On my recent visit to Hong Kong, I went to Hong Kong Park because my Lonely Planet guide mentioned an aviary that sounded worthwhile, and, since I was in central Hong Kong anyway, I thought I’d go check it out.
It turned out that Hong Kong Park is a destination in itself, with an oddly wide variety of things to see: an aviary, a tea wares museum, a conservatory, and more. I spent several hours wandering its grounds, there in the center of that amazing city, and still probably didn’t see all it had to offer.
Greenery in Hong Kong Park
While the grounds of Hong Kong Park are planned and carefully manicured in some sections, it succeeded in making me feel at times like I was walking through a dense tropical jungle. On the day I visited, there was hardly anyone else around. The walking paths are paved, but the lush greenery on either side offered some welcome respite from the noise and harsh sunlight of the city streets. The humidity, unfortunately, was relentless, but the shade certainly helped.
The Edward Youde Aviary
The goal of my visit, the Edward Youde Aviary, turned out to be a large structure built over a valley in the park, about 3000 square meters in area and 30 meters high at its highest. Made of steel mesh, it’s open to the air and rain but keeps the birds in: a cage, but an extremely large one. The trees inside have been chosen to imitate the birds’ natural tropical rainforest environment.
Entering the aviary through a bead curtain takes you onto an elevated walkway, nearly at treetop level. Gradually, as the walkway winds through the aviary, it descends, so that by the end it’s nearly at ground level. This allows you to view the birds that prefer different parts of the forest. Since humans are restricted to the walkway and the birds can fly anywhere within the structure, you’re guaranteed to be able to see some of them.
I was surprised to find out that the birds kept there are all actually Malesian (from the Malaya Peninsula, Sumatra, Borneo, Java, the Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago), rather than local. I don’t know why; weren’t there any pretty birds in Hong Kong worth showing? Nevertheless, they were stunning and fun to watch. This sort of aviary makes it easy: just stand still anywhere along the walkway and the birds will fly by, or perch nearby.
Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware
This little tea museum is housed in a beautiful colonial-era building, and I stopped to take a picture of it, without planning to go in. I couldn’t imagine that tea ware would be particularly interesting. However, I needed to use the toilet and admission was free, so I went ahead.
The museum contains a permanent exhibition on Chinese tea drinking, with displays and videos about tea preparation in different parts of China and different periods of history. Many tea sets, both antique and modern, are displayed in glass cases.
In other words, I was right: it wasn’t particularly interesting to me, though I’m sure others would find it compelling. The air-conditioning made it a nice break, though. A new wing, the K.S. Lo Gallery, is home to a large collection of Chinese ceramics and seals. Again, not my cup of tea (pun intended), but you might like it.
Lok Cha Chinese Teahouse
At the suggestion of my friend, Winona, who lives in Hong Kong, we had arranged to meet for lunch at Lok Cha Chinese Teahouse, next to the Museum of Tea Ware. We chose from a list of tea varieties and ate some especially tasty dim sum. All vegetarian, the flavors were subtle and unusual, unlike any of the other dim sum I ate in Hong Kong (a lot!).
Fighting SARS Memorial
Next to a Tai Chi court, I stumbled on a small memorial to the medical care workers who died in the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) crisis in 2003. It was oddly touching: in a quiet garden with a simple fountain, bronze busts of each of the victims stood, presented and described as the heroes they were.
And speaking of health, the many signs around the park warning visitors not to touch or feed wild birds attest to a continuing health concern. According to the signs posted here and there, the railings throughout the park are disinfected regularly as well. A health sign I particularly liked was the fact that no smoking is allowed anywhere in the park, under penalty of quite a hefty fine.
A conservatory houses three rooms. A large “display plant house” (one room) was not particularly attractive; it had a varied assortment of potted plants arranged around the room. A “Dry Room” held an array of cacti, large and small, and again not very attractively arranged. The “Wet Room,” however, was a lovely air-conditioned space filled with gorgeous flowering plants.
The Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre
The Hong Kong Visual Arts Center is also in Hong Kong Park, though I didn’t visit it. It combines studio space, exhibition space and lecture halls in a historic building formerly used by the British military. If art interests you, check out their website to see what they’re currently exhibiting.
The Observatory in Hong Kong Park
This 30-meter high tower holds a simple spiral staircase. Climbing to the top, I had a great view over the park and the city all around, as well as the mountains beyond. The video below gives you the whole view (Sorry about the poor audio: it was windy, and Hong Kong is a generally loud place.). Definitely worth the climb!
What this all comes down to is: don’t overlook Hong Kong Park. There is much to see there to suit varied tastes, and it’s worth a couple of hours of your time, more if you’re a tea ware aficionado or love photographing birds or flowers. The zoo and the botanical garden are right next door as well.