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About this blog

thisgirlabroad is an expat living, working, and eating her way through Hong Kong, and traveling throughout South East Asia without any plans to slow down. 

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thisgirlabroad

These are snippets of what I’ve experienced living in Hong Kong over the past years: from the funny to the weird, and everything in between. I’ll continue to update this post as I come across more strange and wonderful things around the city.

70. Where this anti-smoking ad is more likely to make you laugh than to quit smoking. 

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69. Where honesty is key.

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68. Where you’ll find “Monkey Head” on a menu.

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67. When monks wear “spicy” shoes on the MTR.

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66. When people have too much money and too little sense, and decide to cover their Porsche in black velvet. 

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65. When restaurants need to specify that liquor is intoxicating, as opposed to it being..? 

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64. When these are the things I see on my commute to work in the morning. 

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63. When the Hong Kong Observatory issues a T8 (strong typhoon warning) without it even raining, and the whole city literally shuts down..

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62. When precautions are taken very seriously around a work site..

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61. Where people need to be reminded of proper hygiene practices.

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60. When it’s 30°C outside and people are wearing a down jacket and Hawaiian shorts.

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59. Where this outdoor display is meant to entice you to eat here. 

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58. Where the elderly take their exercising seriously.

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57. Where the world’s most insane beauty products exist. 

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56. Where people are badass.

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55. Where seeing this becomes normal.

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54. Where clothes can be incredibly ironic.

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53. Where you can purchase a “Mini Portable Toilet”.

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52. Where you can find people sleeping at the bottom of stairwells.

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51. Where soup exists for your hands. 

soap

50. Where department stores display Halloween and Christmas decorations side by side.

halloween and christmas

49. Where fashion is taken seriously.

fashion

48. Where products like this actually exist and famous soccer players actually promote them.

weird products

47. When you’re not sure what the marketing strategy is.

funny

46. Where people own incredibly large cellphones.

cellphone

45. Where you always get a good laugh out of locals wearing English shirts.

english

44. Where you can find a truckload of bamboo just lying on the street.

bamboo

43. When fancy port-a-potty’s equipped with carpeted floors, a full length mirror, and a framed picture are rented for the Rugby Sevens. 

toilet

42. Where drying your entire wardrobe along a public walkway is a thing.

DryingClothes

41. When a notice regarding “throwing animal discharge from height” is posted in your apartment building.

notice sign

40. Where the love of egg tarts is real. 

egg tarts

39. Where you’re just not quite sure what to do in some situations (so you just take a photo instead)

wig

38. Where you can wait for the bus in style.

bus stop

37. Where you have announcements like this in the MTR:
“Please hold onto the handrails and not just look at your mobile phone.”

36. When businesses run out of the back of a van.

business

35. Where you can get some exercise on the side of the road.

exercise

34. Where the food safety and hygiene guidelines are questionable.

butcher store

33. Where people will queue for hours on end.

apple store queue

32. When a water pipe bursts, construction workers are more concerned with taking a picture of the flooding street than fixing it. 

water pipe

31. Where advertisements sure know how to catch your attention.

advertisement

30. Where DIY projects consist of sticking oven mitts to the handle bars of motorcycles.

DIY

29. Where you can buy wine by the plastic glass in the grocery store. 

wine in a plastic glass

28. Where this is considered entertainment at a nightclub. 

play nightclub

27. Where your choice of local grocery store is based solely upon how much its name makes you laugh. 

grocery store

26. Where public stretching in short shorts and no shirt is serious business. 

stretching

25. When candy wrappers warn consumers that “children and elderly people should not eat absolutely.”

candy

24. Where you can’t walk more than two blocks without seeing one of these “litter cum recyclables” bins.

litter bin

23. Where you can find horse figurines, among other oddities, randomly stuck into large rocks.

horse

22. When these are a few words of wisdom imparted on you by a local restaurant owner:
“Don’t go back to Canada. So many animal. So few people. Don’t waste your life.”
*Mr. Wong from Mr. Wong’s, Mong Kok

21. When eating pig skin is considered a delicacy.

cantonese cuisine

20. When your concept of what dessert is  completely flipped around.

dessert

19. When signs like this are posted outside of the washrooms at a bar.

funny sign

18. Where people are really serious about Hello Kitty.

hello kitty

17. Where this is on display at an amusement park.

ocean park

16. When this becomes a regular sight on a night out.

costumes

15. Where adults dressing the same is a thing.

matching backpacks

14. When the smog is so thick you can no longer see half of the tallest building in your area.

buildings

13. Where embarrassment does not exist.

exercise

12. When the weather is more indecisive than I am.

11. When owning an oven is the epitome of wealth and the envy of all your friends.

10. When you can take the escalator up to the gym.
Bonus: having a McDonald’s right underneath.

california-fitness

9. When you can find preserved whole baby crabs in a snack bag.

asian-snacks

8. When Groupon sells stuff like this.

ostrich-pillow-portable-power-nap-micro-environment-7

7. When you climb up a mountain and have this as your view (just ignore the smog).

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6. When the only way to get hot water in your flat is by turning this on.

water-heater

5. Where people either fear or are obsessed with dogs.

Wrapping Up 2012 In Hong Kong 049

4. When families and couples coordinate their outfits so they all match.

4. Just Your Average Day In Hong Kong

3. When it is 20° out and people are wearing winter jackets and boots.

2. When you’re on the MTR and see a man plucking out his facial hair with tweezers.

1. When you’re at the gym and
a) Men are wearing shorter shorts than women
b) People are wearing their work clothes
c) One in five people are talking on their cellphone


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thisgirlabroad
bitan taipei 4

There is so much to do and see (and eat!) in Taipei that you might not have enough time to fit everything into your weekend getaway. While the list of things to do in Taipei is seemingly endless, I’ve compiled my top 10 favourite things I did while exploring the city for five days that were either absolutely free or incredibly cheap!

1. Eat all the food at Taipei’s night markets

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One thing you will never have to worry about in this city is going hungry thanks to the incredible array of cheap street food. While wandering around the city during the day is sure to provide you with plenty of food options, it’s Taipei’s night markets that steal the show. My top picks for an evening filled with food are the Shilin Night Market (the most popular and widely known market), Raohe St. Night Market (my personal favourite), Tonghua Night Market (a much more local market), and Huaxi St. Night Market.

2. Stroll through the 228 Peace Memorial Park

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Don’t you just love it when a city has a little oasis smack-dab in the center of it?! Taipei’s version of this is the 228 Peace Memorial Park. With both stunning beauty amidst the buildings and ample historic significance (paying tribute to the victims of the February 228 Massacre), this park is a must-see. As you’re strolling through, you’ll come across a Memorial Museum, the 228 Massacre Monument, beautiful temples, and lush greenery.

3. Hike up Elephant Mountain

elephant mountain taipei 3

Instead of paying to go up Taipei 101 to snap some shots of the surrounding city, hike up Elephant Mountain (for free!) instead and you’ll be graced with stunning views of the city. The hike itself takes about 20 minutes and is incredibly convenient to get to. Read more about my experience getting to and hiking up Elephant Mountain here.

4. Relax in Wulai’s natural hot springs

wulai hot springs taipei 4

Aside from all the food, Taipei is known for its natural hot springs. While there are a few hot springs surrounding Taipei, I would highly recommend visiting Wulai’s natural hot springs because a) Wulai is a beautiful, culturally-rich town, b) they have specialty street food you likely won’t find in the city, and c) there are ample natural (free!) hot springs that offer stellar views of the surrounding area. Read more about my experience at Wulai’s hot springs here.

5. Visit the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

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Although a huge tourist attraction, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is absolutely stunning and should not be missed. Built in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, a former president of China, the hall itself is impressive, but the surrounding buildings, temples, and structures shouldn’t go unnoticed. One thing not to be missed is the changing of the guard ceremony that happens on the hour from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, daily (just be sure to arrive early, as it can get quite crowded).

6. Escape the city and head to Jiufen

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A popular day trip for tourists visiting Taipei, Jiufen offers a breath of fresh air from the busy city center. The area has countless narrow alleyways, colorful decor, endless amounts of street food, and a picture-perfect setting (Jiufen was the inspiration behind Spirited Away). Read more about my time in Jiufen here and here.

7. Appreciate the beauty of Taipei’s Temples

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Temples might not seem too special if you’ve done a bit of traveling throughout South East Asia since they’re literally everywhere, however, you’d be amiss not to visit a few temples around Taipei. My favourite was the Lungshan Temple; captivating by day, overwhelmingly stunning by night. If you can only make it to one temple in Taipei, Lungshan Temple is it.

8. Shop till you drop

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There is endless amounts of shopping to be done in Taipei; from designer shops to boutique stores and street stalls, this city has it all. One of the more popular areas to satisfy shopaholics is Ximending. This area has a range of shops, as it offers visitors bigger name brands as well as smaller shops selling unique clothing and accessories at a bargain.

9. Explore the innovative work at Songshan Cultural and Creative Park

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Originally a tobacco factory, the Taipei government redeveloped this area into the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park in 2011 in order to develop and cultivate the culture and creativity industry. You’ll find a museum, design lab, a garden, restaurants, and a relaxing pond, to name a few of the elements of the Cultural and Creative Park. So, if you’re into art and culture, this park should be on your to-see list.

10. Get lost wandering around the city

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Aside from the main tourist areas of Taipei, there are small pockets throughout the city that are full of charming old buildings and a rich local vibe. My recommendation is to head to Dihua Street for its quaint shops, including cafes, fabrics, and Chinese medicine. This area is an important commercial sector, so there’s always lots going on.


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kerry-hotel-brunch-16-150x150.jpg

Hotels often put on a fantastic buffet brunch spread and the Kerry Hotel brunch buffet is no exception. Although it’s a bit out of the way in Hung Hom, the copious amounts of food along with stellar views overlooking the harbor make it worth the effort. I honestly think this was probably one of the largest buffets I’ve ever been to. There was an incredibly wide range of cuisine and it’s quite good value too if you can make the most of it (ie. stuff your face).

Vibe at Kerry Hotel Brunch

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Big Bay Cafe is huge. There is seating for around 300 people and there is SO MUCH FOOD it’s borderline ridiculous. The brunch buffet is very family friendly – they have a magician and clown walking around stopping at tables to show you a magic trick and make a balloon animal or flower. It was quite cold when I went so we sat inside, but there is ample outdoor seating that is perfect for a nicer day (with great views, too!).

Buffet Spread

kerry-hotel-brunch-1-1024x683.jpgDIY noodle soup stationkerry-hotel-brunch-2-1024x683.jpgIndian food selectionkerry-hotel-brunch-3-1024x683.jpgThe grillkerry-hotel-brunch-8-1024x683.jpgRound 1kerry-hotel-brunch-9-1024x683.jpgMy DIY noodleskerry-hotel-brunch-10-1024x683.jpgFrom the grill

There was so much food that I had to make a strategic plan (no joke!) before I began filling up my plate. I’ve been to my fair share of buffets before, but I can’t recall ever being so blown away by how big the buffet was. Whether you’re a meat-lover or a vegetarian, wanting to eat healthy or go all-out, you’re guaranteed to find something at the Kerry Hotel brunch. I tried to have a nibble of everything and my favorites were the DIY noodle soup (anyone else love fish balls?!) and grill station (the lobster is a must try). If you’re a pasta lover, you’ll be pleased to know my friend loved the make your own pasta station so much she went there twice.

Dessert

kerry-hotel-brunch-6-1024x683.jpgAll the mini cakeskerry-hotel-brunch-13-1024x683.jpgI swear this plate wasn’t just for me!kerry-hotel-brunch-14-1024x683.jpgIce cream with a view

Before you reach the point of no return, don’t forget to save some room for dessert. There is a massive variety of mini cakes, crepes and waffles, ice cream, the most delicious salted caramel macarons, a chocolate fountain, fruit, and a table dedicated to other desserts like donuts.

Verdict

If you love a good buffet brunch that has a wide selection of cuisines on offer, you should check out the Kerry Hotel brunch. I think it’s especially worth the trip over there if you go on a nice day and can sit outside while enjoying the views along the harbor. The Kerry Hotel is also a good brunch for families given the magician and clown that walk around to entertain the young (and old!). The only thing I didn’t love was just how busy it was – the whole restaurant was packed and it felt a bit crowded.

Details

The buffet is available every Sunday from 12:00 pm – 3:30 pm.
Adults – HK$428
Kids between 7 and 11 – HK$214
Free-flow soft drinks and juice – additional HK$40
Above plus wine – additional HK$200
Plus Veuve Clicquot Champagne – additional HK$300

Kerry Hotel – Big Bay Cafe
38 Hung Leun Road
Hung Hom Bay
Kowloon

Tel: 2252 5888


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supafood - pork salad

Given the fact that I’m gorging down delicious (but ultimately unhealthy) meals far too often, I’m always on the prowl for quick and hearty food that’s also good for you. As health trends continue to rise; cold-pressed juices, salads galore, and organic everything, Supafood seems to have found a good balance of offering healthy food that is oh-so satisfying. Serving up salads to rice bowls, and chia pudding to smoothies, Supafood has their healthy eats down to a T.

Smoothies

supafood - smoothiesBerry Happy & Choco Luv Smoothie (HK$68 each)

To start, we quenched our thirst with Supafood’s healthy smoothies. The Berry Happy (HK$68) had a magical mix of organic acai berry, blue berry, organic banana, local honey, and coconut water, making for a light and refreshing drink. We also tried the Choco Luv (HK$68), which consisted of organic cacao, organic peanut butter and organic almond milk. This smoothie was much thicker, and while I really liked the flavour, I found the texture to be a bit grainy.

Salads

supafood - fish saladBaked Sustainable Wild Caught Atlantic Halibut Salad (HK$108 for large)supafood - pork saladOrganic Apple Roasted US Pasture Raised Pulled Pork Shoulder Salad (HK$118 for large)

Since we were starving, we tried two incredibly large and satisfying salads. First up was the Baked Sustainable Wild Caught Atlantic Halibut Salad (HK$108 for large), made with a fresh mix of organic baby spinach, apple, cherry tomato, sunflower seed, roasted pumpkin and couscous mix with avocado yoghurt dressing. The salad was quite light (despite its large size) and the ingredients went together well, though the dressing was a bit bland. My personal favourite was the Organic Apple Roasted US Pasture Raised Pulled Pork Shoulder Salad (HK$118 for large), made with organic kale, cherry tomatos, pomegranate, pumpkin, chia seeds, feta and quinoa mix with apple cider vinaigrette dressing. Everything about this salad screamed “yes!” and I felt like I was feasting on a delicious meal without the #carbregret aftermath.

On-the-run

supafood - chia puddingChia Pudding (HK$48)supafood - protein ballCoconut Supaball (HK$28)

If you’re on the go, Supafood’s smaller takeaway options are perfect. Since we were absolutely stuffed, but not quite done trying all of the delicious options on the menu, we opted to bring a few healthy treats home. The Chia Pudding (HK$48) was a guilt-free bowl of goodness. There was a good amount of chia pudding, making this the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up. We also brought home a few Coconut Supaballs (HK$28 each) made with oat flakes, raw cacao nibs, peanut butter, golden flax seed, coconut chips and honey chia seed. I loved having this the next morning with a coffee to jump-start my day, and they were also the perfect pre- or post-gym session snack.

Verdict On Supafood

Supafood’s “mission is to reinvent fast food” by using healthy organic ingredients to create tasty, guilt-free dishes that won’t cost a fortune. The variety of options, quality of ingredients, and relatively large portions (the large salad could easily be two meals for most) make choosing to grab a bite at Supafood a no-brainer.

Supafood
1 Jervois Street
Sheung Wan
Hong Kong 


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IMG_8774 - Copy

If you’re able to spend more than a few days in Taipei, I would highly recommend spending some time in Jiufen. Known for its large selection of street food along Jiufen Old Street and its picturesque views of the surrounding area, Jiufen is a breath of fresh air. Here’s an outline on how to get to Jiufen; either take the train to Ruifang and then bus to Jiufen or you can take a bus directly from Taipei.

what to eat in jiufen

I ended up taking the train first, then bus, as I didn’t realize you could take a bus directly there. Either way, you’ll end up in Jiufen, but here is a quick layout of your two transportation options:

1. Train to Riufang, bus to Jiufen:

Head to Taipei Main Station and purchase a ticket to Riufang Station. Once out of Riufang Station go straight and turn left onto the street in front of you. Cross the street and walk down for about 5 minutes or so until you reach a bus station. We were slightly unsure of which bus to take, so we asked the bus driver before we hopped on (I believe it was Keelung Bus 788, but double check the schedule). Stay on the bus until the last stop, which will drop you off a few minutes away from Jiufen Old Street. The train ticket is around NT$60 and the bus ticket is around NT$20.

2. Bus directly to Jiufen from Taipei City

Make your way to  Zhongxiao Fuxing Station (at the intersection of the Brown and Blue MRT line) and go out Exit 1. Take Keelung Bus 1062 – it will likely say Jinguashin on the sign, but don’t worry, it’ll take you to Jiufen. The bus ticket is around NT$100.

Once there, enjoy exploring the beautiful streets, lovely scenery, and – of course – all the delicious food!


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hong-kong-the-beginning-395-150x150.jpg

I’m sure any expat around the world gets the same question when they begin chatting with others: “why did you move here?” While it’s obvious people’s jobs play a large role, there are often a handful of other factors that fall into place. I mean, it’s a pretty big deal to pack up your entire life and move to a completely different country. I’ve been asked “why Hong Kong?” countless times since moving here five years ago. Surprisingly for me, the answer was pretty simple..

Why I first thought about moving abroad

Like most expats, my main motivation for moving to Hong Kong was a job. After finishing two degrees I thought that getting a job in my field would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I was hit with the hard truth shortly after: the likelihood of landing a full time job was near impossible.

Moving abroad for work was honestly something that never even flickered across my mind until I realized how dire my job prospects were if I stayed in Ontario. I had a choice: either stay put and apply to every job available in my field (this would be part time work with no benefits) while likely living at home because I wouldn’t be able to afford rent in Toronto without a steady income OR put my expensive degrees to use and search for jobs in other countries. Obviously, I chose the latter.

peak-1.jpgFirst hike up to The Peak – October, 2012

How I landed my job in Hong Kong

I went to an international job fair with a close friend who was also in the same situation as me, but I didn’t really think too seriously about it. To me, the job fair was more of a “why not just go to see what’s out there,” since I had nothing to lose. Long story short, I landed an interview and was offered the job the following day.

Although naive of me, I didn’t do any research on Hong Kong before accepting the job (which I would not recommend doing). Without really thinking about, I called my friend (who thankfully also got the job). After speaking with her and solidifying my decision, I called my mom to tell her I was going to accept the offer. It all happened so fast, but knowing I was moving to the other side of the world with one of my closest friends certainly made things easier.

Even though I had no idea what I was getting into, I can confidently (and thankfully) say that I made the right decision to move abroad. Even though it’s been five years since I moved to Hong Kong, I get disheartened to hear that many other people I graduated with are still struggling to secure full time employment in their field. Aside from the hardships I’d face if I stayed in Canada, I truly ended up falling in love with Hong Kong and have had so many incredible opportunities arise from living here (like this blog!). Sometimes taking that leap of faith in life is the best decision you could make.

Are you thinking about moving abroad? If you’ve already moved, what factors persuaded you to do so? 


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maison eight - champagne

Hong Kong’s food and beverage industry is saturated with a variety of bars, restaurants, and clubs; upscale and casual. Maison Eight’s concept attempts to roll all three, and then some, into one sky-high location in Tsim Sha Tsui. Calling themselves an “all day, all night” destination, Maison Eight has four different areas designed to suit all needs: a French restaurant, “Esmé”, a ballroom, a cocktail bar opened by Salvatore Calabrese, and a private room, “Le Club 1829”, on the top floor. The following review of Maison Eight is based solely on my experience dining at the French restaurant, Esmé.

Vibe At Maison Eight

maison eight - interior

The dining area was unexpectedly formal in a stuffy and outdated sort of way, as opposed to a modern and stylish way. Basically, not at all how I had envisioned the atmosphere. Despite the lackluster vibe, the views of the city are top-notch (that is, if you can get a table by the window) and our waitstaff were informative and attentive (though it did take quite awhile for our drinks to come).

Drinks

maison eight - champagneChampagne by the glassmaison eight - swan cocktailThe Sharing Swan (HK$728)

Nothing starts a night off better than a glass of champagne and a killer view of some of Hong Kong’s iconic harbourfront. Aside from the champagne, the drink menu at Maison Eight is incredibly extensive, which we loved because of the variety of options, but that also meant we had trouble deciding what to order (everything sounded so good!). Every cocktail we ordered was pretty much flawless, but the icing on the cake was when we “accidentally” ordered a beyond-massive sharing cocktail: The Sharing Swan (HK$728). Yes, yes, I know. It says “sharing” in the name, so we probably should have realized that it wasn’t meant for one person, but we were solely focused on all the delicious ingredients and based our cocktail ordering off of that alone. Thankfully, we had no regrets, because this sharing cocktail, filled with Absolut Elyx Vodka, lychee liqueur, cassis liqueur, fresh lemon and apple juice, peach bitter, and Jacques Picard Champagne, was worth every penny.

Appetizers

maison eight - scallop

We began with the beautifully presented King Scallops (HK$178). The scallops paired well with the anis sauce, however, the large crispy bacon pieces didn’t match with the texture of the other ingredients. Despite this, the overall flavour of this dish was good.

Mains

maison eight - veal

As soon as we read about the Grilled Veal Cutlet (HK$468) stuffed with mozzarella, basil, and semi-dried tomato, we had to order it (’cause anything with cheese stuffed inside of it is a winner in my books). The only issue we had was that there wasn’t enough cheese in the middle nor a prominent cheese taste to the dish. In a similar fashion to our starter, we expected a lot more from this dish given its price.

Dessert

maison eight - brownie dessert

The Warm Bitter Chocolate Tart (HK$88) came as a bit of a surprise, as it looked more like a brownie than a tart. Unfortunately, we weren’t really moved by this dish, mainly due to the chocolate tart being quite dry and crumbly. We did, however, like the pistachio ice cream which also helped to moisten the chocolate tart.

Verdict

Overall, I’m a bit on the fence with Esme at Maison Eight. The service was good (though it did take awhile to receive our drinks from the bar), the presentation of the dishes was highly commendable, the cocktails were great and were good value, and the views were a big bonus. On the other side, though the dishes were good, they just didn’t stand out, and if you’re going to be dropping some serious bills on dinner, you’d expect to be eating a blow-your-mind meal. I would, however, highly recommend going to Maison Eight to grab a few cocktails in either their lounge area or on their outdoor terrace while listening to some live jazz music.

 

Maison Eight
21/F, 8 Observatory Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong

Tel: 2388 8160

 


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okra-hong-kong-9-150x150.jpg

Okra has been in Hong Kong for two years now and, despite living only a few minutes away, I only just dined there for a much-anticipated feast. Over the past years, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about Okra Hong Kong, so my expectations were admittedly quite high. I won’t beat around the bush: every dish that I tried was incredibly unique and delicious, and the atmosphere was cozy yet upbeat; something that most restaurants struggle to provide. If you’re looking for a different dining experience in Hong Kong, I would highly recommend heading to Okra.

Vibe at Okra Hong Kong

The dining space at Okra is small so it’s best to go with only one or two other people. There is seating around the bar/kitchen, which I would recommend trying to snag, and a few tables for two if you’re looking for something a bit more intimate. The music, which is curated by Okra’s chef-owner Max Levy, is a fitting mix of Dead Kennedies, The Misfits, and the like. I also loved the massive risque mural adorned on the wall inside. As the night continued, conversations grew louder, the sake continued flowing, and the vibe kept getting better.

Sake

okra-hong-kong-7-683x1024.jpg“THE COCK” Junmai Ginjo (Fukuoka) HK$108 per glass or HK$798 per bottle

Okra Hong Kong has a great sake list that is broken down into a few different tasting notes. We opted for the hilariously named (although appropriate given that 2017 was the year of the rooster) “The Cock” Junmai Ginjo (HK$108). Aside from the slightly acidic and refreshing tasting points of this sake, I liked that it was made in collaboration with Tsui Hark specifically for Okra.

Starters

okra-hong-kong-1-683x1024.jpgNigari Sai Farmhouse Tofu (HK$98)okra-hong-kong-2-1024x683.jpgGoose Blood Toastokra-hong-kong-3-1024x683.jpgGoose Blood Toastokra-hong-kong-4-1024x683.jpgSalt Tomato (HK$88)

We began with the popular Nigari Sai Farmhouse Tofu (HK$98) with Okra’s handmade Pigeon Sauce. The handmade tofu was silky smooth and paired beautifully with the fresh cherry tomatoes. Although this is not a dish I would typically order, the Goose Blood Toast was on the specials board (sorry, can’t remember how much it was!) and I was curious to try it. The goose blood was somewhat similar to a pate and was full of flavor. We also tried the Salt Tomato (HK$88), which was on the specials board. Despite the simplicity of the dish, this was one of the best tomatoes I’ve had in ages (in case you weren’t aware, Hong Kong is not known for its produce).

Mains

okra-hong-kong-5-1024x683.jpgDry Aged Beef Tongue (HK$168)okra-hong-kong-11-1024x683.jpgDry Aged Baby Tuna (HK$118)okra-hong-kong-8-683x1024.jpgUnabi Fun (HK$188)

Moving onto the mains, we began with the Dry Aged Beef Tongue (HK$168) from the specials board. I wasn’t entirely sold, given that I’ve never tried tongue before, but I have to admit it was really tasty. The thick pieces of cured meat were absolute perfection and I had to stop myself from devouring the entire plate. Another really interesting dish was the Dry Aged Baby Tuna (HK$118), also from the specials board. Dry aging fish heightens the taste, giving it that umami flavor everyone raves about. Despite living in Asia for 6.5 years, I had yet to try eel (I know, it’s shameful), so we decided to order the Unabi Fun (HK$188) – eel on crispy sushi rice. The eel had a delicious smokey flavor and the rice around the clay pot was perfectly crispy.

Dessert

okra-hong-kong-9-683x1024.jpgUji Matcha Cookie Boy (HK$76)

We finished our meal with the Uji Matcha Cookie Boy (HK$76) – a roasted green tea and red bean cookie with smoked cream and lemon salt. Although I liked the overall flavor of the cookie, I wish the outside was crispier.

Verdict

From the cozy yet lively atmosphere to the delicious pours of sake, and incredibly unique and refreshing dishes on the menu, I loved everything about Okra Hong Kong. If you’re tired of the same restaurants in the city and are looking for something different, you need to try Okra. Perfect for a date night or an intimate catch up with a friend, the setting compliments the food flawlessly and I can’t wait to go back and slowly work my way through the rest of the menu.

Okra Hong Kong
110 Queen’s Road West
Sai Ying Pun

Tel: 2806 1038


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butchers club steak

With private dining being an evermore popular option for diners in Hong Kong, one of the older and more well-known establishments is The Butchers Club Private Kitchen. Though slightly out of the way, tucked in the south of the island in Tin Wan, this dining experience is well-worth the trip (and the price tag). This is a meal you want to ensure you arrive hungry for, as you’ll be feasting on an array of some of the best seafood and meat you’re likely to find in the city.

Vibe At The Butchers Club Private Kitchen

butchers club private kitchen 2 butchers club private kitchen

You’ll likely think you’re lost as you approach the industrial building that The Butchers Club Private Kitchen is located in, but fret not. When you enter through the large white door, you will find yourself surrounded by simple, almost rustic decor on one side of the room and a large open-space kitchen on the other. You’ll be introduced to the chefs who explain the dishes you’ll be having and the server ensures your glass is never empty. The feeling is intimate and homey.

Hors d’oeurvres

butchers club amuse boucheHouse made Wagyu Pastrami on a rye bagel / Caviar and cured coral trout on a potato blini

We began with an amuse bouche that was presented in a hollowed-out old book. The house made wagyu pastrami on a rye bagel with house made butter and onion jam looked simple enough, yet the fine flavour of the pastrami and onion jam combined together to make this a bagel I could eat everyday for lunch. Alongside the bagel was the caviar and cured coral trout on a potato blini with sour cream and dill. The ingredients were slightly more complex and equally as satisfying.

The Butchers Club’s Famous Seafood Trough

butchers club seafood

After getting a tour into The Butchers Club Private Kitchen’s dry age room, we came back to find this edible masterpiece gracing our table. Taking things to the next level, this seafood trough was filled with freshly shucked Coffin Bay Oysters, Nova Scotia lobster ceviche, smoked Alaskan King Crab and avocado salad, farmed Australian Blue Fin Tuna poke, and finally cured Coffin Bay Oyster shooters. This was one of the most impressive things we’ve ever been presented with at a dinner and we slurped up every last piece of seafood there was.

Baked South Australian Mussels with Chorizo / Roasted Bone Marrow

butchers club mussels butchers club bone marrow

We obsessed over the baked South Australian Mussels with chorizo and fennel broth; a perfect match in texture and flavour. Along with the mussels came a plate of roasted bone marrow with parsley and lemon salad and caramelized shallots and Nick’s famous bread with dry aged beef fat and dark ale, both of which were an absolute delight for our taste-buds. As one of us so eloquently put it, the bone marrow was literally like eating “meat-butter” and the bread made for the perfect dipping tool.

The Big Beef Experience

butchers club chefbutchers club steak

Before our massive meat feast came, executive chef Tom Brimble came to our table, with massive slab of meat in hand (the actual piece that he would be cooking for us!), to talk about the the beef we’d be dining on. We had ordered a custom dry aged 300 day grain fed Rangers Valley “Black Onyx” Rib that was cooked to a medium rare, as recommended. This was some of the most tender and rich meat we have ever tried – we could have used a butter knife to cut through each piece. Accompanying the meat was their triple cooked duck fat fries (a delicious heart attack waiting to happen) and a butter lettuce and heirloom tomato salad with ranch dressing, along with an array of sauces. Let the drooling begin.

Dessert

butchers club dessert

To finish off our 5-star dining experience, we each had half a classic key lime pie and NY style cheesecake with blueberries, though it kind of tasted like they were both lime cheesecake. Regardless, they were delicious and we managed to scarf down our dessert despite having little room left in our stomachs.

Verdict

Real talk: this is hands-down an incredible experience that you should take advantage of if you’re living in Hong Kong. Albeit pretty pricey at HK$1000/person + HK$450/kg of beef for a minimum of 10 people, the high quality and quantity of food, and unique private dining atmosphere make The Butchers Club Private Kitchen an indulgence that should not be missed.

The Butchers Club Private Kitchen 
13C Sun Ying Industrial Center 
9 Tin Wan Close
Aberdeen
Hong Kong 

For inquiries, email: events@butchersclub.com.hk 


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memory-lane-tokyo-3-150x150.jpg

The Shinjuku district of Tokyo is a bustling, hectic, and very modern part of the city, however, there are a few spots only steps away from the busy main streets that offer visitors a glimpse into the old Tokyo. One such place is Memory Lane (translated from Omoide Yokocho, but also known as “Piss Alley”). Here you’ll find an assortment of tiny shops that serve up yakitori, soba noodles, and (of course) plenty of drinks.  Aside from just being really cool to walk through thanks to its narrow alleyways, cramped bars with people laughing, eating, and drinking, and Japanese decor strung throughout, this is where I found the best bowl of soba noodles.

What to expect down Memory Lane (“Piss Alley”).

memory-lane-tokyo-2-1024x683.jpgEntrance into Memory Lanememory-lane-tokyo-3-1024x683.jpgWalking along Memory Lane at nightmemory-lane-tokyo-1-1024x683.jpgAround 10:30 pm on Memory Lanememory-lane-tokyo-8-1024x683.jpgMemory Lane Tokyo

Memory Lane brings back feelings of Japan’s post-war era. While I was initially expecting to walk through a dirty, decrepit alleyway, I was pleasantly surprised that the name “Piss Alley” (the name originally came from the alley’s 1940’s black market bars and lack of toilet) was not directly related to the physical state of the area. In fact, I found Memory Lane to be incredibly charming and full of character. I would recommend having a walk through the whole thing (it’s really not that big) before choosing a place to sit down and eat. Just go with whatever jumps out at you and looks appealing (and actually has an empty seat!). This is how we found a cute noodle shop and ended up having one of the best bowls of soba.

Where to eat in Memory Lane Tokyo

memory-lane-tokyo-7-1024x683.jpgYou’ll find the best bowl of soba at this joint down Memory Lanememory-lane-tokyo-4-1024x683.jpgThe main (and only) chef working his magicmemory-lane-tokyo-6-1024x683.jpgThe best bowl of soba noodles with vegetable tempura and a soft boiled egg

Since we were walking around quite late at night (at this point, it must have been between 10:00 – 11:00 pm), there weren’t as many restaurants opened as we had expected. Most of the little hole-in-the-walls, which could only comfortable sit a maximum of 10 or so people, were completely full. Thankfully, just as we came around a corner, this brightly lit open-concept soba shop caught our eye. There was a small queue of people waiting, which told us the food was good. So, we waited about 10 minutes for a seat, sat down, ordered their best seller (there are only three options), and began slurping away. The dish consisted of fresh soba noodles, crispy vegetable tempura, and a soft boiled egg. All for only ¥400. This was one of my favourite dishes I had in Tokyo, not to mention one of the cheapest.

Omoide Yokocho; Memory Lane (Piss Alley)
1 Chome-2-8 Nishishinjuku
Shinjuku
Tokyo


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bitan taipei 2

While the hustle and bustle of Taipei can be thrilling for a few days, sometimes you just need to escape. Cue Bitan Taipei (literally, “green lake”): a small, relaxing area only a short MRT ride from the city center. Though the weather was not on my side when I went, I enjoyed wandering about and taking in the riverside beauty (or at least what I imagined it to look like with clear blue skies!). Bitan is also the MRT station you need to get off at if you’re taking the public bus to Wulai, making it well worth your time to spend a few hours in the morning here before heading to the hot springs in Wulai.

How To Get To Bitan Taipei

bitan taipei

Only a 30 or so minute MRT ride from Taipei, Bitan is located on the last stop on the green line going south; Xindian Station. Once you exit the station, turn left down Xindian Road until you reach Bitandiao Bridge (a well-known suspension bridge that you can cross the river on). Basically everything to do in Bitan is a stone-throw away from here.

Things To Do In Bitan Taipei

bitan taipei 6bitan taipei 4 bitan taipei 3

Bitan Taipei is essentially a riverside park area that is popular with tourists and locals alike. People come here for the riverside restaurants, pedal boats, suspension bridge, and local snacks.

The suspension bridge is really beautiful (even on a crappy day) and connects the two neighbourhoods on opposite sides of the river, both of which are filled with great food and lovely sights. Cross the bridge to get to a hiking trail (starts just on your left after the bridge) that offers great photo ops of the opposite side of the river with its colorful houses and restaurants along the water. If the weather is cooperating, you can rent a pedal boat for a few hours and coast along the river. Afterwards, head to a riverside restaurant for a bite to eat or onto the street for an array of Taiwanese snacks.

Once you’ve had enough of Bitan, hop on the bus to Wulai for a day filled with more adventures! For more information on Wulai, read my other blog posts on: the hot springs, what to eat, and 5 things to do in Wulai



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NOM - razor clams

NOM (Not Only Meatballs) has brought Italian comfort food to hungry Hong Kongers for two years, and while I had been to NOM for after work drinks, I had never actually sat down for a meal. I jumped at the opportunity to go to NOM for dinner after I heard about their new summer menu, where the food far exceeded my expectations.

Vibe At NOM

You’ll find the bar area to be laid back; perfect for a cocktail or two with friends (you should check out NOM’s banging happy hour deal). The dining area to the left is adorned in black and white decor, along with wooden furnishings to give the restaurant a modern yet unpretentious feel.

Appetizers

NOM - burrata & anchoviesBurrata, broadbeans purée, smoked anchovies, bottarga (HK$178)NOM - parma ham & stratacciatellaOrganic Parma ham, stracciatella, handmade focaccia (HK$218)NOM - razor clamsJapanese clams, broccoli puree, almonds, Nduja sausage (HK$218)

We began with a few appetizers from NOM’s new summer menu, the first of which was the Burrata (HK$178). I was initially skeptical about how the smoked anchovies and bottarga (cured fish roe) would work with this dish, but thankfully they complimented the burrata instead of overpowering it. My favourite dish of the evening was the Organic Parma Ham (HK$218) with the most deliciously divine stracciatella (which I was first introduced to when I had brunch at Giando). Pair this gooey cheese with the handmade focaccia and 24-month aged parma ham, and you’ve got yourself a match made in heaven. We finished with a bowl of freshly flown-in Japanese Clams (HK$218). The mix of broccoli puree and Nduja sausage had me lapping up the sauce after all of the clams were devoured.

Mains

NOM - Nduja & Friarielli pizzaNduja & Friarielli Pizza (HK$178)NOM - whole soleWhole sustainable sole, lemon & butter sauce, capers, roasted potato (HK$348)

A full-on Italian meal wouldn’t be complete without pizza, and NOM’s new Nduja & Friarielli Pizza (HK$178) makes a perfect addition to their menu. The smoked buffalo mozzarella, spicy sausage, broccoli sprouts, and provolone cheese were the perfect blend of cheesy-goodness with a spicy kick. We also tried the Whole Sustainable Sole (HK$348) with roasted potatoes and capers in a light lemon and butter sauce. A perfect dish for sharing, the fish was tender and juicy with a subtle, yet memorable taste.

Dessert

NOM - chocolate parfaitChocolate parfait, beetroot meringue, hazelnut custard, goat milk ice cream (HK$98)NOM - deconstructed tiramisuTiramisu, chocolate sable, dried orange, coffee caramel sauce (HK$98)

From the desserts we tried, it’s clear that NOM moved away from the traditional Italian desserts and, while still incorporating some traditional flavours, tried to put a unique spin on them. The Chocolate Parfait (HK$98) was a big surprise when it came to our table. I questioned the combination of beetroot meringue, hazelnut custard, and goat milk ice cream, however, the ingredients somehow went well together.  Head Chef Fabrizio deconstructed the classic Italian tiramisu and morphed it into NOM’s version: a Tiramisu (HK$98) made with  chocolate sable, dried orange, and coffee caramel sauce. While I prefer the taste and texture of a more traditional tiramisu, I still happily ate my fair share of this dessert.

Verdict

NOM stands out in Hong Kong as a reliable go-to American-Italian restaurant (if you’re looking for truly authentic Italian [not to say one is better than the other, it just depends what you’re looking for!], check out Gia Trattoria Italiana).  I really enjoyed the fine-tuned execution of each dish and my overall experience dining at NOM was fantastic. If you’re looking for some great-tasting modern Italian food (with cocktails to pair along!) in Hong Kong, be sure to visit NOM.

NOM – Not Only Meatballs
1-5 Elgin Street
Central
Hong Kong

Tel: 2540 7988 


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megans-kitchen-7-150x150.jpg

For years I’ve heard people rave about Megan’s Kitchen, the well-known hot pot restaurant in Wan Chai that attracts locals and expats alike. Megan’s Kitchen is best known for its interesting and unique hot pot soup bases – they have everything from tom yum cappuccino to Japanese miso tofu. Although I can’t say I particularly enjoyed my last few hot pot experiences, I decided to give Megan’s Kitchen a shot when a group of my girl friends were organizing a night out. All in all, I ended up having a really fun night (most of which was thanks to the company and the free flow wine we ordered), but like everyone else had already told me, it was expensive considering you basically cook your own food.

Vibe at Megan’s Kitchen Hong Kong

megans-kitchen-1-1024x683.jpgRestaurant Interior

Megan’s Kitchen is pretty plain. There’s not much decor, the orange chairs are less than appealing, and there’s large flat screen TVs playing some type of Chinese soap opera around the room. Thankfully, we didn’t come here for the ambiance. The staff were friendly and nice, and were quick to refill our empty wine glasses (much to my later demise).

What we ordered

megans-kitchen-2-1024x683.jpgMake your own dipping saucemegans-kitchen-5-1024x683.jpgKimchi Dumplings, Pork Dumplings, Vegetable Dumplingsmegans-kitchen-3-683x1024.jpgBeefmegans-kitchen-6-1024x683.jpgRainbow Cuttlefish Ballsmegans-kitchen-4-1024x683.jpgOur feast

We began by making our own dipping sauces (they charge a rather ridiculous price of HK$25 per person for this), though I’m not entirely sure why since the soup bases are already flavored. For drinks, they had a free-flow package available, which included white and red wine and sake for only HK$138 per person, which we all obviously opted for.

The menu is massive, so we ordered a little bit of everything. The kimchi (HK$88), pork (HK$88), and vegetable (HK$88) dumplings were all surprisingly delicious, though I’d say the kimchi ones were my favorite. Since we had a few vegetarians with us, we only ordered two meat dishes: Australia grass-fed rib eye (HK$298) and another beef dish, but I honestly can’t even remember what it was (oops – I’ll blame it on the wine!). We also ordered a range of vegetables, noodles, and the popular rainbow cuttlefish balls (HK$98). As for our soup bases, we went with the tom yum cappuccino (HK$188) and sichuan (HK$168). The sichuan one was a bit too spicy for all of us, so we pretty much put everything into the tom yum soup, which was still a bit spicy for some but I really enjoyed it.

As a heads up, if you don’t want the century eggs or other “welcome starters” they automatically place on your table when you arrive, you need to tell the staff right away. Otherwise, you will be charged.

Verdict

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed my time at Megan’s Kitchen. Though, I’m sure that was mainly due to the company and the obscene amount of wine I consumed throughout dinner. The food was good, although nothing really had that wow-factor, except for the kimchi dumplings. For HK$600 per person for a table of 5, we left absolutely stuffed with both food and wine. If you haven’t been yet, I would recommend getting a fun group of people together for dinner at Megan’s Kitchen. That being said, I’m not exactly racing back to spend that kind of money to essentially cook my own food.

Megan’s Kitchen
5/F Lucky Centre
165-171 Wan Chai Road
Wan Chai 

Tel: 2866 8305


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IMG_4970-150x150.jpg

When I came back from Cambodia, a lot of people asked me how I liked it and, likely surprising to most, I had a hard time articulating my feelings. I know lots of people absolutely love Siem Reap and for good reason – there was certainly many things I really enjoyed while I was there; the temples are beautiful, the history is rich, the food is great, and the people are lovely. But, as with any area (especially here in Southeast Asia), once it becomes popular with tourists, it tends to lose a lot of its authenticity. Essentially, the reasons why people originally fell in love with that place have been stripped away and replaced (ie westernized). This is how I feel about Siem Reap.

The reality of visiting Siem Reap’s temples

IMG_4970-1024x683.jpg angkor-wat-12-1024x683.jpg angkor-wat-1-1024x683.jpg

Let’s begin with the temples, since most people visit Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. Without a doubt, the temples are absolutely stunning and are well worth a visit (read about all my temple-hopping adventures in Siem Reap here, here, and here). The history behind the temples and the structures themselves are fascinating, and to see them in person is beyond impressive. However, on both days I toured the temples in Siem Reap, they were swarming with other tourists to the point that I had a hard time fully appreciating them. Between getting constantly nudged around, watching dozens of people taking selfies throughout the temples, and finding it near impossible to get a photo of the temples without other people in it, my patience level was certainly thinning. That being said, I’m well aware I chose a bad time to visit (Chinese New Year), so the majority of the tourists were swarms of Mainland Chinese. Because of this, I would highly recommend planning your trip to Siem Reap when there are no Asian holidays taking place.

When the sun sets in Siem Reap

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What I found completely perplexing was the vast difference between day and night in Siem Reap. During the day you’re exploring all of these beautiful ancient temples, and are immersed in a whole lot of culture and history. In stark contrast to that, at night tourists flock to Pub Street, which, given the rather self explanatory name, turns into a giant street party. The streets are overflowing with tourists and have endless amounts of western restaurants on either side of the street, most of which offer pints of Angkor Beer for US$0.50 – $1.00 (which, let’s be real, I wasn’t exactly complaining about). As the night continues, buskers will come to the streets in various forms. I ended up seeing one who initially tried his hand at some card tricks (but then messed up [we’re fairly certain he was drunk and/or extremely high] and everyone could see that the stack of cards were not real, though we all had a good laugh about it) and later moved on to perform a fire show (which was quite nerve-racking given his state). To put it simply, Pub Street reminded me of a smaller version of Khao San Road in Bangkok, and not in a good way.

I spoke with a few locals in Siem Reap, all of whom told me that it’s the government who is pushing to turn Pub Street into a massive tourist hot spot because of the revenue it’s currently generating, and that the vast majority of locals do not want this. I just found it so sad that this beautiful country that was once (and not that long ago!) quite a “unique” and relatively untraveled place to visit is now crawling with tourists and much of that old, untouched, historical/cultural charm in the city center has dissipated and become westernized.

A few final thoughts

After taking time to reflect on my trip to Cambodia, I still have mixed feelings. On one hand, there really was so much I loved about the country; the history, culture, food, and people. On the other hand, the temples were hard to enjoy because of all the tourists and Siem Reap seems to be having an identity crisis; trying to keep their culture intact while also pleasing and catering to the increasing number of tourists (and yes, I realize many other places around the world do this, but I wasn’t expecting that from Cambodia, which was perhaps quite naive on my part). Ultimately, I would still recommend visiting the country if you’ve never been, but at the same time I feel no strong urge to return.

If you’ve been to Siem Reap, I’d love to hear about your experiences, positive or negative, in the comments below!


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Panglao Island Hopping - Balicasag 2

Aside from the Bohol Countryside Tour, another popular trip is the Panglao Island Hopping Tour which takes you out onto the water for a day of dolphin watching, snorkeling on Balicasag Island, and finally to The Virgin Island. You can easily book this tour through your hotel or find someone selling these tours along Alona Beach. Be sure to negotiate a price beforehand; expect to pay 1,200 – 1,800 PHP depending on how many people are in your group, time of year, and how good your haggling skills are. If you’ve gone on other island hopping tours in South East Asia before (like the surreal island hopping in El Nido), this tour will likely be incomparable, and, at least for us, was not at all what we had expected.

What to expect on the Panglao Island Hopping tour

Be prepared for an early 6:00 am start in order to catch a glimpse of some dolphins, though this isn’t guaranteed. I would highly recommend wearing water shoes, as the tide is extremely low and while walking to the boat through the murky sand, there are lots of shells and sea urchins (I was able to manage in just my flip flops, though they got sucked into the sand every step or two, as the company wanted to charge 200 PHP for water shoes).

With regards to the two islands you visit: Balicasag and The Virgin Island weren’t very impressive (we didn’t even stop at Balicasag Island, as there was an additional 400 PHP/person charge, but I’ll explain more later on). Essentially, don’t set your standards/get your hopes up too high before going on the Panglao Island Hopping tour.

Dolphin Watching

Panglao Island Hopping - Dolphins

Though we were warned that there was a chance that we wouldn’t see any dolphins, we considered ourselves lucky, as we ended up seeing quite a few dolphins (if you look closely in the middle of the photo, you’ll be able to see two dolphins surfacing). After about 20 or so minutes out on the water and a few more dolphin-sightings, we made our way to Balicasag Island, as our guide told us after sunrise the dolphins swim further down in the water where it’s cooler so there’s no chance of seeing them.

Balicasag Island – Snorkeling

Panglao Island Hopping - Balicasag Panglao Island Hopping - Snorkel

Prior to arriving for our tour that morning, we were not told that we would have to pay an extra 250 PHP/person for snorkel gear or that it cost 400 PHP/person for us to “enter” Balicasag Island. Needless to say, we were very frustrated and argued with the owner of the boat and the owner of our hotel who booked the tour (we stayed at Coco Mango’s Place), who didn’t budge and were extremely rude. Long story short, we saw the island from a distance, but decided not to stop there partly due to the fact that we were annoyed about the additional last-minute cost and because we would only be able to spend 30 – 40 minutes snorkeling on the island due to the large tide that comes in at noon. Instead, our tour guide offered to take us to a little spot in the middle of the sea for some snorkeling.

Note: After coming home and reading a few other blogs about Balicasag Island, it seems to be a money-grab: one family talked about how their tour guide took them to their friends’ boat once on the island, which took them out into the water to snorkel at an additional cost, and then afterwards took them to his family-run restaurant for an expensive lunch. 

The Virgin Island

Panglao Island Hopping - Virgin Island Panglao Island Hopping - Virgin Island 3 Panglao Island Hopping - Virgin Island 4 Panglao Island Hopping - Virgin Island 5

The final stop on our tour was The Virgin Island, though it’s technically named Isola Di Francesco after it was purchased from the government by a wealthy religious individual. From a distance, the island looked deserted and picturesque, however, as we got closer we noticed a few odd things.. like a massive gold monument of Jesus and a statue in the water of a boat with people reaching out to a statue of Jesus who was “walking” on the water.

Things became more bizarre as we began to explore the island; a mini-museum of something religious-oriented (clearly we didn’t bother looking around), lots of religious statues (including Jesus on the cross), and religious signs (like the one in the last picture above stating, “Enjoy HIS Beach”). Considering we aren’t religious and weren’t expecting this at all, we were really thrown off, and the experience felt fake and uncomfortable. When we heard about The Virgin Island, we were expecting it to be just that – untouched and serene. Instead, we basically found ourselves on Jesus’ Island..

Words of warning about the Panglao Island Hopping Tour

If you haven’t already picked up on how disappointed we were about the Panglao Island Hopping tour from the above, let me reiterate.. Right from the start when we were told that the price of snorkel gear and the entrance fee into Balicasag Island were not included (and were not cheap either), until the end of the tour when we were walking around The Virgin Island and coming across all of the religious paraphernalia. Overall, we felt this tour was unimpressive when compared to other island hopping excursions throughout South East Asia. At the end of the day, whether you choose to go on this tour or not, just be sure to go over all of the details before paying so there are no surprises and disappointments on the day of.


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hoi-an-bicycle-tour-6-150x150.jpg

Aside from roaming around the ancient town, one of the more popular things to do in Hoi An is to rent a bicycle for a day and head outside of the main town to explore. You’ll come across rice paddy fields, a few water buffalo, and, if you fancy, you can end your ride with a few hours at the beach to cool off. While there are numerous companies that charge for bicycle tours, I’d recommend renting bicycles on your own and mapping out a route based on what you want to see. 

Renting Bicycles in Hoi An

Most accommodation in Hoi An should have complimentary bicycles for their guests to use for the day. If yours doesn’t, they will likely work with a shop a few meters away who rent bicycles to tourists. You shouldn’t have to pay more than US$1 or VND20,000 for a day’s rental. I would suggest you take the bike on a quick test run up and down the street to ensure the breaks and gears are all working (I actually ended up having an issue with the left pedal of my bike that didn’t begin until I was 3/4 of the way to the beach).

Hoi An Bicycle Tour – Route

Starting point and village

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Begin by heading down Cua Dai towards Cua Dai Beach. The road is fairly wide and not particularly “scary” to bike down. Head through an entrance-way with flags on your left before you cross the bridge over the river (see first photo above). You’ll bike through a small street with a handful of homes on either side. There are quite a few dead-ends, so if you find yourself on one, just turn around and go a different way. Eventually you’ll get to the paths along the rice paddy fields.

Rice paddy fields & water buffalo

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After 5-10 minutes of biking through the little village, you’ll come out into the rice paddy fields. There are about a dozen different paths you can take around the paddy fields. We ended up biking around for a bit in hopes of finding water buffalo. When we finally did find one, I felt a bit bad that the water buffalo were being ridden, so we just stayed and watched for a bit, took a few photos, and continued on our way.

We spent some time wandering through the fields – it’s really not that big, so you shouldn’t get lost. Because I was here over Tet, the fields were pretty much empty. There was a tiny bridge over the river we crossed (one of the larger paths you’ll see on Google Maps before Hai Ba Trung Street), which then connects to Hai Ba Trung Street – cross this little bridge and stick to the left. Then, you’ll have to make a right down Hai Ba Trung Street. Follow this busy street to the beach.

Ending at the beach

hoi-an-bicycle-tour-11-1024x683.jpg hoi-an-bicycle-tour-12-1024x683.jpg

If you keep following Hai Ba Trung Street, it will take you directly to An Bang Beach. This is Hoi An’s most well-known beach and while it is nice, I decided not to stay here this time because it’s crowded, you have to pay to rent loungers, umbrellas, and to park your bicycle (or they make you buy a water in order to park your bike “for free”), and you’ll likely get hassled while trying to relax on the beach. If you’re not too fussed about that, just keep it simple and stay there. If you’re looking for something a bit more secluded where you don’t need to pay to use the loungers/umbrellas or park your bicycle, head down the beach a bit to Hidden Beach.


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Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike - feature photo

If you’re looking for a hike that gets you off Hong Kong Island, check out the Mui Wo to the Big Buddha hike: a challenging, yet incredibly rewarding hike that takes you through sections 1 – 3 of the Lantau Trail. While it’s easy enough to get to if you’re living near Central, the hike itself can be quite difficult. That being said, the stunning views of the surrounding country parks, rolling hills, and crystal blue water make this hike well worth the effort. What’s more, you’ll end up at the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery where you can grab some food and drink, and, if you’re feeling up to it, play tourist for a few hours before heading back home.

Getting to the starting point of the Mui Wo to Big Buddha hike:

Head to the Central Ferry Pier and hop on the ferry to Mui Wo (I would recommend catching the 7:40 am ferry on Saturday or the 8:00 am ferry on Sunday) at pier 6. The journey takes about 40 minutes and once you get off the ferry, you’ll see a bus terminal directly in front of you, an obscene number of bicycles to your right and a McDonald’s to your left. Go right down the walkway and past the bicycles until you reach a roundabout on your left side (literally a 2-minute walk from the ferry pier). This is where you’ll begin the hike.

Lantau Trail Section 1 (Mui Wo Ferry Pier to Nam Shan; 2.5 km):

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 1

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 2

Cross the street at the roundabout and head up the sidewalk on the hill (in the first photo, you can see the sidewalk on the right of the big white building). You’ll be walking up this sidewalk for about 20 minutes until you reach a little house with plenty of greenery surrounding it and a large wooden sign that reads, “Lantau Trail” (see photo above).

Follow the path that says “South Lantau Road” (there will be signs along the way). You’ll cross a massive circular paved area (perhaps a helipad?) and might feel lost, but fret not – you’re going the right way.

Lantau Trail Section 2 (Nam Shan to Pak Kung Au; 6.5 km):

As you walk along, you’ll see the signage change from “South Lantau Road” to “Lantau Trail” or “Sunset Peak”, which is where Lantau Trail Section 2 begins. Keep following those signs.

Once you are are on the top of the first elevation, you’ll be surrounded by plenty of lush green hills and the beautiful blue water. Keep following the path and shortly after you’ll come across a small waterfall on your left – perfect for wetting a towel and throwing it around your neck.

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 3

The first “picture-worthy” spot (see photo above) hugs a mountain, right before you turn right around it. There will be a relatively large open space where you’ll likely see other hikers taking photos or stopping for a quick break. Once you’re done, keep walking along the “Pak Kung Au” path.

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 4

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 5

Not too long down the dirt path, you’ll see a handful of little numbered buildings scattered up on a hill that you will walk by (anyone know what these are?) There is one on the left side where you can walk behind and see the Hong Kong airport quite clearly (see photo above).

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 6

At this point, you’ll be heading up and over Sunset Peak and down to Pak Kung Au, with sweeping views of the water and surrounding country park. You’ll know you’ve reach the end of Lantau Trail Section 2 when you finally see a little gazebo. At this point, you can either choose to stop the hike if you’re feeling too tired and just grab a bus to Tung Chung MTR (there is a bus stop right on the road). Or, you can keep going and move on to Section 3 of the Lantau Trail. Either way, head down the stairs to the left of the gazebo, which will bring you to the road.

Lantau Trail Section 3 (Pak Kung Au to Ngong Ping [Big Buddha]; 4.5 km):

To start Section 3, cross the road and you’ll see a set of stairs going up to your right with the sign “Ngong Ping via Lantau Peak” – as long as you follow the signs marked with either name, you won’t take a wrong turn.

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 7 Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 8 Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 9

As you continue along the trail, you’ll see a massive peak (Lantau Peak) in front of you, likely with clouds surrounding the top. You’ll be hiking up to the top of the peak where you’ll be able to see The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery in the distance (see photo above) if the weather cooperates. The area at the top is quite cool – there’s a weather shelter there and plenty of large rocks scattered about with a 360 view. From this point on, it’s only a matter of a few hundred steps down until you reach the finish line.

Mui Wo To The Big Buddha Hike 10

When you see a bunch of tall wooden panels poking out of the trees, you’ll know you’ve almost finished the Mui Wo to the Big Buddha hike. From the Wisdom Path, it’s only a 5 minute walk to the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. Once finished, hop on Bus 2, which will take you to Tung Chung MTR Station.

Journey Length: 13.5 km
Total Time: About 3.5 – 4.5 hours


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things to do in wulai 3

While spending a couple days in Taipei eating and shopping is a guaranteed good time, there are also a handful of areas just outside of the city center that are well worth a visit. One of my favourites is Wulai. Located about an hour or so south of Taipei, Wulai is a small Aboriginal town home to the Atayal’s and famous for its hot springs. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth your time to visit this beautiful area, I’m sure these 5 things to do in Wulai will convince you to check it out!

1. Relax at Wulai’s Natural Hot Springs

wulai hot springs taipei 4

Most people who visit Wulai come here for the hot springs; either the numerous hot springs available at guest houses or at the free, natural hot springs located along the river (as seen above). I would definitely recommend the natural hot springs – there are a number of different hot springs you can sit in and they offer stunning views of the surrounding area. For more information about Wulai’s natural hot springs, check out my previous article.

2. Head to the Wulai Waterfall

things to do in wulai 4

Only a 20 minute walk from Wulai’s natural hot springs is the well-known Wulai Waterfall. Though not as impressive as many larger waterfalls, it’s located in a tranquil setting (when there’s not a tonne of tourists around) and is quite beautiful. There are benches scattered across from the waterfall, so grab a drink, take a seat, and enjoy the view.

3. Walk through Wulai Old Street and eat all the food

what to eat in wulai what to eat in wulai - boar sausages

Taipei is known as a foodie-haven, so it’s no surprise that Wulai also offers visitors an abundance of delicious street food. Aside from a variety of typical Taipei delights, you can sample a few items that are only found in Wulai, the most popular of which is Wild Boar Sausage. For more insight on what food you can expect, check out my last article on what to eat in Wulai.

4. Explore the Aboriginal (Atayal) souvenir shops

things to do in wulai 5

Originally home to the Atayal People, Wulai still maintains much of its Aboriginal heritage. After walking across the main bridge (just after Wulai Old Street) turn left and follow the path down for about 20 minutes until you reach a little stretch of local shops and cafes on your right and the Wulai Waterfall on your left. The shops sell a number of locally made souvenirs at reasonable prices.

5. Hike around Wulai

things to do in wulai 6

There are a number of hiking trails around Wulai; both easy and challenging. Unfortunately, since we were only there for the day and the weather wasn’t cooperating, we didn’t end up going on a hike. That being said, I had done a bit of research ahead of time and found some helpful guides here, here, and here.

*Note: We had read about a gondola ride taking you over the river and above the Wulai Waterfall to an amusement park, however, it wasn’t in service and we weren’t sure if it was open only on weekends or if it was permanently closed. If anyone has any information on the gondola, or if you have any other things to do in Wulai that I missed, comment below!

For a guide on how to get to Wulai from Taipei, click here


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la paloma - paella

La Paloma, a spacious Spanish tapas restaurant in Sai Ying Pun, welcomes you with a splash of color the moment you set foot inside. Aside from the warm and inviting interior design, the food is sure to please. Having just launched a new menu, La Paloma offers diners a range of affordable and downright delicious Spanish dishes that are perfect for sharing. If you haven’t been yet, now’s the perfect time to make a trip to La Paloma to try their “sexy” new tapas!

Vibe At La Paloma

la paloma - interior

Right away you can sense that this Spanish tapas restaurant has perfected the balance between a fun and casual atmosphere, while serving up high quality dishes and maintaining efficient service. The interior design is inspired by “Chiringuitos” – Spanish beach bars, giving off an outdoor feel to their dining area. There is also a small outdoor terrace, perfect for when the weather cooperates.

Drinks

la paloma - rose sangriaRose Sangria (HK$348)

Be sure to come to La Paloma thirsty, as their cocktails are seriously addicting. The sangria goes down a little too smoothly (for a weekday night, at least) and is an absolute must. La Paloma also has a great cocktail list – try the Aperol Spritz, which uses Cava to add a bit of Spanish flare to the refreshing drink.

Starters

la paloma - sharing tapasTapeo Variado (HK$368)la paloma - scallopScallops (HK$88)

We started with the Tapeo Variado (HK$368) – A Taste Of Spain – with six different bites to share: bruschetta, cheese, fois gras, croquettes, smoked salmon and cream bombs, sandwich with ham and truffle, and cured meat. This is a perfect platter to share between four people and a great way to sample a handful of La Paloma’s tasty tapas. We also tucked into a plate of Scallops (HK$88) with honey vinaigrette, onions, and spinach. This dish was a textural delight – the soft, smooth textures of the spinach and scallop paired perfectly with the crispy bits on top.

Mains

la paloma - paellaArroz Negro (HK$348)la paloma - seabassLubina a la Espalda (HK$245)

When at a Spanish restaurant, ordering paella is a given, so we tried the Arroz Negro (HK$348) – squid ink and prawn paella, which was just as good as it looked. After we took some photos of the dish, one of the staff members came around to mix the paella together and serve it. The Lubina a la Espalda (HK$245) was also a highlight and we quickly devoured this whole roast sea bass. The garlic, chili, and paprika sauce on top gave the fish an extra burst of flavour.

Dessert

la paloma -churrosChurros (HK$58)

Naturally, we ordered a Spanish traditional dessert: Churros (HK$58) to finish off our meal. Dip these crispy dough sticks into the chocolate sauce or vanilla ice cream and get ready for a mouthful of indulgence. I would also recommend ordering the Sorbete de Sangria (HK$58), which was an unexpected delight – the strawberry gazpacho with sangria sorbet is a perfect summer treat.

Verdict

La Paloma is a breath of fresh air in Hong Kong, offering diners an unpretentious spot to dine on high quality Spanish food in a fun environment. What’s more, La Paloma won’t break the bank.

La Paloma
189 Queen’s Road West (entrance on Wilmer Street)
Sai Ying Pun
Hong Kong 

Tel: 2291 6161


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MacLehose Stage 8; Tai Mo Shan in the distance

This is a great hike for people who want something a bit different and challenging (you can only hike Dragon’s Back so many times), but is still relatively easy to get to. You’ll begin this hike at Shing Mun Reservoir, and you’ll go along the trail up to Needle Hill, then move onto Grassy Hill; both of which offer up great views of the surrounding area. From there, you’ll cross Lead Mine Pass, where you’ll likely run into a wild cattle or two, to get to Tai Mo Shan, the tallest peak in Hong Kong. Once at the top, you’ll be able to look down into the Tseun Wan area (here’s to hoping it’s a clear day!). If you’re looking for a tough trail that offers a range of scenery to appreciate along the way, you should try this Tai Mo Shan hike.

Starting point of the Tai Mo Shan Hike

Take the MTR to Tseun Wan (red line) and go out Exit A. You can choose to head towards the mini bus stop (Green Minibus 82) on Shiu Wo Street or take a cab to Shing Mun Reservoir. I had every intention on taking the minibus, however, when we arrived on Sunday at around 9:30 am, the queue for that minibus must have had at least 75 – 100 people in it. Since we didn’t want to waist time waiting for the minibus, we took a cab to the reservoir. The cab ride was quick (less than 10 minutes) and I believe it was around HK$30, so I highly recommend just getting out of the MTR and hopping in a cab instead of wasting your time.

Shing Mun Reservoir/Pineapple Dam to Needle Hill (Beginning of MacLehose Stage 7)

tai mo shan - startStarting Point (go right)tai mo shan - pineapple damPineapple Dam

Once you get off the minibus or out of the taxi, you’ll be at the starting/finishing point for the Shing Mun Reservoir Walk, so you can expect to see quite a few people around. You’ll see a path to your left and a path to your right (when facing away from the road you just traveled down and towards the small hill in front of you). Go right and begin walking along Shing Mun Road. Continue walking for another 5 minutes until the road merges into MacLehose Trail Section 7 where you’ll walk along a path over Pineapple Dam.

tai mo shan - pineapple dam 2Walking over Pineapple Dam

Once on the other side of Pineapple Dam, follow the sign and go right to continue on MacLehose Trail Section 7 (if you go left, you’ll be walking along the Shing Mun Reservoir trail around Pineapple Dam and back to the starting point). Shortly after, you’ll see a large sign saying “MacLehose Trail (Stage Seven)” above a set of stairs – go through here and begin your ascent up.

tai mo shan - needle hillNeedle Hill in the distancetai mo shan - needle hill viewView from the top of Needle Hill

Shortly after, you’ll break out from under the trees and find yourself in front of Needle Hill. Once you’ve reached the top, you’ve conquered the first challenging part of this hike (yay!). Your reward? Great views of the city behind you.

Needle Hill to Grassy Hill (MacLehose Stage 7)

tai mo shan - down Needle HillDescent down Needle HillFork in the path; turn rightFork in the path; turn right

Now, you’ll be descending down Needle Hill and you’ll have a relatively easy hike up to Grassy Hill. The route is very straightforward: just stay on MacLehose Stage 7 Trail (there will be sporadic signs; follow towards “Lead Mine Pass”) and you’ll eventually end up at Grassy Hill (which is also the end of MacLehose Stage 7). The only part where you might need to double-check your way is at a fork in the road (see photo above) where the paved path continued straight and a more rugged-looking path curved off to the right. At this point, you’ll make a right and head up the path along MacLehose Stage 7. There will be a few more spots along the way where multiple routes jut off from the path; just continue to follow the sign in the direction of “Lead Mine Pass”.

Looking up towards Grassy HillLooking up towards Grassy HillView from Grassy HillView from Grassy Hill

You’ll eventually come to a bit of a circular paved path with stairs leading down towards Lead Mine Pass and then an upwards walk to Grassy Hill on your right. Take a quick walk up (literally 2 minutes) to Grassy Hill to take in those sweet views before heading down the stairs.

Grassy Hill to Lead Mine Pass

Head straight down the stairs towards Lead Mine PassHead straight down the stairs towards Lead Mine PassLead Mine Pass: End of MacLehose Stage 7, Start of MacLehose Stage 8Lead Mine Pass: End of MacLehose Stage 7, Start of MacLehose Stage 8

Head down the stairs from Grassy Hill towards Lead Mine Pass – the walk is quite short (just follow the same path) and you’ll eventually reach a pavilion with washrooms. You’ll likely be surrounded by other hikers taking a quick break and a handful of roaming wild cattle who will most certainly harass you if you’re eating anything in front of them.

Lead Mine Pass to Tai Mo Shan (MacLehose Stage 8)

After a quick break at Lead Mine Pass, head up the path with a large sign overhead that says “MacLehose Trail (Stage Eight)” (the path is directly behind the pavilion). This section of MacLehose is quite exposed and the scenery is different; you’ll be walking along small dirt paths with various sized rocks all around you.

MacLehose Stage 8; Tai Mo Shan in the distanceMacLehose Stage 8; Tai Mo Shan in the distance

As you continue along MacLehose Trail Stage 8, you’ll eventually see Tai Mo Shan in the distance with its various weather station gizmos and gadgets jutting out of the hill. Tai Mo Shan is actually Hong Kong’s tallest peak at 957 m and is also the coldest place in the city (people will actually hike up to the top during extremely cold days in hopes of a glimpse at frost) during the winter months.

Almost at the top of Tai Mo ShanAlmost at the top of Tai Mo Shan

The path will eventually turn to pavement as you reach Tai Mo Shan Road, from which it’s only a short (though steep) walk to the top.

Tai Mo Shan to Tseun Wan

View at the top of Tai Mo ShanView at the top of Tai Mo Shan

Once at the top, walk a little further down to catch some breathtaking views (if it’s a clear day, which I, unfortunately, was not blessed with ) of the city below.

After your photo session, begin making your way down the paved winding road until you reach a parking lot with a little teal colored security building on your left side. To exit the parking lot, turn right and make your way down Tai Mo Shan Road (the walk is fairly long and boring).

tai mo shan - endEnd of Tai Mo Shan Road

You’ll come to the end of the hike when you see the large open space with a little food shop (Gatorade and fish balls, anyone?) and washrooms. To catch the bus back to Tseun Wan, head down the road you came from (in the photo above, it’s the road to the right) and turn right when you get to the intersection. The first bus stop you see down the road is the one you’ll want; take KMB bus 51 all the way to Tseun Wan Railway Station. From here, it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the MTR.

Journey Length: about 16 km
Total Time: 5 – 6 hours 


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what to eat in jiufen 2

If you’ve been following my adventures in Taiwan or if you’ve been yourself, you know that there is no shortage of delicious food. Thanks to Jiufen’s street food and because of its picturesque views from the quaint streets and tea houses, Jiufen is a popular tourist destination in Taiwan. I would recommend arriving to Jiufen with a list of all the food you want to try along Jiufen Old Street so that you don’t end up wandering around for hours on end with the other throngs of visitors. Here’s a list of some of the street food you’ll find if you’re wondering what to eat in Jiufen, Taiwan.

What to eat in Jiufen

what to eat in jiufenEntrance into Jiufen Old Street

The entrance into Jiufen Old Street is about 5 minutes from where the bus drops you off. You’ll see a tonne of people crowded around the entrance to an alleyway; this is Jiufen Old Street.

A-Zhu Peanut Ice Cream Wrap

what to eat in jiufen 4

Though peanut ice cream wraps are a popular snack found in many night markets in Taipei, this specific stand in Jiufen is well known. You can’t miss it while walking down the street; it’s a large stall with bright signs and pictures on the walls. Watch them put shaved peanut, taro ice cream, and cilantro on top of popiah skin and wrap it all up like a burrito for NT$45.

Hot or Cold Sweet Taro Ball Soup

what to eat in jiufen 3 what to eat in jiufen 5

This is one of Jiufen’s specialties and a definite must-try while you’re there. There are plenty of stalls along Jiufen Old Street that sell these delicious bowls of hot or cold taro ball soup, but I would recommend finding one that has seating in the back of their shop, overlooking the buildings and mountains beyond. Prices range from NT$35 – $60 and include delicious homemade glutinous taro balls, sweet potato, and red beans (though there are other variations as well).

Tea Eggs

what to eat in jiufen 6

It’s no surprise that Jiufen also sells an assortment of tea eggs, as they’re a very popular street snack throughout Taipei. Fresh eggs are boiled in a strong tea with a mix of spices, and once cracked open they almost look like a tie dye shirt (minus the bright colors). Tea eggs are a perfect snack for when you’re on the go, though it can be a bit of an acquired taste.

How To Get To Jiufen From Taipei

For more information, check out my detailed guide on the two different ways to get to Jiufen: 1. Train to Ruifang and then bus to Jiufen, or 2. Bus straight to Jiufen from Taipei City.

 


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bohol sunset

Panglao Island, Bohol is a good destination for those who are looking for an easy to get to short beach holiday. Panglao Island is a less developed version of Boracay, which for some might be great as it’s not as crowded (though it certainly looks like it’s becoming that way) or Westernized. However, that also means there’s not quite as much to do. In an attempt to fit as much as possible into a vacation, here are 10 things to do in Panglao Island, Bohol; from lounging on the beach and eating fresh seafood, to exploring Bohol during the day and watching a fire show at night.

Here are my personal picks of the top 10 things to do in Panglao Island, Bohol:

1. Soak up the sun on Alona Beach

bohol alona beach

Since you are on an island, heading to the beach is a given. Most people who stay on Panglao Island find accommodation on or close to Alona Beach, the most popular beach on the island. You can rent beach chairs for the day, grab a fresh fruit smoothie at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants along the beach, and, of course, take a dip in the water to cool down.

2. Trip around Bohol on the Countryside Tour

bohol countryside tour

Wanting to get out of Panglao Island for the day to explore the highlights of Bohol? Then spend a day on the Bohol Countryside Tour where you’ll see the Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, and much more. Though you can book a group tour, I highly recommend renting a driver for the day to take you around to the sights you’d like to see. This way, you’ll have complete control over how long you want to stay at each destination, and whether you want to skip an attraction or make a separate stop somewhere else on the island.

3. Cool off with organic ice cream from The Buzzz Cafe

bohol buzz cafe bohol ice cream

This Bee Farm turned organic cafe has two small locations on Alona Beach (as well as two others in Bohol). You’ll find the first stall on your way down the narrow road to Alona Beach (right beside the car park), serving only ice cream. The other shop, which is also a cafe with seating upstairs, is at the end of Alona Beach and serves ice cream as well as organic food throughout the day. Expect traditional flavours such as coconut, mango, and salted honey, as well as unique flavours such as ube (purple sweet potato), peanut kisses (a local chocolate/peanut candy), pandan, and durian. One scoop is 50 PHP (about HKD$8).

4. Enjoy a fresh grilled seafood dinner on the beach

bohol dinner

When the sun begins to set, you’ll see all of the restaurants along Alona set up for dinner service by putting tables and chairs out on the beach. By 6:00 pm or so, large displays of freshly caught seafood from that day will be laid out in front of the restaurants along the main strip of the beach. All you have to do is pick your catch of the day and they will grill and serve it to you while you dine with your toes in the sand.

5. Take a tuk tuk to Dumaloan Beach

bohol dumaloan bohol dumaloan beach

If Alona Beach is a bit too crowded for you, or if you just want to check out a different beach on Panglao Island, Dumaloan is a popular option.. But not with tourists. You’ll mainly find locals who come to this beach to relax and set up a picnic under one of the many shaded tables. The beach itself is quite long and worth a walk up and down in search of starfish and seashells. Depending on where the tuk tuk drops you off, you might have to pay an entrance fee of 30 PHP (HKD$5) to get onto the beach.

6. Go on an island hopping tour

Panglao Island Hopping - Virgin Island

Another popular tourist activity is the island hopping tour that forces you out of bed at sunrise to (hopefully) catch a glimpse of some dolphins. Then you’re off to snorkel on Balicasag Island, ending with a walk around The Virgin Island. While this wasn’t a tour I would personally recommend given my unpleasant experience, I have read many other blogs and reviews about it that were quite positive. Just be sure you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into before going on the tour.

7. Head to the beach for a midday massage

bohol massage

What’s better than an hour-long massage? An hour-long massage on the beach. There are a few beach massage locations as you walk down the beach. Be sure to haggle a bit with them for a good price; a 45-minute foot and leg massage will set you back between 200 – 300 PHP, depending on your negotiating skills and the time of day. If getting a rather public massage on the beach isn’t your thing, then you can book a massage at one of two massage shops along the road down to Alona (just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time, as they do fill up at night).

8. Listen to live music while watching a fire show

bohol fire show

After you’ve devoured your seafood feast on the beach, stick around to watch a live fire show performance to the beat of some local instrumental music. If you’ve ever seen a fire show in Thailand, it’s pretty much the same thing.. Guy with two swinging pieces of fire carrying out some impressive tricks.

9. Head out for a day of scuba diving

Many people head to Panglao Island for the diving, as it’s said to be really good. Though I never personally went diving while I was there, you’ll find plenty of diving schools located on Alona Beach where you can sign up for a fun day dive or complete a diving course if you have the time.

10. Drink all the San Miguel’s

bohol beer

A staple of just about any holiday (or at least my holidays) is drinking, and when you’re visiting a country where a bottle of beer is almost as cheap as a bottle of water, there’s not real choice between the two. San Miguel is the Philippines’ drink of choice, so be sure to have one, a few, or a whole lot of these refreshing and delicious brews while you’re visiting whether on the beach, in a bar, or in your hotel room.


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wulai hot springs taipei 4

If you’re visiting Taipei, it’s likely you’ve heard about the Beitou Hot Springs, as they’re arguably the most well-known and visited hot springs in the surrounding Taipei area. Unfortunately, because of their popularity, Beitou is often crowded and has become very touristy. A much better alternative to Beitou is the public Wulai Hot Springs; a 45 minute bus ride from Taipei. While Wulai has plenty of hot springs at guest houses and hotels, the natural, public hot springs are a must, offering visitors some rest and relaxation in a beautiful, natural surrounding.

Getting to the Wulai Hot Springs from Taipei

The cheapest and easiest way to get to Wulai is via public transportation. Hop on the Metro and take the Green Line to Xindian Station. When you exit, look for a small tourist center on your right side, just across from the bus platform. Right behind the tourist center is where you’ll find bus 849 (I believe it was around NT$20), which will take you right to Wulai (it’ll be the last stop, so don’t worry about missing it). The journey is incredibly beautiful and scenic, and takes about 45 minutes.

What to expect at the natural Wulai Hot Springs

wulai hot springs taipei 3wulai hot springs taipei 4 wulai hot springs taipei wulai hot springs taipei 2

Once you get off the bus, head down into Wulai Old Street (where all of the little shops and food stalls are), cross the bridge at the end, and head right to “Ulay Hot Spring” (see first photo above).

As you’re walking down the road you’ll notice there isn’t a specific sign that tells you where to go to get to the public hot springs, however, there are two ways to get down on your left side (that I know of, at least). One is only a few feet down the road and is a bit more obvious; just take the stairs and walk down a bit (you’ll pass the feet only hot spring first [the last photo above] and then get to the larger hot spring shortly after). Otherwise, if you walk a bit further down, you’ll find another entrance with stairs leading down the hill. Once down, you’ll see the hot springs just to your left.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have great weather when we went, but the springs were very hot (just check out that steam coming off them) and still quite busy given the cold temperature. There are a few little ‘change rooms’ right by the hot springs for public use if you do decide to head on in. The majority of people using the hot springs were local and were very welcoming, so there’s no need to feel awkward about joining them in a hot spring. We even saw a couple people riding the current down the large (and what must have been freezing) river.

Bring a drink or two along and plop down in one of the hot springs (there were close to 10) for a few hours of rest and relaxation. If you’re not in the mood to completely drench yourself, there is a smaller hot spring (last photo above) made just for dipping your feet into.


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plover cove hike - 12

If the thought of spending 6+ hours out in Hong Kong’s vast greenery and rolling hills with little shade and no going back sounds like an adventure you’re willing to tackle, then Plover Cove is perfect for you. This hike starts in Tai Po and takes you in a circle(ish) to Tai Mei Tuk, making for a long and sometimes grueling hike to the finish line if you go in the summer. Despite the length of this hike (approx. 17 km), the route itself isn’t too difficult if you’re relatively fit. Be sure to bring plenty of water, and leave early in the morning to fully enjoy and appreciate the stunning views along the Plover Cove hike.

Getting to the starting point of Plover Cove hike

Take the MTR to Tai Po Market Station, Exit A1. Make your way to the bus station and hop on bus 275R (Note: this bus only runs on SUNDAYS and PUBLIC HOLIDAYS). Ride this bus until the final stop: Bride’s Pool.

Bride’s Pool to Wu Kau Tang

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Begin the hike at Bride’s Pool Barbecue Site (see first photo above) – there will likely be quite a few other hikers at the beginning of this route. You’ll walk over a small river and up some stairs to your left. Then, you’ll reach a fork in the path (see second photo above); go left. Shortly thereafter, you’ll reach another fork with a similar sign to the second photo above; go left again.

Keep going until your reach a large sign for Plover Cove Reservoir Country Trail (see third photo above) – at this point, when we were hiking, all the other hikers continued straight, however, you’ll go right and head up the stairs just behind the country trail sign.

Wu Kau Tang to Ma Tau Fung

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As you continue up the first climb, you’ll break out of the bush and be at Ma Tau Fung when you reach the range poll (see first photo above). The view from this part actually shows you the entire Plover Cove hike route (see second photo above) – you’ll end the hike at the end of the long white dam. From here, follow the path down to Luk Wu Tung.

Ma Tau Fung to Luk Wu Tung

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At this point, there really is no chance of getting lost – the route is straightforward. As you go along, you’ll be able to look out to your left over Crooked Island and see the Yantian Harbour in China (see first photo above). Continue along until the path makes a hard right with a sign that says Tai Mei Tuk. If you look out into the distance from here (to your right), you can see the numerous hills you’ll be hiking up and over in the distance (see second photo above). While it doesn’t look particularly challenging, it will certainly feel like it goes on forever. Once you’re ready, begin heading down the path towards Tai Mei Tuk (see third photo above).

Luk Wu Tung to Tai Mei Tuk

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At the end of the trail, you’ll abruptly come to the first dam (see first photo above) – walk alongside it and around the little hill to your left (do not climb up the stairs). You’ll then walk along another similar damn; again, go left around once you get to the end (don’t go up the stairs). From here, you’ll be walking on a road for 20 minutes until you get to the final dam where you’ll see plenty of people riding bicycles up and down. Walk down the dam where you’ll see some great views on either side of you (see second photo above). At the end of the dam, head left and walk down a short path until you get to Tai Mei Tuk. Here you’ll find a few little shops that sell water, ice cream, and beancurd pudding. Continue along until you reach the bus terminal.

Congratulations – you’ve completed the Plover Cove hike! Now, take bus 75K back to Tai Po Market Station MTR.

Journey Length: 16 km
Time: 6 – 7 hours

 


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thisgirlabroad
giando

Giando is likely familiar to most of us living in Hong Kong from their former location in Wan Chai in Fenwick Pier. Relocating to the increasingly popular Star Street location, the modern Italian restaurant remains devoted to sourcing and serving only the finest ingredients. While their a la carte options are drool-worthy, what you should really come to Giando for is the weekend brunch. This is one of the few semi-buffet brunches in Hong Kong where the quality, freshness, and taste of the dishes at the buffet (and, of course, the mains) were flawless. For only HKD$338 (includes buffet + main + dessert), heading to Giando for brunch is a must-try.

Vibe At Giando

White table cloths and minimal decor mark the interior of Giando. While nothing strikes the eye as particularly intriguing or unique, the food more than made up for the restaurant’s simplicity. There is a large floor-to-ceiling window that spreads across the front of the restaurant, allowing for plenty of natural light to seep into the dining area, and private tables sectioned off in the back of the restaurant, perfect for larger parties.

Buffet Spread

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The buffet spread during brunch at Giando is one of the more impressive ones I’ve seen in Hong Kong (and trust me, I’ve been to my fair share of buffet brunches here). There was an ample selection of dishes and you could clearly tell the focus was on quality ingredients. My favourites from the buffet were the variety of tomatoes (there were six!), the ricotta and stracciatella cheese, and eggplant parmesan, though I really did thoroughly enjoy everything I tried.

Mains

giando lasagnaHomemade Spinach Lasagnagiando gnocchiGnocchi with Octopus Ragout

Unlike many other semi-buffet brunches that only have a handful of mains to choose from, Giando offers an impressive list of main courses ranging from “light” choices, “primi” pastas, and “secondo” meat and seafood. Besides having over 15 choices of mains, we were also impressed with how large the portion sizes were (especially the pasta dishes), how beautifully presented each dish was, and how good the food was.

Dessert

giando panna cottaPanna Cottagiando tiramisuTiramisu

Choosing a dessert was just as difficult as choosing a main course; with seven dessert options I literally wanted to try them all. After some serious deliberation, we settled on two Italian traditional desserts: the panna cotta and tiramisu. The panna cotta was creamy and had just the right amount of mixed berry sauce without overpowering the dish. The homemade tiramisu was authentic and spot-on both in flavour and texture.

Verdict

If it wasn’t obvious enough from the above, I’ll put it simply: if you love brunch (let’s get real, who doesn’t love a good weekend food-fest?!) and Italian food, then Giando is a no-brainer. We were all thoroughly impressed by the quality of food at the buffet and the general care and consideration that goes into sourcing their ingredients from boutique farms and shops throughout Italy thanks to founder Gianni Caprioli. Moreover, most of their main course a la carte dishes are between HKD$200 – 300, so you really are getting great value when coming to Giando for brunch.

The Deal

Set Brunch: HKD$388 (buffet counter + main course + dessert)
Buffet Only: HKD$288
Free Flow Add-on: HKD$158 for Bianco Vigna (Prosecco) or HKD$208 for Conntadi Castaldi (sparkling wine) 

Giando
G/F, Tower 1 Starcrest
9 Star Street
Wan Chai 
Hong Kong 

Tel: 2511 8912


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