Header image courtesy of @frank_._chang (Instagram)
We all know it from our history books: Hong Kong developed from a small fishing village to the glorious city that we see today. Scattered across Hong Kong, Tin Hau temples can be seen in almost every district, with approximately 90 to 100 of them left today. While most of them were originally built around the coastline, many became situated inland because of increased reclamation over the years.
Tin Hau—also commonly known as Mazu in Fujian, Taiwan, and Macau—is the goddess of the seas. Worshipped by fishermen, she was indispensable to Hongkongers because she promised calmer seas and a plentiful catch. While fishing practices continue to decrease, Tin Hau is still worshipped by city dwellers for safety among all family members. Regardless of faith, a visit to the city’s Tin Hau temples is highly recommended, as they embody an important part of traditional local culture. Many of them are situated in scenic locations, too, leading you to discover a more tranquil side of our bustling metropolis. Here are just five of the best Tin Hau temples to visit in Hong Kong.
Ask any Hong Kong elder and they will surely know that the largest and most reputable Tin Hau temple is the one in Joss House Bay. Its history dates all the way back to the Song dynasty and it is believed that the temple was built by two brothers. Legends go that they encountered a storm at sea and they begged the goddess for help. After they drifted to land safe and sound, the Tin Hau Temple was erected in the same spot where they successfully came ashore.
Its Sai Kung location affords the Tin Hau Temple panoramic views of the ocean, elevated so that its rise above the water is truly majestic. Symmetrical in construction, with two side halls accompanying the main hall, it is intricately decorated, with plenty of lanterns and relatively brighter lighting than most other Tin Hau temples in Hong Kong.
The Tin Hau Festival, where the birth of the goddess is celebrated, is held on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month, during which flocks of worshippers would gather at the Tin Hau Temple for good luck. Many would enter the side hall, where the sacred Dragon Bed is located, and touch it for good luck in bringing offspring to their family. Other than the Dragon Bed, the Tin Hau Temple also houses other relics, such as an iron incense burner, a copper bell, and two miniature boats belonging to the goddess. In addition to the goddess Tin Hau herself, the deities of Gum Fa Leung Leung, the patron of pregnant women, and Maitreya Buddha are also housed at the Tin Hau Temple in Joss House Bay.
Tin Hau Temple, Joss House Bay, Sai Kung | (+852) 2719 9257
Another Tin Hau temple to put on your must-visit list is the one located in Causeway Bay. Because of the temple, the whole area, as well as the street on which it is located, was renamed Tin Hau and Tin Hau Temple Street, respectively.
This Tin Hau temple bears the same symmetrical design as the one by Joss House Bay, though smaller in magnitude. Through diligent dedication and a stroke of good fortune, it has been managed by the same Tai family since its construction, with a long history that dates back to the Qing dynasty. It is said that the family uncovered a statue of the goddess Tin Hau as it washed up from the sea and onto rocks, and so they built a temple dedicated to her.
Similar to the Tin Hau Temple in Sai Kung, this one houses other, better-known deities: Guanyin (goddess of mercy and peace), Caishen (god of wealth), and Baogong (god of justice) are all permanent residents in the company of Tin Hau. Causeway Bay’s Tin Hau Temple also shelters artefacts like a marble altar, and the copper incense burner, stone lion at the entrance, and engravings were all made in the Qing dynasty. Surrounded by skyscrapers and residential buildings, the presence of this petite temple seems discordant compared to its surroundings—and is certainly worth a peek.
Tin Hau Temple, 10 Tin Hau Temple Road, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2879 5612
The Floating Tin Hau Temple is the only one in Hong Kong that exists on a boat. Alternatively, it is also known as the Triangular Island Goddess of Tin Hau Shrine. Its peculiar name is related to its colourful history, as it was originally located asea at the heart of the Pearl River Delta. Its mobility is convenient for its worshippers, who are mostly fishermen. Since 1955, the Floating Tin Hau Temple is anchored in the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter.
Unlike other Tin Hau temples, the Floating Tin Hau Temple celebrates the birth of Tin Hau on every twenty-third day of the fifth lunar month, during which the boat would relocate to the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter because of lack of space in Causeway Bay. The festival is a feast for the eyes, as flags fly exuberantly on the sampans that surround the temple. Fishermen would toss food into the water to satisfy the hungry spirits and lost souls of the sea so that they would not interfere with their voyages. Naturally, many would take advantage of this joyous occasion to gather and dine together.
The Floating Tin Hau Temple is located on a small wooden ship and is decorated mainly in red—the colour of luck in Chinese culture. Aside from the goddess Tin Hau, it also hosts the Monkey King, Sun Wukong. Visitors are required to cleanse their hands in a water basin with leaves before entering. Due to its compact size, only nine visitors are allowed on board to worship at any given time. Also, visitors must charter a sampan in order to access the ship.
Despite its long-standing history at sea, the Floating Tin Hau Temple will soon lose its unique reputation amongst places of worship in Hong Kong. Its relocation to solid land has long been requested by numerous believers, as well as the managing organisation itself for increased convenience. In 2015, it finally received permission from the government to relocate to a plot beside Causeway Bay Fire Station. Fundraising efforts were made to provide financial support for the move and long-time worshippers feel gratified, because “Ah Ma” (meaning “mum” in Cantonese, referring to the aged temple) can finally settle into a permanent home.
It is estimated that before the year-end of 2020, the temple will complete its relocation and no longer stay afloat. If there were ever a time to visit the Floating Tin Hau Temple before it becomes anchored permanently, it is now.
Floating Tin Hau Temple, Typhoon Shelter, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2887 9663
With a well-established history of over 150 years, the Tin Hau Temple in Yau Ma Tei is listed as a Grade I historic building in Hong Kong. Strolling along the idiosyncratic marketplace of adjacent Temple Street, it might be hard to imagine that this structure, like many inland Tin Hau temples, was once seaward. Also, similar to the temple in Causeway Bay, this Tin Hau Temple is the original namesake of nearby Temple Street.
Apart from Guanyin, two other main deities are also worshipped here. The Shing Wong Temple abuts the Tin Hau Temple and is dedicated to the deity Chenghuangshen, a city god who protects residents of towns and villages, as well as their final resting place in the afterlife. There is also the Shea Tan, where Che Kung, a great military commander who is now considered a god of protection, is worshipped. What’s more, the Tin Hau Temple complex also houses a Hsu Yuen that dates back to the year 1897, which once served as a study room for village students.
Due to its close proximity to the Temple Street Night Market, it may be the most visited and well-known Tin Hau temple in Hong Kong for travellers. Apart from the sprawling cluster of buildings, the public square adjacent to the structure might be of interest to the wandering tourist as well, as one could observe the daily entertainment of elderly people in Hong Kong, including Chinese chess, calligraphy, or tai chi.
Tin Hau Temple, 56–58 Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei | (+852) 2385 0759
Ever fancy going for a swim in Repulse Bay? Around the shady corner of Repulse Bay Beach, patches of crimson red might catch the vacationer’s eye among a sea of blue. Edge closely and you will notice how vibrant this temple is compared to other Tin Hau temples. Two massive statues stand collaterally overlooking the sea; the one in white represents the goddess Guanyin and the one in the yellow robe is Tin Hau herself.
Statues of other deities stand erect along the coastline as well, including Sihai Longwang, the Dragon King of the Four Seas, the Buddha, and Shou Xing, the god of longevity. Even statues of animals—such as koi fish, dragons, lions, and goats—join the parade. Ask the locals and they might know a thing or two about what the statues symbolise in meaning.
Besides the main temple, there are other notable spots within the area that are perfect for photoshoots—if that’s your kind of thing. Traverse the sun-kissed Bridge of Longevity, decorated in red with hints of yellow, green, and blue, and bask in the matching Pavilion of Longevity beside it. As expected, this magnificent blend of energetic colours is the cause of its popularity among tourists and day-trippers alike.
In addition to that, no other temple could beat its close proximity to the sea. Just a few steps and down into the water you go. Make sure not to visit on a stormy day or you might indeed have to seek help from the gods themselves!
Tin Hau Temple, South Bay Road, Repulse Bay