Hong Kong’s Diamond Hill was once home to a mix of gamblers, thugs and movie stars. Over the last 20 years, the government cleared away much of the squalor (and history) to make way for a subway stop, generic high-rise housing developments and the cacophonous Hollywood Plaza shopping center. But the city did manage to tuck a giant hidden gem into the neighborhood: the Nan Lian Garden.
Nan Lian, meaning “southern lotus,” covers over 350,000 square feet, and is based on garden design concepts from the Tang Dynasty. Centered around the large Blue Pond full of giant koi, the landscaped garden’s one-way winding path takes visitors on a soothing route of various vistas of hills, rocks, waterfalls, arching red bridges, pavilions and bonsai-style trees.
The garden (60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill, Kowloon; 852-2329-8811; www.nanliangarden.org/) is just a one-minute walk from the Diamond Hill MTR station. Enter through the Black Lintel Gate and you’ll quickly come to the Chinese Timber Architecture Gallery. Linger for a few minutes over the impressive scale models of famous Chinese timber structures built without nails. Then wind your way over to Long Men Lou, where you can have a vegetarian lunch or dinner. Or if you want an even lighter bite, proceed to the Song Cha Xie and enjoy dim sum and a pot of tea: the menu features many varieties, including Wuyi Wan Cha, a rare form grown “in the cracks of stones on Mount Wuyi” in Fujian Province (or so says the menu).
With your belly full, stroll over to the Rockery, a pavilion artfully displaying Hongshui River boulders in interesting shapes and colors. Next door is a gift shop selling a nice assortment of teaware, textiles and natural food products. Also on site is a hall with rotating exhibits (the current one, on bamboo and rattan, runs through March, admission is 20 Hong Kong dollars, or $2.57, at 7.76 Hong Kong dollars to the U.S. dollar).
Finish your visit by taking the pedestrian bridge over the roadway to the Chi Lin Nunnery. The building dates back to the 1930s but was rebuilt in Tang style in the 1990s. Enjoy the large outer courtyard with its water lily ponds and bougainvillea bonsais, then head up to the inner temple complex, where you can marvel at the large Buddha figures. (Those sensitive to the incense smoke at many temples will appreciate the clean air here.)
If you are interested in experiencing the garden at night, a good time to visit might be this Sunday, when Nan Lian hosts a rare performance of Naamyam, a form of Cantonese narrative song commonly performed by blind singers. Hugely popular in the first half of the 20th century, this art form is rapidly disappearing.
The Nan Lian Garden is open daily, 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free admission.