Found in the middle of a concrete high-rise forest in Kowloon is a sacred, tranquil place where life moves at a far slower pace than hectic Hong Kong. Chi Lin Nunnery was established in the 1930s as a centre for Buddhist study, sheltered on one side by the Mountain of Compassionate Clouds and guarded on the other by Lion Rock.
As the city built up around it, the Nunnery managed to retain its peaceful air. A stately timber monastery in the style of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) was built in 1998. Made of cypress wood, the monastery halls were meticulously hand-crafted without the use of any nails.
Following ancient techniques, the monastery’s layout features open space and harmony between Heaven and Earth. Temple halls with large, gently peaked roofs are set around a courtyard. In front of the Hall of Celestial Kings are lotus ponds and a pair of white marble “Sutra Pillars”. The design is said to combine stone and plants to “echo messages from the Land of Purity where minds are as pure as the lotus flower.”
The monastery has a dedicated community of monks and nuns, but visitors are welcome to join the path to spiritual enlightenment, too. The main entrance is called Shan Men, which means “three gates”, referring to Buddhist wisdom, compassion and skilful means – the three important methods to attain spiritual liberation.
Taking in the Nunnery as a whole is awe-inspiring, but the smaller features are worth a closer look too. The columned corridors that look like elegant paths to Heaven, the finely crafted golden Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, the immaculately cared-for bonsai trees. An eyeful of carefully-crafted details aimed to ease the mind and soul.
Take a Stroll to Nan Lian Garden
Next to Chi Lin is Nan Lian Garden, its 3.5 hectares etching out another peaceful hideaway to explore. The gardens also follow Tang-era design techniques. Every tree, every rock and every water feature is carefully arranged according to ancient beliefs. Take the one-way circular paved path through it to find meticulously landscaped gardens and the glittering Pavilion of Absolute Perfection set on an island in a koi pond.
One could easily spend a whole afternoon here, especially with a vegetarian restaurant and Chinese tea house on site for sustenance, as well as a shop selling a range of books, arts and crafts for a bit of retail therapy.
Chi Lin Nunnery
5 Chi Lin Dr, Sheung Yuen Leng, Hong Kong
To get there: Take the MTR to Diamond Hill station, and from the Plaza Hollywood shopping mall the Nunnery is a five-minute walk away. Free entry for both Chi Lin and Nan Lian Garden.