Header image courtesy of @izzyspassport (via Instagram)
As a largely Buddhist and Taoist community, it should come as no surprise that there are many Chinese religious landmarks in Hong Kong. There are a myriad of deities and gods in Chinese culture, and the ones who are regularly worshipped usually have temples dedicated to them specifically. Whether or not you believe in higher powers, these temples are a fascinating glimpse into the architectural styles and religious culture of the Chinese people, so here are 10 of Hong Kong’s most beautiful Chinese temples to visit. (And when you have finished marvelling your way across this list, check out the most interesting places of worship, too.)
Undoubtedly one of Hong Kong’s most famous places of worship, the Wong Tai Sin Temple is dedicated to its eponymous deity, or the Great Immortal Wong. It is well-known among locals for being the place to go to to get your wishes granted, so you can see why it has sustained such popularity even from its establishment in the 1920s.
Throughout its sprawling complex, the different buildings contain the five traditional Chinese elements of gold, wood, water, fire, and earth. Most of its traditional architecture consists of golden roofs, red pillars, blue friezes, and yellow latticework, all decorated by elaborate carvings. The temple is also home to a Nine-Dragon Wall, modelled after the one in the Forbidden City in China.
When in Wong Tai Sin, one does not simply leave without engaging in the famous spiritual practice of kau chim (求籤; sacred oracle lottery). Commercialised and marketed in some Western countries as “Chinese fortune sticks” or “Chi Chi Sticks,” kau chim is actually an ancient religious practise dating back to the Jin dynasty (266 to 420 AD). Flat kau chim sticks are stored in a cylindrical bamboo holder—there are 100 altogether, all inscribed with different markings, each corresponding to an oracle outcome.
After making an incense offering, the fortune-seeker purifies the oracle implements by circling it around the incense burner three times and mixing the sticks by hand, then kneels before the altar and poses their question to the deity. The kau chim cylinder is held between both hands, angled away from your body, and is shaken while focusing on what you want answers to. One stick will fall out eventually—this is then taken to a temple priest or fortune teller who will interpret the poem that corresponds to the kau chim stick.
Wong Tai Sin Temple, 2 Chuk Yuen Road, Chuk Un | (+852) 2327 8141
This temple in Sha Tin is one of two in Hong Kong dedicated to Che Kung, a general during the Southern Song dynasty. According to legend, there was an epidemic which broke out in the area during the late Ming dynasty, and the locals found historical documents which claimed that Che Kung was not just merited for his ability to suppress chaos, but also for clearing up illnesses. The desperate people then erected a temple to house this deity, and the epidemic subsided on the day the construction was completed. Perhaps we should go make a few offerings for coronavirus to subside...
Due to the high number of visitors, a new temple was built in 1994 for worshippers to make offerings. The original temple lies behind it, preserved in-situ, and is occasionally open to the public. This newer building was constructed in a Japanese style and is eight times the size of the original, with a giant statue of Che Kung in the main hall. There is also a fan-bladed pinwheel, which worshippers believe will “turn their luck around” when spun. There is a trick to this: If your luck has been good and you wish it to continue, spin the wheel clockwise; but if you wish to change bad luck into good fortune, spin it counterclockwise.
The third day of the lunar new year is Che Kung’s birthday and is the largest annual celebration held in the temple. Thousands of people flock in to hit the Heavenly Drum to get the attention of the deity, present offerings, spin the “wheel of fortune,” and give thanks for Che Kung’s care over the past year.
Che Kung Temple, 7 Che Kung Miu Road, Sha Tin | (+852) 2603 4049
Substantially smaller than the sprawling grounds of temples out in the New Territories, Man Mo Temple is nevertheless one of Hong Kong’s most famous and easiest to visit due to its proximity to Central. Dedicated to the god of literature (Man Tai) and the god of martial arts (Mo Tai), this temple is particularly popular with students seeking academic distinction—a tradition passed down from when Ming and Qing dynasty scholars about to sit for the imperial examinations would make offerings to Man Tai.
There are several other Man Mo temples in Hong Kong, but the one in Sheung Wan is the oldest and largest. Its green roofs and white walls are very distinguishable from its neighbours along Hollywood Road, and the interiors are usually filled with large coils of incense hanging from the rafters, symbolising health, prosperity, and happiness as they slowly burn upwards.
The complex actually comprises three buildings: Man Mo Temple proper on the left, the smaller Lit Shing Temple in the middle for the worship of all heavenly beings, and Kung So on the right, which is an assembly hall where community affairs were debated and settled in the past. Man Mo Temple is so visually appealing that it was even featured as an explorable location in the Shenmue II video game!
Man Mo Temple, 124–126 Hollywood Road, Central. (+852) 2540 0350
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a historic temple located on Po Fook Hill in Sha Tin, with grounds covering over eight hectares. Its name is actually a bit of a confusing misnomer because, unlike true monasteries, there are no monks in residence on-site, and the complex actually houses close to 13,000 statues of Buddha altogether.
The walk leading up to the main grounds is an attraction in itself. 431 steps are lined on both sides with 500 life-sized statues of arhats—Buddhist “saints” who have achieved the state of enlightenment—crafted in Yunnan and Guangdong. The lower section of the complex features the large main hall, a nine-storey pagoda, and a few pavilions, while the upper section has four large halls dedicated to an assortment of Buddhist and Taoist deities.
The walls of the main temple are lined with shelves featuring approximately 13,000 small ceramic Buddha statues, each with different poses and expressions. This landmark was famously featured in the opening scene of the lauded Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs, starring Andy Lau, Tony Leung, and Eric Tsang.
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, 222 Pai Tau Village, Sha Tin | (+852) 2691 1067
The Big Buddha on Lantau Island is one of Hong Kong’s most famous landmarks, but many visitors neglect the accompanying Po Lin Monastery, which the famous Buddha statue is an extension of. This monastery was founded in 1906 by three monks who were visiting from Jiangsu in mainland China; then, it was simply called “The Big Hut” and was renamed to its current—and more dignified—name in 1924.
Po Lin boasts several prominent structures, such as the Hall of Bodhisattva Skanda. The main temple houses three bronze statues of Buddha, representing his past, present, and future lives. The monastery is also known for making wooden bracelets that are only available for purchase on the premises or near the Tian Tan Buddha statue.
Of course, a visit to the area wouldn’t be complete without seeing the world-famous giant Tian Tan Buddha as well. Its name is derived from the Tian Tan Temple in Beijing and the Buddha rests on a platform modelled after this temple. Completed in 1993, this statue faces north, a position unique among the great Buddha statues, as all others face south. A relic of Gautama Buddha—some of his alleged cremated remains—resides in the halls beneath the statue; entrance is only permitted to those who have brought offerings for the Buddha.
Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping, Lantau Island
Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery sits within the quiet neighbourhood of Lam Tei in Tuen Mun. It was first constructed in 1950 and the complex houses an interesting mix of traditional and modern. The Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall is a structure taller than most other Buddhist or Taoist temples, built in a traditional style with orange roofs, red walls, and golden accents, while the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery is a modern building measuring 45 metres, with its top floors designed to look like a giant crystal lotus blossom is sitting on top of the structure.
Two 20-metre columns flank the entrance to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Hall, each decorated with a golden dragon. The entire top storey is the Mahavira Hall, measuring 20 metres from floor to ceiling. This room houses three large gold-plated statues of Buddha Sakyamuni, and its walls are adorned with over 10,000 images of Buddha—an imposing sight best admired in person. This building also contains a library of Buddhist scriptures and the Attic of the Jade Buddha.
In contrast, the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery building is home to a Buddhist shrine, a community hall, and spaces for welfare and educational facilities. There is also a kitchen that serves vegetarian food to visitors, so if you’re going to stop by, you may as well round off your experience with a meal.
Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery, 18 Castle Peak Road, Tuen Mun | (+852) 2461 8567
This Buddhist complex in Tsuen Wan’s Lo Wai Village seems to fall off most people’s radars, but is nevertheless a lovely place to visit. It is relatively new in comparison to some of Hong Kong’s more traditional religious sites, having been established in 1970 by the Hong Kong Buddhi Siksa Society.
The monastery grounds were expanded in the late 1990s and it’s now a sprawling complex measuring 200,000 square metres that looks like it came straight out of an ancient Chinese painting. The architectural style used here was modelled after China’s imperial palaces, an inspiration that is obvious in the yellow-orange tiles on the roofs and the flared eaves.
Its nine main structures are connected by a series of stairs running up the slopes of the hill; a must-see is the space dedicated to the goddess of mercy, with scriptures and statues depicting her various forms over the years. There is also a garden near the entrance with miniature landscapes and Bodhisattva grottoes.
Western Monastery, 38 Sheung Kok Shan Road, Lo Wai, Tsuen Wan | (+852) 2411 5111
According to feng shui philosophy, an ideal positioning for a structure of importance should face the waters with the mountains behind it, and Tsz Shan Monastery—located on a hilly site facing a gorgeous sea view—was built to fit this ideology to a tee. This Chinese Buddhist monastery was constructed in the elegant styles of the Tang, Northern Song, Liao, and Jin dynasties. Its expansive grounds feature a Main Gate, the Maitreya Hall, the Grand Buddha Hall, Drum and Bell towers, and the Tripitaka Library, and aims to preserve the Dharma as preached by Sakyamuni Buddha.
The main focal point of the monastery is undoubtedly the 76-metre-tall statue of the goddess Guan Yin, which is so striking it can easily be spotted from afar. The path leading up to the statue, which is lined with eighteen old Buddhist pine trees, is also particularly stunning and invokes a sense of awe as visitors approach the religious statue.. A large bronze water vessel called the Thousand Wishes Pond is right in front of the statue; instead of lighting incense, as is traditionally done in temples, visitors make offerings of water to the goddess by pouring water into the pond.
Tsz Shan Monastery, 88 Universal Gate Road, Tai Po | (+852) 2123 8666
This large temple complex in Diamond Hill was founded in 1934 as a retreat for Buddhist nuns and later rebuilt in 1998 after the fashion of Tang dynasty architecture. Its design was based off a Sukhavati drawing of paradise from the Mogao Caves in the oasis of Dunhuang along the Silk Road, making this unique amongst the temples in Hong Kong.
Chi Lin Nunnery has grounds covering over 360,000 square feet, featuring 16 halls, a library, a school, a pagoda, a bell tower, and a drum tower. The halls are constructed entirely with cypress wood and—remarkably—without a single nail, using a traditional Chinese architectural technique instead, where interlocking pieces of wood hold everything in place. These are the only structures built this way in modern Hong Kong.
The complex also includes the Nan Lian Garden, located right across the road. It has a striking golden pagoda in the middle, with picturesque lotus ponds, Buddhist relics, and statues of deities such as the Sakyamuni Buddha and various bodhisattvas dotted around. The garden is a spot of serenity in the middle of the city, and also contains a great vegetarian restaurant which is artistically built behind a flowing waterfall.
Chi Lin Nunnery, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Diamond Hill
This Taoist place of worship was named after two islands in the Bohai Sea, Fung Lai and Ying Chau, which is said to be a place of residence for deities, and is a great example of Taoist design. The walk up the central flight of stairs slowly reveals a view of the eye-catching halls rendered in red and gold, and makes for a pretty awe-inspiring sight.
The Grand Temple is mainly dedicated to the worship of Taishang Laojun (太上老君)—better known as the ancient Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu who penned the Tao Te Ching text. There is also a Guanyin Temple and a Yuen San Temple, dedicated to the goddesses of mercy and medicine, respectively.
Also of interest is the carving of the ancient drawing “The Scroll of 87 Immortals.” It depicts 87 deities paying homage to the supreme being, and the original scroll is considered one of the best line drawing techniques in Chinese classical drawing. Fung Ying Seen Koon also runs a vegetarian canteen serving food to both disciples of the temple and the general public.
Fung Ying Seen Koon, 66 Pak Wo Road, Fanling | (+852) 2669 9186