What exactly can I take pictures of?
Located in Diamond Hill, one stop from Wong Tai Sin Temple, Chi Lin Nunnery is one of Hong Kong’s must-see attractions, or so they say. Founded back in 1930 and rebuilt as recently as 2000, it is lauded as a place where East meets West – an oasis of calm amidst the high-rises. It is “a synergy of tradition and modernity”, a quiet retreat from the city that surrounds it and a chance for visitors to enjoy a rare moment of peace within the grounds of one of Hong Kong’s largest religious sites.
The present construction, if you believe it, is said to be the largest handcrafted all-timber complex in the world, held together not by nails, but by the interlocking beams from which it is built. It comprises over a dozen halls, numerous gardens, several lotus ponds and a couple of courtyards within its 33,000 square meters, and is home to sixty-odd nuns at any one time. But is there any point going anywhere if you can’t take photos?
Yes, with so many restrictions governing what you can and cannot do, it’s a wonder Chi Lin Nunnery gets any visitors at all – don’t sit here, don’t walk there, don’t take photos, don’t use your mobile, don’t feed the fish or swim in the pond, it’s enough to leave you wondering what exactly you can do.
Most of what is off limits is pretty reasonable to be fair. Given the halls are constructed entirely from wood, it’s only appropriate that smoking is forbidden. And yes, a bit of quiet befits the temple ambience. But is it really necessary for every prohibition to have its own corresponding sign and for an army of shade-wearing guards to be on hand watching your every move?
I felt at times that carrying a camera was a sure way to get myself a face full of pepper spray should I even threaten to raise it within the sanctity of the main courtyard. It is here that the main worship halls are located containing, amongst others, statues of the Maitreya Buddha and the ever-popular Kwun Yum, the Goddess of Mercy. There is also a main hall housing five larger golden Buddhas which rise towards an elaborate ceiling of 28,000 ornate tiles. But with each of my attempt to sneak a few photos being met with an increasingly impatient “No photo, Sir”, I was left with nothing else to do but slink out cursing such authoritarian efficiency.
The complex isn’t completely a ‘no photo’ zone. The Nan Lian Garden and the outer courtyard of the nunnery are all perfectly within the bounds of what is considered photographically acceptable. Indeed, the garden, under the management of the nunnery since 2006, is perhaps the more interesting attraction of the two. With its manicured lawns, curious rocks and exquisitely pruned trees, you could almost image you were somewhere with a history that stretches slightly further back than the couple of decades for which it has existed.
If you are a less jaded soul than I, and if your experience of a place is judged on criteria other than the quantity and quality of the photos you take, Chi Lin Nunnery and the adjacent Nan Lian Garden do make for a pleasant, if occasionally frustrating, hour or so of exploring. There is nothing that compares to the best that mainland China has to offer of course, but for Hong Kong, the site does offer something a little different to the usual list of “must-see” attractions.
To get the most out of a visit, I think a precursor or successor to a trip to the far more authentic Wong Tai Sin Temple would be the best way to approach Chi Lin Nunnery. That way if, like me, you are prone to bouts of crushing disappointment when reality fails to reach the dizzying heights of your own expectations, at least Wong Tai Sin should soften the blow.
How to get to Chi Lin Nunnery
Take the MTR to Diamond Hill Station Exit C2 and follow the signs.
You can also take bus 116 from North Point via Causeway Bay.
Chi Lin Nunnery is open between 9:00am and 4:00pm. The lotus pond and gardens are open between 7:00 am and 7:00pm. Admission is free.
Read More: For more on Hong Kong’s best temples, see category: hong kong temples