Not a single nail was used to build this nunnery, which dates back to 1934. Instead, traditional Tang Dynasty architectural techniques involving wooden dowels and bracket work hold everything together. Most of the 15 cedar halls house altars to bodhisattvas (those who have reached enlightenment)—bronze plaques explain each one.
Feng shui principles governed construction. The buildings face south toward the sea, to bring abundance; their backs are to the mountain, a provider of strength and good energy. The temple's clean lines are a vast departure from most of Hong Kong's colorful religious buildings—here painted wood and gleaming Buddha statues are the only adornments.
The Main Hall is the most imposing—and inspiring—part of the monastery. Overlooking the smaller second courtyard, it honors the first Buddha, known as Sakyamuni. The soaring ceilings are held up by cedar columns that support the roof—no mean feat, given that
its traditionally made clay tiles make it extremely heavy.
Courtyards and gardens, where frangipani flowers scent the air, run beside the nunnery. The gardens are filled with bonsai trees and artful rockeries. Nature is also present inside: the various halls and galleries all look onto two courtyards filled with geometric lotus ponds and manicured bushes. Neighboring Nan Lian Garden, built in the same style, is adorned with pretty pavilions and more than 60 types of plant. A famous vegetarian restaurant serves up excellent set meals and dim sum. Proceeds from the restaurant fund the Chi Lin Nunnery.
Left of the Main Hall is a don't-miss hall dedicated to Avalokitesvra, better known in Hong Kong as Kwun Yum, goddess of mercy and childbearing, among other things. She's one of the few exceptions to the rule that bodhisattvas are represented as asexual beings.
Be sure to keep looking up—the latticework ceilings and complicated beam systems are among the most beautiful parts of the building. Combine Chi Lin Nunnery with a visit to Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, only one MTR stop or a short taxi ride away.