Kowloon City Heritage Walk – Walled City, Temples & Gardens

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Kowloon City Heritage Walk
Kowloon City Heritage Walk

Kowloon City is located across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. I was surprised to learn that it has been inhabited since 2nd BCE when it was famous for pearl trade. Today it is a modern metropolis with bustling bazaars and business activities. However, Kowloon city continues to be dotted with heritage structures that tell you about its rich heritage.

At almost all its heritage places, I could see the juxtaposition of old and new. Waters in the gardens reflected the tall skyscrapers as much as they reflected the traditional architecture of temples or pavilions.

Kowloon City Heritage Walk

So, let me take you to this Kowloon city walk:

Nan Lian Garden – Kowloon City

Tang Poet Bai Juyi said – Where there are places for relaxation in the mundane world, there is no need to live as a recluse in the mountains.

Nan Lian Garden - Kowloon, Hong Kong
Nan Lian Garden made in Tang Architecture…

I began my walk from Nan Lian Garden that is designed in the 7th CE Tang dynasty style. Architect Chi Lin who designed this based it on the design of Jianghouju Garden of Tang Dynasty in Shanxi Province. As a traditional Chinese landscape garden, it has springs, hillocks, trees, flowers, plants, pavilions, walking paths and bridges. The garden goes up and down, providing multiple layers of views to the visitor.

When I started walking in the Nan Lian Garden, it was drizzling. I was worried for my cameras as I had no umbrella and I did not know if there is a shelter in the garden. In the interest of time, I decided to keep walking and face the rain if it gains momentum. The person at the entrance told me it takes 2 hours to walk the garden. Actually, you can easily do it in 30-45 mins or so, not counting the photo stops. Having said that unless you come here every day, you would stop for pictures every now and then.

Nan Lian Garden Maintenance

Nan Lian Garden is impeccably maintained. It suddenly takes you from an urban ambiance to the lap of nature. All you see around you is old rocks, trees, water bodies with wooden pavilions in them. The tall skyscrapers reflect in the water as do the traditional Chinese pavilions of the garden. The walking path gently guides you through the various parts of the Nan Lian Garden. Suddenly you find yourself next to a pond, then a row of tall trees surrounds you and then you follow the sound of a waterfall to discover a water mill. All this while birds are chirping and jumping from one tree to another.

Waterfall at Nan Lian Garden - Kowloon City
Waterfall at Nan Lian Garden – Kowloon City

Water is a key element of this garden connecting everything in this moon-shaped garden. At the center of lotus pond stands the pavilion of Absolute perfection in its sparkling Golden Color with two bright bridges in bright orange leading to it from either side of the garden.

There is a souvenir shop in the Nan Lian Garden premises that open a little late. Garden map is displayed at the entrance and signboards keep telling you where you are.

Nan Lian Garden in Kowloon City is a perfect place to go for a morning or evening walk whenever you are in Hong Kong.

  • Nearest MTR Station – Diamond Hill
  • Entry – Free
  • Time – Early morning to Evening

Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery - Kowloon City, Hong Kong
Chi Lin Nunnery – Kowloon City, Hong Kong

The Chi Lin Nunnery is the most peaceful place I have seen in Hong Kong and certainly in the Kowloon City. It is an island of tranquillity. As you enter the nunnery, you see the lotus ponds in front of you. White, Pink & Purple lilies float in the water. I walked around the corridor that displayed huge polished stones. Each stone had a message written on it from masters.

The One who does not see the merits of others is a wicked man. He who sees and hides them is the most wicked of all.

Water is the bloodstream of the mountain, plants are its hair, and clouds its expressions.

Stones with messages from the masters @ Chi Lin Nunnery, Kowloon City
Stones with messages from the masters @ Chi Lin Nunnery, Kowloon City

Temples at Chi Lin Nunnery

Along corridors, there are temples dedicated to Akashagarbha Bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara in form of Chintamani Chakra, Bhaisajyaguru or the medicine master attended by Suryaprabha and Chandraprabha,

The temple belongs to Maitreya or the future Buddha and Skanda is the Guardian deity of the monastery.

Golden statues at Chi Lin Nunnery - Kowloon City, Hong Kong
Golden statues at Chi Lin Nunnery – Kowloon City, Hong Kong

The main temple has a golden image of Buddha – it is one of the most beautiful images of Buddha that I have seen. It is surrounded by golden images of Manjusri Bodhisattva, Samantbhadra Boddhisattva, Ananda, and Mahakasyapa.

Chi Lin Nunnery was originally built in 1934 but in the 1990s was renovated as per Tang architecture. It has a lovely souvenir shop that I found more reasonable than any of the street markets of Hong Kong. There is an eatery as well that I am told serves the best vegetarian food in Kowloon City. Since I was here early morning, I missed out on eating here. I did buy a lovely hand-painted bookmark from here.

  • Nearest MTR Station – Diamond Hill
  • Entry – Free
  • Time – 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM

Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple - Kowloon, Hong Kong
Wong Tai Sin Temple – Kowloon, Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin is a popular Taoist deity known for healing powers. He was a poor shepherd in his childhood, but through the practice of Taoism, he could convert stones into sheep. People in Hong Kong believe that Wong Tai Sin can make every wish you make come true. No wonder the temple is so popular.

Wong Tai Sin came to Hong Kong 1915 CE with Leung Renyan, who came from China and lived in Wan Chai area of Hong Kong Island. Wong Tai Sin lived on the altar of his medical shop. Later when his shop caught fire, Leung Renyan dreamt that the new temple must be constructed 3000 steps north of Kowloon City Pier. This is how the current temple came into being.

Wong Tai Sin Temple with its guardians
Wong Tai Sin Temple with its guardians

Popular Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple is popular both with the locals and the tourists. When I visited, there were local Chinese who were praying with a bundle of burning incense sticks in their hands. The tourists mostly came in tour groups led by a tour leader holding a flag in his hands. I passed through a series of colorful shops selling offerings for the deity to reach the ornate entrance of the temple.

The first deity you meet is the guardian of the temple – Wang Ling-Guan Shrine, in solid bronze standing tall in the warrior pose. After taking a flight of steps, I was at worshipping plaza with 12 zodiac animals in solid bronze. People were getting clicked with their own zodiac sign. I was lost but enjoyed the relationship people shared with these figurines.

Chinese Architecture

Wong Tai Sin is a large temple built in typical Chinese architecture and colors. It blends the 5 elements of Feng Shui – Metal with a Bronze Pavilion, Wood with a wooden hall, Water through a fountain, Fire as part of Shrine and earth as part of temple walls. Inside the temple, people were praying and I believe making wishes. There are smaller shrines dedicated to Gods of wealth, fortune, and Chinese Medicine.

As a tourist, you are not allowed inside the temple, but you can walk around and see from a distance. Behind the temple are lotus ponds with Feng shui elements and Good Wish Garden. You can take a walk around and make a wish here too. Yuk Yik Fountain is a set of small fountains on a platform.

Medical services are still offered at the temple along with astrological services. You can get your fortune read at Wong Tai Sin Temple – you need a Cantonese Interpreter though.

For more details refer to the temple website. It is a huge temple, you can easily spend 1-2 hours here.

Pro Tip – Pick up the temple map from temple office and follow the map.

  • Closest MTR Station – Wong Tai Sin
  • Entry – Free
  • Time – 7 AM – 5 PM

Hua Wong Temple

Hua Wong Temple - Kowloon, Hong Kong
Peaceful Hua Wong Temple – Kowloon

Hua Wong is a very small but older temple in Kowloon City. Legend says that it is dedicated to an army general who fought against all odds. Another legend says it is dedicated to a local doctor. Whatever the case may be – I loved this small temple.

When I visited, there were only a couple of women worshipping here. I could silently sit and watch them pray. A series of icons were standing outside the temple. I assume they are related to zodiac signs but I can’t be sure.

By the time I reached Hua Wong Temple, I was a bit tired, and I felt really peaceful sitting there, exchanging smiles with people visiting the temple and observing the incense sticks merge into the ash below.

  • Closest MTR Station – Lok Fu
  • Entry – Free
  • Time – Morning to Evening

Kowloon Walled City Park

Kowloon Walled City - Hong Kong
Model of the Kowloon Walled City

This was my biggest attraction for this Kowloon City Walk. I had read about ancient walled villages of Hong Kong. Kowloon walled city was one of the easily accessible villages. When my Airbnb hosts told me that the city has been erased and converted into a park – I was disappointed but was still determined to visit. Kowloon Walled City Park is right next to the Hua Wong Temple, so I just crossed the road and entered the park albeit from the back side.

Kowloon Walled City is now a sprawling garden
Kowloon Walled City is now a sprawling garden

The Kowloon Walled City has a notorious and quirky past. It was a piece of land that was by some error not handed over to British when Hong Kong became a British Colony in 1898. As a result, this densely populated area with 50,000 people living in few high rise blocks became home to all kinds of crime. A local friend said if you went into the Kowloon Walled City you would have most probably not come back.

Kowloon Walled City

Check out some of the images of the Kowloon Walled City before it was demolished here or this WSJ Project.

Remains of the original Kowloon Walled City
Remains of the original Kowloon Walled City

In 1992, the city was demolished and converted into a park. Only small parts of the wall and the original structure of its south gate remain near the main entrance gate. I could see the use of a lot of iron and cement in the building. A lovely memorial stands at the gate as a replica of Kowloon Walled City. At the Alms House, you can read about the story of the city – the official version of course.

Kowloon City gets its name from this old walled city.

Old Hong Kong Airport – Kai Tak Airport was located close to Kowloon Walled City.

Stories of Kowloon Walled City
Stories of Kowloon Walled City

Walking around the park was pleasant even in the middle of the day. Like the Nan Lian Garden, there are walking paths, ponds with lotus in them and pavilions here and there. I could see elderly men walking, talking and exercising in the park. There are rock sculptures, bonsai plants and mosaic floors for the walkers to enjoy.

I enjoyed reading the stories of Kowloon Walled City sitting on a bench under a huge tree. I would read and then try to visualize that this scenic park was once the most densely populated place on earth.

  • Closest MTR Station – Lok Fu
  • Entry – Free
  • Time – Morning to Evening

Across the Kowloon Walled City are a series of streets where you can eat local street food. It is quite popular with both locals and tourists but being a vegetarian, I let it go.

Kowloon City Heritage Walk was tiring but a very fulfilling walk – I made an acquaintance with the faith and traditions of Hong Kong.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Sounds like you walked a lot! I love the huge stone guardians, that’s how I connect and imagine Hongkong too. I have to say the Buddha really looks unique, never seen such a statue. The story of the Kowloon city (village?) turned into a garden is quite a thing! Interesting too that this was done before 1998!

    • Helene, I walked like 19 km that day. I do not know where I got all that energy from, but when I am traveling, I can go on and on. There are so many stories that you can hear about Kowloon Walled City from people of Hong Kong.

  2. Love the heritage photos. I’ve been to Hong Kong once and was not able to see this side of the city. I did the touristy stuff though. hehe 😀 Definitely will check this out when I get a chance to come back. Nice read 🙂

  3. I have heard of Kowloon being one of the most densely populated regions on Earth, but this is the first time I am seeing a post about what it is, or rather it was. Very interesting history and excellent description as always.

  4. Absolutely beautiful! The city looming behind such beautiful, retreat-like settings is surreal. And I’m always interested in a chance to walk and explore a city’s history and culture.

  5. Wow. You’ve covered all the spots that were on my list (which I didn’t have time for) in Hong Kong. It definitely makes me regret it, so here’s hoping I go back soon to explore Kowloon. I remember trying to search for an old remnant of a Sung Dynasty Village in Hong Kong (sadly it shut down) but this would have been a beautiful alternative. (Although I doubt I’d have been able to walk as much as you!)
    Thanks for sharing Anu!

    • Revati – there is so much more I wanted to see. I could not go to the real walled villages in New Territories or the islands. However, I did enjoy walking around Kowloon. Have a long list of still to be explored Hong Kong.

  6. Oh my, I would LOVE to explore the wish fulfilling gardens at Wong Tao Sin Temple – I had no idea Hong Kong had so many spectacular sights!

  7. I love all the colors and greenery! We had planned to visit Hong Kong this month, but unfortunately had to cancel our trip. I’ll save this for when we eventually make it over there next year!

    • Looks like Hong Kong has a tradition of canceled trips. I had to postpone my trip due to a cyclone. However, eventually, when it happened, I really enjoyed exploring it & discovering these gems.

  8. I lived in Hong Kong and haven’t made it to some of your places on your list. I definitely want to visit these places when I go back!

    • Liz, believe me, this is not for the first time I am hearing this about my blog posts. I love doing a lot of research before I travel and tire myself on the trip trying to find these places. But feedback like this makes me going on. Thank you.

  9. Born n bred in HK but I haven’t visited any of these sites!😳 Fab pics n info Anu: can’t say I’m surprised since I’ve experienced first hand how much effort u put in👏

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