The temple is walking distance from Shatin rail station, and once you find the small village of Paitau (incongruously placed in the shadow of the railway), just follow the signs. Within 200 yards, we were walking a gradual incline and then up a steeper staircase to the temple. The route is flanked with large golden Buddhas of varying ages and in different postures signifying everyday chores. Bizarrely, they seem almost caricatures offering smiling and overly happy faces in a simple but perhaps satirical form.
As we reach the entrance, a magnificent pagoda has pride of place in the square, which is surrounded by more 6-foot Buddhas – some sporting black eyelids, and others, bright-red lips. They really are fun to look, and their distorted features confirm a real quirkiness in the creator of the figures. The view from the terrace is far-reaching; it’s just a shame for us that a heavy mist and light drizzle has descended. Still, we can get a reasonable sense of the view with the Sha Tin Race course at the bottom surrounded by the urban sprawl that is Hong Kong.
I can’t resist a quick ring on the bells before we make to climb the pagoda. It’s a climb that seems to go on and on, and in all honesty the view from the top is not brilliant. But there are more Buddhas on each window ledge and a view across the complex showing another lane of Buddhas – we’ll make that climb after lunch. A cheap lunch can be obtained from the small makeshift restaurant on site – it has basic fare, but there’s plenty of it and the quality was better than average.
Next to the café is a temple with thousands of Buddhas arranged in individual niches. Traditional music was being played in this amazing building. At the time we were there, the temple was being decorated and painters were balanced on bamboo scaffolding and Buddhas were being removed from their spots, lowered into wicker baskets in order that the wall could be re-painted.
Take a left out of this temple and then the left fork to climb to the next part of the monastery. Again, the route is lined with large Buddhas, and as we saw the summit, the statues changed. Now they were garishly painted and all female in form. Much more regal in appearance and no comedic value here! At the summit, there were a couple more very small temples, much in need of some TLC, and a much more commanding view of the surrounding area.
We took the route straight down from here, bypassing the main temple site. This was a gradual gradient, but somewhat treacherous in the rain. The Buddhas oversaw our stroll through a woodland area, and we enjoyed spotting the old monastery buildings and some more secluded houses in the distant hills.
Despite its closeness to a large population, this was a very tranquil and idyllic spot.