A Buddhist monastery that opened recently at an idyllic location in the New Territories is the talk of the town. Built by Hong Kong's richest man, will it live up to all the hype?
Money and taste don't always go hand in hand, especially in a place like Hong Kong, where the rich and famous are notorious for their ostentatious (and not always tasteful) displays of wealth.
So when I hear that Hong Kong's richest man (and one of the world's richest men) is behind a newly opened Buddhist monastery just 2 MTR stops from my home, I can't wait to check the place out - especially when I hear about that private chamber and those bullet proof glass windows!
Tickets, however, are hard to come by - unless you have connections. Fortunately, I have a friend with connections.
No sooner do I post on Facebook that I want to visit the monastery than this friend is on the phone informing me that she has a couple of tickets to visit the monastery and asking if I would like one of them.
"Sure!" I say.
The date is set. Only afterwards do I realize that it is a holiday. If you have ever tried to go anywhere or do anything in Hong Kong on a holiday, you will know that lines can be long and crowds can be massive.
"OMG!!!" I think. "Do I really want to do this? Is it too late to back out? Maybe I can go another day!"
Advanced Booking System
As it turns out, the monastery has instituted an advanced booking system, which requires that reservations be made 7 to 30 days in advance - longer for groups.
Only 400 to 500 people are allowed in each day, and they must arrive at designated times. The monastery grounds should therefore never be over-run with visitors - even on weekends or holidays.
There will be the occasional exception. Large scale events will be held from time to time.
Only non-profit bodies are allowed to make group visits so I assume that means there will no large tour groups headed by tour guides holding little flags and screaming through loud hailers.
Tranquility is the goal.
What's more, visitors are not allowed to bring joss sticks, barbecued meats, alcohol, or other offerings in order to keep the grounds - and the air - clean.
Tang Dynasty Archtecture
Tsz Shan Monastery is located in the verdant Tung Tsz Hills near Tai Mei Tuk in Taipo in the New Territories. It affords a breathtaking view of Tolo Harbour.
Measuring 500,000 square feet, the monastery comprises a complex of temples built in the elegant architectural style of the Tang Dynasty, which is considered to be the apogee of traditional Chinese architecture.
Walls and pillars are constructed of dark brown wood imported from Africa. Roof tiles are gun-metal gray. There are the occasional - and discreet - copper accents on the eaves.
Goddess of Mercy
A 76-metre high statue of Guan Yin, a.k.a. the Goddess of Mercy, overlooks the site. It is the world's second largest statue of Guan Yin.
Highlights include 3 temples with extravagant statues inside, a bell tower, a drum tower, a learning hall, and a lecture hall.
Other features include a Bodhi tree, a Buddhist pine, a meditation path, a brilliance pond, a large paved courtyard, and a car park that can accommodate up to 110 private cars and 13 tour buses.
There are 3 dormitory blocks, which can house up to 80 monks and nuns. Included are 5 VIP rooms, which have windows and doors with bullet-proof glass.
According to rumour, there is also a spacious chamber for Li Ka-shing's personal use which, predictably, has been criticized by the local media.
About 60% of the site is green,
Li Ka-shing is Hong Kong' richest man. He heads Cheung Kong Holidngs and Hutchison Whampoa. He is a practising Buddhist.
In 2003, Ka-shing hatched the idea to build a monastery in the New Territories to promote Buddhism in Hong Kong, where Christian churches have tradtionally held sway.
Ka-shing has contributed HK1.7 billion (US193 million) toward the development of the monastery and its daily operating costs. There is no charge for admission. The monastery opened on 15 April 2015.
What Needs Improvement
Not much! I've heard grumblings about the lack of food and beverage outlets, and a restaurant, snack bar, or tea house would be nice.
Some people would also expect a gift shop in which to buy souvenirs - or offerings.
I think that the lack of commercial activities at the monastery is a breath of fresh air in a commercially driven city like Hong Kong.
Perhaps some enterprising entrepreneurs could construct something off site. A youth hostel? A tea house? A vegetarian restaurant? But definitely NOT on the monastery grounds themselves ...
The buildings are in perfect harmony with their surroundings. At last Hong Kong has some architecture that does justice to its splendid landscape. I give the monastery an enthusiastic thumb's up. This is where I will take out of town guests.
A special thanks to Helen Wong for the tix and Martin Liu for the pix!
How to Get There
Tai Wo Station on the MTR East Rail Line is the nearest MTR station. A taxi from the station to the monastery costs about HK$60.
Buses and mini buses require a transfer. Consult the monastery's website site for details.
Blogger's Tip: Other than free water in paper cups, there is no food or beverage service so bring your own refreshments. Don't forget some sun screen. And leave your offerings at home.
Tsz Shan Monastery, 88 Universal Gate Road, Tai Po, New Territories, Hong Kong. Telephone: (852) 2123-8666.
Your Response Wanted!
Have you been to the Tsz Shan Temple? What did you think of it? Do you think there should be food and beverage outleta?
Please post your comment in the Comment Box below or on Facebook at the following link: Accidental Travel Writer on Facebook. And don't forget to LIKE us while you're there!