Tsz Shan Monastery – tucked away and hard to get to. Not just because of its location north of Tai Po Market, but also because you have to book in advance and the number of visitors each day is small. I had tried a few times to reserve tickets, but learnt the hard way that you have to book one month earlier and preferably first thing in the morning, to receive a free ticket.
Finally in early April I was successful and in early May we had four tickets in our hands to visit the large Buddhist temple located in Tung Tsz, which was opened in April 2015.
I was curious to see what would await us, given that it took 12 years to build the monastery and it cost a whopping 1.5 billion HKD. Most of the funds came from Li Ka-shing, one of Hong Kong’s tycoons and one the world’s richest men – it seems he build his own nirvana!
The monastery is set in a beautiful, serene setting in the Ting Tsz hills near Tai Mei Tuk. About 60 per cent of its total area of roughly 500,000 square feet are just green areas, and it feels very spacious – especially with the limited number of visitors every day.
We arrived shortly before our allocated time slot and had to wait until the exact time arrived, before we were let into the complex. We were reminded that it is forbidden to bring any meat, alcohol or incense inside the sacred place – and also our attire was checked (no shorts, mini skirts or skinny tops are allowed).
We walked uphill from the small gate house to the entrance of the first of the three temples that are part of the complex.
The temples are all connected via a big courtyard, in which sit a bell tower, a drum tower, the Bodhi Tree and the Buddhist Pine. Next to it are a learning hall, a lecture hall, a meditation path, a brilliance pond and of course, the big, elegant Guan Yin statue that towers over everything.
The outdoor statue is actually made out of bronze, but it is covered in a protective white colour. Guan Yin stands 76 meters in height and is the second highest in the world. She is holding a pearl in her right hand, designed to bring peace to worshippers and help fulfill their wishes.
Not visible and not accessible to the public are the dormitories of the monks and some offices, but apart from that the visitors are allowed to stroll around.
We kept walking around the whole compound and marvelled at its architecture (it resembles the monastic architecture of the Tang Dynasty – which takes into consideration the surrounding natural environment), but mostly at the quietness and serenity of this place. I can understand that the monastery aims to promote Buddhism and to create a sanctuary for those who already practice it – I totally got it!
Towards the back of the temple is the Pat Sin Leng mountain range, which is part of the Wilson Trail stage 9 and probably my favourite hike in Hong Kong. On the opposite side lies Tolo Harbour and Plover Cove (the monastery’s feng shui must be ideal!) and on the day we visited we had grandious views over the harbour and mountain sides.
There is no lunch offered at the monastery, but the small cafe provides coffee, tea and cake – which you are invited to try, and you can (but don’t have to) make a donation towards the running of the monastery. On the day we visited, we enjoyed a small slice of very good chocolate cake, which was a very indulgent end to a beautiful visit.
So how can you visit the Tsz Shan Monastery?
First step, book in advance – tickets are free, but you need to book a time to visit online (and when I tried to get tickets, I had to check one month in advance). Here is the link to the website. Second step, remember to dress correctly and do not bring any meat, alcohol or incense with you. Third step, head to Tai Po Market MTR Station, jump on the 75K bus, hop off at San Tau Kok Station, then just follow Tung Tsz Road and make a right when you see Universal Gate Road. Or you can take minibus 20B from Tai Po Market and alight at the intersection of Tong Tsz Road and Universal Gate Road. Walk uphill along Universal Gate Road for 10 minutes.
Tsz Shan Monastery
88 Universal Gate Road, Tai Po, New Territories
Open every day from 9.30am to 5.00pm
Telephone: 2123 8666