You could see how the airport had been built on reclaimed land with the ocean beyond.

Looking out...

The lift took us down over some water to a tower where it changed direction sharply right over some more water to let us out at the lower terminal.

 Final Descent - Terminal to the Right

Letting us out we immediately passed through, of course, a gift shop and a place you could pick up the photos that, also of course, they took of you while on the lift. We gave this all a miss and passed through to head down an escalator to the street level. The MTR station was a bit of a walk as passed by a bus station then a modern “outlet mall”. Picking up some cash from an ATM and topping up our somewhat depleted Octopus cards we got onto the train to “Hong Kong” station. The first stop on our return trip was “Sunny Bay” where you would get out to go to Hong Kong Disneyland and as we stopped I spotted the train that you catch for one train stop from here to get to the gate - A MTR train with Mickey Mouse shaped windows! Nice.

A repeat of yesterday, basically, we transferred to the Island Line after arriving in Hong Kong station then got out at Wan Chai. It was very busy at Hong Kong as we had arrived right at rush hour. We were in just as much of a hurry as it was getting close to when we had to leave for the restaurant. Walking very fast from Wan Chai back to the hotel (about 8 or 9 blocks) we arrived at the hotel at 6:10 to get to our room and change for dinner. A taxi was the only way to go so we had the concierge flag us down one - Difficult this time of day and with several other people already waiting this took much longer than it would have normally. Finally our taxi arrived with the door opening automatically to let out another passenger and let us in. The taxi to the restaurant took about 12 minutes costing us about $55 as it went through the modern traffic tunnel ($5 of the fare was simply for that) to the south side of the island and into Aberdeen. A bit of construction in Aberdeen held us up for a few minutes but we managed to arrive at the restaurant car park at 6:46. Not bad for a 7 pm reservation.

Jumbo Kingdom (my restaurant review here) is a large floating restaurant moored permanently in the middle of the harbour in Aberdeen. It is a garish affair as it is lit up like a Christmas tree that you visit by catching a (free) ferry that runs regularly back and forth. Even the ferry dock is lit up as, of course, we took pictures of each other (not easy in the light). Standing on the end of the dock the lights of the restaurant reflected in the water yet it was quite quiet and peaceful. Beyond Jumbo on the far shore of the harbour the towering apartment buildings did not overpower what we saw in front of us. The massive “JUMBO” sign made no mistake of where we were.

Obligatory Picture in Front of Jumbo Ferry Pier

Waiting for the Ferry

The small open ferry with a dozen or so wooden bench seats came and picked us up. We were alone for the trip as we slowly made our way across the 200m to the restaurant passing by a number of luxury yachts anchored on either side of us.


Arriving we boarded the restaurant (!), passing through the front entrance with large dragons on either side and a fountain splashing water onto a ball in the harbour. Inside we climbed a wide elegant staircase to the first floor where we had our reservation. Asked whether we wished to sit inside - Which was quite stylish and elegant - or on the balcony overlooking the harbour we, of course, chose the later. Our table on the narrow balcony was above where the restaurant ferry docked quite close to the entrance. Though quite warm it was a great view. The last time I visited Jumbo was with my mother and we had the exact same table so this was quite familiar to me.

Mel Waiting for Dinner

Jumbo is not cheap but the food is what you pay for - Very high quality indeed. Much of the rather daunting epic that is the menu is filled with high-end dishes such as abalone, shark’s fin, bird’s nest, etc. Helpfully these rather costly items are not actually to either our taste so we were able to order relatively cheaply. I started with some hot and sour seafood soup which was just packed with seafood - Very delicious. We shared a massive “starter” of deep fried squid with garlic and (lots of) hot peppers which was also very nice indeed with the squid perfectly cooked - crunchy on the outside but moist and not chewy on the inside. The garlic and peppers added a perfect amount of texture and flavour as well. A small dish of pork belly was a square of barbequed pork belly cut into smaller squares and served with mustard - The juicy meat with the crunchy skin was divine. A “half order” of lemon chicken was delicious (but also massive) - Crunchy deep fried chicken with a lemon sauce that did not smother the flavours. The only disappointment was a side order of vegetables with cashews as it had next to no flavour.

The waitress serving us was incredibly good, topping up our tea whenever it got low and making sure that we were happy at all times. My “oolong” tea was wonderfully flavourful and obviously of the best quality while Mel’s chardonnay was very pleasant as well.

Despite being quite full I did manage to have a mango pudding with cream which, to be honest, I could have done without. Not terribly tasty at all.

The entire bill came to £132.40 (including a £20 tip) which, having lived in London for some time, we did not find too expensive. It is certainly an experience which, understandably, you pay for. In this case what pleased us even more is that the food was so good as well that we did not feel that we had been taken for a ride too much. I have to say this was probably the best meal I have ever had at Jumbo and makes me think it might be good to return again.

Having eaten and paid we wandered around the boat a bit before leaving. The staircase leading to the top floor (the 2nd) had a large mosaic on the wall that is, evidently, based upon a Ming Dynasty landscape.

Jumbo Staircase Mosaic

Heading to the back of the barge we had a look at the tanks containing the food they sell (and that you can buy live if you wish). The area looks a bit run down but we did see some enormous specimens - A massive grouper and a number of gigantic lobsters with their antenna breaking the surface of the water they were so large. I saw some “Sea Mantis” which I don’t recall ever having seen before - Looking all the world like a praying mantis…though lobster-like.

Mel Checking out Dinner

Wandering over to the neighbouring barge (“Tak Po”) to walk around a security guard made sure we did not enter - The barge is under renovation (and has been for as long as I have been visiting). I was more interested in looking over the side of the railing into the harbour as I saw a group of small squid darting around everywhere. Amazing, and very fast.

Waiting for the Ferry

It was about 9:30 and we were ready to leave. Waiting for a few minutes for the ferry we looked back at where we had just been - the glitzy exterior towering above us. Amazing.

Main Entrance to Jumbo

We arrived back at the hotel at about 10:15. It has been a long and eventful day, that is for sure. We are planning to make sure that none of our remaining days are this busy as we are just shattered though, it has to be said, in a satisfied way.

Television, copy photos to laptop, charge the phones/cameras (in the somewhat oversubscribed power outlet on the wall), have a bit of a snack and some water, well, actually, no snack, we’re stuffed!

⇒ Continue to Wednesday, October 9th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong