Exploring Off The Beaten Path Hong Kong: Pai Tau Village
Visiting Po Fook Hill, the 10,000 Buddha Monastery, and the hills around Pai Tau Village
Sha Tin is not only great for immature puns (I Sha Tin your shoe), it also has some worthwhile attractions. You can check out the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, or the the oldest walled village Tai Wai, there’s also the horse racing track, the well maintained Sha Tin Park with its gardens and grandstand, and there are plenty of villages that have a charm that you won’t get in the densely populated downtown. One of these is Pai Tau village.
Pai Tau is very easy to get to. Just take the MTR East Rail Line up to Sha Tin Station, and there will be an exit that leads you right into Pai Tau Village. Immediately to your left you’ll see a small laid-back square with children playing and trucks ice-creaming. Along one side of the square is a row of houses (number 5A, 5B, 5C and 6). These were built in the 1920s, and they’re protected by the Hong Kong Antiquities Advisory Board.
Head northwest along the main road (Pai Tau street). At the first intersection, you’ll be facing Grand Central Plaza, which has an Ikea if you’re in desperate need of meatballs. Turn left and walk along the soccer pitch. The road will lead to a nicely manicured garden with a turtle pond. This is the beginning of Po Fook Hill.
Po Fook Hill
The structures built on these terraced levels are filled with dead people. It’s a columbarium – don’t worry I had to look the word up too. A columbarium is used to store urns, so it’s basically a mausoleum for cremated remains. There’s actually an office on the hill that you can go into to make arrangements for yourself or your loved ones, but expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for, what one might refer to as, a drawer.All this may seem a little bleak, but the hill is a very interesting place to visit and it offers some great views of the more natural side of Hong Kong.
You should take the funicular up part of the way because it’s free, and of course fun (that’s why they call it a funicular, right?). There’s also a series of escalators that go up even further, but the stairs will let you see more. Perhaps, if you dislike exercise, you could take the escalator to the top and the stairs back down.
A lot of the remains are in three-walled structures that have one end open to the outside, but make sure you pop into one of the buildings. They’re quietly haunting.
There is also a pagoda onsite, as well as some statues, and you might even see a monkey in the trees. If so, shake your fist at it for me.
While exploring Po Fook Hill, you may notice another temple further up the hill that is blocked off by trees and a fence. This is your next stop, but unfortunately you have to go all the way back down to get there.
10,000 Buddha Monastery
From outside of the parking lot for Po Fook Hill, go to the right of the fence – there should be a sign for the 10,000 Buddha Monastery.
You’ll turn left and start your way up a ton of stairs that are lined with more than a ton of statues.
The monastery, which isn’t actually a monastery, took 8 years to build. After that, it was another 10 years to put all the statues in.
As you climb the steps, don’t start counting the statues – these aren’t the
droids Buddhas you are looking for. The 10,000 Buddhas (actually 12,800) are in a temple at the top of the hill, but the statues that line the path are suppose to be various followers of Buddhism. It’s a quirky set of people.
When you get to the top, you can head right to see the pagoda, a turtle pond, and the remains of Yuet Kai, the man who built the temple. The main temple is on the left though. It’s impressive to look into, but really only needs a few minutes of your time.
If you’re hungry, there’s a place to grab lunch right there. It’s reasonably priced and you can watch people as they light incense and worship.
When you’re ready to head back down, take the steps down from the main courtyard (they’re on the right when you’re back is at the main temple). These will eventually take you back to the MTR station, but the hills have lots of opportunities for exploring.
There are a bunch of houses that are only accessible by about 3 billion concrete stairs. Beer runs would suck balls. Watch for a sign pointing out Wing Wo Bee Farm. You can pop-in here to buy honey from one of Hong Kong’s first ever bee keepers, Mr Yip who started the farm in 1983. Their honey is a hot commodity. Apparently, the Hyatt Regency uses it on their desserts. Whether you want honey or not, it’s worth taking the short detour just to see the little houses. You can go further, up the stairs next to the house, and explore even more but eventually you’ll have to come back down the original path.
Watch for abandoned buildings that are crumbling, but have a calming surrealness to them.
I didn’t explore every nook, but I imagine there are many paths that lead to many different homes. What I can’t imagine though, is how the houses came to be there, and what it’s like living there.
At some point, you’ll cross a small stream that runs past a couple of small temples.
At the bottom of the hill, the path will dump you out back in the Pai Tau square.
In total, I spent about 3 hours in Pai Tau, but I easily could have explored further. My favorite part of it was walking the cracked steps in the hills, between houses, turning corners to find locals sipping tea on the doorsteps to their small but special homes. I’ve read that there are a lot of squatters in these hill houses, but the people I saw seemed like they belonged. This is a special part of Hong Kong that’s definitely worth visiting.