Sur­pris­ing is­lands

The Pullman Magazine - - Travel -

The largest of the is­lands, Lantau, of­fers trav­ellers their very first taste of the coun­try. As the plane be­gins its de­scent, pas­sen­gers peer­ing through port­hole win­dows – as­sum­ing vis­i­bil­ity is good - will be able to spot the lo­cal Dis­ney­land’s take on “Sleep­ing Beauty Cas­tle” fol­lowed by a Bud­dha perched on top of a moun­tain sur­rounded by lush, wild veg­e­ta­tion. The very ob­ser­vant will also catch a glimpse of some rather strange-look­ing stilt houses stand­ing in the wa­ter of an in­let not far from the run­way. Lantau is one of Asia’s sym­bolic sites ded­i­cated to Bud­dhism, sym­bol­ised by the world’s largest sit­ting Bud­dha statue. Crafted from bronze and stand­ing a stag­ger­ing 34 me­tres high, this "Big Bud­dha" has been watch­ing over the Chi­nese peo­ple since 1993, at­tract­ing daily crowds of pil­grims who read­ily clam­ber up the 268 steps that al­low them to wor­ship at his feet and take in the stun­ning views over the sur­round­ing moun­tains and beaches. Just op­po­site, a stroll through the fra­grant gar­dens of the Po Lin monastery, where the aroma of plants and in­cense per­me­ates the air, in­stils an all-en­com­pass­ing sense of seren­ity. Monks are on hand to wel­come guests, invit­ing them to in­dulge in the tasty veg­e­tar­ian fare served in the monastery restau­rant. On the hills sur­round­ing Ngong Ping, the Wis­dom Path (a walk­way lined with 38 tim­ber col­umns en­graved with texts from the Heart Su­tra, a fa­mous Con­fu­cian prayer) in­vites you to med­i­tate whilst con­tem­plat­ing the South China Sea.

More pic­turesque still is the stilt house vil­lage be­long­ing to the Tanka fish­ing community. This is a community that per­pet­u­ates the tra­di­tions of Hong Kong’s in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion and is do­ing ev­ery­thing it can to re­sist lo­cal ur­ban devel­op­ment projects, such as plans to ex­tend the air­port and to build a bridge link­ing Hong Kong to Macao and Zuhai. To the east of Lantau sit the is­lands of Cheung Chau and Peng Chau. They may be sig­nif­i­cantly smaller, but what they lack in size they eas­ily make up for in charm and authen­tic­ity. Cheung Chau is a place where life re­volves around fish­ing, the signs of which are ev­ery­where you look from the mo­ment the ferry docks – fish­ing boats, fish dry­ing on crates out­side fish­er­men’s houses or strung up in front of shops, and of course the stretch of invit­ing seafood restau­rants lin­ing the sea front.

The is­land is a car-free zone, en­abling vis­i­tors to take a care­free stroll along the nar­row streets. Those feel­ing slightly more en­er­getic can visit tem­ples, hop on a bike or head to the beach to watch the sun go down. Ev­ery spring, Cheung Chau also hosts the tra­di­tional "Bun Fes­ti­val", which lo­cals spend all year pre­par­ing. Peng Chau in­spires vis­i­tors to chill out and re­lax. Shrouded with an air of se­crecy, this is a place that feels like a tra­di­tional vil­lage should. A place where the pace of life is dic­tated by the dock­ing of fer­ries and punc­tu­ated by noisy games of Mahjong played out in the back­rooms of tiny shops whilst the older gen­er­a­tion, a twin­kle in their eye, sit out­side rem­i­nisc­ing about their is­land’s once thriv­ing in­dus­trial past…

IS­LANDS ARE A CAR-FREE ZONE, EN­ABLING

VIS­I­TORS TO TAKE A CARE­FREE STROLL ALONG THE NAR­ROW

STREETS.

Fur­ther south­east and orig­i­nally a tra­di­tional Chi­nese fish­ing vil­lage, Lamma is now a refuge for those des­per­ate to es­cape the ur­ban ca­coph­ony of the cen­tre of Hong Kong and sur­round them­selves with veg­etable patches, cosy jazz bars, beaches and un­der­ground artists’ work­shops.

The is­land ex­udes an overtly hip­pie vibe, with the mul­ti­cul­tural pop­u­la­tion more than happy to chat with vis­i­tors about the by­gone “Wood­stock” years. Dis­cover Hong Kong by ven­tur­ing out to its is­lands and you’ll be re­warded with a sur­prise around ev­ery cor­ner.

HONG KONG BLENDS MYS­TERY AND CON­TRASTS, UR­BAN OVER­CROWD­ING AND UNSPOILT NA­TURE.

Land art on Lantau is­land.

The Wis­dom Path, by Jao Tsung-i, the oldest liv­ing cal­lig­ra­pher in China.

Dried fishes in a lit­tle shop at the fer­rys land­ing.

A land­scape far from the usual Hong Kong.

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