Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Hong Kong Day trip - Lamma Island

Lamma Island was one of my dad's favourite haunts and one that I remember well from childhood for its pleasant hikes and seafood.  It's a quick half hour ride on the ferry, which leaves every 20 - 30 minutes from Central on Hong Kong Island to Yong Shue Wan on the west side of Lamma island.  It's like a commuter ferry because some people live on Lamma Island and work on Hong Kong island - a rather idyllic arrangement.  The ferry also goes to Sok Kwu Wan on the east side of the island but only hourly.  A good way to see the island is to land on one side and hike to the other side where you can take the ferry back. There are seafood restaurants at either end, good for lunch or dinner!

We landed at Yong Shue Wan, checked out the prices at the seafood stalls to get an idea of what we should be paying when we get to Sok Kwu Wan, since it's too early for lunch.   After strolling through the busy centre, we came to a nice beach with change rooms and nice shade - that would be something to consider for the next trip.  There was a roadside stall selling tofu dessert (reputedly the best ever!) and we stopped to try it out, assured by the lineup - it was indeed excellent.  After that, it was an easy hike up the side of the island then across the narrow "neck" to the other side.

On the way we came across two temples to the Heavenly Goddess of the Sea, one at either end of the trail, saw a variety of village houses, some modest villas, small farms and even a historic cave from the Second World War.  We were definitely hungry by the time we got to Sok Kwu Wan a couple of hours later.  We found a restaurant with what seemed like reasonable prices and friendly service and settled down for a nice seafood lunch.  It was a great way to spend a day for some fresh air and much needed break from the bustling city.  There are many islands in Hong Kong that are great for day trips.  Check out the Tourism Board.

Ferry terminal to the islands

Trail map of the island on the pier

Lamma Island waterfront

Lined with seafood restaurants where you get the seafood from the tank.  Not everything here is local.  The bright yellow sign says "wild South African abalone"!

Nice beach 

Tofu stand that has been around a long time

Village gardens

Looking back at Yung Shue Wan from the trail

Old "Tin Hau Temple" at Yong Shue Wan, dedicated to the Heavenly Goddess of the Sea.

Gigantic Kumquats!

Looking down from the trail on Sok Kwu Wan with its many fish farms 

Grotto from World War II where the Japanese hid some of their boats for a suicide attack on the allies but the war ended before this happened.

Small banana farm

Scenic rest stops on the way

The "Tin Hau" Temple at Sok Kwu Wan

Seafood lunch at destination!

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Hong Kong Park - a green oasis amidst the skyscrapers

Visiting Hong Kong Park was an afterthought for us - the lineups for the Peak Tram were too long and the Park was just a short walk from the tram station, so we detoured and discovered a lush green space in the midst of the concrete jungle.  The Park, completed in 1991 on the grounds of the former Victoria Barracks, was a beautiful blending of modern design with the natural landscape.

The part I enjoyed most was the aviary with its 600 birds, some 80 species, freely flying through.  It was a bird paradise, and a photographer's!  There were more birds than people so the birds were very cocky, hanging out on the bridges, gawking at the humans.  It was quite hilarious.

There were a lot of steps to climb as it was built on a hill
The Aviary from above

Inside the aviary
"What's up, man?!"

Abundance of riches - kiwi, mango and papaya for breakfast!  'Tis the life!

Bali Starlings owned the place - see how unperturbed this one was - I couldn't have been more than a few feet away with my camera in its face

Lots of photo ops

Beautifully landscaped grounds led us to the green house 

Verdant tropical plants inside the green house

The large koi pond with its acrobatic turtles provided endless entertainment for all ages

I was more than a little disappointed that the main floor of the Museum of Tea Ware in Falstaff House was closed for renovations.  I had been looking forward to seeing its collection of historic tea ware.  Of some consolation was an exquisite exhibit of seal carvings in the K.S. Lo Gallery above the tea shop, these seals and accompanying ceramics were from across the centuries as far back as the Song Dynasty.  It was quite an interesting exhibit.

K.S. Lo Gallery with an exquisite exhibit of carved seals
My favourite: seal with a lotus

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Chi Lin Nunnery - an oasis of calm in Hong Kong

On this trip to Hong Kong, we discovered the many green spaces both within the city and on the outlying areas, including the islands.  I have never been to Diamond Hill in Kowloon because when I was growing up, this area was an area full of squatter huts, not a place that one would go for a quiet afternoon walk.  So going that far into the depths of Kowloon was a completely new experience for me.

We emerged from the metro station into a crowded multi-storey mall in Diamond Hill, north Kowloon.  After a short walk along a busy road, we were relieved to find the Nan Lian Garden which was the prelude to the Chi Lin Nunnery.  The entire complex was built in the style of Tang Dynasty architecture - formal gardens with lots of rocks, water features and wooden structures - "man in harmony with nature" being the philosophical centre of this concept.  Please visit the website for details.  

The Tang Dynasty was an unprecedented period of peace and affluence in China, generally considered a high point in Chinese culture.  The extravagances of the period are reflected in these gardens.    Parts of it are a little over the top but I enjoyed the gardens, particularly the bonsais and the rock art accompanied by calligraphy of appropriate quotes from Chinese classics.  There was also an interesting  exhibition of Chinese timber architecture.

But it was in the Chi Lin Nunnery where I found the peace and calm I was looking for.  There was a pervading sense of peace in walking the cloisters and immersing myself in the harmonious architecture - all wood frame built without nails.  
Entrance to the Nan Lian gardens

This type of rock and tree landscape is typical inside the gardens

The interlocking wood beam architecture exhibit hall was itself an example of this style

What is this gaudy golden pagoda and red bridge doing here?! (it's Tang...)

A the top of the hill is the vegetarian restaurant - reserve early for a table at this  much sought after eatery

Rock art and calligraphy

Parade of bonsais

The walkway to the Chi Lin Nunnery

The cloisters with a temporary exhibition of gorgeous stone art

Bonsai in the courtyard of the nunnery 

Devotee praying outside a temple niche

Temple of the Medicine god - this is a popular spot.  The only way I could have taken a picture was with a telephoto lens.  

The sweeping lines of the roofs are simply stunnin

It was an oasis of calm amidst the bustle of the city - a few hours in here refreshed the spirt. Walking back through the mall into the metro station, I almost didn't mind the noise as much.  It's all a matter of perspective.