Into the clouds

Friday, August 31st, 2012

  • The Ngong Ping cable car disappears into the clouds above Tung Chung in Hong Kong. This gentle and somewhat majestic gondola lift is taking me to see the famous big Buddha statue and the Po Lin Monastery at the top of steep forest covered hills on Lantau Island.

    There’s something quite eery about being in a moving cabin which silently follows a cable that’s disappearing into nothing before your very eyes. At clockwork intervals another cable car emerges from the mist and glides past us going in the opposite direction.

    The weather here can change quickly as you ascend over the hills. The 3.5 mile (5.7 kilometre) cable car takes about 20 minutes to ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping. Travelling over water and lush green forests, passengers are treated to fantastic panoramas and views over Hong Kong international airport, though being lifted right into thick clouds with zero visibility is not unusual.

    I thought that this must surely be among the longest cable cars in the world, but it’s not by a long way. It’s not even in the top ten! However, it is noted by CNN as being among five of the worlds most thrilling cable car rides.

    The Ngong Ping cable car less than perfect safety record might make it even more thrilling to some. In January of this year more than 700 people were stranded in the cable cars for almost two hours in freezing temperatures, and back in 2007 an empty cabin broke free and plunged the equivalent of more than 13 storeys (50m/165ft) smashing into to the ground below.

    Thankfully (and obviously), I reached the top without incident. After a few minutes, the giant 34 metre high bronze Buddha slowly emerged from the mist. The clouds that had surrounded us eventually cleared making way for a beautiful sunny day.