All the way out to the North of Hong Kong, up in the mountains, there are a couple of temples where very few tourists go. They are the Yuen Yuen Institute and the Western Monastery. Not many tourist guides speak of these places because they are a little off the beaten path. It is very worthwhile though to go there and experience the beauty of the place in silence.
Because the temples are located on a mountain, it’s a bit tricky to get to them. The best way to reach it would be to take the metro to Tsuen Wan Station and then to take a minibus or to walk all the way up. Walking isn’t recommended though, unless you’re a seasoned hiker. It costs only 4.9 HKD for the minibus anyway so you can’t really go wrong. Entrance to both of the temples is free.
The minibus that’s going up the hill is line 81 and it can be taken from Shiu Wo Street. This is a little to the South of the Tsuen Wan Station. It can be reached by taking exit B1. There are some other bus stations along the way. It’s easy to fall into the trap of going to those but line 81 doesn’t stop there. The last stop of the minibus will be on the end of the road in a town called Sam Dip Tam, right at the entrance of the Yuen Yuen Institute. The Western Monastery is next to it, down the hill.
Yuen Yuen Institute
The Yuen Yuen Institute is characterized by the building shown in the above picture. It’s build in the style of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. The Yuen Yuen institute was build to celebrate the Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism beliefs. This is quite unique because all other temples in Hong Kong focus on one belief only.
The institute has a lot of little rooms where photos of deceased people are portrayed. Family members come here to commemorate them. I also saw some rooms where fortune telling seemed to be going on. I’m not sure though because the signs on the door are all in Chinese. Contrary to most of the spots I have visited so far in Hong Kong, none of the signs at the temples are written in English.
After leaving the institute, I walked downhill a little bit and stumbled upon the Western Monastery. Upon entering I was immediately greeted by a woman who wanted to sell me some roof tiles for me to write a wish on. I thankfully declined and went on to enjoy the beauty of the Monastery.
The main building of the Western Monastery, that can be seen from miles away, is a 9 storeys high pagoda. It is very beautifully decorated, just like all the buildings here. Apart from the pagoda there is a Main Hall, the King of Celestial Hall, the Maitreya Hall and the Scriptures Hall.
There is not much historic value to be found here, as the temples are only up to 50 years old, but the architecture makes up for this. It has some very stylish and complicated stairways which I haven’t really seen before in such a way.
The name of the Western Monastery and the Yuen Institute are a little confusing as they are actually just temples. They have everything you would expect to find at a Chinese temple. There are gardens, a pond with some fish and turtles, god statues and places of worship. It really shows that they put a lot of time and effort in the design of the temple and it’s fun to walk around the place.
At the time I visited, there was a lot of construction going on. Some parts were in scaffoldings and there were very few people. It seemed that I was one of the few tourists here because most people came to worship or to mourn their lost family members. I did not see a single Westerner during my visit and I did stay for about an hour. When looking at pictures online it seemed a lot busier, so I guess the summer months are the off season time here.
When I got to the pagoda, which is at the back of the Western Monastery, I couldn’t go inside it. The view from up there must have been great but it just wasn’t meant to be, I suppose. I asked the gardener if the door could be opened but he didn’t understand a word I said of course. It seems that they do open it on crowded days but you can still only get to the bottom floor and not go up.
There are some swastika symbols displayed on many of the buildings here. This is a long used Buddhism symbol. It has a long tradition and was adopted at some point, by Adolf Hitler for his nazi movement. This is where it mostly got its fame from in Europe. There is a difference between them though. Swastika’s that are used in the Buddhism believe, mostly bent to the left, while the nazi swastika’s are bent to the right.
It takes some time to get to these temples but once there, it makes for an entertaining hour or so. The minibus is a bit hard to find at first, but once this is found, it drops you off right at the temple’s door. I would say this is well worth the time and effort and basically gives you 2 temples for the price of 1, or better said 2 temples for free. This would be a good choice for anyone who likes temple architecture and seeing something that’s not overcrowded with tourists.