Clinging to the verdant hillside above Sha Tin, in the heart of the New Territories, is Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (also known as Man Fat Tsz), a complex which marvels and mind-boggles in equal measure.
We had a taster on our last trip to Hong Kong, seeing the many sculptures which line the path to the main complex, but were unable to enter the complex proper as the monastery had already closed for the day. Consequently, a return trip was in order; this time, we were able to explore every nook and cranny of the complex (and even spotted a macaque or two).
From Sha Tin MTR, it’s a short (un-signposted) walk to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery; directions can be found at the end of this post. Whilst visitors to Lantau Island’s Po Lin Monastery barely have to lift one foot in front of the other to get there, it’s a rather different story at Ten Thousand Buddhas, where there are neither cable cars nor buses to ferry you to the top of the hill – only steps, steps and – you guessed it – more steps. Fortunately, the trek to the top is practically an attraction in itself and there are plenty of rest stops along the way if you need to catch your breath.
Hundreds of statues of arhats (roughly equating to saints, or those who have reached enlightenment) line the steps, striking poses: some quizzical, others comical; some solemn, others cheerful.
Those at the bottom of the hill were positioned on modest slabs of stone, whilst those towards the top rode animals that wouldn’t have looked out of place on Noah’s Ark.
Four hundred-odd steps and countless photos later, we traded the shaded steps for the exposed, lower level of the monastery. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery isn’t a monastery in the true sense of the word, for no monks actually reside there, but for one reason or another this designation seems to have stuck.
Our first port of call was the monastery’s namesake, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall. Its terrace featured decorative ceiling reliefs, brightly coloured lanterns and golden sculptures of the zodiac animals, but the best was yet to come.
Nothing can quite prepare you for the gobsmacking sight of shelves stretching from floor to ceiling bearing miniature, golden Buddhas. According to the leaflet we picked up, no two are the same – and that’s no mean feat when you consider there are actually close to 13,000 statues in there! Photography inside the hall is prohibited, but a quick Google search will bring up a few snaps of the interior.
Outside, we found lavishly decorated pavilions, more golden statues surrounded by orchids and a nine-storey pagoda. Potted plants surrounded the pavilions and pagoda; red and gold tasselled decorations hung from the trees. There was only a handful of visitors pottering around the complex when we visited, a far cry from the hordes we saw at Po Lin Monastery a few days later.
Continuing our explorations, we headed up another flight of steps to the upper level of the monastery. More golden statues lined the path, some proffering infants, others sprouting multiple heads. (They don’t do things by halves here – all manner of wacky and wonderful statues call this place home!)
We found halls filled with Goliath-sized warriors, a small terrace bordered by stone statues of emperors and more shrines than we could count. Guarding the entrance to one of the halls were two stone lions, which looked more festive than fearsome.
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery feels worlds away from the sprawling metropolis, though the ever-expanding mass of skyscrapers is never far away. The terrace on the upper level commanded stellar views of Sha Tin, framed by mountains and lush vegetation.
A little further along, we saw ponds filled with terrapins and koi, and more golden statues artfully arranged amongst the ferns and shrubs. Just beyond the pools, we came to an enormous statue of Kwun Yam, Goddess of Mercy, gleaming in the sunlight and overlooking an equally gargantuan sleeping Buddha.
Having visited each and every hall, shrine and pavilion, we decided to make our way back into Sha Tin for a late lunch. If you’re looking to see another side of Hong Kong, look no further than Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery: you’ll remember this little gem long after you leave.
- From Sha Tin MTR, take Exit B and follow the ramp down to the street. Continue straight ahead, and turn left onto Pai Tau Street; there’s a big shopping centre called Homesquare on the corner, so it’s impossible to miss the turn. Take the first right onto Sheung Wo Che Road, and turn left onto the dirt track at the end of the road. Follow this for a hundred metres or so, and you’ll reach the steps leading to the monastery.
- Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is open daily, 9am to 5pm. Entry is free, though donations are welcome.
- Bring a bottle of water with you. It’s not a tough climb to the top, but you’ll be grateful for it if you’re visiting in the warmer months.