Funny story. It was Jeju that took me to Hong Kong, even if it was for half a day.
When I planned for my long-awaited trip to Jeju in South Korea, I had to consider the fact that I could not travel to Jeju via Seoul. I could, but that would mean that I have to apply for a Korean visa. But, given the amount of delay involved in that, I decided to skip Seoul, and get into Jeju from some other countries. Definitely not Singapore, since there were no direct flights from Singapore to Jeju.
Read: I often scout for visa-free destinations to simplify my travels. Click here to read my top 10 countries where Indians don’t need an advance visa.
And then, I chanced upon a Cathay pacific flight, which flew from Singapore to Jeju, with a 13 hours transit in HongKong. That had me interested.
Firstly, I have transited many times through Hongkong, but never visited it, and here was a golden opportunity. HongKong is relatively small, and if one wants to visit it in 12 hours, it can be done. Or so, I was told. Time to put that theory to the test.
Secondly, this was back in 2013. I did not need any kind of Visa to visit HongKong back then as long as my stay did not exceed 5 days.
Note: This has changed since 2016, as an Electronic Travel Authorization is now required for Indians to visit Hong Kong. And so, there is one more territory now that I can add to my list of countries that Indians can visit with an Electronic visa.
To read: Unlike HongKong, Macau remains visa-free for Indians. Read about my travels in Macau here.
From the Airport to the City
So, there I was, at Hongkong immigration, explaining to the immigration officer that I am stepping out of the airport during my transit time. He shot me the weirdest look ever when I told him that I am going sightseeing. It was 5 AM in the morning. And I was going to go out and see the entire city in 12 hours? I said yes and he stamped me, rather reluctantly.
The first step was to get to the city from the airport. There are plenty of transport options between the Hong Kong International Airport (also called the Chek Lap Kok, after the island where the airport is located) and the city. The most common one would have been the Airport Express which runs from the airport to the Central station in Hong Kong. A ticket costs $215 return.
So, as you could guess, I took the cheaper option. I took the bus S1 from the airport terminal to the Tung Chung MTR station. The cost was roughly $4. And from the Tung Chung MTR station, I took the MTR Chung Metro line to Hong Kong Station. Cost, roughly $30. And then, I started walking towards the Victoria harbor area.
Reaching Hong Kong around 6 am, had a unique advantage. The entire city looked empty, and was washed with a golden hue. I did not even have to use a warming filter to capture these amazing gold-tinted photographs. Do note that there is a bit of smog around, which probably aids in making this a picturesque morning, but is definitely not good for your lungs.
Tsim Sha Tsui and the Avenue of Stars
From somewhere along the Victoria harbor, I took a ferry which took me to Tsim Sha Tsui. And just like the rest of the city, the ferry was empty and covered in golden hues.
I am not a huge seeker of touristy sights, but there was something I definitely had to see in Tsim Sha Tsui: The avenue of stars.
The Asian version of the famous Hollywood walk of Fame, the avenue of stars is a tribute to some of the biggest stalwarts of Hong Kong Cinema. Usually this place is crowded with tourists, but I had the advantage of being early. The time was still on the better half of 7 am, and the avenue of stars was completely empty. A few of the people jogging around looked at me weirdly, as I was lunging a huge packpack and camera. A tourist so early in the morning?
Note: An important attraction at the Avenue of stars is the ‘Symphony of light’, the world’s largest permanent light and sound show as per the Guiness book of world records. Sadly, it was staged every night at 8 PM, so I did not have the good fortune of watching it. But if you make it to Hong Kong, do watch this spectacle.
Lantau Island and the Tian Tan Buddha
Contrary as what many believe, Hong Kong island is not the largest island in Hong Kong. It is actually Lantau island. And I decided to head there after a quick brunch in Hong Kong, to spend my remaining 4 to 6 hours in this small territory.
There is a road link between Lantau and Central Hong kong, named the Lantau Link. But taking a bus on this route would mean that I spend more than 2 hours travelling. And time was a luxury I did not have. So, I took the ferry.
From Tsim Sha Tsui, one can take the outlying islands ferry, near the Star ferry terminal. The ferry dropped you off at the Mui Wo ferry terminal, from where there is a bus number 2 that heads to Ngong Ping Village, which is the home of the largest seated outdoor Buddha statue in the world.
The Tian Tan Buddha.
34 metres tall and weighing over 250 metric tons, the Tian Tan Buddha is not as old as you may think – it was constructed only in 1993. The Buddha itself is positioned on top of a lotus flower on a 3-tiered platform. Reaching the top of the platform was no easy task: there were 268 steps to be climbed.
The Buddha statue is free for everybody, and is open between 10 AM to 5.30 PM. However, to go inside the Buddha entailed an entry fee. I was contemplating whether to buy the ticket, but like the proverbial Cinderella, the clock was ticking for me too. It was already 2.30 PM, and my flight was at 5.30. Lantau is closer to the airport than hong kong, but I did not want to take any chances. I took and long and lasting look at the Buddha, promised him that I will be back and left to the airport.
Further Reading: If you are a fan of places that involve climbing an insane amount of steps, the Batu Caves in Malaysia, is perfect for you!
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