by Judi Lees
Surely this is Shangri-La. My friend and I follow a shaded trail, laced in tropical greenery that winds down a steep mountainside. The verdant scene goes on as far as the eye can see – valleys of leafy trees, tangles of vines and occasional patches of miniscule wildflowers. To perfect the tranquil scene, we hear soft chanting and a monastery tucked into the trees comes into view. Then, as though beckoned by a movie director, monks in soft-toned robes appear in a clearing. It is the Chinese Ching Ming Festival when people remember their ancestors by visiting their graves.
This scene of an ancient ceremony touches us with its simplicity. The monks burn incense as they bow and chant. It is difficult to believe that mere hours ago, we left the bustle of Hong Kong. What a treat to find one can balance their yin and yang while in a city of seven million.
Yin and yang — the balance of the opposing forces — is key in the cosmology of the Chinese. I became aware of this philosophy soon after checking into the luxurious Intercontinental Hong Kong. My friends and I did what is becoming a rite of passage for travellers – we headed to the spa to shed jetlag. I-Spa at the Intercontinental bills itself as the only one in the city that incorporates Feng Shui in its treatments. The ancient philosophy – translated it means “wind and water” — aims to achieve the perfect balance by creating a harmonious environment where mind, body and spirit are in tune.
For sure my system was out of whack after a plus 13-hour flight but that all changed after my Ancient Rituals of the Orient treatment. The turnaround could have been the detoxifying ginger tea plus the black pepper, geranium and lime oil that re-energized my yang in a blissful massage. It may have been the soothing foot bath or it might have been the mixture of warm oils that dripped on my forehead. However, I’m convinced it was the scalp massage that really got me tuned up. I floated out of the fragrant, candle-lit space a new woman and ready to take on the city sights.
For many, Hong Kong, made up of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, is all about shopping. There are high-end glitzy malls, such as the Tsim Sha Tsui in Ocean Terminal, and wholesale designer outlets at Granville Road and the Pedder Building that please savvy clothes hounds. Others, head to the markets. We “sussed” out Temple Street Night Market to find that while there are many tacky souvenirs, there are also knock-off bags, watches and clothing. Stanley Market, on south side of Hong Kong Islands, still boasts some good buys; bartering is a must. The Jade Market is heaped with jewellery but only the knowledgeable should purchase high quality jade here.
After the frenetic pace of two markets we boarded a Star Ferry for Lantau Island. Star Ferries, a must-ride, have been chugging between Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and a few of the 260 outer islands since the 1880s. It’s an easy 30-minute float, first among freighters, ferries, cruise ships and tiny sampans, then arrival at lush Lantau to board a bus to Po Lin Monastery, the island’s main attraction.
Visitors, as well as locals, take this high mountain excursion to view Asia’s largest Buddha statue and it is astounding. Set at the top of many steps, the 34 metre-high bronze Buddha glistens in the mid-day sun. We climb the stairs, wander among Buddhas, visit the small museum and then explore the grounds. The Po Ling Monastery’s main hall, is elaborate with pagoda roof and golden Buddhas. Opened in 1970, the mountain-top monastery exudes serenity — even with many visitors, it has a peaceful ambience. Lunch in the vegetarian restaurant is tasty and good value.
Then we follow the downhill path where we see the monks in their festival ritual, marvel at their abundant gardens, view distant high peaks and, as we get lower, pass farms and small houses. Back on the Star Ferry, we’re soon blasted with the city sounds and smells and I feel myself getting revved up for more sights. Tranquility, it seems, goes hand-in-hand with Hong Kong.
To learn more about Hong Kong: www.discoverHongKong.com
Judi Lees is freelance travel writer who lives in British Columbia