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Take a Hike: How to hike the sacred Fat Mun Ancient Path on Lantau Island

By Alison Fung 2 July 2021

Header image courtesy of @akane_photographie (via Instagram)

Hikes are not just simple tracks that cross land and time. Sandwiched between Lantau Peak and Nei Lak Shan (彌勒山; mei4 lak6 saan1) on Lantau Island, an ancient trail has paved the way for pilgrims to visit the many destinations of culture and worship across the Lantau mountains, bringing monks and abbesses to Ngong Ping from Tung Chung. Here is our guide to the Fat Mun Ancient Path and the places of worship one can encounter along the way.

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Photo: @beibaoke (via Shutterstock)

Overview & fast facts

Shaded by bamboo groves and pine trees, the Fat Mun Ancient Path loops past mystical hermitages, monasteries, or what remains of them between the winding slopes. Follow along to retrace the sacred footprints of Buddhist devotees who once traversed this wilderness in a secreted nook of Lantau Island.

Distance: 5 kilometres approx.

Difficulty: Beginner

Total ascent: 440 metres approx.

Total time: 2 hours approx.

How to get there

Fat Mun Ancient Path begins as the Tei Tong Tsai Country Trail and rolls into the Fat Mun Ancient Path halfway through. Begin your journey in Tung Chung and travel by bus or taxi to Shep Mun Kap for the starting point.

  1. Take bus 34 to Shek Mun Kap from Tung Chung Terminus Bus Station.
  2. Get off at the last stop—the Shek Mun Kap Bus Terminal.
  3. Begin your hike at the beginning of the Tei Tong Tsai Country Trail marked by Lo Hon Monastery.

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1

Lo Hon Monastery (羅漢寺)

Long before Shek Mun Kap was reachable by public transport, devotees hiked into the wilderness, searching for spiritual experiences. In 1926, a Buddhist monk from Guangdong stumbled upon a rocky cave. He named it Lo Hon Cave (羅漢洞; lo4 hon3 dung6), and soon, it attracted dozens more to the area for meditational practices.

Three decades later, a monastery was built on the mountainous foundation of Lantau Peak and named Lo Hon Monastery, giving rise to the halls and pavilions we see today encircled by Nei Lak Shan and Rock Lion Mountain on its sides. The cave still exists today. Past a gated doorway marked by a red-bordered plaque is the cave—with 18 gold statues of the Arhats (十八羅漢) glittering under bright spotlights. A natural well named the Lo Hon Spring (羅漢泉; lo4 hon3 cyun4) outside the cave also supplied the monastery with fresh spring water back in the days.

Before you begin the hike along the Fat Mun Ancient Path, indulge in some temple food at Lo Hon Monastery. The lunch meal ($120 per person) serves up four vegetarian dishes, soup, rice, and congee. You will be able to savour stir-fried dishes made with freshly harvested melons from the garden besides ear fungus and lotus root slices.

2

Fat Lam Monastery (法林禪院)

Past Lo Hon Monastery, the trail proves to be relaxing with soothing sounds of trickling water from the Tei Tong Tsai Stream. You will pass by several monasteries including Fa Hong Monastery (法航精舍; faat3 hong4 zing1 se3) and Fat Lam Monastery (法林禪院; faat3 lam4 sim3 jyun2), which translates to a monastery of the dharma in the forest.

It was here where the monks reaped what they sowed—farming their own food as a way towards self-cultivation. Although many of the monasteries and abbeys in the area have been abandoned and closed off, the hypnotising ambience of this religious pilgrimage laid down by faithful devotees remains an intriguing checkpoint for visitors.

3

Po Lam Monastery (寶林禪寺)

Unbeknownst to those passing by, Po Lam Monastery a well-respected monastery within the Tei Tong Tsai monastic community. A paifang (牌樓; Chinese architectural arch) inscribed “Shap Fong To Cheung” (十方道場; sap6 fong1 dou6 coeng4) marks the entrance to the silent Po Lam Monastery. Inhabited by a small pool of Buddhist practitioners, the monastery is one of the most discrete hermitages in Hong Kong and does not welcome the occasional visitor. The monks are famously known for their utmost devotion, practising zen Buddhism teachings daily during the summer and meditating for seven consecutive days during the winter.

In the 1950s, a senior monk named Shing Yat (聖一) from Po Lin Monastery met a younger monk building a hut with rocks and gravel with his bare hands. When Shing Yat found out that the young monk was building a cabin for thirty others, he fundraised for steel and concrete. In 1955, Po Lam Monastery was erected from the hands of the young monk—whose dharma name translated to “enlightenment” (悟明; ng6 ming4). An Earth Treasury Buddha (地藏菩薩; dei6 cong4 pou4 saat3) sitting atop a lotus pond inside the premise—a gift to the monastery from Shing Yat—acts as an ancient relic witnessing the humble beginnings of this monastic utopia.

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4

The Wisdom Path

Winding through Tei Tong Tsai, then skirting the edge of Nei Lak Shan, you will arrive at Ngong Ping’s monumental checkpoint—The Wisdom Path. Lined in a figure-of-eight configuration atop the hill, the collection of 38 rosewood columns symbolises infinity or endless succession in Buddhism teachings.

The installation is inspired by bamboo scrolls used by ancient scholars and is inscribed with lines from the Heart Sutra revered by Confucians, Buddhists, and Taoists. The tranquil surroundings and mountainous beauty seamlessly integrate the towering columns into its natural backdrop. While The Wisdom Path offers rewarding scenery, during humid mornings and evenings, the installations are cloaked in a layer of mist floating down to the bowl of the valley below, offering hikers the most magical of all experiences.

5

Ngong Ping Tea Plantation

In 1947, Brook Anthony Bernacchi—a British lawyer and politician—bought 200 acres of land of a former nunnery in Ngong Ping. He named it the All-Knowing Lotus Villa (覺蓮苑; gok3 lin4 jyun2), a white-washed residence with a pitched roof, and converted the land around it into a tea plantation inspired by his travels to Burma. Oolong and jasmine teas were sold under Lotus Brand—branded as the only Hong Kong tea produced with “a mountain flavour.” After his retirement, Bernacchi lived in his Ngong Ping estate before he died from brain cancer in 1994.

The plantation managed to stay afloat and was converted into a hostel and teahouse before being abandoned in 2014. Its remnants are still visible beneath a pine tree on the Ngong Ping Fun Walk—once named the Bernacchi Trail. Former dormitories rooms are filled with bunks and rusty appliances. The estate’s stable has been ensnared by crawling ivy and tree roots. Inside the former café—marked by bright yellow windows frames—a doll glares eerily out the window as means to keep trespassers away from the emptied property.

6

Po Lin Monastery

Setting out on foot in search of faith, a small group of Buddhist monks from Guangdong found a sacredness out of the ordinary when they reached Ngong Ping in 1906. Dotted with pavilions, temples, residences, libraries, pagodas, halls and meditation abbeys of all kinds today, Po Lin Monastery not only features the Tian Tan Buddha but has become the home of those who travelled thousands of miles to settle at a holy destination.

The Hall of Wei Tuo (韋馱; wai5 to4) Buddha and the Scripture Library were some of the earliest structures built in Po Lin. The Main Shrine Hall of the Buddha—built only in 2000— features an impressive altar and ridge crest, inspired by the incredible architecture of the Forbidden City in Beijing.

The ridge crest features carvings of dragons, phoenixes, and other mythological creatures. Inside, towering red columns support the interlaced beams while stone columns outside are carved with ferocious dragons breathing fire. Stroll through this fascinating collection of temples and shrines and the landscaped gardens of Po Lin, decorated with orchids and azalea—the Xi Shi (西施) of the floral fauna for its enduring beauty and colours.

As you wrap up your two-hour hike, continue through the village towards the cable car down Ngong Ping to Tung Chung. Better yet, you may want to temple-hop around Luk Wu down the hill towards Tai O.

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Alison Fung

Former editor

A town girl who grew up on the rocky west coast of Canada, Alison has now found her permanent home in Hong Kong. When she’s not chasing down culture and travel stories around the city, you will find her exploring alleyways, searching for hidden speakeasies, or trotting around the globe to places she dreams of visiting.

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