Hong Kong Lantau Island day trip

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha statue

My day trip for my Hong Kong trip was a visit to Lantau Island. That island is the biggest in the Hong Kong archipelago, though it is sparsely populated. It is home to the international airport and Disneyland Hong Kong (subject of another post). But the rest of the island is filled with thick forests, small mountains and fishing villages. For the first half of my day trip, I decided to visit the Lantau Big Buddha (or its proper name, the Tian Tan Buddha) and the Po Lin Monastery. It is rather easy to visit both, since they are co-located in the same place. I had intended to ride the Ngong Ping Cable Car to get there. It starts right next to the Tung Chung MTR stop (the last stop on the orange Tung Chung Line. It takes about 45 minutes to reach from Hong Kong Station) and the 25 minute trip will take you straight to Ngong Ping village and provides unparalleled views of Lantau Island (I assume). However, the day I got there, I saw the sign that stated that the annual three weeks of maintenance on the cable car started that day. I was bummed, but there is always a bus (#23) that travels from the MTR stop to Ngong Ping village. It leaves approximately every 30 minutes, though in reality it will leave early if the bus is already filled to capacity with passengers. So while I didn’t get the aerial view of Lantau Island, I got a mini bus tour as the circuitous route wended its way through some fishing village before making the steep ascent to Ngong Ping village. The Big Buddha has only been there since 1993, and until 2007, it was the tallest outdoor seated bronze statue of Buddha. The Buddha is over 100 feet tall, and in fact can be easily viewed from below on the bus ride as you make your approach.

The Buddha itself is right next to the Po Lin Monastery.

Hong Kong Lantau Po Lin Monastery entrance gate

Hong Kong Lantau Po Lin Monastery plaza

As you are in the square, you can easily see the Big Buddha towering over the square.

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha wide view

Then you get to the bottom of the stairs. It is 268 steps to the top and the view from the bottom looking up at the Big Buddha is beckoning you, or taunting you, depending on your views of things.

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha stairs

When I saw the stairs, I was reminded of the old Nike commercial from 1993 where a couple rapidly runs up the stairs of the Jaguar Temple in the Mayan ruins of Tikal. While I wish I can say I sprinted to the top, I did fairly well for the first 75% of the stairs before I started to feel the stairs, and more importantly, that wicked subtropical sun. This morning was the best weather of my trip, and the sun was high, bright and hot as it was pounding down on my head. And I stupidly forgot to bring my hat with me that day (at least I remembered the sunscreen and sunglasses).

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha tree frame

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha selfie

Once you are at the top, you can walk around the Buddha. There are numerous smaller statues surrounding the Big Buddha, and there are some very nice views of Lantau Island. Some of those views reminded me of forest views of Kauai with the hills and thick greenery.

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha statue view

Hong Kong Lantau island view

Hong Kong Lantau Big Buddha side view

The descent is not as strenuous as the ascent. I was hoping to see more of Po Lin Monastery, but the vast majority of it was under renovation. You can still walk through the gate and the open square, but the monastery itself was until piles of scaffolding.

While there wasn’t currently much to see at Po Lin Monastery, and there was no sign saying when the renovation would be complete, make sure you stop in the dining hall for lunch. Between 1130 and 1630 every day, you can purchase a vegetarian lunch on the premises. Tickets are available either right next to the dining hall, or at the bottom of the stairs to the Big Buddha. HK $80 will get you a standard lunch outside, but for a mere HK $118 (less than $15 USD) gets you the deluxe meal. That meal is inside in the dining room and you are given a fabulous, delicious vegetarian spread. When I was there, I had this thick, tasty mushroom soup, vegetarian spring rolls, sauteed greens and mushrooms, stir fried vegetables and rice. If you choose to bring your own lunch, you can sit outside and enjoy it, though heed the signs that say that no meat or alcohol is allowed on the premises (Buddhists are vegetarians).

Hong Kong Lantau Island Po Lin Monastery lunch

There are other things to see and do up there. There are some other Buddhist hermitages you can walk to. If you wanted, you could climb up to the top of Lantau Peak, a walk that supposedly takes around three hours round trip. You can explore the Ngong Ping village. But for the most part, you can see the main sights in half a day. I would have taken more time there, but I had other plans for my Lantau Island day trip (covered in the next couple of posts).

Japanese Teppanyaki

Japanese Teppanyaki dinner

Like most Americans, I’ve been to more than one Japanese steakhouse in my time. You know the ones- with the chef/entertainer grilling up a storm in front of a crowd of hungry diners surrounding the grill. For my final night in Kyoto, I decided to splurge on dinner at a real Japanese steakhouse for teppanyaki. And “splurge” is an accurate description in this case, since dinner cost me about $118 USD. I knew this in advance, but couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the experience to indulge. I went to a restaurant called Mikaku, which is located in eastern Kyoto. The restaurant is pretty easy to find since it is a five minute walk from the Shiijo train  stop on the Keihan Main Line. Take exit to Shijo Dori and take a left on Nawate Dori. Take the first left and the restaurant is located on the second floor.

The setup is the same as Japanese steakhouses in America. There is a long countertop in the room with three grills for customers to view their dinner made in front of them. While there are other options for dinner, the main reason to come here is for the teppanyaki. The smallest cut of meat is 100g (3.5oz) and the price goes up from there.

Kobe beef Japanese Teppanyaki

The full meal will get you your choice of size and cut of Kobe beef grilled to your specifications. You are given a bib like you find at lobster restaurants. You start the meal with a soup, which for my meal was Vichyssoise. You get an assortment of grilled vegetables, along with your meat. Japanese Teppanyaki chefs don’t have the same sort of entertainment stage presence like the ones you see in America, but they are no less skilled and professional in grilling your meal to perfection.

Japanese Teppanyaki chef

This was the first time I ever eaten Kobe beef, and it was delicious. The meat was super tender and practically melted in my mouth. My teppanyaki steak cooked to medium.

Kobe beef Teppanyaki 100g

After the meat course, you finish off the main meal with a super tasty garlic fried rice.

Teppanyaki fried rice

Teppanyaki fried garlic rice

This meal was a really memorable way to end my trip to Kyoto. This is absolutely not a restaurant you go expecting a discount. Go there knowing you will be spending over $100 USD PER PERSON. But if you can swing it, know it is worth it.

McDonalds of the World

Shanghai McDonalds traditional looking

I have a “guilty pleasure” while traveling. I say guilty pleasure facetiously, because in reality I don’t feel guilty at all, because it’s just my thing when I travel. Though I have run into fellow travelers who try to make me feel guilty for this particular thing, like I am some sort of ugly American. Ironically enough, one of those same travelers chastising me for this in Egypt was the same one who couldn’t stop moaning for a Starbucks. She completely failed to see the irony in her stance on that one.  That guilty pleasure happens to be eating at a McDonald’s in every country I can. I make it a point to eat at a McDonald’s once during every vacation, even if the only one I can find is at the airport. That means everything from long weekends all the way up to month-long vacations. That adds up to be dozens of McDonald’s in dozens of countries. I certainly haven’t eaten in one for EVERY country I have visited. In those cases,  the countries typically didn’t have a McDonald’s. It may be one of the biggest global brands, but it still hasn’t made inroads into every country as of yet. The biggest global brand I have ever seen is Coca Cola products. I have NEVER been to one country that doesn’t have a plethora of Coca Cola products, but that is probably the penchant for the country to establish local bottling plants to spread the beverages as far as possible. There is only one country that has McDonald’s that I haven’t been able to visit, and that was Iceland. It certainly wasn’t for lack of desire, but this was the one developed country that didn’t have a McDonald’s that was centrally located downtown near the tourist areas. I kept seeing one on the outskirts of Reykjavik  when I was on bus tours [right next to a Taco Bell- which is extremely rare to find outside of the United States], but was never able to find it in my rental car.

Bergen McDonalds

 

What I have found in all these McDonald’s is that there are some interesting similarities and interesting differences. Many of the restaurants were located in actually beautiful and historic places. One in Bergen, Norway was in this beautiful , 19th century clapboard building (see above). I’ve eaten at a McDonald’s next to the Spanish Steps in Rome (though it wasn’t there anymore my last visit), and I’ve eaten in one right across from the Pantheon in Rome. You could eat your American fast food burger and fries outside al fresco and take in the view of the piazza and the ancient building. Talk about a clash of cultures.

Shanghai McDonalds

 

 In all these multitude of McDonald’s the only things standard to all of them are the fries, Big Macs, and some sort of McChicken sandwich. EVERY SINGLE McDONALD’S in every single country has their value meal number one as the Big Mac value meal, just like the United States. After that, it’s all up to regional tastes. I have seen things at McDonald’s you would never find in the States. Stuff like bulgogi burgers in Korea, calamari wraps in Germany (among a multitude of other regional items), and other things. Names might be different for even the same item. For those who have watched the movie “Pulp Fiction” , you are undoubtedly familiar with Quarter Pounders renamed Royales. In most McDonald’s in Europe you can get mayo instead of ketchup, which is a taste I acquired and continue to this day. U.S McDonald’s deliberately fill the cups with ice so you get less soda and they pocket more profit, but you are pretty lucky to find many ice cubes in McDonald’s in other countries (or in other restaurants for that matter, but that’s a post for another time).

My American traveling friends and I sometimes joke that McDonald’s is the “American embassy” just because it is so prevalent in many countries. I can’t really say I eat there because of any great need to maintain some sort of American touchstone. I guess I do it, just to compare the different experiences around the world.