With only one full day left in Hong Kong it was a tough choice how to best spend the day. There were still so many things we wanted to do and places that we wanted to visit. Eventually though we had to choose one, in the end we chose The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery at Sha Tin a short train ride away in the New Territories.
With over ten thousand effigies of the Buddha, countless steps to have to climb to reach it, a red pagoda and spectacular views, plus a small train journey thrown in, it seemed like the perfect place to round off our stay in Hong Kong. Sha Tin is a small distance into the new territories on the mainland and was originally a small village in the foothills called Pai Tau. The monastery sits in a commanding position above the village nestled in the hillside.
Using the last remnants of credit on our Octopus cards we boarded the train out of East Tsim Sha Tsui station. Within minutes we had arrived in Sha Tin. The adventure began straight away as the temple is not signposted from the railway station. Heading in the general direction that we thought whould be correct we were lost instantly. We then had great fun asking many locals for directions instead. As I had already learnt, (but already forgotten), losing face in the Orient is not an option, so much so in fact that even if the person you have asked does not know the directions they will still tell you something, anything either right or wrong just so long as they do not lose face. Most people we asked were in fact wrong! They did not lose face, but instead we would lose our bearings,- lost, time after time after time!
After several false dawns we eventually happened upon the correct pathway up the hillside. We knew we were correct because only a Buddhist Monastery could be built at the top of so many steep steps. Our next surprise was the monk who was positioned at the base of the stairway in an unavoidable place with donation pot in hand. Not wanting to offend any sensibilities and secretly wanting some heavenly intervention to help with the steep ascent we dropped our coins into the already bulging pot of the grateful monk and went on our way.
With temperatures creeping up, and energy levels draining down, the ascent was a tough one for sure. With much perseverance and maybe some divine help after all (having coughed up some cash) we eventually reached the footsteps of the monastery. If Buddhas are your thing then this is the place to be. Ten Thousand of them! Actually more like thirty thousand of them! Buddhas everywhere we looked. Large ones, small ones, gold ones, painted ones, ones riding mythical animals, some doing mundane tasks such as gardening etc, etc, whatever type of Buddha you can think of, then it was probably represented here. We wondered and photographed.
With temperatures still rising and threatening to shatter the mercury we eventually took the wise choice of refreshments in the vegetarian restaurant. We then took the unwise choice to climb higher up through the temple gardens to yet more Buddhas and then the even barmier decision to climb the 9 tiered red pagoda in the monastery courtyard for good measure.
But the views were worth the pain and the surreal surroundings soon made us forget any temporary heat exhaustion. With some fascination we watched worshippers and monks alike go about their daily business in what felt like a scene straight out of an epic film. We attempted to understand some more of the many mysteries and vagauries of the Buddhist beliefs, but still I feel we came up short.
Eventually it was time to leave the monastery and start the trek back to the railway station. There are two paths, one to, and one from, the monastery, we started down the one from. This path turned out to be as insanely steep in descent as its brother was in ascent to and from the monastery. After what seemed like an eternity and having been harried by barking dogs for the entire time eventually we emerged unscathed into the upper regions of the original small village of Pai Tau. Confusingly here there was for once an actual sign for a change, but in true tradition it pointed the way to the monastery up the path down from the monastery, (go figure!). From here though it was a simple path of return through quant ramshackle houses to the town of Sha Tin and the train back to Hong Kong Island.
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a great destination to visit while in Hong Kong for those that are prepared to be a little more adventurous and who are willing to leave the confines of the city behind. Give yourself plenty of time to journey out there and plenty of time to find the correct path up to the monastery, do not take the route to the crematorium by mistake as we did as it’s not quite so jolly and people will tell you blind you are going in the right direction, you will not find enlightenment or the monastery only frustration I’m afraid, you have been warned.
Check out more photos of our amazing trip to Hong Kong over at: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets