This post was last updated on January 22nd, 2016
You wouldn’t think an island only 31.04 square miles with nearly 7.2 million people inhabiting it is capable of producing anything relaxing.
But Hong Kong is full of surprises.
A Few of Hong Kong’s Hidden Gems
Those who are drawn to cities understand the near constant energy that comes with cramming too many people in too little space. They also probably understand the need for quiet, and possess the uncanny ability to find it even in the midst of such chaos.
And perhaps for some, this fraction of a list lacks the true silence one might find during a meditation retreat. But for a wonderful, vibrant and rather noisy city, I found a few of Hong Kong’s hidden gems for just the peace I needed after one too many elbows on the escalators.
Sai Wan Swimming Shed
Living in Kennedy Town had its perks. As a district still up-and-coming, it had a surprisingly peaceful air to it. And if you dug beyond the waterfront and restaurants, a place very much unlike the city emerged.
Tucked far down Victoria Road, past the high rises and fishing docks, sits this quaint (and no longer in use) swimming shed. It’s about two miles (three-ish kilometers) from the Kennedy Town MTR station, and you’re walking in near silence for better than half the journey — which sends you right along the shoreline to the very tip of the northeastern corner of Hong Kong.
It seems a funny little place to bother visiting, truly.
But if you pick a particularly good-natured day weather-wise (which isn’t hard to do if you visit in the early Spring), it’s beautiful. After traversing a bit of a steep descent to the shore, you’ll find the swimming shed is home to a lovely lookout, a very small and somewhat unstable looking pier, and more than a few religious icons and prayer stations. While no one uses and/or actually enters the swimming shed itself, it’s the sliver of property that’s worth seeing.
We must have watched the waves crash on the rocks as the afternoon sun slipped from its peak in the sky for quite some time before realizing the small hike we faced to get back before dark. I wasn’t even craving silence at this point in my adventure abroad, but the Sai Wan swimming shed proved to be a gem of a find nonetheless.
The Mammal Enclosure in Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens is no secret. Sitting pleasantly on the northern slope of Victoria Peak, tucked in a quiet corner of roaring Central, the enclosure is home to several gardens and animal houses.
The pathways are shaded by an overwhelming supply of green, and the grounds are relatively quiet, apart from the occasional chatter of children and birds calling to one another. It seems, for an attraction well-advertised to Hong Kong travelers, the size of this place far outweighs its number of visitors — making it one of those “it’s just so obvious you’d never think to look” secrets.
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the mammal enclosure that I hit my true happy place. The site boasts 14 different species of mammal, mostly of the monkey variety. On my particular visit, there was a conglomerate of chimpanzees playing in rather large enclosure. A swinging, orange orb-like chair hung in its center, and several chimpanzees were swinging from the sides of the cage onto the orb. One sat rather happily inside of it, swaying violently from side to side as his friends toyed with the chain that attached his perch to the roof.
Truth be told, I could have sat watching them all day. There is something oddly peaceful about animals, and something particularly fascinating about an animal that seems to mimic human movement. Had it not been for a torrential downpour (common for Hong Kong during the summer months) that interrupted my visit, I would have happily spent the remainder of my day in quiet amazement at that mammal enclosure.
The Victoria Peak Hike
I know, I know, if the Zoological and Botanical Gardens were no secret, what do you call one of Hong Kong’s most visited tourist attractions? But it’s the hike part I’m emphasizing.
The website, as does most of its advertising, boasts the Peak as something to join the mass of tourists in enjoying. You can take the tram up with a hoard of other travelers, you can shop in the stores that are identical to their chain counterparts everywhere else in the world, and you can join the selfie-stick madness with a couple of pictures of you and Hong Kong’s most coveted view.
I’m not saying all of that wasn’t enormously entertaining, because it was. But I wouldn’t necessary call it calming. It was decided on a whim that I’d hike back down the mountain instead of taking the tram, and it was a whim I would do again.
I hiked with a friend near the end of the day, just after 5 p.m. in April when the sun had begun to set on a mild, blue (ish) skies kind of day, and I was transfixed. The trees were a quiet sanctuary, blocking all sounds of honking cars and vendors yelling in Cantonese. As we traveled farther away from the actual peak, rarely anyone passed us on the paths. And when we lost track of the signs pointing us down the mountain, I had no qualms with being lost.
That was actually how we found a quiet shelter surrounded by tall grasses with a perfect view of Hong Kong at sunset. The hike couldn’t have lasted more than 20 minutes, but it was such a pleasant reminder that nature exists even in the most bustling of places that I take zero issue with calling this hike one of Hong Kong’s hidden gems.
Have you ever explored the hidden corners of a big city? What are some of your favorite places to find peace?