The Greener Side of Hong Kong

kowloon_walled_park.jpg

Sometimes while traveling you discover things by avoiding others. While visiting Hong Kong with a girlfriend who has no fondness for the city (inhospitable air, suffocating crowds), I included a few pastoral breathers in our itinerary. Consequently, I ended up spending as much time in Hong Kong’s parks as I did on its streets. The time was well spent.

Hong Kong Park is a fusion of artifice and nature. The best of its simulacra is a soaring aviary. Visitors lean over the railings of a twisting elevated walkway to spot a diverse collection of birds perched in the rain forest canopy. The hillside park also has a visual arts center, t’ai chi garden, game hall, playground, and viewing tower. You can catch the Peak Tram near the park entrance, and the Botanical and Zoological Gardens are up the street.

Kowloon Park is best visited in the morning, when locals can be seen exercising and doing t’ai chi to a soundtrack of chirping birds and boom box-issued Cantopop. Literally everywhere you look, from the Chinese Garden to the Loggia to the Sculpture Park — even in the hedge maze — folks are stretching, bending, and jogging. If all that vicarious exercise makes you hungry, cross Nathan Street for cheap, tasty dim sum at Very Good’s basement level dining room, just across from the white-washed Islamic Center.

10k_buddha_monkey.jpgThe short trek to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (not technically a park) is equally verdant. The 400-stair ascent is lined with life-size, cartoonish golden statues of the Buddha’s disciples. The summit is less kitschy, but still psychadelic by Western standards. The soaring walls of the main building are lined with identical sitting Buddhas, although a giant encased Buddha reigns supreme. The courtyard is choc-a-bloc with Buddhist architecture and statuary: a nine-story pagoda, a veranda-sheltered Buddha, and massive elephant and dog statues beneath pavilions. Watch out for macaques lingering near the douhua booth and along the rear descent, but beware: they do not appreciate lengthy photo sessions. The pictured monkey nearly ate Sarah’s face moments after she snapped this picture.

Kowloon Walled City Park in New Kowloon itself is a worthy attraction, but surrounding Kowloon City is unimpressive. Once a crime-ridden slum, the local government appropriated the land and turned it into a walled park dotted with Eastern staples: banzai trees, sculpted bushes, lunar year statuary, and traditional buildings linked by paths and promenades.

Best of all, entry to all of these attractions is free.

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