While visiting Hong Kong for the Handover in 1997, thePo Lin Monastery on Lantau Island was a serendipitous discovery on my first trip overseas. I had been hammering the streets of Hong Kong with a professional photographer and a filmmaker—the only reason I mention their professions is because their photo agendas led us on a fast paced must-see-everything-must-be-everywhere-NOW style of traveling.

Wide-eyed, I was a travel virgin just getting my bearings on how to get from point A to point B, and traipsed behind them as quickly as I could. It was monsoon season, and between the pace and being constantly drenched from either the humidity or the rain, I was miserable a good portion of the day.

Our day trip to Lantau seemed like just another thing we had to hurry to get to and tick off our list. When we got to the island, and took the bus that wove through the tropical mountainside, I couldn’t believe that the commercial metropolis of the city was only a short ferry ride away. The soulless hustle and bustle of all the shopping and business commuters already seemed a world away.

When we got to the entrance to the monastery, all was quiet and still except for the sweetest music. The wordless song enveloped us among the altars and incense. I began to relax and the edginess of Hong Kong was melting off me.

The monastery was empty as all the tourists were up by the Buddha. It is the largest, seated, outdoor bronze Buddha in the world. But those kinds of details weren’t important to me. I stayed longer at the base and slowly walked in and out of the display rooms—lingering to enjoy more of the music.

When I climbed the stairs to the top, so many tourists were complaining about how overcast it was. But the foggy mist on the mountains was just right for me. More of the gentle soothing ambiance that I didn’t know I had been missing from my journey.

We were on a strict timetable and left in a hurry, but our few hours in Lantau were the best part of the trip. And my first surprise in a foreign land. It’s those unexpected moments of travel that stay with you longer and mean more than just the sightseeing. I bought the CD that was playing, so I would never lose the moment I had there. But telling you now— not having listened to it in at least five years— I’ve realized I didn’t even need it.



About Jennifer L. Leo:
Jennifer Leo is the editor of Sand in My Bra and Other Misadventures and co-editor of A Woman’s Path. She has written for books published by Travelers’ Tales, Lonely Planet, and Globe-Pequot. Her website Written Road, is a resource for travel writers. View Jen’s full list of works, services, and speaking venues at www.JenLeo.com

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