A not-so-secret garden. Also, a Buddhist nunnery.

Mostly a photo tour today, but a good one.

Last weekend, Cate and I took a short jaunt on the MTR, just three quick stops east on the Kwun Tong MTR line to Diamond Hill.

We were heading to two excellent sights, the Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery. Both of these are relatively recent creations, but they’re both done in ninth-century Tang style: impressively solid, dark-timbered buildings that surround spacious courtyards and pools. Oh, and the buildings don’t use any nails. (The Garden has a nice exhibit showing how the timbers are made to interlock. The short answer: with an exceptional level of craftsmanship.)

What’s especially striking about the design is that both sites (they’re adjoining) are almost directly under a set of loud highway overpasses. But trees and walls completely obscure the towering concrete visually, while also—along with the sound of the waterfalls and fountains—drowning out the traffic noise too. The Garden is about a two-minute walk from the MTR station, but you feel like you’re in the middle of a rural area (except, as you’ll see below, when you can see the soaring skyscrapers of Kowloon).

Oh, and one side note. The Chi Lin nunnery’s website is (obviously) chillin.org, which is maybe not the first word that jumps to mind to describe a life of asceticism and religious devotion. Though I do like imagining this conversation:

Nun 1: Hey, what are you up to?

Nun 2: Just hanging out, contemplating the origin of suffering and ignorance. You know, chillin’.

But anyway.

Here’s the main building of the nunnery:

Keep in mind: no nails. Wow.

And here’s what I meant about the Kowloon building towering overhead from some viewpoints.

Some pools:

In the center of the main courtyard is a beautiful lotus-shaped incense brazier. I chose, strangely enough, to frame it off to the side in this desperate attempt to avoid always centering things in the frame.

One of the lovely things about the nunnery and the garden is that they’re not super-touristy areas. Plenty of locals there enjoying some solitude in the middle of an otherwise hectic city, but it certainly wasn’t crowded. Apparently most visitors haven’t heard that it’s endorsed by both the Wall Street Journal and Jackie Chan. That’s some serious consensus.

Here, thanks to the miracle of photo stitching, is a pretty cool panorama of the nunnery courtyard. (Looks best if you click on it to see a larger version.)

Forward to the Nan Lian Garden!

One of the first things we did upon entering the garden was walk through the gift shop. There, Cate bought a bag of homemade almond cookies. Upon exiting the gift shop, she did what anyone who had just purchased a bag of homemade cookies would do: opened it and bit into one.

“Madam!” we hear someone shouting. Out of nowhere—and literally as she’s biting into the cookie—appears a smartly-dressed and very dapper looking garden security guard, who politely but unapologetically informs Cate that one cannot be eating homemade almond cookies in the garden. (Presumably this rule applies to other comestibles as well, though we neither asked nor tested this supposition.) I don’t know where he came from—or why you can’t eat a cookie outside—but boy, he was good. I picture him walking his beat, just waiting for the faintest hint of crackling cellophane. Then bam, off he goes.

So after that little moment of cross-cultural interchange, we soldiered on, cookies safely stowed away.

The garden is designed, as I mentioned above, rather brilliantly. One of its excellent features is that despite being small, the path and various structures and diversions make it easy to while away an hour or more. For example, here is a lovely waterfall that is worth contemplating for several minutes.

If you look really closely near the bottom of both waterfalls, you’ll see a restaurant. This is a fine place to eat some radish puffs and cheesecake (not at the same time) and contemplate the waterfall.

Here’s a close-up of the restaurant behind the water:

Exhausted from all the beauty, we stopped off for some strong black tea and a few tasties. The view from the window is, as you’d guess, really stunning.

Here’s what else we saw.

A quintessential Hong Kong view, even if it’s not one the Tourism Board puts on all the promotional materials.

Here’s another panorama (click for larger version). The wide wooden building at the left is a tea house, which (according the menu we perused) offers a variety of super-rare, super-expensive teas. We will return.


You know how you know this is artsy? Shallow depth of field.

All this, 10 minutes from home. Amazing.



Filed under Kowloon

2 responses to “A not-so-secret garden. Also, a Buddhist nunnery.

  1. Matt Pickett

    Hong Kong, like Gina, is so crazy! Another great post, and I really love the photography. Also, you said:

    “In the center of the main courtyard is a beautiful lotus-shaped incense brazier. I chose, strangely enough, to frame it off to the side in this desperate attempt to avoid always centering things in the frame.”

    Well, did you know… :


    …that your instincts were right on? Solid.

  2. Pingback: Fortune-telling at Wong Tai Sin Temple | Unforbidding City

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