Your insider’s guide to Hong Kong

Five places to learn about Hong Kong culture

Brush up on local history, heritage and culture at these fascinating landmarks

Words: Kate Farr

Away from the vivid neon and glitzy skyscrapers, Hong Kong is a city that’s rich in heritage and culture. Leave Central’s high-rise hustle behind and uncover the traditions, beliefs – and the superstitions – within this frantic city’s many tranquil gardens, vibrant places of worship and historical monuments.

Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple
A lively place of worship that welcomes Hong Kong’s faithful from all walks of life, Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is a riot of colour, sound and scents – specifically the intensely smoky incense that is lit by worshippers – drifting throughout the temple grounds and out to the streets. While many come here to pray for good fortune and prosperity, others prefer not to leave their fate to chance. During your visit, you’re certain to hear the continuous rattle of the temple’s bamboo fortune sticks, which are shaken onto the ground, and then picked up and delivered to the fortune-tellers, who occupy a large covered arcade area off the main temple. Many of the soothsayers speak excellent English and will also read palms and faces… if you cross their palm with silver, of course.

2 Chuk Yuen Village, Wong Tai Sin, +852 2327 8141
siksikyuen.org.hk

Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery
Situated opposite each other in the built-up residential enclave of Diamond Hill, Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery should be combined in one visit.

Although just 12 years old, Nan Lian Garden is carefully modelled on classical Tang Dynasty gardens, offering a refined island of greenery in a sea of high-rises. Meander along the peaceful pathways, lined with ornamental rockeries and well-established trees, before turning towards the garden’s koi-filled Lotus Pond, spanned by two bright red timber bridges that lead to the dramatic golden Perfection Pavilion in its centre. Make time for the excellent dim sum afternoon tea at the on-site Chi Lin Vegetarian Restaurant, before crossing Fung Tak Road to the nunnery opposite.

Established in 1934, Chi Lin Nunnery was originally conceived as a retreat for Buddhist nuns. Now open to the public, this serene space is ornamented with well-tended bonsai trees and multiple koi ponds. Enter the timber-built nunnery’s courtyards to discover the complex’s many beautiful statues, sculptures and other representations of Buddha and his disciples.

Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Ha Yuen Leng, Diamond Hill, +852 3658 9366
nanliangarden.org

Chi Lin Nunnery, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Sheung Yuen Leng, Diamond Hill, +852 2354 1888
chilin.org

Kowloon Walled City Park
Looking around Kowloon Walled City Park today, it’s hard to believe that as recently as 1987, this laidback area was the epicentre of Hong Kong’s criminal underworld. After the New Territories were leased to the British in 1898, the former Chinese garrison of Kowloon Walled City fell outside the reach of either country’s law enforcement. It quickly became a hub for vice and organised crime, with drug traffickers, prostitutes and famously, lots of unlicensed dentists populating this 2.6-hectare site, which was home to 50,000 people before its eventual demolition in 1993.

Today, the park is home to many noteworthy historical exhibits, as well as peaceful pavilions, scenic walks and attractive gardens in which to wander, making it a far cry from what was once Hong Kong’s most notorious enclave. Join one of the free guided tours to learn more about the park’s fascinating history, architecture and ancient relics.

Tung Tsing Road, Kowloon City, +852 2716 9962
lcsd.gov.hk/en/parks/kwcp/index.html

Note: Kowloon Walled City Park photos by Rachel Read

Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
Located in the once-sleepy Fong Ma Po Village in Tai Po, next door to a small temple to the goddess Tin Hau, the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees – large and attractive banyans – have become cultural icons. The trees’ significance comes from the belief that they could bring good luck; specifically, that visitors should write their wishes onto joss paper, tie them to an orange and then throw the fruit at the tree. If the fruit caught in the branches, their wishes would be granted; if they dropped then the wishes were deemed too greedy. Unfortunately, such was the trees’ popularity that, after a branch gave way in 2005, the practice was suspended for a period of restoration, with wooden racks being set up to hold the wishes instead. A new artificial wishing tree has since been added, and the tradition remains as strong as ever, with colourful celebrations held every Chinese New Year.

Lam Tsuen, Tai Po, +852 2638 3678
lamtsuen.com

Sam Tung Uk Museum
Although contemporary Hong Kong is a truly international city, its traditional communities and indigenous peoples comprise a significant part of its history. Celebrating Hong Kong’s Hakka population, Sam Tung Uk Museum is situated in a 200-year-old walled village in the New Territories region of Tsuen Wan. The museum leads visitors on a journey back to the 18th century through a curated display that encompasses twelve restored houses, each showcasing traditional items, including agricultural tools, furnishings and kitchen implements. A fascinating and highly rewarding exhibition, this offers insight into what would then have been the typical rural life of the village’s Hakka community – a side of Hong Kong’s culture that few visitors experience.

2 Kwu Uk Lane, Tseun Wan, +852 2411 2001
lcsd.gov.hk/CE/Museum/ICHO/en_US/web/icho/sam_tung_uk_museum.html

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