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Walking Through Kowloon

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but somehow I always return to this most magical of cities.

Exploring Kowloon

Hong Kong is a Janus, for the Island and Kowloon present separate faces to the visitor. These two sides of Hong Kong have completely different atmospheres. For many, Kowloon proves a tourist mecca but personally, for me, it has little appeal; I much prefer the atmosphere and history of the Island.

Yet there are parts of Kowloon I find well-worth visiting (not that I ever need an excuse to ride the Star Ferry. I could ride back and forth across that harbor all day; there is always something to see.)

There is always something to see in Hong Kong Harbour. Even the boats have eyes!

There is always something to see in Hong Kong Harbour. Even the boats have eyes!

Visiting Kowloon Park

Although I have been to Hong Kong many times, this was my first foray into Kowloon Park. Built on the site of an old army encampment, many of the old barrack buildings remain. I have walked past many times, but somehow never taken the time to enter.

I entered off Nathan Road near the Mosque. Immediately I was embraced by a welcoming coolness, a delightful break from the humidity which had blanketed Hong Kong since my arrival. Ponds and running water are everywhere, and already the shady areas were filling up with families coming to pass their weekend over a picnic.

I lost myself wandering paths at random, past Chinese gardens and into a maze. On one patch of green people of all ages were doing Tai Chi, while in other corners others were warming up for their martial arts class, swords lying on the grass. (Free displays are given every Sunday afternoon.) I found an aviary that included birds from the Amazon, including a colorful macaw and a strange-looking hornbill. The sound of falling water from the numerous fountains fills the air. For the athletic there are two Olympic-size pools; for the artistic a sculpture garden, and for the young at heart there is even a pond with flamingos.

Best of all, there is not a hawker in sight. The chaos of Nathan Road, (where at times I feel not a jury in the world would convict me for murder should another cheap watch be thrust in my face) seems far away, and my soul recovered.

Access: Walk up Nathan Road from the Star Ferry, or else catch the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui.

A monk walking the streets of Hong Kong

A monk walking the streets of Hong Kong

Kowloon : A Walking Tour

The tranquility of the park

The tranquility of the park

The Chi Lin Nunnery, Kowloon

The Chi Lin Nunnery, Kowloon

The Chi Lin Nunnery, Diamond Hill

Diamond Hill once sat on the outskirts of the city, but the Buddhist Chi Lin Nunnery now offers an oasis of calm amongst the traffic and high-rises. It is a short walk from Diamond Hill MTR (indeed, there was more walking in the MTR itself, but I always love the long escalators which seem to go forever). Signposts and maps clearly mark the way.

The Nunnery began in the 1930s as a religious and community centre, then was rebuilt in the late 1990s in the style of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Yellow cedar was imported from Canada, and modern artisans used ancient techniques to build the temple. Not a single nail was used in the construction. The wood was instead put together in the manner of a giant jigsaw. The elegant double-eaved Hall of the Celestial King is reminiscent of Japan, for it was designed after the 11th C Phoenix Hall in Kyoto.

Even the maps in the MTR are colorful

Even the maps in the MTR are colorful

Tranquility in a Convent

Despite the arrival of a busload of tourists, the courtyard and buildings remained tranquil (and were soon empty, the busload just as quickly vanishing). The entrance is through a large gate into a central courtyard, which is enclosed by a cloister. These in turn open into separate prayer rooms. In one prayer room, a Buddhist nun knelt chanting her prayers. On the floor below is a great souvenir shop, which sells books, stationery, eclectic jewelry, and even dried citrus peel made by the nuns.

Across the road is Nan Lian Garden, which used China's Jiangshouju Garden, (the only surviving original Tang Dynasty garden), as a blueprint. Connected by a walkway to the Nunnery, the surrounding hills are used as 'borrowed scenery', along with water features, ornamental rocks, and buildings. There is even a hall filled with rocks for contemplation.

The Chi Lin Nunnery proves that quiet spots do exist in Hong Kong, and the gardens are a perfect spot to sit and read for a while.

Access: After visiting Kowloon Park, continue on the MTR to Diamond Hill and follow the signs

Inside the Nunnery

Inside the Nunnery

The Bird Markets, Kowloon

A short walk from Prince Edward MTR is Yuen Po Street, which translates as Vegetable Patch Street. Pass through a moon gate and into a series of Chinese courtyards, where the Bird Market was moved about a decade ago. Although some of the charm has been lost, all manner of song fills the air from these amazing birds.

Songbirds are highly prized in China, and can often be seen outside apartments and shops. Stalls are everywhere, selling not only the birds themselves, but wooden cages, small porcelain bowls, and all manner of bird food (including live crickets and worms). Some people even bring their birds for a visit and can be seen sitting on the benches or enjoying a glass of Chinese tea in a café in the surrounding streets, their cages beside them.

Access: catch the MTR from Diamond Hill to Prince Edward St.

I never tire of exploring new markets in Hong Kong

I never tire of exploring new markets in Hong Kong

Exploring the Goldfish and Flower Markets, Kowloon

A street away from the Bird Market, Flower Market Road is filled with shops opening straight onto the street. The aroma is amazing. Every type of bloom imaginable is for sale, along with boxes and boxes of bulbs that looked remarkably like sprouting turnips. It is one of the few places in Hong Kong where I ever hear bees.

Nearby, on Tung Choi St, is the Goldfish Market. Aquariums are associated with good luck, and everything needed for one can be found here, including beautiful fish. Other types of pets are also for sale. Simply wandering these streets is a delight.

Access: catch the MTR from Diamond Hill to Prince Edward St.

Parts of Hong Kong have changed little with the passing years

Parts of Hong Kong have changed little with the passing years

Fa Yeun Street Market

A five-minute walk away from the bird and flower markets is the Fa Yeun Street Market, a small market where it seems everything is for sale. With far fewer tourists coming here than the more famous Night Markets, it is not crowded, you’re not harassed as you shop – plus it has the advantage of being open at 9 am.

Like Temple Street and The Ladies Market, there is a plethora of cheap clothes, t-shirts, electronics, jewelry, and whatever else is currently in fashion. Cheap shops line the street behind the stalls and are well worth a visit. As the street progresses the markets morph into a lively wet market, with a choice of surrounding restaurants filled with locals: perfect after a day of sightseeing.

Access: catch the MTR from Diamond Hill to Prince Edward St.

An almost quiet moment in Hong Kong

An almost quiet moment in Hong Kong

Unusual Hong Kong

With a full belly, fortunately, it’s just a short stroll back to Prince Edward MTR, (or Mong Kok MTR, if you have walked the length of the wet markets) and so onto another adventure—or a well-deserved siesta.

A quick snooze on the Star Ferry as it crosses the harbor is often enough to refresh. There is always something different in Hong Kong begging to be explored.

The end of a day exploring Hong Kong

The end of a day exploring Hong Kong

© 2015 Anne Harrison