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History, religion and traditions

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Wong Tai Sin Temple is, possibly, one of Hong Kong's most popular temples. Occupying a massive compound of almost five acres on the southern side of the Lion Rock in the north of Kowloon (Adjacent to MTR-Wong Tai Sin), the temple gained its enormous popularity thanks to its reputation for answering most of the devotees' sincere pleas... "What you request is what you get".

 

The large temple started its way back in 1915 as a humble shrine, located in a small Wan-Chai apartment.  Leung Renyan, a Taoist priest brought the message of Wong Tai Sin (The Great Immortal Wong), a Chinese Taoist deity with a power of healing, from China's Guangxi province to Hong Kong.

 

Initially, Leung set up an altar in his rented Wan-Chai apartment. Later he opened a herbal medicine shop nearby and moved the altar to the back of the shop. Customers coming to his shop could pray at Wong Tai Sin's altar and seek advice for their ailments.

 

In 1921, three years after his shop was destroyed by fire, Leung claimed he received a message from Wong Tai Sin instructing him to build a new temple.  The deity's chosen site, according to "the message", was 3,600 paces from a pier.  Leung soon found the spot at the foot of Lion Rock Mountain, near Chuk Yuen village, which was the right distance from the Kowloon City Pier.

 

As a part of its miraculous history, the temple managed to survive the brutal Japanese occupation with hardly any damages... (During World War II)

 

Most visitors come to the temple for Kau Cim, a Chinese fortune-telling practice in which the devotee shakes a small bamboo cylinder containing fortune sticks until a stick falls out. This stick is exchanged for a piece of paper bearing the same number, and then the soothsayer will interpret the fortune on the paper for the worshiper. Often the same piece of fortune is taken to multiple booths for verification purposes.  Some booths also offer palm reading service.

 

The architecture of Wong Tai Sin Temple is the traditional Chinese temple style, with grand red pillars, a magnificent golden roof adorned with blue friezes, yellow latticework, and multi-colored carvings.

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Enter the compound, turn left and walk to The Main Altar, the compound's most important building, where a sacred portrait of Master Wong Tai Sin is held.

 

The beautiful Nine Dragon Wall, in the garden to the left of the main altar, is a replica of the famous Nine Dragon Wall in Beijing, with reliefs of legendary dragons.

 

Next in line is the Three Saints Hall, next to the main altar, where three important deities are worshipped.  Those are:  Kwun Yam (Guanyin), the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion,  General Kwan (Guan Yu), a historic hero,  and the Taoist immortal Lǚ Dòngbīn.

 

Yue Heung Shrine, in the middle of the courtyard, is a small hexagonal building dedicated to the Buddha of Lighting Lamp, representing "Fire" in the five geomantic elements.

 

The Memorial Hall, on the right side of the Three Saints Hall, is where the spirit tablets of the deceased "Pu Yi Tan" Taoist members with significant contribution to the Yuen are kept.

 

The Bronze pavilion, in between the Three saints Hall and the Memorial Hall, is the private study of Master Wong Tai Sin.  Its bronze plating symbolizes the "Metal" in the "Five" elements.

 

The Good Wish Garden, just behind the Three Saints Hall and the Memorial Hall, is a beautiful garden with typical Chinese architectural features, such as artistic fish ponds, pavilions and small bridges...

A few steps away from the Memorial Hall, the hexagonal Confucian Hall is dedicated to Confucius, Master K'ung, and his 72 followers.

 

Po Chai Hall, a two-storied red bricks building near the entrance/exit, is also known by its former name, "Medical block", thanks to the herbal clinic on its ground floor, where you can get free medical consultations.

As you can expect, the temple is jam-packed on Chinese holidays and especially on Chinese New Year, when droves of worshippers are waiting outside the temple before midnight and rush in to the main altar to offer Wong Tai Sin their glowing incense sticks, as soon as the year starts.  As the tradition goes, the earlier you offer the incense, the better luck you will have that year...

 

Wong Tai Sin's birthday, on the 23rd day of the 8th lunar month, is also a very busy time at the temple.

 

The temple is open from 7:00 am to 5:30 pm daily, and runs overnight in the Lunar New Year Eve.

Getting to Wong Tai Sin Temple is very easy.  Just drop off at MTR-Wong Tai Sin ... and you are basically there... 

  • Important note : The Main Altar is currently under renovation, so the activity has temporarily moved to the Fung Ming Hall (the large bricks building, on the right hand side of the Confucian Hall)

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Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill (one MTR station from MTR-Wong Tai Sin) occupies a larger area than Wong Tai Sin Temple but is far quieter, and although it does not enjoy the same "miraculous reputation", it boasts some of the most beautiful temple-architecture and landscaping you are likely to see in Hong Kong.

 

Using special Tang Dynasty architectural style, the nunnery's beautiful timber buildings were constructed without using a single nail.  The gardens around the compound are just as beautiful... with Chinese pavilions, goldfish ponds with water lilies, rock - gardens and meticulously manicured Bonsai trees.

 

At the nunnery, you can also see some exceptionally beautiful statues of the Sakyamuni Buddha, Kwun Yam (Guanyin) the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion and other bodhisattvas. These statues are made from gold, clay, wood and stone.

 

The nunnery can be accessed via MTR-Diamond Hill (its just a few steps away): Take exit C to Plaza Hollywood, walk out of the mall, turn left and walk along the street for two minutes (pass the curve), till you get to the corner of Fung Tak Road.  The entrance to the Nan Lian Garden is on your right hand side, across the street.

From the garden, there is a stone footbridge to the nunnery itself, across Fung Tak Road. 

The compound is open daily, from early morning till late afternoon.

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Kowloon Walled City Park, in what is known today as Kowloon City, is not only one of Hong Kong's nicest parks but also an important (and really fascinating) piece of the territory's history.

 

The park occupies a small piece of land (less than 10 acres) where Kowloon Walled City, one of the greatest abnormalities in Hong Kong's colonial past, once stood.

 

The story of Kowloon Walled City goes back almost one thousand years, to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when it was established as a watchpost defending the area against pirates and protecting the production of salt.  It was first fortified during the 17th century and gained more and more importance through the years... Between 1843 and 1847, following China's defeat in the First Opium War and the British occupation of Hong Kong Island, a walled fort-city was constructed on site, surrounded by massive stone walls with six watchtowers and four gates.

 

In 1898, when Britain and China signed the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory (the famous 99 years lease over the New Territories and the Outer Islands), they agreed that China will be allowed to retain the tiny exclave of Kowloon Walled City, so long as its troops do not interfere with Britain's rule over Hong Kong... The "City's" population counted less than a thousand people then.

 

But as the story usually goes with these sorts of agreements... things went out of hand pretty quickly and the tiny exclave became a safe haven for Hong Kong's outlaws, crooks and other baddies... As a result of various events, neither the Chinese government nor the Colonial authorities wanted to take care of the place and so The Walled City became a "no man's land", controlled by an organized crime syndicate.

 

By the 1980s, Kowloon Walled City's population counted around 35,000 residents, who squeezed in one of earth's most densely populated urban areas,  living in extremely congested (and ugly) concrete monsters without any proper facilities.        

Being a lawless land, the city was notorious for its plethora of "illicit pleasures", including brothels, casinos, opium dens, cocaine parlors, food courts serving dog meat, and secret factories... The Kowloon Walled City was also infamous for its high number of unsanitary dentist clinics, since this was where unlicensed dentists could operate without being prosecuted.

 

This "party" was brought to an end only in the early 1990s...  After the Joint Declaration of 1984, the Chinese and the Brits agreed to demolish the City and resettle its inhabitants. The mutual decision to tear down the walled city was made in 1987 and in 1993 the "notorious city" was wiped from the face of the earth and the beautiful Kowloon Walled City Park came about.

 

Despite of the mess and the havoc which characterized the Kowloon Walled City for decades, an impressive number of remnants were unearthed, most of which were incorporated in the park's design (or are displayed at the Yamen).

 

The park is modeled on the Jiangnan garden style of the early Qing Dynasty and other than its interesting historic relics, it boasts some fabulous gardens, rock gardens, manmade ponds, Chinese pavilions, Floral walks and more...

 

The Yamen (a traditional Imperial-Chinese governor's courtyard), at the heart of the park, is the only building that fully survived from the 1840s built walled city. It's a three-hall structure fully restored in its Qing Dynasty appearance.  Today, the Yamen houses the park's office, alongside a photo exhibition and a few relics that were found in the Walled City.

 

On the right side of the park's South Gate (if entering from the South Gate), facing the square in front of the Yamen, is the Old South Gate, an impressive remnant of the 1840s fort-city's main gate and wall.

 

The park is open daily, 6 am - 11 pm and entrance is free.

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The best way to get to the park is with the MTR, this way you will also get a chance to see some other interesting places (between the station and the park). From MTR-Lok Fu: Walk a few steps up Wang Tau Hom East, turn left to Junction Road and walk along it (passing next to the Chinese-Christian cemetery) until you reach the corner of Tung Tau Tsuen Road, where you can visit the ancient Hau Wong Temple (dates back to 1730). Turn left (to Tung Tau Tsuen) and walk until you see the park's North Gate on your right.

 

You can also take a bus from various places around Hong Kong:

KMB's route No. 1 departs from Star Ferry Pier (bus terminal) in Tsim sha Tsui and moves northward, through Nathan Road (you should alight on Tung Tau Tsuen Road - ask the driver to drop you at the Kowloon Walled City Park / 九龍寨城公園)

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Sham Shui Po, on the northern side of Kowloon, is possibly one of the best places in Hong Kong to look for reasonably priced electronics and computer ware, including accessories, video games and what not...

 

The cluster of market-streets is adjacent to MTR Sham Shui Po (on the red marked Tsuen Wan Line), which means you don't have to challenge your navigation skills... just walk out of the station and you are there...

 

Apliu Street boasts the area's main market-street, where lots of electronics and accessories can be found, including second hand stuff... from the MTR station: Exits A-2 and C-2 will take you directly to the street. (shops here are open until quite late...)

 

Golden Computer Centre and Golden Computer Arcade, on the other side of Sham Shui Po's MTR station, are the right place to look for everything computer related... from complete computers to computer components, software and games... The choice is immense and prices are very good (use exit D-2 to get there). Open until 10pm

 

As expected, there are numerous stalls selling delicious local foods, and these can be found on the small streets around Golden Computer Centre, mainly Kweillin Street, Fuk Wa Street and Fuk Wing Street - next to exit D-2.

 

Ki Lung Street, on the other side of the MTR station (running parallel to Apliu) also boasts some great food places

 

Sham Shui Po is also home to one of Hong Kong's most popular fabric markets, where you can get nice silk and other fabrics at a fraction of what they would have cost elsewhere.

 

Most of the fabric shops can be found on Ki Lung Street and Yu Chau Street, two parallel streets that run between Nam Cheong Street and Wong Chuk Street, and while many of them are strictly wholesalers, others would be happy to sell to whoever walks in... (That includes Kin Sing at 189 Ki Lung Street, Po Fai Textiles at 99 Yu Chau Street and Cheong Yue Company at 113 Yu Chau Street).

 

Getting there: From exit A-1 of MTR Sham-Shui-Po, turn right to Cheung Sha Wan Road and walk along it a few steps, to the corner of Nam Cheong Street. Turn right again (after crossing the street) and walk down Nam Cheong Street.

Yu Chau Street is the second street on your right and Ki Lung Street is the third.

 

For those of you who can't do without a modern shopping-mall, there is Dragon Centre: a glass-clad giant that caters mostly for locals from nearby suburbs...

Use exit C-1, turn left to Cheung Sha Wan Road (Sham Shui Po's main thoroughfare) and left again to Yen Chow Street, where the mall is (you can also walk there from Apliu Street)

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Alongside Lamma Island and Sai Kung, Lei Yue Mun is one of the best places in Hong Kong to enjoy fresh seafood.  You can choose your live seafood from the tanks at the restaurant and let the chef take care of the rest while you relax and enjoy the unbeatable views over the eastern part of the harbor...

 

To complement the dinning experience, take a walk to the nearby village, where you can experience the true spirit of a traditional Hong Kong fishermen village (Or at least what has been left of it)...

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To get to Lei Yue Mun : Take bus No. 14 C from the bus terminus, next to MTR-Kwun Tong (exit A-1 to Yue Man Square) and alight at Shung Shun Street - 崇信街 (next to the seafront promenade).  The same bus can also be taken from the bus terminus next to MTR - Yau Tong.

You can also take a cab from MTR-Yau Tong (it's just a short drive).

 

All the seafood restaurants are located along Hoi Pong Rd. / Praya Road (opposite Shung Shun St., on the other side of the small typhoon shelter)

 

Here are the places that we recommend :

 

Gateway Cuisine / Tai Fat Hau Restaurant (Cantonese Seafood)

This is one of Lei Yue Mun's fanciest restaurants. It's located at a strategic point and the elegant dinning room is encircled with stunning harbor views all around...

Prices are slightly higher than the average but the dinning experience is superb: set-menus works around HK$ 300-350 per diner

Open daily for lunch and dinner (till almost midnight)

58A Hoi Pong Road Central, Lei Yue Mun                    Phone: 2727 4628

 

Happy Seafood Restaurant

Open daily for lunch and dinner (till almost midnight)

53A Hoi Pong Rd. Central, Lei Yue Mun     Phone: 2340 1166 / 2348 1045

 

Sea King garden Restaurant

G/F, 39 Hoi Pong Rd C,, Lei Yue Mun         Phone: 2348 1408 / 2348 1800

 

Lung Yue Restaurant

G/F, 41 Hoi Pong Rd C,, Lei Yue Mun         Phone: 2348 6332 / 2348 4715

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MongKok and Yau ma tei - Chinese traditions and authentic markets.