By ROBIN ROBINSON -- Sun Media
Mountainous, lush Lantau Island is the favourite playground of the locals. Easily accessed by train, road and ferry, Lantau is home to sandy beaches, quiet temples and attractions such as the famous Tian Tan Buddha - aka the "Big Buddha" -- at Po Lin Monastery.
Several new attractions -- a Wisdom Path, Hong Kong Disneyland and Ngong Ping 360 have opened recently.
The Ngong Ping 360 cultural village opened to the public in June. It includes a tea house and garden, the multimedia Walking With Buddha exhibit, the Monkey Tales children's theatre, shops and restaurants.
The last part of the complex -- a 5.7 km cable car ride that provides panoramic views of the island, Tung Chung Bay and the Big Buddha -- is expected to open soon.
Village admission is free. Attractions cost about $9.50 for adults, $5 for children. Combined cable car and attraction deals will be offered. See np360.com.hk.
Between the monastery and Ngong Ping village is the Wisdom Path, where 38 wooden obelisks -- up to 10-metres high -- have been arranged in the shape of a figure eight and inscribed with lines from the Heart Sutra, a famous Buddhist prayer. The shape symbolizes the idea of immeasurable splendour and infinity, while the words articulate the doctrine of Emptiness as a way to attain bliss.
Even if you're not familiar with Buddhism and can't read the Chinese characters, climbing the uphill path is a refreshing walk to a grand view. Admission is free.
Opened in September 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest Magic Kingdom but expansion is planned. Currently there are two resort hotels and favourites such as Cinderella's Castle, Space Mountain, the Jungle River Cruise, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, Autopia, Stitch Encounter and the UFO Zone. Entertainment includes the Festival Of The Lion King and Mickey's Philharmonic. Tickets range from about $43-$51 for adults, $31-$37 for kids 3-11, and $25-$30 for seniors. See disney.com.
Lamma Island is another laidback retreat for Hong Kong residents. There are no cars and most visitors arrive by ferry or on board pleasure boats to dine at the seafood restaurants that line the shore at Sok Kwu Wan, a village of 300.
Lamma's new Fisherfolk Village tells the story of the area's first settlers through displays of antique fishing gear and demonstrations of fishing techniques such as net throwing. Visitors can board an authentic junk and see how a family lived on board the tiny floating home. A two-hour visit is about $6 for adults, $4.50 for children and seniors. See fisherfolks.com.hk.
There is no shortage of good hotels in Hong Kong and rooms can be surprisingly reasonable. I stayed at the Marco Polo Hong Kong, which is inside the Harbour City mall and steps from the Waterfront Promenade and the ferry terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. Currently a standard room is about $170 per night. My room, which was immaculate, spacious and had a great view of the Hong Kong skyline, was also an elevator ride away from the 700 shops of Harbour City. For reservations, see marcopolohotels.com.
For tourism information, contact the Hong Kong Tourism Board at 416-366-2389 or visit discoverhongkong.com. This year has been designated 2006 Discover Hong Kong Year and the tourism board is offering many free tours and activities.
What better way to kick-start a vacation than immerse yourself in a different culture en route. Cathay Pacific, which has daily flights to Hong Kong from Toronto and 17 flights per week from Vancouver, has teamed up with award winning Hong Kong restaurants for a "Best Chinese Food in the Air" promotion. About 100 Chinese dishes are being served on board selected flights through Dec. 31. On the ground, passengers receive a dining discount of up to 20% when they show their boarding pass at a participating restaurant.
Innovations like these are part of the reason Cathay is repeatedly rated best airline in the world. Already this year, it has been named Airline Of The Year 2006 by both Air Transport World magazine and the Official Airline Guide.
Currently, a roundtrip economy ticket from Toronto to Hong Kong is about $1,655 plus fees and taxes. If you're thinking of extending your trip, an All Asia Pass goes for about $1,599 plus fees and taxes, and includes a roundtrip ticket from Toronto or Vancouver to Hong Kong plus flights to another 18 Asian cities within 21-days. Some restrictions apply to the passes, which must be booked through a travel agent and are good for travel from Aug. 21 to Dec. 6. See cathaypacific.ca for more.
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