An Oasis In The Concrete Jungle

52 comments
Asia, Hong Kong
The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

We step out of Diamond Hill MTR station in Kowloon, walking towards a walled area surrounded by tall housing estates and bordered by overlapping flyovers. A gilded pavilion emerges behind the walled enclosure, standing on a small island in a pond, glowing under the midday sun. Two bright orange bridges connect the pavilion with rows of manicured trees at the rim of the pool; the color of the leaves balances the salient hues of the timber structures, providing an unlikely visual pleasure amid the ever-growing concrete forest nearby.

“Go to Nan Lian Garden the next time you visit Hong Kong!” a friend assured me long before my second trip to the city. “It’s not that easy to find but it’s lovely,” she added.

Built less than a decade ago, Nan Lian Garden today not only provides a calm sanctuary for urban dwellers, but also a closer look at an authentic Tang Dynasty-style garden. It exudes a peaceful ambiance often found at zen gardens, known for their emphasis on miniature landscapes created through meticulous composition of trees, rocks and water. In fact the famous Japanese rock garden lends its history to the 7th – 10th century Tang Dynasty’s creation, bringing to the world such idea as scrupulously raked sand representing the flow of a river.

It was in Taipei almost one year ago when I first learned about Tang Dynasty artwork, known for its distinctive use of three-color glaze and for inspiring the Japanese arts years afterwards. Over the course of centuries, however, Chinese gardens had evolved in a different style and many people today are not aware of the Chinese roots of Japanese garden principles.

To the north of Nan Lian lies the main building compound in another enclosed area. A center of Mahayana Buddhism in Kowloon, Chi Lin Nunnery comprises of the nunnery itself, temple halls, gardens and a vegetarian restaurant. In the 1990s the entire compound was rebuilt according to Tang Dynasty architectural principles, including the absence of iron nails in its construction. Housing statues of revered figures in Buddhism, the 33,000 square meters nunnery offers a glimpse of Hong Kong’s firm grasp on its deep-rooted tradition amid modernity, a perennial ambivalence that makes it a true embodiment of ‘East meets West’.

The Well-Manicured Garden

A Lotus Fountain

Artificial Landscape

Artificial Landscape

Entering the Nunnery

Entering the Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery

Bonsai, Beauty Crafted Through Time

Bonsai, Beauty Crafted through Time

Tang Dynasty Style Roofs

Tang Dynasty Eaves

Stone Beast

Stone Beast

Blooming Water Lilies

Blooming Water Lilies

The City Lurks Behind

The City Lurks Behind

Roof Ornaments

Roof Ornaments

A Temple Hall

A Temple Hall

Gleaming in the Sun

Gleaming in the Sun

Traditional Architecture Beauty

Traditional Architecture Beauty

A Rock for the Zen Landscape

A Rock for Zen Landscape

Ripples of Water, on the Sand

Ripples of Water, on the Sand

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

52 thoughts on “An Oasis In The Concrete Jungle”

  1. Bama, it’s strange to think that I live in HK but only made it to Nan Lian Garden last March! I remember reading about it through someone else’s blog, and one of the most striking features was (and still is) that bright orange bridge. The fact that Nan Lian is harder to find makes it even more special… I wouldn’t want busloads of package tourists flooding it as they do at the more popular sights. Great post as always, Bama!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know how you feel. I have been living in Jakarta for more than five years now but I only went to Istiqlal and some other places near Monas later last year. 🙂 When we were walking to Nan Lian I really didn’t expect that it was literally tucked between housing estates and flyovers. It was indeed such a nice place to just unwind and escape the bustle and hustle of the city. Hopefully it remains that way, the last thing it needs is busloads of package tourists, as you said. Thanks James!

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  2. The composition of your photos is simply outstanding – the detail on the close-ups is excellent, and the contrast between these graceful structures and the gray boxes behind is striking. I can imagine how calming it would be to leave the city streets and spend time in this garden!

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    • Thank you for such a lovely comment, Marilyn! All big cities should have places like Nan Lian, because after all looking at trees and listening to the sound of trickling water make us calm and relaxed.

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  3. leahnotlia says:

    I love the way you write your travel blog- it’s not like most blogs where it’s just a diary of what you did in a day, but it actually tells a story of a place and lets the reader slip into your skin and experience it for a moment, which is why anyone reads travel blogs anyways.

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    • Thank you, Leah. That is such encouraging words! When I first started this blog I wrote in a whole different way, but other blogs inspired me to write my stories the way I do it now.

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  4. This garden is absolutely stunning. It’s amazing to think that such a beautiful and peaceful place could be found in the middle of a big city! Your excellent photography truly compliments the beauty of this garden. I haven’t visited Hong Kong yet, but when I do, a visit to this garden will be at the top of my must-see list.

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    • This garden is a nice place to escape the malls and theme park – if you need to – without having to go far from the city center. Hong Kong did a great job by creating city parks like Nan Lian. Thank you, Jessica! and hopefully you’ll make it to Hong Kong sooner than later.

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  5. Hi Bama, Nan Lian Garden is indeed worth finding. Such a beautiful oasis in a bustling city. I love the photos of the traditional structures against the backdrop of the modern skycrapers. A nice reminder that peace and calm is possible even in the most hectic of places. Will keep this place in mind next time I’m in HK.

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    • Indeed, Marisol. I was surprised by how quiet it was when I went, and outside the wall you’ll find Hong Kong’s usual bustle and hustle. I can imagine myself sitting there for a long time and do nothing other than watching people. 🙂

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  6. In 2012 we (my wife and me) have been in Hong Kong for one week. We have taken many pictures in different parts of Hong Kong. The photos are much appreciated by my blog readers. In your blog I can see that our stay was much too short. There are so many beautiful things to discover yet. Thank you for your excellent blog.

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    • Despite its relatively small size, Hong Kong has so many to offer. On my second visit to the territory I spent two weeks, yet it was still not enough. The beaches, the traditional villages, the beautiful gardens, and many more. Thanks for reading!

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  7. Very Zen, Bama. Isn’t it terrific to discover something most people don’t know about? Thanks for sharing your secret with us. I love how it’s all tucked in among the buildings but worry about the noise – is there lots of running water to create white noise against the traffic?

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    • Very Zen, indeed. 🙂 Surprisingly once I was inside the garden I couldn’t hear the street noise at all, it was so peaceful. But maybe that was because I was carried away by the soothing music played in one of the buildings in the compound. There was not a lot of running water actually, only a couple of ponds and small fountains.

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  8. It’s great that in some of the ever-growing cities of SE Asia, these peaceful pockets can remain for people to get respite. Your pictures show this well.

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    • I see that you’ve been to SE Asia yourself, and you know how busy some cities in the region can be. I hope other cities like Jakarta and Manila create more gardens and parks for people to get respite from their daily hectic lives. Thanks, Geoff.

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    • Makasih banyak!!! Hal-hal kecil kayak Nan Lian Garden ini memang bisa bikin kangen HK, selain bebek panggang dan dim sumnya. 🙂

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    • Thanks Matius! Kayaknya semua orang suka taman ya, tapi sedihnya di sini banyak yang dikorbanin untuk dijadiin mal. Mudah-mudahan bisa cepet ke HK! 🙂

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  9. Halim Santoso says:

    Beautiful pictures, Bama… Love the colors and composition and this post make me have to go back in Hong Kong to see the garden oneday 🙂

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    • Thank you, Halim! Apart from Nan Lian, HK has other interesting parks – more on that to come this month. When I was in HK strolling around the parks, I imagined how nice it would be if there’s a park in Jakarta dotted with Indonesian traditional houses.

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    • Thank you, Suzanne! The weather was really nice when I went, so that helped a lot. I really recommend Nan Lian Garden for those who want to just sit and relax after wandering around Hong Kong.

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    • Thank you! I could have spent hours in the garden, watching people and listening to the soothing oriental music. It was such a bliss, indeed.

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  10. I love different kinds of cultures. And to this post it only shows the reach culture and the beauty of the place. Great shots btw 🙂

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    • Thanks Ben. Immersing into local cultures is indeed the best way to understand places we visit and people we meet.

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    • Thanks Lee, and this is Bama, not James. 🙂 But we get that a lot, so don’t worry about the confusion.
      I agree with you about the gardens – without them the buildings would have looked just like other Chinese/Japanese buildings. I’m really glad they decided to build the garden at the first place, instead of clearing it for another concrete-laden structure.

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    • Thank you. It’s hard not to feel like in an oasis when you are in Nan Lian Garden. It’s one of those places that have the ability to rejuvenate people.

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  11. Bama, this is a wonderful look at Nan Lian Garden. We discovered the garden on our last trip to Hong Kong and felt like Alice in Wonderland! It’s such a precious, hidden gem, and I think that makes it very special. The bright orange bridges are some of my favorites! All the best, Terri

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    • Thank you Terri. It’s amazing to know how this garden has left such pleasant memories for those who visited it. And for you, Alice in Wonderland that is. 🙂 Hong Kong is a fast changing city, but I hope there will be more gardens like Nan Lian across the territory. Tang Dynasty style is my favorite, so it’s natural for me to love Nan Lian Garden.

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  12. A beautiful garden that we almost visited on our last trip, but didn’t because of lack of time. Our visits to Hong Kong so far have always been transits en-route to other destinations. I hope I can dedicate more time to it soon. Gorgeous photos and narrative as always Bama.

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    • Hong Kong is indeed an inevitable transit point for most travelers from Asia proceeding towards the other corners of the world. But I hope the next time you visit, you’ll have ample time to explore the city beyond its endless skyscrapers jungle. Thank you for your lovely words, Madhu.

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  13. otakutwins1 says:

    Oh my gosh that is so beautiful :O!!! YOUR PICTURES ARE SO AMAZING TOO!!!! I will add that to my list of places to see 🙂 so cool!!!

    Like

    • Thanks Angelina & Brianna! Hope the weather is nice when you come to Nan Lian Garden. 🙂

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    • Nan Lian Garden is indeed a beautiful place. You should visit it when you’re in HK.

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  14. Very beautiful place. Must visit when I get to Hong Kong.
    The nearby green mountainous areas are also great for hiking – I hear. But we tend to think of Hong Kong as a city only… still, there is a lot of green.

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    • It’s not everyone’s fault to think of Hong Kong as one megacity, as images of its modern skyscrapers are often used to represent the territory. But one needs to escape the city center to find Hong Kong’s true gems: its scenic hiking trails.

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