This post offers tips, information, and a review of Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden, a Buddhist temple and garden in Kowloon, Hong Kong. While the nunnery and garden are technically two distinct places, they flow into one another, so we’re going to cover them in a single post. The Chi Lin Nunnery is a series of monasteries built (without nails!) in the ancient style of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618–907) architecture in the 1930s, and renovated in the 1990s. Immediately adjacent to the Nunnery is Nan Lian Garden, a public park that was a joint project between the Hong Kong government and Chi Lin Nunnery that opened in 2006.
Both the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden are an easy 5 minute walk from the Diamond Hill Station of the MTR (exit C2). Based on the itinerary we developed from Lonely Planet Hong Kong (highly recommended if you’re visiting Hong Kong/Macau), it looked like both were near other places we wanted to visit, so we hit them as our first stop of the morning. The Chi Lin Nunnery today serves as home to approximately 60 nuns (I was only able to see two). The monastery currently has three courtyards, with two are open to the public. Entrance is absolutely free and is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm daily.
As with just about every popular tourist spot in Hong Kong, the common advice is going to be to arrive early. Like other spots, Chi Lin Nunnery does get busier as the day goes on. With that said, most people are going to have finite amounts of time in Hong Kong, and only so many things that they can do early. If that’s true for you, consider not doing Chi Lin Nunnery early in the day. It gets busy, but not nearly as busy as other hot-spots, like Victoria Peak. We arrived early in the morning when almost no one was there, and by the time we left a couple of hours later, there still were very few people there–definitely not the kind of crowd-growth we experienced elsewhere.
Here are some other tips on best experiencing Chi Lin Nunnery, and our review of whether it’s worth the time during your visit to Hong Kong…
We recommend devoting about an hour (maybe a tad longer) to seeing Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden–even longer if you plan on eating at the on-site vegetarian restaurant, Chi Lin Restaurant.
We didn’t eat in the restaurant, but we did spend some extra time just sitting in one of the gardens, relaxing in the atmosphere.
Once you enter the gate of this nunnery, you enter the “First Yard,” an expansive courtyard filled with perfectly-trimmed bonsai trees and four lotus ponds in it.
I really liked the ponds for their beautiful dragon fountains and flowers, plus its overall relaxed feeling.
As far as tips for what to do once you’re here, we really have none. The Nunnery and Garden both aren’t the kind of places where you “accomplish” anything.
In other words, you’re not there to see X or Y, but for the overall experience and sense of place. Granted, there are little shrines and small displays, but truly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts in both locations.
In the Chi Lin Nunnery, you’ll also learn things along the way as you go into each of the temple halls, which have signs in English explaining the significance of the displays.
I knew relatively little about Buddhism before going into these temple halls, but I found the information interesting. The gold statues and displays inside the temple halls were nothing short of beautiful, too.
The thing in Nan Lian Garden that does stick out as a singular “must-see” is The Pavilion of Absolute Perfection and its bridge, both of which are…well…perfect.
However, you can’t enter the pavilion and you would have to make a serious effort not to see the pavilion as it’s in the center of the Nan Lian Garden that it would take some serious dumb luck not to see it. So that’s not really much of a tip.
Other displays in the Nan Lian Garden include the Chinese Timber Architecture Gallery and the Pine Teahouse (above).
While the gallery is small, I found its displays to be quite beautiful, and evocative of the same sense of tranquility found throughout the areas.
The one thing that really struck us about the Chi Lin Nunnery was that it absolutely exuded relaxation. Hong Kong is a beautiful world-city, but almost everything about it seems fast-paced. Even the other traditional Chinese spots in Hong Kong feel very “rushed,” for lack of a better term, with visitors quickly moving through them.
The Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden are a stark contrast to that, and as we stood by the Silver Strand Waterfall, I felt like this is the place I’d be transported if I screamed “SERENITY NOW!” in a hectic place. And, you know, if screaming the words “SERENITY NOW!” in crowded place would actually get you something other than funny looks.
In terms of photography, most of your photos are going to be the exteriors of structures or of details. Photography inside the shrines themselves is strictly prohibited, something I learned the hard way when I missed a sign and was reprimanded as soon as I lifted my camera to my eye.
There are two ways to approach photographing the Chi Lin Nunnery temple exteriors, both of which I recommend trying. First, get elevated and photograph the traditional Chinese architecture with the modern skyscrapers of Hong Kong in the background.
As you can see, these two styles are a stark contrast to one another, and a single photo every well embodies the “East Meets West” billing given to Hong Kong.
The second way is to intentionally avoid getting the skyscrapers in the background. Often, this will be easier said than done, but you can usually find a spot where trees or other foreground aspects of the Chi Lin Nunnery will block out the skyscrapers. I think each of these styles of photography have their place. The important takeaway is that you have to be mindful of your background when taking photos of the Chin Lin Nunnery, otherwise you might have an unpleasant urban element creeping in, or you might miss out on cool urban elements that could make for a “distinctly Hong Kong” photo.
Overall, we highly recommend a visit to Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. Since they’re free, it’s only an issue of time, and they are located near other spots you’ll want to visit, and can be squeezed into your schedule if necessary. We don’t recommend squeezing them in, but instead enjoying them for their peaceful settings. They are the perfect place to go for a midday break, where you can sort of relax and absorb what you’ve experienced thus far. Consider even grabbing snacks from one of the little shops on-site and enjoying them outdoors in the garden. While we don’t categorize these as “not to be missed,” we highly recommend them for their ability to round out a visit to Hong Kong.
Have you been to Chi Lin Nunnery or Nan Lian Garden? What did you think of these spots? Worth the time or something you’d suggest others skip? Share any other questions or thoughts you have in the comments!