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Your neighbourhood guide to Diamond Hill

By Catharina Cheung 28 August 2020

Header images courtesy of @celine._g (Instagram) and @samwang.jpg (Instagram)

Diamond Hill refers to a hill in eastern Kowloon, which also lends its name to the area lying adjacent to its slopes. This was traditionally a squatter settlement, with ramshackle dwellings running up the hillside. The settlements of Sheung Yuen Leng and Ha Yuen Leng, in particular, were already established before British colonisation, possibly stretching as far back as the early eighteenth century. At its peak, these slums housed approximately 50,000 people, and it took years and years before they were all cleared away for development—in fact, the last of these old settlements were only demolished in 2001.

Diamond Hill is also a bit of a misnomer because the area does not actually contain any such precious stones. A popular theory is that its name came about due to a simple mistranslation: In Cantonese, the word “diamond” (鑽石) has the same pronunciation as the phrase “to drill rocks.” The area used to be a stone quarry, so you can see how this would have been an easy mistake to make!

In honour of its history and namesake, the colour scheme of the Diamond Hill MTR Station is different from others which are mostly monochrome: Diamond Hill Station has a black background flecked with white to represent sparkling diamond ores. Here are recommendations for the best things to do, explore, and eat in Diamond Hill.

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Things to do

Chi Lin Nunnery

Undoubtedly the crown jewel of Diamond Hill, Chi Lin Nunnery is a sprawling temple complex built in the architectural styles of the Tang dynasty, based off of a Sukhavati drawing of paradise from the Mogao Caves along the Silk Road. The entire complex measures more than 360,000 square feet, featuring 16 halls, a library, a school, a pagoda, a bell tower, and a drum tower.

Part of what makes the Chi Lin Nunnery particularly special is that its buildings are made entirely of cypress wood—without using a single nail. This is a traditional Chinese construction technique that involves cutting wood pieces so they interlock together; it is generally used to signify the harmony of mankind with nature.

Chi Lin Nunnery is currently the world’s largest hand-made wooden building, as well as the only structures built in such an architectural style in modern Hong Kong. The complex also houses picturesque lotus ponds, Buddhist relics, and statues of various deities such as the Sakyamuni Buddha and other bodhisattvas. The temple halls and the Chinese gardens in front of the nunnery are open to the public free of charge, offering people a peaceful escape in the middle of the city.

Chi Lin Nunnery, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Diamond Hill | (+852) 2354 1888

Nan Lian Garden

Located across the road from Chi Lin Nunnery, Nan Lian Garden is the result of a collaborative project between the nunnery and the local government. This serene oasis is a classical Chinese garden designed in a Tang dynasty style, with little hills, water features, and plenty of trees and wooden structures dotted around according to the rules of classical Tang landscape design.

It was designed and constructed using Jiangshouju as the inspiration. This was a landscaped garden belonging to the governor of Jiang, once located in ancient Jiangzhou, or what is now Xinjiang county in Shanxi. The designers referred to a description of this garden made by a county governor, as the ancient site itself—now very much weathered—bears little resemblance to its original appearance.

The main focal point of the garden is the Pavilion of Absolute Perfection, an eye-catching golden octagonal pavilion in the middle of an octagonal lotus pond. Refer to a map as you enter the garden compound to follow a set route that will bring you to all the landmarks worth seeing, or simply have a wander around and find a restful corner to spend some time in quiet contemplation.

Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill | (+852) 3658 9366

Photo credit: @images.priyagrg (Instagram)

Plaza Hollywood

If cultural places of interest don’t really spark joy for you, there’s always the air-conditioned halls of Plaza Hollywood to wander through. Located on the site of the former Tai Hom Village squatter area, this silver screen-themed mall takes some design inspiration from the famous Avenue of Stars, and was so named to commemorate the old Golden Harvest film studio which was situated nearby, and most notably launched Bruce Lee’s career in Hong Kong.

Possibly Kowloon East’s largest shopping complex, Plaza Hollywood is home to over 250 retail and F&B outlets, a six-screen cinema, and also an expansion exhibition venue. If none of the shops draw you in, at least you know the hours will fly by at the Jumpin Gym USA on the top floor!

Plaza Hollywood, 3 Lung Poon Street, Diamond Hill | (+852) 2118 8811

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

Bleak House Books

Though located a little ways out from Diamond Hill proper, there’s no way we’d come so close to the area and not talk about one of our favourite bookstores in Hong Kong. Bleak House Books is a charming indie bookshop that specialises in English books both new and used.

One of our favourite weekend activities is spending a lazy afternoon among the shelves of Bleak House, adding new tomes to our collection and chatting with Albert, the American-Cantonese co-founder who’s always willing to recommend a good book or five.

Apart from selling books, Bleak House Books also functions as a community space where book lovers and thinkers can meet, share ideas, and have spirited debates about various topics. Keep an eye out for their events, and see you there! Do note that due to social distancing measures, there’s a limit of 10 people in the store at any one time, but if they’re full when you arrive, you can always leave your phone number to be contacted once a customer leaves.

Bleak House Books, 27/F, Well Tech Centre, 9 Pat Tat Street, San Po Kong | (+852) 3705 0251

Where to eat and drink

Photo credit: @wisdomexplorer (Instagram)

Long Men Lou Chi Lin Vegetarian

Artfully hidden behind the Silver Strand Waterfall in Nan Lian Garden, the main hall of Long Men Lou features an entire stretch of windows bathed in the water curtain flowing outside. Chi Lin Vegetarian operates the concept behind the food, which—as a Buddhist operation—is, of course, vegetarian.

Chi Lin Vegetarian is a charitable organisation that started off providing vegetarian meals to the needy in post-war Hong Kong more than 50 years ago. They now serve Hongkongers classic vegetarian dishes made with fresh seasonal produce as part of the traditional Buddhist experience associated with Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery.

Apart from the Braised Mixed Mushrooms with Beancurd & Chinese Herbs ($288), which is one of their signature dishes, another must-try is the Sweet & Sour Wheat Gluten with Pineapple ($98), a dead ringer for everyone’s favourite sweet and sour pork dish. Even if you’re new to Buddhist vegetarian cuisine, order daringly from their menu because it’s all well-curated and you’re bound to find loads to enjoy.

Long Men Lou, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill | (+852) 3658 9388

Photo credit: nanliangarden.org

Song Cha Xia Teahouse

Inside the Nan Lian Garden, Song Cha Xie—meaning “The Pine Teahouse”—is located on the north shore of the Blue Pond. It boasts a large covered verandah right on the water’s edge, as well as a central court where boulders have been arranged to resemble the Sumeru Mountain, a holy place of wisdom and beatitude in Buddhist cosmology.

Song Cha Xie mainly provides Wuyi tea produced on Mount Wuyi near Fujian. They stock the famed Da Hong Pao leaves, a dark oolong tea well-known for quite frequently being sold as the world’s most expensive tea. Tie Lou Han and Bai Ji Quan are also different types of tea well worth a try. Though not exactly cheap, and there is a minimum charge of one serving of tea per person, lovers of tea should check out this teahouse as a dedicated institution to the art form in a lovely setting.

Song Cha Xie, Nan Lian Garden, 60 Fung Tak Road, Diamond Hill | (+852) 3658 9390

Keep scrolling for the rest of the guide 👇

Photo credit: @hktablefor2 (Instagram)

Soybeans King

Well known for their soybean milk and chi faan (sticky rice rolls), this Shanghainese restaurant is a bit of a hit with the locals. Though they have an extensive menu, we will always go for their Savoury Sticky Rice Roll ($16), which is essentially deep-fried dough fritter, preserved vegetables, and pork floss wrapped in glutinous rice. You can top up more of any of the ingredients with just a few dollars, and there’s also a sweet version at the same price for those with a sweet tooth.

Shanghainese folk will have this with soybean milk as a breakfast or snacky meal, so do order either the Soybean Milk ($8) or the Savoury Soybean Milk ($17) for the perfect accompaniment. Don’t scoff at the portion size of the roll—it can be deceptively filling due to the dense glutinous rice.

Soybeans King, Unit 9, B/F, New Tech Plaza, 34 Tai Yau Street, San Po Kong | (+852) 3188 4920

Photo credit: @Candy Eater (Openrice)

T.T.T

As a largely residential neighbourhood, Diamond Hill has a lot of local eateries that are popular with those who frequent the area but would otherwise be difficult to stumble upon by others, more so if you don’t speak Cantonese.

T.T.T is definitely one such eatery, a no-frills cha chaan teng-style restaurant that serves homely Chinese food at unbeatable prices. A portion of Black Bean Spare Ribs Rice or a Satay Beef Stir-fried Udon will only cost you $32! Look out for their multi-coloured name in Chinese to find it: 欣賢軒.

T.T.T, Shop A6, G/F, Grand View Garden, 185 Hammer Hill Road, Diamond Hill | (+852) 2321 8837

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Catharina Cheung

Senior editor-at-large

Catharina has recently returned to her hometown of Hong Kong after spending her formative years in Singapore and the UK. She enjoys scouring the city for under-the-radar things to do, see, and eat, and is committed to finding the perfect foundation that will withstand Hong Kong’s heat. She is also an aspiring polyglot, a firm advocate for feminist and LGBTQIA+ issues, and a huge lover of animals. You can find her belting out show-tunes in karaoke, or in bookstores adding new tomes to her ever-growing collection.

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