A slick glossy magazine informed me that visitors to Hong Kong with enough dough could have their pick that month of live performances by Elton John, James Blunt, Kenny G, and the stagestomping "We Will Rock You." Not too shabby offerings, indeed. Then I reached for the South China Morning Post whose front page featured a photograph of Buddhist monks taking part in a public bathing ritual to mark Buddha's birthday. It hit me: everywhere you go Hong Kong, despite the hustle and bustle of the Tsim Sha Tsui shopping district, the clamor of the Star Ferries, container ships, junks and sampans jockeying for space in the harbour, and the seemingly tireless hawkers in the nighttime Temple Market, the spiritual side of Hong Kong is never far away. In a place teeming with cosmopolitan diversions and dominated by skyscrapers, it's surprisingly easy to find a soulful escape; a pocket of calm.
Temples are plentiful throughout Hong Kong, and are often just a few metres away from the street chaos you wish to escape (or the subtropical heat, depending the season). Man Mo Temple, at the intersection of Ladder Street and Hollywood Road, is one of the oldest and most beautiful and dates back to the 1840s. Coils of incense burn all day long in honor of Man, the god of literature, and Mo, the god of war.
Wong Tai Sin Temple, in Kowloon’s Wong Tai Sin district, is renown for its legion of fortune-tellers. It’s named after the Chinese deity who is believed to punish evils, heal the wounded, and rescue the dying. While there, soulseekers can meditate awhile in the peaceful Good Wish Garden, modeled after the manicured grounds in Beijing's summer palace.
Even dining out in Hong Kong can offer soulful solace. In the Shangri-la Kowloon where I stayed, guests can indulge in the decadent chocolate fountain in the hotel's Café Kool, or sit down to a traditional Cantonese feast in the award-winning Shang Palace. But for a venue a little more overtly spiritual, plan on a vegetarian lunch at the Chi Lin Nunnery. The Buddhist nunnery, built with imported Canadian Yellow Cedar, echoes Tang Dynasty architecture, and its extensive gardens, which contain a Zen-style lotus pond rock garden, are ideal for a postprandial stroll to reflect or admire the statues of Buddhist gods.
For a truly pastoral, rural escape, consider a 30-minute ferry ride to Lantau Island, where you can swim at Cheung Sha Beach, explore the rustic Tai O fishing village, visit with the monks at Po Lin Monastery and admire the giant Buddha, before walking the Wisdom Path. It's all good for the soul.
For more information on Hong Kong, visit:
• Discover Hong Kong
• Cathay Pacific Airlines
• Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel
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