So if yesterday was Muncipal Transport Monday, today was going to be Temple Tuesday and the release of our inner culture vultures saw us heading off to three temples in the north east of Kowloon. However first we required sustinence, so went off in search of the Hong Kong version of French toast. Our trusty guidebook led us to a small chinese cafe in Mong Kok where, after discovering that no english was spoken, we resorted to the traditional ordering method of pointing to a picture on a menu. Thankfully this worked and we soon had two French toasts and some coffee in front of us. The HK version of French toast is basically a heart attack on a plate – inch thick eggy bread covered in condensed milk with a slab of butter on top for good measure. Soooo unhealthy but soooo good!
2000 or so calories later we were back out to the MTR via the goldfish market – a street full of fish in bags and the Flower market – £120 for an orchid anyone? Both of which are great for fung shui apparantly…?
Our First Temple of the day was the Chi Lin Nunnery at the Diamond Hill stop, it is one of the most beautiful spaces in Hong Kong, and unusually for a Buddhist complex the colour schemes are a muted palete of Teak woodwork and gold statues. Originally it dates from the 1930s, but was rebuilt completely of wood in the style of a Tang-dynasty monastery in 1998.
It’s a serene place with lotus ponds, bonsai tea plants, bougainvillea and silent worshippers delivering offerings of fruit and rice to Buddha, and the design, involving interlocking sections of wood joined without a single nail, is intended to demonstrate the harmony of humans with nature.
Serenity restored we wandered across the stunning carved bridge at the front of the nunnery (ignoring the roar of the M1 motorway underneath – we are still in central HK afterall) to get to the Nan Lian Garden. This Tang-style garden featuring a golden pagoda, a koi pond and a collection of bizarre rocks is absolutely stunning, and even has a small restaurant at the back of the park where the main dining room sits behind a waterfall.
Time for temple number 2 so after a stroll back towards the centre of town, we popped into the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple – the exact opposite of the nunnery, this is an explosion of pillars and lattice work in bright colours. It was lunchtime and rammed with worshippers making sizeable food donations to their gods, jostling to pray or to visit the fortune tellers. We felt like we were imposing so bid a rapid retreat towards temple number 3.
To round off our collection of temples we jumped back on the MTR to the northwest to visit the quirky 10,000 Buddha’s Monastery. This one is slightly more off the beaten track and we finally found hand written signs pointing the way from the back of the local Ikea.
The premise of this temple is that you can never have a big enough Buddha collection and a team of monks with time on their hands have taken this premise to the max and created hundreds of life-sized golden statues of Buddha lining the steep steps leading up to the monastery complex. There are representations of Buddha in every format possible each with a completely unique look – you want one with one riding a fish? you got it! one with very very long legs? no problem! one with small arms coming out of his eyes…? yep…
They add interest to a fairly steep climb up the 400 steps and once at the top, the main temple continues the theme with 12,800 miniature statues lining the walls and more giant Buddha’s in various formats lining the courtyard.
Having reached our full Buddha viewing capacity we headed back into town, failed completely to find our restaurant of choice and headed to our favourite street food stall (ironically in Temple Market) for some delicious beef and noodles. So that was Hong Kong… Tomorrow we hit China proper.