Ngong Ping 360

Hello out there! It’s been nearly three months since my last post. I’m not going to go into the details of what distracted me. What’s important is I’m back and ready finish writing about this trip I took more than 6 months ago (and the trips I’ve taken since then). Yay?

The next stop on my Hong Kong itinerary was Ngong Ping 360, which is just a fancy name for a bunch of tourist attractions on Lantau Island, a small island off the western coast of Kowloon. However, we couldn’t resist a quick ride on the Disney themed MTR first. Hong Kong Disneyland is also on the island and there’s a special train with Mickey shaped windows and handles, special plush seating, and statuettes of popular characters all throughout the train.ngongping1There are many ways to get to this island including the aforementioned MTR, ferry (not for those who experience motion sickness!), and cable car. Fun fact à la Ted Mosby: If you look closely towards the right of the photo, you can see a yellowish path running under the cable cars. This path was originally created for the purpose of repairing the cable system. However, as evidenced by the amount of people I saw walking along it, it is also used as a hiking trail.ngongping4 The cable car drops everyone off in Ngong Ping Village, which is a long street full of shops for tourists. Some of them actually had pretty nice things. Great fun for those of us who like looking at random things!ngongping14 I originally chose to go to Lantau Island because I like visiting the Bid Buddha (literally called 大佛 in Chinese). This is the world’s largest Buddha statue.ngongping5However, I suspect I just like seeing all the cows that wander around here.ngongping13This is also the site of an active temple. We actually shared a cable car with a nun on her way here. As a frequent traveler here, she had a special pass which let her on the cable car.ngongping10Here is a Guan Yin statue surrounded by lotus plants(not currently in bloom)ngongping11and some giant incense. They were taller than me!ngongping8

We actually got here quite late, since we were staying at the other far end of the city. We also had lunch and stopped for snacks before arriving. Which meant we didn’t have time to see any of the other attractions on the island, not even for a vegetarian meal serves by the Buddhist café next to the temple. Priorities.

After seeing 大佛, we rushed back to make the last cable car back down the mountain-total waste of the 360 Sky-Land-Sea passes (passes for cable car, buses, and ferries) we bought. It’s okay though. We still had fun (cows!) and we even managed to get on one of the crystal cable cars with see through bottom(not actually better than a normal cable car, in my opinion).

We finished our night with a quick browse through CityGate Outlet Mall, locate at the other end of the cable car, and some Kobe beef at the food court. This was a fun, cow-filled day.


Monkey Contraception Project with Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong

Unlike most (all?) American cities, Hong Kong doesn’t have suburbs and is instead mostly surrounded by ocean and hilly forests. These forests are filled with way too many monkeys. In 2009, the Hong Kong government launched a 5-year Monkey Contraception Project, a city-wide project to administer contraceptives to wild monkeys. Every few months, volunteers from the Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Hong Kong Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, and any Hong Kong residents who are interested in participating spend a day in the forest spaying monkeys. When I was visiting in April, I was given the opportunity to tag along on one of these outings. Monkey1At the start of the project, giant green cages were set up at various sites. They keep the door of the cages open so the monkeys can wander in and out and get used to the cages. Every few days, some volunteers go around putting peanuts on the floor of the cages to attract them inside.Monkey3Then, on a project day, a program leader will visit each green cage and close the ones that have a good number of monkeys in them. Somehow, there are always more monkeys looking in than monkeys trapped inside. “Ha ha, suckers!”Monkey2All the volunteers then head over to the site and start set-up. Generally, 3 stations are needed – one for capture, one for examination, and one for surgery. It was rainy that day, so we had tents.Monkey4To get the monkeys out individually, smaller cages are set-up on one side of the green cage while volunteers push the wall of the other side to make the cage smaller.Monkey5Once a monkey finds its way into a small cage, the walls of the small cage are collapsed until the monkey cannot move. That way, a volunteer can administer a tranquilizer shot easily. Then we simply waited for the monkey to fall asleep before taking it out.Monkey6A volunteer then carries the monkey over to the examination area where they check the gender and take measurements. If the monkey is female, they shave her to check if she’s been spayed. They also take note of and treat any wounds. Apparently these monkeys are vicious and will attack simply if looked at the wrong way. One monkey had a finger that was bitten off…Monkey7The monkeys also like to store peanuts in their cheeks, so a volunteer will often have to massage their faces to get the peanuts out.Monkey8If a female monkey has not been spayed, it’s on to the surgery station. The vet performs the surgery laparoscopically and pokes small holes in the monkeys stomach area – one for the mini camera and 2 for surgical tools. The monkey’s stomach is puffed up using carbon dioxide and then the vet simply lifts the ovaries and makes a small snip to separate it from the uterus. Then the instruments are removed and the holes are treated with “skin glue.”Monkey9Finally, the monkey gets a small tattoo to indicate the she’s already been spayed. The monkeys get a different tattoo depending on when/when she was spayed.Monkey10If a monkey is male or a female who has already been spayed, s/he gets placed inside a temporary holding cage. They are placed like this to help them keep warm.Monkey11Once all the monkeys in a holding cage are sufficiently awake, they get moved back to the green cage. It was chilly that day, so we waited until all the monkeys stopped shivering to move them.Monkey12Once they’re in the green cage, it’s like nothing every happened. This is a monkey eating peanuts again after being abducted by us. Once all the monkeys wake up and are back in the green cage, a volunteer opens the big door and they all run away.Monkey13This next picture is in fact not of a deformed monkey, but a cat who lives at the hiking rest stop where the volunteers all met. It’s tail is naturally curly!Monkey14Usually, there are more monkeys and the volunteers would travel from site to site working all day. But since it was so cloudy and drizzling, not many monkeys were out and about. The sun came out as we were leaving and on the drive down the hill. I saw tens, maybe even hundreds, of monkeys hanging out like they ruled the place. After the 5-year program is over, the government will continue to monitor the monkey population while waiting for all the baby monkeys to grow up.

Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery

After having some dim sum with Alex’s grandma one day, we took a quick trip through Nan Lian Garden (南蓮園池) located in the Diamond Hill district. The garden and surrounding Buddhist temple complex (includes an active nunnery that was founded in 1934) was a project headed by the Hong Kong government and opened to the public in 2006. It’s currently run as a public park/museum/religious center.
Buddhistgarden3This is actually one of the larger Chinese style gardens in the city and includes a gift shop, restaurant, and exhibition hall. While we were there, they had a small exhibit featuring miniature replicas of famous wooden buildings that were built during the Tang dynasty. This one is of the main hall of Nam Chan Monastery built in 782 AD in Shaanxi province. We totally didn’t take this snapshot while the guards weren’t looking. Shhhh.Buddhistgarden7To the side of the garden is a Buddhist temple with halls filled with sculptures and shrines where people can come to pray. We ran out of camera battery at this point, so don’t have any photos of this section.Buddhistgarden4This fun fountain is shaped like a lotus and each side features a different kind of sundial. However, it too overcast when we passed by it, so we couldn’t actually try using it.Buddhistgarden6The garden’s design was based on blueprints of Jiangshouju, a Tang dynasty garden built around 596 AD. This particular garden had a strong water focus with small hills, plants, and rocks arranged to instill a sense of peacefulness and “leisure in the mind.” The garden grounds are currently managed by the Chi Lin Nunnery. Buddhistgarden2

Delicious Life – Hong Kong

Since I’d been here before, my time in Hong Kong was spent a little differently from my time in the Philippines. Mostly, I just walked around and chatted, shopped, spent time with Alex’s family, and did other boring things. My next few posts will mostly be about specific things I did rather than full day recaps. In the meantime, check out some of the awesome food I ate!
I tried real Kobe beef for the first time at a mall food court and it was still amazing – so tender and flavorful. Hong Kong is the only place in the world where Kobe beef is imported from Japan in an unrestricted amount. Most meat sold as Kobe beef in the US is not real Kobe beef, but is actually a hybrid of a Kobe cow/bull with an American cow/bull FYI. Not the same thing, American beef industry.

The best vacations are ones spent eating delicious food.

Alona Beach – Day 2

On Day 2 after treating our sunburns from the day before, we headed out immediately after breakfast to Kawasan Falls, a famous waterfall in the area.alona2 1We took a rented van from the resort to the hiking trail that led to the falls. On the drive, we passed through various farms, shacks, small towns, and jungle areas. At one point, we had to slow down to let some young cows (goats? Again, this trip was awhile ago) get out of the road.alona2 2We hired a guide to walk with us and show us the way when we got to the hiking trail entrance. This is what the resort management told us to do. We thought this was mandatory. It wasn’t.alona2 6So we had paid for the guide, paid the entry fee (locals don’t have to pay) and set out on the walk. Later we were met with more crazy fees like a fee to put our things on a table at the snack bar next to the waterfall, another to have a guide steer our raft under the water fall, etc.alona2 3As we were leaving, we ran into another pair of tourists who were staying in a nearby town. They’d been here before, so they just rented a motorbike (about $1 USD/day), parked it outside, ran the trail, and dove right into the water. All they paid was the entry fee. They told us they were suckers the first time they came too.alona2 5In total it wasn’t very expensive and the scenery was pretty nice, so we weren’t too upset. The waterfall on the other hand, wasn’t actually very impressive. The thing to do there is to lie face down on the raft and let the waterfall give you a massage while the raft passes underneath. As a person who dislikes both massages and being submerged under water, this was not fun.alona2 7But we did see a coconut and some roosters sitting on sticks. Did you know roosters like sitting on sticks?alona2 4This is me waiting for the rain to stop. It rained on and off the whole day.alona3 9When we got back to the resort, we packed our stuff, checked out, and headed to the airport to fly back to Hong Kong. The car drove along the coast most of the way and the views were spectacular. I got to see the sunset one more time before leaving- very cool, but I was more than ready to head back to a city.

Alona Beach – Day 1

Exhaustion caused us to not get up until the very last hour before they stopped serving breakfast. We still got there late, but since we were the only guests in the whole place (spring break had ended for most people), this was no problem. Check out this awesome breakfast! Mangos!alona breakfastalona verandaAfter eating, we walked around to explore the resort grounds. The place wasn’t very big, but it had the most gorgeous views of the ocean I had ever seen (I’ve only ever seen the Pacific somewhere between SF and LA and murky views of the Atlantic from the shores of NYC before this).
alona beach 1The resort grounds were dotted with breezy huts, chairs, and hammocks of various sizes all facing the ocean- very relaxing.alona beach 2alona beach 3 Then, we headed back to the building (lodge?) and picked up some snorkel equipment and we hit the beach. Unfortunately, this was more of an ocean-side resort (as in next to the ocean) and not really a beach beach resort. The area between these two trees (about the size of a large dining room table) was the only sandy segment along the shoreline. alona beach 4The rest of the shore pretty much looked like this.alona beach 5Pretty, but not what I’d call inviting. I’m not much of a beach/outdoor person, so I didn’t mind. We spent the next three hours with our faces in the water looking at the sealife. I can’t actually swim, so I couldn’t go very far from the shore. I mostly saw grassy plants and schools of silverfish, but I did see one tiny blue fish and I think a puffer fish (might be making the puffer fish up. This trip was awhile ago.).alona beach 6Since Alex can swim, he went ahead of me a lot of the time, but he always knew where I was. All he had to do was look for the pink dot in the ocean. Apparently, I “swim” (I paddled around for a few minutes at a time thanks to my snorkel tube. I just don’t think my body wants to float.) with my butt sticking out of the water. Good to know?alonadinnerAfter about 3 hours, we ordered dinner and ate outside while we watched the sunset.alonasunsetWe stayed outside until it was dark. I was still exhausted, so I fell asleep pretty early while we watched a movie in our room later that night.

Cebu City – Day 2

On day 2, we woke up in time for complimentary breakfast at the B&B at their veranda restaurant. Breakfasts in the Philippines seem to consist of garlic rice with a some type of cured meat, fish, and/or eggs- a little different, but still good!Cebu2-1Then, we wandered a little bit to exchange money and figure out what we wanted to do during the first half of the day. Eventually we hoped on a jeepney to go to Carbon Market, a gigantic outdoor market. It was hot, sunny and the road smelled like exhaust the whole time. This was not a fun commute.Carbon MarketThe actual market was huge with different areas for selling, fruit, vegetables, flowers, mechanical parts, etc.All the of it was outdoors except for the areas dealing with meats and fish.Carbon Market3When we reached the back of the market, we came across an entryway (not pictured below). Behind it were closely placed shacks held up on sticks over the river. Alex asked me if I wanted to go in and I said, “Sure!” But then, we walked in and I realized that it was a neighborhood and not part of the market. While there were plenty of people dressed and walking around the city like anyone you’d see on the street back home, this little district was essentially a slum. The “streets” between the “buildings” were barely wide enough for three people to walk down side to side. It was dark, dirty, and there were children running around undressed. I immediately started feeling uncomfortable – the people there should not have to be gawked at by a tourist like a sideshow. Needless to say we left and made our way slowly back to the B&B.Carbon Market2Once we got back, we packed our stuff and headed out. We made a quick stop at a Zubuchon (a chain restaurant that specializes in Lechon) to pick up some takeout and headed in a taxi to Tops, the highest point in the Busay district overlooking the city.ZubuchonAfter a long drive up the hill in Busay, we arrived at Tops where we ate dinner and watched the sunset. Originally, I had wanted to go ziplining at a zipline park a little bit downhill from tops, but we couldn’t really do that with our luggage. However, we had made an arrangement with the beach resort we were heading to later that night to send a car to pick us up. We had asked them to pick us up from the zipline park, so after resting for a bit, we headed down the hill once again in the dark with luggage while random strangers on motorcycles zoomed by. Oops again.TopsI fell asleep on the drive to the resort (2-3 hours) and when we arrived, it kind of felt like a fairytale setting. The ground was soft like mossy grass and there were little lights on the ground as if there were mushrooms lit up like lamps (there were no actual mushrooms, just lights). It was humid and silent except for the sounds of the ocean, and bugs (essentially not silent at all). It all felt very surreal. I was also still very sleepy which might have had something to do with it. Once we settled in and had the snack they gave us, I immediately fell asleep again. It was too dark to take pictures, but a video of Tops is below (great place for an outdoor party):

Cebu City – Day 1

Even though we didn’t set an alarm, I woke up just 3 hours after falling asleep at the B&B thanks to jetlag. After a quick brunch, we headed out via taxi to the Jumalon Butterfly Santuary, a small, family owned museum dedicated to butterflies.Butterfly1No one else was there when we arrived, which is such a shame because this place made our entire trip worth it. It didn’t look like much from the outside. The small gardens were full of various “stations” where you could learn about and observe butterflies and their various life cycles. There was nothing unusual about it.Butterfly2The best part was when we finished touring the grounds and our guide brought us inside and told us his father’s story. Julian N. Jumalon was an artist and butterfly lover, who basically devoted his life to studying and collecting butterflies. Even though he never got advanced degrees in entomology, he was highly respected by others in his field. His collection included thousands of butterflies, some of which have gone extinct. There were shelves and shelves of shadow boxes full of butterflies from all over the world.Butterfly3After this, we took a jeepney to Ayala Mall, one out of two of Cebu’s giant malls to do a little shopping before dinner. Jeepneys are like mini buses with the two end stops emblazoned in big letter on the side.JeepneyWhen you see the one you want to ride, you literally just run to the back and jump in. Payment is on honor system – you just pass your coins up to the driver before you jump off. This is the inside.
JeepneyinsideAfter the mall we set out in a taxi to track down a restaurant that makes amazing Lechon. I had read a recommendation about this place somewhere, but when we got there, we were told that they only sell whole roasted pigs. Oops. We asked the taxi driver for a food recommendation and he dropped us off at a nearby outdoor diner where we hade something that looked like yam leaf and roasted squid.Squid Then, it was back to the B&B, where I immediately fell sound asleep. Alex has a nice video of me snoring to prove it.

Hong Kong/Philippines Trip – Arrival Story

So about an eternity ago (in early April), I ran away from my problems (I had just finished a 10-week period of working nonstop. Stress had wreaked havoc and I needed a vacation bad.) and flew out on a 2 week trip to Hong Kong and the Philippines. After a 14 hour flight direct from Chicago to Hong Kong, I spent maybe 8 waking hours in the city (ate at a Michelin rated restaurant!) before heading back to the airport and boarding a 1:00 am flight bound for Cebu City.

Flash forward 3 hours later – we landed, made our way through the airport, and followed some other tourists to take a taxi from the airport. This sounds straight forward enough. However, Alex had been reading a little bit too much about the dangers of riding a taxi in the Philippines. While in the car on our way to the city center, he proceeds to whip out his phone and fake a phone call to a “friend” in the city telling him/her that we will meet in half an hour. To further prevent the taxi driver from bringing us to the middle of nowhere and murdering us, he tells the driver to drop us off at a landmark building across the street from the B&B.

Next thing you know, we ended us being dropped off a couple blocks away from the landmark even further from the B&B. There we are in a foreign country standing in the middle of the street with suitcases at 5 am at the height of summer in Cebu while random people in motorcycles kept whizzing by. However, thanks to Google Maps and my super awesome map reading skills, we slowly made our way closer to our destination.

But alas! We wandered up and down the street for another hour looking for building number 94, but it was not where it was supposed to be. We started walking around asking random people we found until finally, a nice security guard at a 24 hour convenience store got into a taxi with us to help us look. A minute later, just 2 block further up than where we had walked stood the B&B. We immediately, paid the taxi driver, checked in, took our showers, and fell asleep.