The Hong Kong Greeters Guide to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Have you ticked Ten Thousand Buddhas off your Hong Kong bucket list? Follow this detailed guide to get the most out of your trip.
High in the hills above the New Territories town of Shatin lies one of Hong Kong’s quirkiest, and most interesting, places of worship – Man Fat Tsz, or the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Rarely found on official tourist information, the Monastery once suffered from landslides and so was delisted from the official Tourist Board website over twenty years ago. Despite having since undergone a huge renovation to ensure visitor safety, it remains missing from most official tourist information.
No monks actually live on this compound, and if you were to take the time to count them all the statues, you’d discover that the deities here number far more than the advertised 10,000. However, despite the misnomer, this fascinating Buddhist complex is a real highlight of any New Territories tour, just a little off the beaten track.
First things first: comfy shoes are a must for any visit to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery as your visit begins with a 431-step climb. While this may sound like a lot, its highly recommended that you take your time, as you’ll notice that the temple path is flanked by gilt “Lohans”, or statues – over 500 in fact. Look a little closer and you’ll discover that every one of the effigies is completely unique, offering a fun game of “spot the difference” as you alight the steps.
After conquering that climb, you reach the main complex, which comprises five temples, four pavilions, and a striking red-and-gold pagoda. This is the ideal time to catch your breath, take a sip of water, and enjoy panoramic views of Shatin and beyond before proceeding into the main temple.
Known as Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall, the temple actually contains 12,800 miniature Buddha figurines, donated to the temple by generous benefactors and stacked from the floor to the ceiling. Each of these unique statuettes was handcrafted from clay by 12 Shanghainese master craftsmen over the course of the 1950s and is inscribed with the details of its donor for posterity.
The main hall also contains the preserved remains of the Reverend Yuet Kai. The temple’s founder and abbot, Reverend Kai died in 1965 and was originally buried according to traditional Chinese custom. Eight months after his death, when his body was exhumed, it was discovered that it had not deteriorated at all. This apparent miracle led to his remains being gilded and placed in a display case at the temple he founded for the faithful to pay their respects in perpetuity.
While the Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall is a truly spectacular sight, it is also a spectacle to commit to memory, as no photography is permitted inside.
Heading up a few more steps to the upper levels of the complex, you’ll see the temple’s Taoist statues and “60-Year Gods”. These deities represent the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac, along with the five Chinese elements of fire, earth, metal, water, and wood, and are thought to be of particular significance to those who share that year’s sign and element. A helpful guide is listed on the outside to help you find your own “Year-God”, paying special attention in your Zodiac year, when they can help you navigate the most likely time for conflict.
You’ll also find “memory palaces” on the upper levels – columbariums that hold the ashes of lost loved ones. During the Ching Ming and Chung Yeung festivals, these memorials serve as gathering places for surviving relatives to sit in remembrance and give both prayer and offerings for those who have passed away. As such, you’ll find many stalls at the bottom of the temple hill selling paper effigies, from “hell notes” – paper money for the departed to spend in the afterlife – to mah-jong tables and even paper air-conditioning units!
The beautiful Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda rises to nine storeys above the compound, and while you’re no longer permitted to climb up, you can enjoy fabulous views of this gilt Buddha-adorned tower by heading towards the rear of the temple. Look for Kwan Yum, the many-armed Goddess of Mercy, and the Samantabhadra Buddha who sits astride a white elephant. Tucked away behind this statue are sweeping views that encompass Shatin, and the Shing Mun River beyond. A fun fact: the pagoda is so admired that it used to feature on HSBC’s $100 bank notes; head to the gift shop to see examples of the notes.
Sadly, the Monastery’s vegetarian restaurant was forced to close a couple of years ago after a large fire, and the area where it once stood is now home to a large number of oblation ornaments. However, if you are feeling a little peckish, there remains a small kiosk where you can pick up simple snacks and drinks to keep you going as you explore the remainder of the complex.
It is nice to descent the complex by the second path, adjacent to the Manjushri statue, the Buddha who sits atop a blue lion. Here you will find steps down through female Bodhisattva statues and the village below back to Shatin MTR station. This route is also more likely for you to encounter the Macaque monkeys that live in this area.
If you’d like to further explore Shatin’s cultural gems, then head over to Tai Wai and the Che Kung Temple. This elaborate complex is home to both the Ming Dynasty-era original building, and its modern, Japanese-influenced big brother, and makes for a fascinating side trip. Alternatively, if you have energy to spare then a leisurely cycle along the Shing Mun River is always a treat – hire your bike from one of the kiosks at Shatin Park.
Need To Know
Getting there: Alight at Exit B of the Shatin MTR East Rail Line. Passing a village square to your left, head towards Homesquare, which features a large Ikea logo. Passing between Homesquare and the Shatin local government building, head to the end of the road where you will see a fence. You should now be able to spot signposts to the Monastery – follow these, looking out for Buddha statues as you go!
Cost: Admission to the Monastery is free of charge, although pre-booking is recommended as the site can be quote busy, particularly over public holidays and religious festivals.
Eating and drinking: Bring water for your climb. The Monastery has its own snack kiosk, otherwise you are within easy distance of the many dining options at New Town Plaza after your visit. If dim sum is what you’re craving, then Maxim’s Palace at Shatin Town Hall is always a hit with the family.
Anything else: Eating, drinking and photography are not allowed within the Monastery’s halls. There is also a local Macaque monkey population living in the woods nearby who they wish to discourage by not allowing food in the complex. Due to the many steps, there is no wheelchair or stroller access to the site. There are occasional reports of “fake monks” approaching visitors – they not affiliated with the Monastery and visitors are reminded to ignore any requests for money.
Why not uncover more of the history and culture behind the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery on a guided New Territories tour with Hong Kong Greeters? As your friends in Hong Kong, our warm and welcoming local experts give you the insiders-only view of the real city that never sleeps! For more information on our unique tours visit hkgreeters.com