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Your guide to temple-hopping on Lantau Island

By Alison Fung 23 June 2021

Header image courtesy of @vv1cy (via Instagram)

While Hong Kong has always been famous for its glitz and glamour, much of its suburbs remain untouched and hidden away from sight. Rooted within the rugged terrain of Lantau Island are not only hikes that offer city dwellers a respite from the hustle and bustle, but a nirvana of temples, shrines, monasteries, and abbeys that thousands of monks and Buddhist devotees once called home.

Scattered around Luk Wu (鹿湖, luk6 wu4)—which translates to “Deer Lake”—on lower Ginger Mountain (羗山; goeng1 saan1) are historic temples that have stood against the city’s fading monastic heritage. Whether you wish to hike a shaded trail or admire pagodas and temples poised on every other ridge top, you can appreciate the tranquil ambience of Lantau Island on this unique temple-hopping itinerary.

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How to get there

Our suggested temple-hopping itinerary will start off at Yin Hing Monastery (延慶寺) near Luk Wu. Yin Hing Monastery can be reached from Tai O and Mui Wo by bus. It is also just 20 minutes down the road from the Tian Tan Buddha, so you could consider taking the cable car up to Ngong Ping and going from there.

From Tai O or Mui Wo:
  1. Hop onto bus 23 to Tai O from Tung Chung or bus 2 from Mui Wo.
  2. Get off at San Hoi Ting station (山海亭) before the bus climbs the hill to Po Lin Monastery.
  3. Keep to the left on Sam Wat Road and turn left at the fork.
  4. Follow the bends downhill for 10 minutes.
  5. Alight yourself at your first stop: Yin Hing Monastery.
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Yin Hing Monastery (延慶寺)

Yin Hing Monastery (延慶寺) is a relatively recent addition to the monastic community of Luk Wu. Completed only in 1966, this spiritual destination features a brightly-coloured framework that represents the interaction between the five Buddhist elements (五行, ng5 hang4)—metal, wood, water, fire, and earth. Protected by two green guardian lions, the temple is nestled some three hundred meters above the ravine below.

Sadly, Yin Hing Monastery was converted into a columbarium when it sold to a private developer, serving as a reminder of how heritage sites around Luk Wu are slowly losing their sentimental value due to the widespread impact of urbanisation. While the temple is restricted to the public behind three red arched doors, you can still snap photos of its majestic façade as it stands against the mountain forests, highlighting its elegance.

To reach the next stop:
  1. Continue your journey by back-tracking up the road.
  2. Turn right when the road forks and follow the path downhill.
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Luk Wu Ching She (鹿湖精舍)

Tucked under thick foliage, Luk Wu Ching She (鹿湖精舍) was founded as a Taoist temple in 1833 and subsequently transformed into a Buddhist monastery. In its heydays, Luk Wu Ching She was home to over a hundred abbesses, many of which were brought to the monastery as orphans.

They practised monastic teachings day by day and recited ancient scriptures before sunrise. By late afternoon, they gathered in the front terrace that overlooked a lotus pond full of carps, frogs, and tortoises. The abbesses kept tadpoles in giant fishbowl planters decorated with water lotuses, which bloomed in striking symmetry.

Considered the largest of its kind, the expansive Luk Wu Ching She complex consists of an ancestry hall, living and dining rooms, residences, several meditation halls, and a library. In the back of the complex lies the hall of worship of Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓, leoi5 dung6 ban1), a legendary scholar from the Tang dynasty who is said to have become one of the Eight Immortals. Throughout the complex are scriptures carved into the columns and waterlilies handpainted onto brick walls. A hollow wooden fish (木魚; muk6 jyu4)—also known as a Chinese wooden bell—has served to keep a unified rhythm during sutra chantings in the past century.

To reach the next stop:
  1. After a stroll through the complex, head back to the front terrace.
  2. To the left of the terrace is a gateway to a staircase that leads downhill.
  3. Follow the staircase to explore the bamboo groves of Luk Wu.

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Temples and bamboo groves

Continuing through the walkway from Luk Wu Ching She, you will find yourself in the thick of bamboo forests and several monasteries. As one of the most secluded locations on this temple-hopping itinerary, Chuk Yuen Ching She (竹園精舍) has acted as a breeding ground for Buddhist masters since it opened in 1933. It made headlines when its lotus painting—inscribed by Empress Dowager Cixi herself—was devoured by termites. Despite having lost its greatest treasure, Chuk Yuen Ching She still welcomes public visitations.

Continuing onwards, you will pass by colourful Buddhist statues scattered across the area. Take a rest at the bamboo grove before retracing the steps of devout Buddhists, who traversed the valley to Tai O and Ngong Ping on this ancient trail, marked by stones embedded in the forest ground.

To reach the next stop:
  1. Follow the trail and turn left when you reach a roadway.
  2. Turn left again when you hit Tai O Road.
  3. After passing through the bend, look for a stone paifang (牌樓) on your right.
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Kwun Yum Temple (觀音寺)

A humble paifang (牌樓; Chinese architectural arch) that reads “Climb to the sanctuary” (聖域同登) marks the entrance to the Kwun Yum Temple (觀音寺). Several couplets are engraved into the stone, such as “The sea of bitterness has no bounds; repent and be saved” (苦海無邊,回頭是岸). Next, traverse the enlightenment bridge (普渡橋, pou2 dou6 kiu4)—it is said that by crossing it, guests can reach a state of nirvana.

Embellished with brash colours, Kwun Yum Temple uses pillars, beams, and arches interlaced with one another to compose an architecture complex. The presence of mountains—flanked by hills resembling a soaring azure dragon and a crouching white tiger—and water makes for good feng shui associated with power and support. Reminiscent of fairytales, the Kwun Yum Temple is a thing of beauty, perched so high up that a sea of clouds occasionally appears below the terrace, which is girdled by an infinite row of the Buddhist swastika.

At the centre of the complex is an octagonal pagoda that houses sacred relics and writings. Covered in orange-glazed tiles and patterns painted in blue and green, it is deeply associated with the heavens. A glittering Bodhisattva Guanyin with a thousand hands guards the ground floor.

Follow the flight of stairs and alight yourself to the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas lined with ten thousand gold-coated bronze statues of Buddha. Sit on the cedar floors and come into a deep meditation as healing mantra music plays in the background. As you contemplate the cosmological laws of the universe, your next destination awaits on the opposite ridge top.

To reach the next stop:

  1. Head back to the paifang and turn left onto Tai O Road.
  2. After 20 minutes of walking, you will see the Ling Yan Pavilion on your right.
  3. Turn right and continue until you reach a stone gateway that reads “Ling Yan Abbey” (靈隱寺).
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Ling Yan Abbey (靈隱寺)

Enveloped by bamboo forests and known for some of the best temple food in town, Ling Yan Abbey (靈隱寺) is a serene collection of residences, temples, pavilions, and farms. Enjoy a hearty meal ($60 per person) served from 12 pm to 3 pm, which includes four humble vegetarian dishes, soup, and free-flow rice.

Built in 1928, Ling Yan Abbey is ornamented with gazebos and decorative tables placed beneath bamboo groves. On a sunny day, it’s not unusual to see tortoises sunbathing in the gardens. Despite its unassuming and simple appearance, the main pavilion actually lies above the slope behind the ancestry hall. Ascend the staircase that leads uphill and take a stroll around the worship hall of Ji Gong (濟公, zai3 gung1) that overlooks the valley as you listen to birdsongs drifting through the air.

To reach the next stop:
  1. Make your way back onto Tai O Road and turn left.
  2. When you reach the Keung Shan Management Centre bus stop, turn right.
  3. Follow the Keung Shan Country Trail until it forks and keep to the left.

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Lung Tsai Ng Yuen (龍仔悟園)

Imagine hiking through remote mountains and suddenly encountering a landscaped oasis in the wilderness. Reachable only by foot, Lung Tsai Ng Yuen (龍仔悟園) is one of the most picturesque gardens you will find in Hong Kong. It is hailed as a hidden paradise on Lantau Island, filled with water pines, waterlily ponds, gazebos, pavilions, and a nine-turn bridge inspired by classic Lingnan architecture. An unparalleled utopia, Lung Tsai even once boasted an exotic collection of wildlife, including peacocks, sika deers, and Siberian cranes that roamed amongst its camellia gardens.

Completed in 1962, the villa retreat was named after Wu Kunsheng (吳昆生), the founder of Wyler Textiles—a large textile manufacturer with headquarters on the shores of To Kwa Wan in the 1960s. Wu Kunsheng was not only a successful industry giant, but he was also a devout Buddhist—with the dharma name “Attaining Enlightenment” (悟達, ng6 daat6)—who transformed the piece of land into a religious haven. After decades of neglect, the forgotten gem has since been restored to its former glory thanks to a collective effort by Wu’s grandchildren. Ng Yuen is now reopened as a garden retreat for public visits on the weekend.

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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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