Imagine a small 6.5 acre plot of land where the buildings are so tightly packed together that they virtually form a solid unit. Every inch of space has been utilized to house a flourishing population. Buildings have been added on top of each other making the construction so dense that sunlight can not reach the lower levels. Fluorescent lights have to be left on throughout the day to provide light. A mere 500 buildings 12 to 14 stories high house a population of 35,ooo people making it the highest population density in the world. Navigating the upper levels through a network of passageways and ladders is possible without ever touching the ground. Does it sound like something out of a futuristic movie? Well it’s not, it was Kowloon Walled city that existed within Hong Kong up until 1993.
The area was originally a military fortress built by the Chinese. For many years soldiers and their families lived within the walled city. When China handed over the rest of Hong Kong to Britain in 1899 the walled city was left out of the agreement. China wanted to keep it as an outpost. It remained as a part of China, like a city within the city of Hong Kong. The military soldiers abandoned it during the British rule, but civilians remained in the area. It was basically left to develop on its own. During the second world war when Japan occupied Hong Kong they tore down much of the city to expand their airstrips. In 1945 Japan surrendered and left Hong Kong. The city became totally ungoverned at this point.
Refugees from communist China fled to the area. Hong Kong police had no jurisdiction over the walled city since it was technically a part of China. Neither China or Britain wanted to take responsibility for the area, so there were no rules. The population quickly grew and it turned into a slum ruled by gangs. It was a haven of crime, drugs, prostitutes and gambling. There were illegal businesses, unlicensed clinics and amateur dentists. There were no utility companies so residents practiced self wiring and makeshift plumbing.
In 1993 the Chinese and British finally decided the mess of this uncontrolled city had to be dealt with. They tore down the buildings and spent millions of Hong Kong dollars to relocate the residents. It was turned into the park it is today.
Kowloon Walled City Park was opened in 1995. It is a serene area of landscaped gardens that are full of waterfalls and fountains. There were surprisingly very few people during our visit. It makes for a peaceful escape from the city. Some historical artifacts from the Walled City have been preserved in the park, including the Yamen building, five inscribed stones, old wells and remnants of the south gate. The pathways have been named after streets and buildings that once existed.
Admission to the park is free. It is open daily from 6:30am to 11pm.
Public Transport to Kowloon Walled City Park