Broken Promise

Sun. 7th July 2019

To be heededWe promised ourselves that we would walk less today, but that promise was doomed as soon as we saw the steps up to the 10,000 Buddhas Temple after lunch. I am getting ahead of myself as the day started with a train journey to Tai Po which is only 23km north of our hotel but the change in scenery was immense. The skyscrapers were replaced with green hills dotted with villages. In my faithful Heritage Hikes book, there was a walk from Tai Po Market to Tai Wo with the attraction that it passed one of our favourite sights, a railway museum. Tai Po also has Hong Kong’s largest waterpark but that is so not on our itinerary.

Tai Po Old Police StationTai Po is home to the first police station in the New Territories and was built in 1897. In 2010 it was in a sorry state but was fortunate to be selected as part of the “Revitalising Historical Buildings Through Partnership Scheme” and was renamed the Green Hub. Not only was the main office and cells renovated in 2015 but the place now focuses more on being a centre to “inspire sustainable living” and it also runs courses and workshops. Today one of the workshops was origami, which one of us would have enjoyed more than the other, but we declined and moved on.

Something is burningWe have not seen many temples in Hong Kong so today we are rectifying that and have chosen three quite different ones to include on the itinerary. Oops, actually we visited four in the end. We divert from the busy street market to see Man Mo Temple which was built in 1891. It was not very big and we had the place to ourselves. The ceiling caught my eye, or more accurately the hanging spirals, which on closer inspection were burning incense coils. It is reminding us of our recent trip to China were we got a bit “templed out” by the end.

Railway Station turned into a museumThe old railway station which used to be on the Kowloon – Canton Railway has also been re purposed and is now the Hong Kong Railway Museum complete with the recreated ticket hall and displays of old railway tickets of first through third-class tickets. The need to explain the necessity of platform tickets as “people used to like to wave off friends and family on their journey” amused me as it seems obvious, but I suppose that is just me showing my age. The museum seemed more of a photo opportunity for the Chinese tourists as I watched a dad herd his bored young kids to pose, waving out of carriage windows and balancing on the redundant railway lines. There were a few carriages to walk through but little else, will we ever find a railway museum as good as the one we found in Zimbabwe?

Golden Buddhas lining the pathPagoda at the top of the hillThe second temple was the 10,000 Buddhas Temple at Sha Tin a few stops back down the MTR line towards the city and we decided we just had to go and see it once we saw there was a pagoda too. What we had not appreciated was the 431 steps to climb up to it or that it was not signposted and was tucked away down some side streets. Luckily Google Maps was able to get us there first time! The steps are lined on both sides with golden statues of buddhas, each one different. I did not fancy the job of cleaning the statues as it must be like painting the Forth Road Bridge.

Not as cute as they lookAs we climbed up the stairs, one woman on the way down complained that she had been scratched by a monkey. Oh, are there monkeys here? We remembered from Ubud, Bali to keep away from the monkeys clambering over the steps as they can scratch with the potential risk of rabies. Keeping our distance we did capture this family scene as who can resist a tiny baby. So far we have been very lucky with the weather as rain has been threatening the whole time of our visit to HK and we passed through a torrential downpour on the train but it mostly held off.

Sik Sik Yuen TempleI had found another interesting walk from Wong Tai Sin to the Walled City, which was almost on our route home and according to our map app it was only half an hour walking time so we decided to go for it. After all our walking so far today we should have know this was likely to be a step too far. The walk started right outside the Wong Tai Sin MTR station at the Sik Sik Yuen Temple, one of the most popular temples in HK, as it is on a number of guided tour routes. A large part seemed to be being refurbished so there was not much to see and this meant everyone was crammed in a small space. Amongst the tourists there were worshippers praying and offering their purchased sticks of incense to the gods. I was quite upset to see these quite unceremoniously scooped up and taken away without any care for their significance. As you may have gathered I was not impressed by this temple, it was just too commercial and busy.

Lake and pagoda in Kowloon Walled CityThe main reason I had selected this walk was to visit Kowloon Walled City, which had a rocky history. It was originally an Imperial Fort, and remained Chinese when Britain took over the New Territories in 1898. It took on its own management and became an overcrowded slum that Hong Kong failed to control and it was not until 1987 that it was finally demolished. There was an impressive 3D model showing just how crammed in the buildings were.

Hau Wong Temple The Walled City has been transformed and is now a pleasant park where locals come and relax and so, being Sunday it was busy. It also provides a good backdrop to come and have your photo taken in. The surrounding area still has many tatty tower blocks which were on the flight path of the old Hong Kong Airport, which we flew into in 2002 when we last visited. The buildings are so tall that the plane approach path took you below the level  of the upper apartments.

Skyscrapers near the old Kai Tak airportWith a detour into the Hau Wong Temple – our fourth of the day – the walk took us much longer than the advertised 30 minutes and we still had not completed it when the heavens opened. We took shelter in a nearby local bar and were grateful for the air-conditioning as we were far too hot and sticky from the hot humid weather. The beer was also very welcome. We had escaped the centre of town today as a protest march was organised heading not that far from our hotel and we had been warned of road closures. The bus back into the city was stuck in the traffic and diverted off west of Nathan Road. Luckily the driver let us out so we could scoot round the back roads back to our hotel. Those extra steps were certainly not welcome but the bus was stuck and we did not want to be caught up in any crowds still around. The road just up from our hotel remained closed and police diverted traffic long into the evening. We had a few restaurants we would like to have visited for our last evening here but given our tired feet and the protest march we ended with a quiet meal close to the hotel.

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