Hong Kong II: Far from the madding crowd

Hong Kong Lantau, 11-13 November

To arrive in Tong Fuk Village from Kowloon is like stepping into a different world. Away from the masses and the madness, this one street little village on the South China Sea consists of little more than a bus stop and a couple of houses, plus a hotel, a restaurant and a tiny beach store. And of course its main attraction: a perfectly empty stretch of sand!

Our hotel, Tong Fuk Octopus, is more a shared bungalow than a hotel. We’re greeted by lovely youngster Andy from Sheffield, who stays in the other room. Our afternoon is spent lazing on the beach.

In the evening we head out to the only restaurant in town, The Gallery, which turns out to be a great place to eat. It’s run by Englishman Dave, who grills big slabs of meat out on the terrace, and the pizzas aren’t bad either. We hit a low once in China when we got served frozen pizza with five spice, cucumber and carrot, but this is the real deal: freshly made, woodfired and delicious!

It’s a full moon tonight, and in testament to that, the evening takes a bit of a weird turn. One of the diners, a guy who’s clearly suffering from poor mental health, decides to wander into a neighbour’s house after finishing his risotto. The resident swiftly chases him out, but then a mob of 20 angry guys shows up, the local mafia family we’re told, and starts harassing the poor, distressed guy. Thankfully someone phones the police who manage to get him in the back of their car before things take a turn for the worse.

The bar is full of expats and it has a good atmosphere so we stick around for a couple after dinner drinks. Earlier tonight, Lauren read the TripAdvisor reviews for The Gallery, which are all excellent, except for one, which was submitted just last month:

Have been here once before. Came back tonight for a platter and a drink.
After sitting for 10 minutes the foul smell of the sewage/urine made it too uncomfortable to stay and eat so asked for our platter to take away, to which the western guy propping up the bar (presumably the owner) shouted ”how am I gonna do that? It’s a platter because we serve it on a platter- how can we do it for take away?”
I nearly explained to him he could simply put it in a box, the same as you would a take away pizza but chose to go somewhere with better service instead. We ended up having a great meal nearby…

Naturally we have some fun winding up owner Dave about this bad review, and to be honest, you can easily imagine him shout “How am I gonna do that?” at a customer in his Cockney accent. On the other hand his place doesn’t seem to smell of either sewage or urine. The real question however remains, how did the guy end up “having a great meal nearby”, as the nearest restaurant is literally on the other side of the island..

While Dave is dealing with all of this, he’s also busy trying to keep a drunk girl from Minnesota from climbing over the bar, and then a woman in her pajamas enters and starts looking intently at everything inside the place, and I mean everything: the wall decorations, the potted plants, the beer fridge, the tables and chairs, as though she’s at an art exhibition, hands folded behind her back.

In hindsight it *is* called The Gallery, so I guess this was always going to happen! We look at Dave and his expression is priceless (like a great piece of art), here’s a man losing all the will to live, wondering to himself if he will pack it all in and go home.

I hope he won’t though, because A: We had a great laugh, and B: This *is* the only restaurant in town. If you happen to make it to Tong Fuk make sure to pop in (pajamas or no pajamas) and say hi to Dave.

Back at the hotel we have a cup of tea with Andy for the perfect, pleasant end to an eventful evening.

Our hotel’s neighbours

The Hong Kong area keeps on surprising us when we leave the beach and head out of town for a bit of sightseeing. Tai O is a small and quiet fishing village with traditional stilt houses on the west coast of the island. After The Venice of Kerala (Alleppey), The Venice of Rajasthan (Udaipur) and The Venice of China (Fenghuang), here’s to present you The Venice of Hong Kong!

Unlike the traditional villages we’ve seen in China, Tai O isn’t overly commercialised, in fact, the villagers don’t seem to be bothered either way by the presence of a few tourists, which makes for a nice change. The town seems a little empty at times, and some of the houses are run down, yet Tai O retains plenty of charm. Judging by the quaint, colourful decorations you find everywhere across town, some initiatives to reduce plastic waste and even the presence of little cat homes someone has built for strays, it is clear that the people of Tai O take real pride in their village.

Not far from Tai O, next to the village of Ngong Ping, sits the giant bronze Tian Tan Buddha statue, the most iconic attraction on Lantau, looking over nearby Po Lin monastery and the South China Sea.

Po Lin Monastery was originally known as The Big Hut, when it was founded in 1906 and consisted only of a stone chamber and thatched hut. In 1924 it was renamed Precious Lotus Zen Temple, a name much better suited to its current grandeur. We’ve seen a ton of famous temples in mainland China, and this one ranks up there with the best of them.

The Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas is a new addition completed only in 2014. We’ve sure seen a few Buddhas on our travels so far, now we’ve seen ten thousand (and one big one) more.

Tian Tan Buddha, the large bronze statue of Buddha Shakyamuni (aka Siddharta Gautama) was made in 1993. The Buddha is depicted teaching in the lotus position, seated on top op a giant lotus flower. The base has been modelled after the Altar of Heaven from the Temple of Heaven we’ve seen in Beijing.

Surrounding the statue are six smaller statues, known as The Offering of the Six Devas. The Devas gifts of flowers, incense, lamp oil, ointment, fruit and music symbolise The Six Perfections necessary for enlightenment: Generosity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom.

The nearby Path of Wisdom, unfortunately all written in Chinese.

We finish our time on Lantau exactly how we started it: by lying on the beach and doing absolutely nothing. Ah, ’tis a hard life! To just rub it in a tiny little bit more, it’s 25 degrees Celcius here, while at home it says it’s 0. Happy autumn to one and all!

This morning we got up at 5AM to get ahead of any possible riots and succesfully caught the first bus to the airport. Twelve hours later we’re checked in safe and sound at our hotel in Philippines.

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