Pai Tau Tsuen
Alex Frew McMillan
Pai Tau Tsuen is a sleepy village on a hillside northwest of Sha Tin MTR station. Quiet and laid-back, it's a world away from the heavily planned new town to the east.
The main draw is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, up the hill from the village. Its name understates the number of Buddhas contained in the five halls - 12,000 statues have been consecrated in the temple alone, a handful of which date back to the Tang dynasty.
The 'monastery' doesn't live up to its name - there aren't any resident monks here and it's overseen by laypeople. But the preserved body of its founder, Yuet Kai, who, along with his disciples, built the temple by hand, is on display in the main hall.
About 40 temples dot the hills around Pai Tau and some are open to the public, but many are not. During a recent visit, a monk from Wai Chuen Monastery noted that the area is prized for its solitude and calm - perfect for the reflective life.
'It [would be] nice to live here,' the monk said. 'It's quiet and peaceful.'
The main temple and pagoda of the monastery are listed buildings, but they're not the only ones in town. In the main Pai Tau village, the Lam Ancestral Hall buildings are also recognised as being of historic importance. Set back from the street, behind a stone wall, the rooms of the hall are part of a row of old homes that give the village much of its character. Residents say the buildings are about 70 years old.
Beyond an overpass is land reclaimed from the sea and coastal flats to form Sha Tin. The pro- gress continues - red and white banners in Pai Tau Tsuen protest against a proposed flyover running over the village. But, for now, it remains a sleepy corner just beyond the reach of the urban sprawl.
The spirits who watch over the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery must have been sad to see the British leave Hong Kong; a landslide the day after the 1997 handover closed the tourist attraction for three years.
Around Pai Tau Tsuen
1 Home comforts
At the chilled-out Wong's Kitchen & Cafe (No 28, Pai Tau Village), Alice Wong and her husband serve up country-style fried rice (HK$35) and fried noodles with chilli and spare ribs (HK$32). Wong hopes her food speaks for itself - she limits the use of oil and eschews monosodium glutamate. 'We don't need to be famous,' she says.
2 Resting place
With its five-tier red and white pagoda, Po Fook Hill (12 Pai Tau Street, tel: 2604 1618) is often confused with the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery on the hill behind it. It's actually a columbarium, built in 1990, with Tang dynasty-style gardens and escalators. The 100,000 niches don't come cheap - the average price is about HK$100,000 and the cost rises steeply in line with how auspicious a plot is considered.
3 Retail therapy
The two-tower Grand Central Plaza looms over Pai Tau, marking the boundary of the village. Its main attrac- tion is Home Square, a 350,000 sq ft home furnishings mall, plus a recently refurbished Ikea and a gaggle of design stores.
Average house price HK$3.2 million for a 700 sq ft flat with rooftop
Average rent HK$11,000 for a 1,000 sq ft unit
Nearest shops Small stores in village, or walk 10 minutes to Sha Tin New Town Plaza
Nearest restaurants Small cha chaan teng in the village and dim sum and seafood restaurants in Grand Central Plaza next to the MTR station
Nearest MTR Sha Tin station is next to the village
Nearest ATM Sha Tin MTR station