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: Bamboo Forest

But no [Ja]pandas

I feel I mention the rain a lot in my posts. On any normal day it wouldn’t be noteworthy, but when you’re travelling it can be very influential in shaping your experience of a place. So as you can guess, it rained on our first day in Kyoto. Coordination issues seem to be a problem plaguing the trip, as Wesley and I ended up at two different stations in Arashiyama that morning. You can do as Wesley did and get the train, although you then have to walk 10 minutes to get to the central part of the district, which is why I would recommend my method of taking the tram as it’s more conveniently located for sights and shops!

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First visiting Tenryū-ji Temple, we paid 600 yen to enter, although I wouldn’t recommend doing this if you’re budget conscious or have little interest in Japanese temples/gardens. It’s very picturesque inside, but you might have to fight with some Chinese tourists to get that perfect shot. Walking through the gardens takes you to the famous Bamboo Grove (don’t worry, you can get to it by taking the longer/less scenic route around Tenryū-ji). I was a little scared of being underwhelmed as my friend, Sandy, was unimpressed on her visit. But I loved it! The density of bamboo was amazing to see, but it is quite a busy area so you might not get the best photograph here.

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Instead, do visit Adashino Nenbutsuji Temple! I came here wanting to see the thousands of Buddist statues, which are incredible themselves, but there’s also a bamboo path here that was deserted when we visited (in fact, there was only one other couple there). It makes a far better location for photographs, and you won’t have the risk of anyone photobombing your new profile picture, heh. Each day in Japan is incomplete without green tea ice-cream and today I mixed it up a little with a green-tea and hojicha (roasted green-tea) swirl. Can someone teleport me back already?

re: Sun Moon Lake

Venturing away from Taipei.

Going to Sun Moon Lake, you must get up early to beat the crowds and catch the first bus there. We got the 0750 bus but the little station was already packed with tourists! There’s a selection of ticket packages you can buy along with your bus ticket, ours included a boat ride across the lake, free shuttle bus travel around the area and bike rental. From what I recall, they weren’t too expensive for the varying packages, but keep in mind how much you think you can fit in throughout the day!  On the bus, I was getting ready to fall asleep when I spotted our friend Aline, who we met in the Taipei hostel, she had left a few days earlier than us so it was a pleasant surprise to see her again – yay for travel friends!

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I’ve now mastered the art of sleeping on transport and fell asleep on the journey there, waking up to a stunning view of the clouds weaving dreamily in and out of the hills. Getting off, we exchanged our boat vouchers for tickets with a lady on the street. It’s not something to be suspicious of, but do be aware there are different companies around that you can exchange your vouchers with so make sure your group all exchanges with the same person! With the water so clear and blue, it wasn’t hard to enjoy the cruise across the lake and on the other side, we visited Wen Wu Temple and a peacock garden before catching a bus back to the main area for lunch (Taiwanese beef noodle soup – the best!) After lunch we decided to make use of our bike vouchers and rented a bike for the rest of the afternoon. There’s a great cycle path to take, although at some points it can get a little crowded and frustrating when the people in front of you are too slow. Turning back at Xiangshan Visitor Centre, we were able to enjoy the view for a while before we witnessed a drone accident! Someone lost control of the drone they were flying and it flew into a lady’s head, knocking her unconscious. (Reading up in Taiwanese news the next day, we can all breathe a sigh of relief – she was fine!) Another thing to note is that buses on the way back from Sun Moon Lake can be get extremely busy, so it’s best not to get the last bus back as you might get stranded – we left at around 4pm and there was already a huge queue!

re: Cat Villages and Lanterns

Can’t stop the feline

If you have a day spare in Taipei, make sure to take a train out of the city and explore the surrounding villages. After visiting Jiufen, we bought a train ticket to Pingxi and stopped off at different stations along the way. Our first stop was Houtong Cat Village, which is exactly what you’d expect! Residents here have fully embraced the animal, with cat-related adornments all over the train station as well as actual cats! We spotted a few as soon as we off the train and probably would have seen a lot more if not for the rain. Taking refuge in a nearby shop, I unsurprisingly ended up buying some souvenirs. The selection was pleasantly surprising too, but maybe I’m slightly biased. It’s not your typical machine-churned-touristy-products, more like items you’d find in a cute local art fair! Prices weren’t too extortionate either, yay! Braving the rain, we delved further into the village in search of more cats before my allergies got the better of me and we took the train to the next destination.

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Luckily the rain had subsided as we got into Shifen and we grabbed a quick snack, (BBQ chicken wings stuffed with rice – so delicious!) and headed off to see the waterfall. Although it is free to enter, do be aware of opening times (09.30-17.30), depending on how long you want to spend there! We just about made it, having a good 10 minutes to view and take pictures before we were shooed away! Another point to keep in mind is that many shops/stalls selling food also close pretty early too – something that completely slipped my mind after being in cities for so long. It’s best to have a big/late lunch or pack snacks while you wait for the next outbound train!

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Our original plan was to go to Pingxi to set off some lanterns but we figured it would take too long to get there and back into the city (we were pretty hungry and also due to meet a friend). Basing our plans on internet recommendations, we read that Pingxi is nicer to set off lanterns (due to less tourists) but to be honest Shifen isn’t a bad compromise. We decorated our lantern and got bitten by mosquitos, before a cinematic worthy send-off along the railway track! After such a heart-warming send off, it’s a little disenchanting when you see the lantern run out of fuel and begin its descent. Especially when the idea is to write your hopes and dreams on it. 😐 Overall, it’s a lovely way to spend the evening and at this time, there’s less crowds, making that moment just the more special (corny, I’m sorry).