Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland selfie

The second half of my Lantau Island day trip was spent at Hong Kong Disneyland. I realize that some fellow travelers have a rather negative view of Americans who partake in American things overseas- like it means we are ugly Americans. I’ve encountered this view on more than one trip, and this one was no different. But hey, I get used to it and just enjoy what I want to do.

Hong Kong Disneyland train station

Hong Kong Disneyland Main Street and me

I enjoy almost all things Disney, and I’ve visited most of the Disney parks around the world. I went to California Disneyland way back in 1985 when I was just eight years old. I visited Disney World for a few days in 2009. I enjoyed Disneyland Paris back in 2008. And now Hong Kong Disneyland. The only one left on the list is Tokyo Disneyland, and I intend on checking that (or at least Tokyo’s unique addition to the Disney family-DisneySea) on my next trip to Tokyo next year.

HongKong Disneyland is obviously a smaller version of American Disneyland. It is located on Lantau Island, which is where the Big Buddha is located, along with Hong Kong International Airport. Many of the icons of American Disneyland are represented in HongKong Disneyland, sometimes with a bit of a twist on them. There is a Main Street, a Sleeping Beauty Castle (though substantially smaller than Disneyland or DIsneyworld). There is Tarzan’s Tree house (as opposed to the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse), a Jungle River cruise, a Hong Kong version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (called Big Grizzly Mountain Railway Mine Cars) and Haunted Mansion (called Mystic Manor here), Cinderella Carousel, Space Mountain, Orbitron, and most of Fantasyland.

Hong Kong Disneyland castle with flowers

Hong Kong Disneyland Mystic Mansion

Now I haven’t been to American Disneyland in nearly 20 years, so I don’t know if these new places have been added, but they weren’t at DIsneyWorld or Disneyland Paris. Toy Story Land has  a couple fun rides, including Toy Soldier Parachute Drop and RC Racer. I have to say, for a Disney park, RC Racer was definitely a thrill ride as a roller coaster that rocks back and forth and achieves a nearly vertical drop.

Hong Kong Disneyland Toyland night

Hong Kong Disneyland Toyland

Hong Kong Disneyland parachute drop

Compared to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Hong Kong Disneyland’s version of Big Grizzly Mountain Railway Mine Car was way more thrilling than the American original. This roller coaster was faster, with sharper turns, and it incorporated elements of my favorite Disney roller coaster, Expedition Everest at Disneyworld’s Animal Kingdom. However, I felt their version of Space Mountain was a bit lacking in scary thrills that you come to expect from Space Mountain. Now granted I am not a Space Mountain connoisseur, though I wish I was. When I was at Disneyland all those years ago, the wait was two hours (this was in the days before FastPass), so I didn’t get to ride it. When I went to Disneyworld, it was down for maintenance. So the only other Space Mountain ride I’ve been on was Disneyland Paris, and that one was a terrifying thrilling ride (in all the best ways), so I was a bit let down at Hong Kong Disneyland. Maybe it was simply a space factor, so the ride couldn’t be as big as it is in other parks.

There is a nice afternoon parade to enjoy, and a fireworks show at closing time.

Hong Kong Disneyland parade 1

Hong Kong Disneyland parade 7

Hong Kong Disneyland parade 5

The weather held up the vast majority of the day, even though dark ominous clouds hung over the park all day. In fact it waited until roughly 30 minutes prior to closing before a true subtropical rain storm unleashed on everybody. This photograph doesn’t do justice to the absolute torrential rain that was pouring down.

Hong Kong Disneyland raining

Thankfully the rain stopped roughly 10 minutes prior to closing and the subsequent fireworks show (covered in the next post).

Hong Kong Disneyland Main Street and castle night view

Overall, Hong Kong Disneyland is an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon and a microcosm of American Disney parks. I deliberately chose to go on a Monday, figuring it would cut down on the crowds, and I was so correct. I never waited more than 10 minutes for any one ride, and on many of the rides, they have a separate line for single riders. The one ride that did have a 30 minute ride had the single rider line and I literally walked on to the ride with zero wait. I wish more theme parks would institute this option for single riders. In fact, the largest crowds were seen during the afternoon parade and the evening fireworks show. Getting to and from Hong Kong Disneyland is super easy. Catch a ride on the Tung Chung MTR line and transfer at Sunny Bay station (a roughly 40 minute train ride from Hong Kong station) for a special train to Hong Kong Disneyland resort.

Hong Kong Disneyland Tommorowland

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).