re: Hong Kong

Off The Beaten Track, pt. II.

Pt. II of Off the Beaten Track, because I like small bite-sized blog posts.

If possible, I would just skip the idea of a ‘holiday’ altogether and live in Hong Kong for a couple of months, explore its offerings at a lackadaisical pace and soak in the sun.

Kowloon; the suburbs.

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Venturing a bit further out when visiting Kowloon and you’ll find another local favourite, BBQ! From my experience, it’s around £20 for all you can eat food, usually without a strict time limit on your stay. Depending on the place, this can also extend to all you can drink, or be limited to just one free drink. In any case, it’s always good to carry a bottle of water on your person at all times when in Hong Kong.

I’ve written partly about this about this before, but if you’ve already trekked out to Kowloon, why not make a day of it? Go for a bike ride and work up an appetite to truly take advantage of the all you can eat deal in the evening! It’s another local past time and it’s easy to see why. Being away from the inner city allows for designated bicycle lanes and you can follow one route that takes you all the way from Tai Wai to Tai Po. Don’t worry about the cycle back either, you can return the bikes at another location and take the bus or taxi back to the nearest MTR station once finished. There’s really no reason not to do this when visiting Hong Kong, you’ll find your view of the city thoroughly broadened and return with a fresh perspective that most visitors won’t have acquired.

CNY: Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree

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Finding yourself in the city during Chinese New Year, make sure to visit Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree! During the festive period, the area’s full of interesting sights from food, souvenirs and traditions. It’s a small but packed occasion, enjoyable nevertheless for visitors who wish to experience the community spirit of a 700-year old village. The wishing tree presents a fun opportunity to take part in a tradition wherein you attach your new year’s wishes onto a (fake) clementine (satsuma? orange?) and throw them up into the tree. The higher the branch, the more likely your wish will come true! I made two attempts at this when a young girl snatched up my orange (and wish!) before I could pick it up again. Equally hilarious was watching my friends throw their oranges only to accidently bump some poor stranger on the head.

Regarding the TST parade, this you can definitely skip. We secured a spot quite early on and found it not worth the wait. Rather than a continuous flow of music and celebration, there were 5/10-minute wait times between each section and the while the performers were wonderful in their own right, the majority of (if not all) floats were pretty much just decorated pieces of advertisement. I can appreciate a celebration of a country’s brand and businesses, but this was too much.

So this concludes my series of posts on Hong Kong! I hope this has proved useful or at least enjoyable for those who slogged through and read what I have to say – it really is appreciated, thank you!

re: Hong Kong

Off The Beaten Track, pt. I.

I called my first posts on Hong Kong unmissable sights, but that’s not to say the following things should be missed when you visit. Once you’ve ticked the main locations off your itinerary, do something a bit different to bolster your experience. I managed to write about some places before, my favourite being the near-fail of a hike to see the waterfalls (please learn from my mistakes), but there’s also the hike (another one) to the highest peak on Kowloon and tasting the rainbow via multi-coloured soup dumplings! Let’s add another two to the list to fuel your curiosity:

Lion Rock

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So I’ve already written about two hikes, why not introduce another? The city battles with the mountainous terrain of its natural landscape and you’ll soon find that every day is leg day when walking in Hong Kong. For stunning views inside the city, Lion Rock is a famous landmark amongst locals and the perfect counterpart to Victoria Peak’s harbour views. Named for its resemblance to a lion, the trail can be accessed upon leaving Won Tai Sin MTR station (exit B3).

Make sure you stock up on plenty of water as the hike is basically one long staircase to its peak. On hindsight, it’s not a bad idea to bring lunch too! From the MTR exit, there’s two choices: follow the instructions on this blog and walk to the start of the trail, or save yourself a good 30 minutes and take a taxi (~30HKD) to the starting point. When I took my friend Hazel, I was slightly hungover so we smartly opted for the lazy taxi option.

Visiting in late February, the weather wasn’t nearly as hot or humid as in summer, but we still ended up drenched in sweat upon reaching the top. Luckily there was a light breeze to cool us off and we relaxed on the rocks, soaking in the view until sunset. I really recommend starting the hike late afternoon as temperatures will be cooler and watching the sun set over the city is one of those magical experiences you can’t miss. I’m in love with this city at night and with Lion Rock as a vantage point, it’s hard not to be captivated by its glittering lights.*

Cheung Chau (長洲)

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Popular with locals, this little island is a food heaven and only a short ferry ride from Central. First time visiting, my friend and I were amazed by the giant fish balls and the sheer amount of food. Head to the food stalls for lunch and to the harbour restaurants at dinner for fresh seafood at decent prices. Note that although the menus here come in Chinese, some do have photographs you can use for reference. For the best experience, take a fluent Cantonese speaker (friend or family) to do the hard work of ordering for you.

Come with a big appetite to sample everything on offer, but definitely don’t leave without eating the mango mochi. From the ferry pier, head left and you’ll recognise the shop by its consistently huge lines. Don’t be deterred though, this is mochi like no other. Beautifully soft mochi is wrapped around a slice of fresh mango making for a deliciously refreshing bite. To the thrill seekers amongst you, try the durian flavour for a step out of your comfort zone. Personally, I’m not fond, but you might strike lucky and find it your cup of tea!

Cheung Chau is more than its food though, keep heading right from the ferry pier and discover the reclining rocks for change of scenery and a quick get-away from the hustle and bustle of the street food scene. The crowds of people start to disperse and you can take a moment on the rocks to relax and nurture your newly acquired food baby.

[Part II coming next week!]

*Getting back down in the dark can be quite tricky, our method consisted of using the lights from our phones and keeping close to a family of three who had the good sense to bring a proper flashlight.

re: Merry Christmas!

Deck the halls with boughs of holly fa-la-la-la…

For most people, the month of December indicates a slew of festivities and a brief respite from the world of work. For myself and most other students, December is a frightening month full of coursework deadlines, exams and revision. Complimenting 2016’s gifts, this year I also have the pressure of applying for jobs, to secure some sort of stable future after I graduate. Quite a stressful way to spend the holidays, but alas, the things we must do.

In any case, I’d like to take the time to thank everyone who reads/follows this blog! Whether you celebrate it or not, hope everyone has a great Christmas break. Take the time to relax for a moment and enjoy the luxury of just doing nothing before scaling the mountain of work again. My housemates and I celebrated with our own little Christmas dinner about a week ago, so it feels a little strange to be doing it again with my family, but I’m excited to return home and have one guiltless day of eating food and watching movies!

re: Culture Time

Sightseers and information seekers

After our disappointing first attempt to sight-see around Taipei, we checked and double checked opening times this time round, setting off nice and early to fit as much in as possible. With the sun on our side we arrived at the Dalongdong Bao’an Temple (臺北保安宮). It’s a small but beautiful site that has been awarded for its conservation efforts by UNESCO. There’s a lack of English signs providing information about the temple and it would have been nicer to be given more about its history, but it’s nothing you can’t read up on Google later I suppose! Across the road from here is the Confucius Temple, which does have an abundance of information given to you in English! Although less intricate in architectural design, I did enjoy this temple much more due to its interactive exhibitions! There’s also a screening room towards the back of the area showing Confucius related films in 4D (!!!), there are nine screenings spread throughout the day if you have the time. Having just missed the previous screening, we decided to press on with our itinerary feeling sorry to have missed the 4D film.

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We next made our way to the Taiwan Fine Arts Museum, not seeking out anything in particular but to check out some works by Taiwanese artists. Entering the main exhibition, it was nice to discover for ourselves the works of Daniel Lee (a Chinese artist raised in Taiwan). The collection consisted of human/animal hybrids, termed ‘manimals’ by Lee, created through both digital and traditional mediums. They were all fantastically beautiful and creepy to view, provoking ideas of future bodily manipulations or even ethical implications of combining animal and human genetics. Not having any expectations of the museum beforehand, it’s pretty easy to be satisfied with our visit, but lovelier to find pieces that strike you and create conversation – something that is definitely harder to come across!

Moving on from the arts museum, we went to meet another friend (this time a Taiwanese local) and explored the surrounding area, ending up at Maji2, a little hipster street style food court that serves a variety of food from different countries. There’s also a few shops here for those of you wanting to buy quirky gifts to take home! We stopped here for lunch and can confirm that the prices and quality of food here is pretty decent!

Completing the cultural tour, we then went to the National Palace Museum, which is a fair bit away from our location (~1hr) – something to keep in mind for anyone else planning their itinerary. Once there however, it’s a spectacular sight to behold. The structure itself is huge and imposing, which is funny contrasted with the rather shabby block of flats directly opposite. For those residents, it must be amazing to have such a view to distract you and reminds me of this observation from Karl Pilkington. Heading inside is like walking into a vault of treasures, temperatures are kept low to preserve the artefacts so bringing a light jacket is advisory (unfortunately, no one told me, so I kept warm by briskly walking around the exhibits). There’s a lot to go through and even more locked away from the public eye (!) but my favourite parts were the calligraphy and jade exhibitions. We spent the rest of the day here but still weren’t able to make it around the whole museum, there’s so much to see!