Over 60,000 meticulously strung together pieces of seashells and corals decorate this stunning underwater-themed temple in the hills of Taiwan. Instead of the usual lion-dog statues that preface more traditional temples, dragon head turtles are the guardians of the choice here.
Located five miles from the sea, this shrine is an homage to the 18 disciples of Buddha, Matsu (the goddess of the sea), and a Buddhist monk named Ji Gong—a quirky monastic who drank profusely and ate a lot of meat, yet was an advocate for the poor. Taiwan is a place that embraces polytheism, and it’s quite common to see a multitude of deities housed peacefully in the same space.
While there are over 15,000 temples spread across the island, this nautical sea shrine has a unique sense of quirkiness. Built in 1996, it took two years to complete the entire structure. The entrance is adorned with a long row of shell-beaded chandeliers, and the main attraction is a narrow five-foot-tall tunnel packed with bright white coral on all sides. Even the incense burners are graced with a thick layer of shell and coral stubs.
There is a caveat though. With reef systems being decimated around the globe, the temple has drawn some controversy among conservationists. The environmental repercussions of this coral-jeweled pantheon is questionable, though staff have said that the corals are not of the endangered sort.
Know Before You Go
There’s no public transportation available. The best way to get to the temple is to hire a private driver.