Hong Kong's Secret Garden (It's Free!)

Written by Feb 5, 2009 10:25
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Hong Kong Skyline at Night

I’m not a big fan of mega-cities. I just never relax whenever I feel like everybody is trying to rip me off and I need to put my wallet in the front pocket of my jeans. So when my wife and I went to Hong Kong this last Spring Festival you can imagine how uncomfortable I was walking the busy streets and being harassed by everyone who thought I was a prime candidate for their fake watches and handbags. It’s a great city but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time.

That’s not to say I didn’t love my stay. Hong Kong’s skyline was larger than I every thought possible and just as captivating whether I was staring at it from the Avenue of Stars or at the top of Victoria’s Peak. My wife couldn’t get enough of the shops and our walking tour around Hong Kong Island was mesmerizing to say the least. But it was still a big city and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by how trapped I was among these building that were never smaller than 20 stories. After the second day of walking around I was in desperate need of a break, some place that I could relax without feeling claustrophobic. Fortunately we ran across just such a place, a park ironically situated in the one of Hong Kong Island’s most densely populated areas.

The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens was never a place we had planned to visit when we arrived. It’s not one of the top tourist attractions, that’s for sure. The Lonely Planet China travel guide gives nothing more than a scant one-sentence mention of the park and the park itself doesn’t advertise. This lack of advertising might be due to the fact that entrance into this spectacular park is absolutely free, yet for me, strapped with a backpacker’s budget, this was one of its biggest draws.

King George VI Statue

The Garden was founded in 1871 under the supervision of Mr. Charles Ford who became its first Superintendent and was renamed in 1975 to reflect all the improvements that had been made since its establishment. You’d think that the big statue near the center of the park would be Mr. Ford, but it is in fact King George VI erected in 1941 to commemorate 100 years of British Colonial rule in Hong Kong. File that under useless facts you’ll enjoy telling your friends when you visit.

The reason I enjoyed this park so much is because of all it has to offer. Besides a breath of “fresh” air in the midst of a busy city you will also find more than 1,000 species of plants, 500 birds, 70 mammals, and over 40 reptiles! Did I mention this was all free?


For those who have spent any small amount of time in China I think you might agree that a visit to any zoo within the mainland is not just sad, it’s heartbreaking. Not so here in Hong Kong. Animal habitats are beautifully adorned with trees, ponds, and rocks and each exhibit carries signs bearing the name and description of each animal in both English and Chinese (traditional Chinese, of course). A wide array of monkeys, birds, turtles, and crazy-looking rodents give visitors a good idea of the different species that occupy this part of the world. Clear paths marked by signs and a map you can pick up make it easy to find exactly which animal you wish to see. It’s almost disorienting to look down at a Bornean Orang-utan and then look up to see the towering Bank of China building. Disorienting, but most definitely fun.

If plants are something you’re interested in there’s plenty to keep you looking. Although the entire park is filled with beautiful trees and bamboo, there is a small section dedicated to its botanical collection. Signs are also available to give information about each plant group, but we were content to just browse the colorful arrangement. As if beautiful flowers weren’t enough, you can also find an herb garden in the southern portion of the park and a greenhouse along the eastern boundary.

This place looks well equipped to handle kids, something I noticed despite that fact that my wife and I haven’t started a family yet. A big playground was undergoing what looked like major renovations on the south side of the park and there was a lot of literature about the park’s educational services. Apparently local school kids take field trips here during the school year to learn about all the different plants and animals on display, a fact which doesn’t help me much as a traveler except to give me confidence that this is a reputable establishment.

HKZBG Fountain and Skyline

My favorite part of this park, however, was the main fountain. Located on the northern edge of the park, the water display itself is nothing fascinating but its backdrop is breathtaking. Towering skyscrapers which are usually seen from the top of Victoria’s Peak now fill the skyline like a bamboo forest of buildings. Somehow all the city noise is filtered out by the surrounding trees and replaced by the sound of the fountain’s water and simple conversations from other visitors. After a couple hours on our walking tour of the island, sitting down in this relaxing atmosphere was very welcome.

As a quick side note, the location of this park makes a great jumping-off point for trips on the tram to Victoria’s Peak. The tram station is located a very short walking distance from the southeastern corner of the park and can be easily found using the signs which are posted everywhere you walk. You might like to stop here at the park for a nice stroll and then make your way up to the top of the hill for the panoramic views that Hong Kong is famous for.

Sure you can eat lunch in Hong Kong’s famous Soho district nearby, but why not just take a sack lunch to sit and eat in the park, a relaxing break from the sightseeing you’ve been doing on Hong Kong Island. It’s beautiful. It’s quiet. It’s right where the action is. Best of all (have I mentioned this already?), it’s free!

Directions and Pricing

Once you get onto Hong Kong Island you really ought to just walk to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Garden. Keep walking along Garden Rd towards the Victoria’s Peak tram station and just keep walking for another 150 meters. It will be on your right.

For those wishing to take a bus, the following buses stop at the Gardens:

From Central: 3B, 12, 13
From Admiralty: 12A, 12M, 40M, 40P, 40
From Causeway Bay: 23A, 23B
From North Point: 23
From Lok Fu: 103

Like I think I’ve said before, admission to the gardens is free, but they do have a small refreshment kiosk where you can choose from a limited selection of snacks and drinks. Besides that your only expense will be transportation to and from!

 More Hong Kong Travel Reviews
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3. Hong Kong Visa Trip BENJAMIN from CN Dec 20, 2006 00:12
Comments (1)


Feb 24, 2009 04:53 Reply

SHUBH said:

Indeed nicely written useful information. Because of its natural beauty and well management of the sites and basic facilities, tourists to Hong Kong are increasing every year despite current global economy recession. I would like to add further- If some one wants to enjoy traditional hospitality with ultimate standards of luxury, he may stay at InterContinental Grand Stanford or Parkview or Regal Hong Kong Hotel, that can be booked I advance through their respective sites or through http://travel.justluxe.com/luxury-hotels/Asia__China__Hong-Kong/index.html. For budgetary accommodation, one may visit www.hk-hotel.com/ or www.hongkonghotels.net/ etc.

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