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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
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After I tell people about why I moved to Hong Kong, I often get asked what has kept me here for the past five years. While there are plenty of factors, both big and small, I’ve managed to break it down to five reasons (’cause you know, five years/five reasons.. clever, right?). Over the past five years I’ve fallen head over heels in love with Hong Kong and I hope this post encourages you to visit this amazing city one day or, if you’re already living here, go out and do something different that’ll make the city seem new again to you.

1. Ease of everyday life

If you ask anyone in Hong Kong what one of the things they love most about the city is, they’ll likely say its convenience. Practically everything in this city is easy (except for banking and the post office – you’ll know what I mean if you live in HK). The public transportation is phenomenal – the MTR, bus, minibus, or tram can get you to any part of the city and costs practically nothing. 7-Eleven convenient stores can do far more than supply you with a beer to-go or a quick snack. You can pay your bills at 7-Eleven, return purchases from some online stores, hit up “Club 7” for cheap drinks, and much more. Hired help is also really easy to find (not to mention incredibly affordable), whether that’s in the form of a live-in nanny or a helper who comes to your flat to clean once or twice a week. Basically, life in general is pretty damn effortless.

2. Hiking trails are everywhere

One thing many people don’t realize about Hong Kong (and I didn’t either until I moved here) is how much greenery there is. Yes, Hong Kong has many areas that are densely populated with sky-high buildings, but it also has plenty of hiking trails all over. There’s a route for just about anyone: hikes for families, stellar views, trail running, ending at a beach, on different islands, ones with plenty of peaks, and everything in between. I couldn’t tell you how many hiking trails there are in Hong Kong, but I’ve been on quite a few of them and I love getting out there on a clear day to explore a quieter side of the city. I’ve written detailed guides on all the hikes I’ve done so far, which can be found here.

3. The beach is a short drive away

Given that it feels like summer the vast majority of the year in Hong Kong, I’m pretty darn grateful that there’s a handful of beaches to visit. Although geographically this makes sense since Hong Kong is an island and all, many people don’t realize that there are so many beaches around that look so “unlike Hong Kong” (almost akin to lying on a beach in Thailand) or some other tropical paradise. Many of the beaches are easily accessibly by public bus and only take 20 – 30 minutes to get to. My favorite beach in Hong Kong is Shek O Beach, located on the south side of the island – the water is usually clean, the sand is fine, you can rent out BBQ pits on the beach, and there are a few delicious restaurants in the little village.

4. Convenient and cheap travel

Thanks to Hong Kong’s central location in Asia, travel throughout this part of the world is not only convenient, but it’s also quite cheap. It’s not unlikely to hear talk of people jumping on a plane Friday after work and heading somewhere nearby, like Taipei, and then flying back on Sunday evening just in time to get a few hours’ sleep before work the next morning. If weekend trips are a bit too stressful for you, there’s plenty of public holidays to take advantage of and turn that two day weekend into a three of four day getaway. If you’re smart about planning your travel and aren’t a complete procrastinator (like I tend to be), you can score some incredibly cheap flights on various Asia-based budget airlines. The vast travel opportunities has certainly been one of my favorite parts about moving to Hong Kong.

5. There’s always something to do

Regardless of what your interests are, there’s always something appealing going on in the city. If you love the outdoors, there’s plenty of hikes to go on, a wide range of sports teams to join, and beaches to spend a lazy Sunday at. Love food (who doesn’t)? Hong Kong is a haven for foodie’s, offering every type of cuisine imaginable in all price ranges. Whether you prefer dancing till the sun rises or having a quieter evening with a cocktail and some live jazz, your Friday and Saturday nights are easily sorted. I often find I get excited about having a relatively quiet week coming up, and then get inundated with last-minute invitations to a variety of events happening throughout the city that week. Basically, you’ll never feel bored in Hong Kong.

What are your favorite things about where you live?


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thisgirlabroad
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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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Recently opened HAKU is bringing its Kappo-style kitchen experience to Harbor City. The concept of HAKU was inspired by Chef Hideaki Matsuo of 3-Michelin starred restaurant Kashiwaya in Osaka, in collaboration with Chef Agustin Balbi (formerly of The Ocean). The intimate kitchen gives diners an interactive experience with the chef and the food. Expect a set menu of incredibly thoughtful Japanese cuisine with a European twist, using the finest ingredients.

Vibe at HAKU

HAKU’s understated exterior (a black curtain with a large white outline of a triangle) is also present inside the restaurant. The design is minimalist with the focus of the restaurant on the open kitchen. The kitchen seats 11 and I would highly recommend sitting here as you can interact with the chef and see how each course is meticulously plated. There are a handful of tables just to the side of the kitchen as well as a private room in the back if you’re wanting to dine with a larger group. As would be expected, the staff are incredibly welcoming and attentive, ensuring you have the best possible dining experience. Chef Agustin Balbi also came around to explain the ingredients in each dish and was open to any questions we had.

Amuse-bouche

haku-1-1024x683.jpgKibinago (黍魚子/Silver-stripe Round Herring) & Isaki (伊佐木/Chicken Grunt)haku-3-1024x683.jpgTomorokoshi Tarthaku-2-1024x683.jpgPickled Beetroot

Shortly after we took our seats at the kitchen bar, we were presented with four different bite-sized snacks akin to an aumse-bouche. The first two were the Kibinago (黍魚子/Silver-stripe Round Herring) and Isaki (伊佐木/Chicken Grunt). The herring was incredible and we saw the chef cooking them using a blow torch before they arrived. Don’t let the name fool you: chicken grunt is actually a type of fish. The smooth fish and the crunchy seaweed made a lovely pairing. We weren’t sure if we were meant to eat the whole Tomorokoshi Tart, as the “crust” didn’t actually look edible at first. Though this was personally the least exciting amuse-bouche for me, it was still quite tasty. Naturally, we were all quite captivated by the Pickled Beetroot that was delicately placed inside a red rose. The beetroot was tangy and acidic, cleansing my palate of the previous small bites.

Japanese Oyster

haku-4-1024x683.jpgJapanese Oyster/Green Apple Granita

After sitting down and having a glance at the menu, a fleeting moment of panic came across my face as I read the first course: oysters. I have never enjoyed oysters (it’s a love/hate thing, right?), but was happy to give them a try after I saw the other ingredients. Turns out, I absolutely loved this Japanese Oyster. The addition of yuzukoshō and green apple granita added such a varying degree of complexity to the otherwise ocean-flavored taste of the oyster that I was really taken aback (and wanted more of!).

Tomato & Bellota Ham

haku-5-1024x683.jpgTomato Variety/Bellota Ham

Although it sounded relatively simple, the Tomato Variety with Bellota ham was full of other carefully chosen ingredients to heighten the taste of this dish. There were pieces of small fish and onion throughout, and kombu on top. When Chef Agustin came over he sprinkled sake kasu (the lees left over from making sake) over the dish,  which really added that umami flavor.

Foie Gras & Lotus Root

haku-6-1024x683.jpgFoie Gras/Black Cherry Jam/Lotus Root Chips

While I thoroughly enjoyed each dish that was presented at HAKU, the Foie Gras with Lotus Root Chips was my absolute favorite. I was really excited about the lotus root chips when I saw them on the menu (they’re one of my favorite vegetables), but I was not excepting them to be black when they arrived at our table! The chef explained that they used squid ink tempura for the lotus root, which were unbelievably delicious. On top of the delicately smooth foie gras were black cherry jam, slices of cherry, and a pinch of citrus salt. The pairing of lotus root and the foie gras was genius: rich yet slightly sweet, creamy yet crunchy.

Hokkaido Uni on Brioche

haku-71-683x1024.jpgHokkaido Uni/Eggplant Puree/Brioche

While I don’t love uni like most people in Hong Kong, I immediately gave big points to the presentation of this dish. The Hokkaido Uni sat atop a layer of eggplant puree on a thick piece of slightly toasted brioche. I loved how the tiny edible Japanese flowers matched the plate, ’cause it’s all about the little things, right? For those like me who don’t really like uni, you’ll likely be surprised at how good this dish is thanks to the fresh and high quality uni used.

Ox Tail

haku-8-1024x683.jpgOx Tail/Katsuobushi

Moving back to meat once again (I found it interesting that Chef Agustin flipped between seafood and meat for many of the courses), this fried Ox Tail cube was delicate and tender on the inside with a crispy fried exterior. There was meant to be citrus zest used, but unfortunately we couldn’t taste any. The ox tail was garnished with katsuobushi – dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. Overall, it was the texture of this dish that I enjoyed more than the flavor.

Nagasaki Tuna & Caviar

haku-9-1024x683.jpgNagasaki Tuna/Caviar

I loved the way Chef Agustin talked about this dish and how it may look simple, but the magic is truly in the ingredients and “the chef is the bridge between.” The Chūtoro (a medium fatty tuna) and Kristal caviar with gold flakes on top was paired with delicate rice tuile for a well-balanced and delicious bite.

Kagoshima A4 Wagyu

haku-10-1024x683.jpgKagoshima A4 Wagyu/Mushroom/Cow Bone & Truffle Sauce

I was blown away by how tender and buttery the Kagoshima A4 Wagyu was, so much so that I think if you were to leave the beef in your mouth it would dissolve within a few minutes. We watched as the beef was cooked over binchotan charcoal before it was sliced and served with mushroom, and a cow bone and truffle sauce (which I honestly didn’t even think it needed).

White Peach & Granita

haku-11-1024x683.jpgWhite Peach/Panna Cotta/Granita

We were all incredibly excited about this seasonal White Peach dessert because a) peaches are hard to come by in Hong Kong (and they cost about a million dollars when you do find them) and b) who doesn’t love peaches?! The dessert was beautifully presented: the whole peach was filled with peach chunks, panna cotta, Hokkaido milk foam, and granita made from the peach juice. After we scooped everything out of the peach, we decided to be a little less civilized and got our hands messy while eating the whole peach.

Petit Four

haku-12-1024x683.jpgCotton Candy

To finish our 8-course meal at HAKU, we were served this super cute and nostalgic box of cotton candy. Though the cotton candy itself didn’t have much taste, the whole idea behind this send off dish is to put a smile on your face when it arrives and that it’s something positive you remember when you leave the restaurant. How simple yet genius is that?!

Verdict

If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I loved my dining experience at HAKU. Everything from the service to the ambiance to the food has clearly been meticulously thought-out. Chef Agustin cooks with a passionate flare and you can really see the art in each dish; not only in his cooking, but also in the carefully chosen ingredients. Though this is no cheap experience (this 8-course menu was HK$1380), if you appreciate fine dining then a meal at HAKU is a must.

HAKU
Shop OT G04B, Ground Floor
Ocean Terminal, Harbour City
Tsim Sha Tsui

Tel: 2115 9965


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I’ve been wanting to visit the Tai O Infinity Pool ever since I saw photos on Instagram of that picture-perfect spot. All the photos I came across online looked so unlike concrete jungle of Hong Kong that I was completely captivated. Despite living here for five years, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally made the trek out to Tai O. I planned the trip to see the fishing village and to check out the infinity pool (two birds one stone, y’know). The route to the infinity pool is relatively short and easy (compared to other hikes around HK at least), but you’ll likely be disappointed when you get there.. read on for a detailed guide on how to get there and why it might not be worth the hike.

Starting point of the Tai O Infinity Pool hike

tai-o-infinity-pool-1-1024x768.jpgTai O Pier – located just to the left of the entrance to the fish villagetai-o-infinity-pool-2-1024x768.jpgContinue along the pier (yes, it will feel like forever)

For starters, you’ll need to make the long trek over to the Tai O Fishing Village. You can go one of two ways: go to Central Ferry Pier and hop on the ferry to Mui Wo. Once in Mui Wo, hop on Bus 1, which will take you all the way to Tai O. Alternately, you can take the MTR to Tung Chung and catch Bus 11 to Tai O. I opted to take the ferry, as I heard the queues in Tung Chung for the buses can get insanely long on the weekend.

Either way, the bus will drop you off at a small terminal, just outside the fishing village. Directly to the left of the entrance into the village is where you’ll see a long pier – make your way along the pier and follow it to the left and into the small cluster of houses along the water.

Through the little “village”

tai-o-infinity-pool-3-1024x768.jpgMake your way into the tiny “village”tai-o-infinity-pool-4-1024x768.jpgContinue walking along the pathtai-o-infinity-pool-5-1024x768.jpgKeep straight at this fork in the path

Continue along the path, past the houses on your left and the shoreline on your right. You’ll eventually get to a fork in the road – stay straight and keep going along the shoreline (follow the signs that say “Man Cheung Po”).

Keep following the shoreline

tai-o-infinity-pool-6-1024x768.jpgGo to your left, following the signs to Man Cheung Potai-o-infinity-pool-7-1024x768.jpgYou’ll be able to get a glimpse of the water as you continue along the pathtai-o-infinity-pool-8-1024x768.jpgThe sign for Man Cheung Po will take you up these stairs. DO NOT go up. Continue along the same path and wait for the next set of stairs.

When you come to the next fork, go left – following the sign that says Man Cheung Po. From here, follow the flat path along the shore (for what will feel like ages). You’ll come across a first set of stairs to your right with the sign for Man Cheung Po directing you to go up the stairs. DO NOT climb up. Instead, continue straight along the path.

Hiking up towards the infinity pool

tai-o-infinity-pool-9-1024x768.jpgThese are the stairs you want to climb up.tai-o-infinity-pool-10-1024x768.jpgAfter what feels like ages, you’ll finally reach this abandoned house. Go up to the front, turn right, and follow the path.

You’ll eventually (we literally thought we had missed the stairs because we felt like we had been walking for way too long) reach a second set of stairs on your left. These are the stairs you want to go up. From here, the hike is relatively short, but it’s also all uphill (I stupidly wore Birkenstocks, since I thought this was more of a leisurely stroll than a hike). You’ll pass a white house on your left soon after your ascent – just keep following the path until you see the white and blue abandoned house. Walk up to the front of the house, turn right, and continue following the path. You’ll find the Tai O Infinity Pool shortly afterwards.

Lovely views and.. disappointment

tai-o-infinity-pool-13-1024x768.jpgGuards ensuring you don’t swimtai-o-infinity-pool-11-1024x768.jpgViews from the Tai O Infinity Pool

I had heard rumors that there were now guards at the infinity pool to stop people from swimming in it, since technically it’s a man-made water basin. Unfortunately for me, those rumors were true. When we finally arrived at the infinity pool, there were two guards stationed beside it to prevent anyone from going in (see first photo above). We tried to hide our disappointment as best we could and asked if we could walk around to the back of the infinity pool to take a photo, which they had no problem with. The views were incredibly beautiful (see second photo above), but it obviously would have been even more enjoyable if we were able to cool off in the water before heading back down to the fishing village.

Journey Length:  4 km 
Total Time: 1 hour 

If anyone knows of any other natural infinity pools in Hong Kong where you ARE allowed to swim, please let me know! 

 


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Formerly known as “Mamasitas Cantina”, ZS Hospitality Group has changed things up a bit after the whole fiasco with Harlan Goldstein last year. The restaurant still serves a variety of Mexican fare by the energetic and charismatic Chef Edgar Navarro. In addition, you’ll find a selection of American food on the menu as well, hence the new name: Mexus. The restaurant is vibrant, with a few funny wall murals (like the one of Trump in a sombrero holding a hot dog).

Starters at Mexus

mexus-1-1024x683.jpgGuacamole & Homemade Chips (HK$108)mexus-2-1024x683.jpgSlow Cooked Octopus (HK$158)mexus-3-1024x683.jpgMiss Baltimore Crab Cake (HK$148)I was looking forward to having the Guacamole & Homemade Chips (HK$108), as I enjoyed them the last time I came here. Thankfully, the recipe seems to have remained the same. I was slightly apprehensive when the Slow Cooked Octopus (HK$158) came to our table, as I had it a week ago at the newly renovated Casa Lisboa and found it to be far too chewy. I loved the texture (not too chewy, char-grilled outside), and the paprika and black garlic aioli enhanced the overall flavor. Moving on, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the Miss Baltimore Crab Cake (HK$148). You could tell plenty of real crab meat was used, making the crab cake moist instead of dry like many other ones I’ve had are. The mango relish, and mustard and red pepper marmalade was a nice addition, though not needed as the crab cake tasted great by itself.

Mains

mexus-4-1024x683.jpgPork Carnitas Taco (HK$55)mexus-5-1024x683.jpg12 oz Sirloin Steak (HK$320)Since I couldn’t go to a Mexican restaurant without ordering tacos, I opted for the Pork Carnitas Taco (HK$55). These tacos were incredibly messy to eat, but the combination of pork rib and neck meat, red adobo, haricot beans, pineapple jam, and green tomatillo sauce made it all worth it. Although I was a bit thrown off at the yorkshire pudding that accompanied the 12 oz Sirloin Steak (HK$320), the steak itself was cooked to a perfect juicy medium rare and didn’t need any of the gravy to enhance the flavor.

Dessert

mexus-6-1024x683.jpgBA.NA.MI.SU (HK$88)This BA.NA.MI.SU (HK$88) was a dessert game-changer for me and I could not stop talking about how much I loved it. You’ll find banana mascarpone, popping candy, salted caramel foam, and fluffy peanut butter inside this massive jar of heaven. If you like bananas, this dessert is an absolute must.

Verdict

While Mexus does offer a variety of Mexican fare, I’m not sure this would be the place I would go to if I was truly craving authentic Mexican food. That being said, overall I really liked the food here and think it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a fuss-free, casual bite to eat. Chef Edgar Navarro is passionate about cooking and using quality ingredients, and that really comes through in his dishes. To be honest, I would come back to Mexus just for that banana dessert (it was that good).

Mexus 
6/F, 8 Lyndhurst Terrace
Central

Tel: 2896 6118


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As with a few other restaurants and bars around the city, there’s a story behind the restaurant: Fang Fang is a Shanghai opera singer who left her career behind to travel throughout Asia and bring a variety of flavors to Hong Kong. This new contemporary Asian restaurant serves up an array of unique dishes by highly acclaimed Executive Chef Kent Lee Chin Heng, former Executive Chef of Hakkasan Mumbai, along with an impressive cocktail menu crafted by the talented bar manager Gagan Gurung.

Vibe at Fang Fang

You’ll be greeted by Fang Fang’s sleek bar upon walking in – stop for a drink here before moving to the restaurant. The dining area is bright and modern, and uses Chinese symbols throughout for decor (like dragon scales/Samurai armor). There are two private dining rooms in the restaurant while the rest of the seating remains quite open. Fang Fang is a great spot for date night (though the lights could be a bit dimmer) or a group dinner or any occasion, really.

Cocktails

fang-fang-1-1024x683.jpgTrái Đất (HK$110) – Turmeric gin, coconut milk, pineapple, lemon, gingerfang-fang-2-1024x683.jpgKomorebi (HK$110) – Gin, Chartreuse, Lemon, Chinese Almond, Coriander, Fennel, Chickpea

The menu, created by bar manager Gagan Gurung, is divided into the five elements, each with two unique Asian-inspired cocktails. Having seen this cute cocktail plastered around social media, I just had to order the Trái Đất (HK$110). Made with turmeric gin, coconut milk, pineapple, lemon, and ginger, this drink was light and refreshing – a perfect choice to start your night off. I was curious about the Komorebi (HK$110) with an ingredient list consisting of gin, chartreuse, lemon, Chinese almond, coriander, fennel, and chickpea. There were a few ingredients I love (gin, chickpeas – yesss) and a few I really didn’t like (fennel – nooo), but was easily convinced by Gagan to give it a shot. The texture was part creamy part grain and there was a slightly sour after taste. I enjoyed the drink more and more with each sip.

Starters

fang-fang-3-1024x683.jpgSoft Shell Crab (HK$125)fang-fang-7-1024x683.jpgFang Fang Style Paneer (HK$125)

I think soft shell crab may be growing on me because I typically don’t like it, but Fang Fang’s Soft Shell Crab (HK$125) with curry leaves was undoubtedly delicious. This dish was so full of flavor and had a variety of textures that it was hard to put my fork down. The Fang Fang Style Paneer (HK$125) was unexpected, but since I love paneer I wanted to try it. Although it may not look like much, this ended up being one of my favorite dishes I had at Fang Fang – the cheese cubes were smooth and coated in the perfect amount of slightly sweet sauce.

Mains

fang-fang-4-1024x683.jpgJasmine Tea Smoked Ribs (HK$125)fang-fang-51-683x1024.jpgFang Fang Roasted Duck (HK$495) – as presented at our tablefang-fang-6-1024x683.jpgFang Fang Roasted Duck (HK$495) – sliced with condiments

The Jasmine Tea Smoked Ribs (HK$125) were encased in a glass covering as it came to our table and was opened to let the smoke out. The meat easily came off the bone and was full of flavor, with a subtle hint of Jasmine tea. The most impressive dish of the evening was the Fang Fang Roasted Duck (HK$495), which was presented to our table whole. After the photo shoot with our roast duck was done, our server took it away to cut up. The skin was served with a fair amount of meat (which more local palates may not be in favor of) and was so good I didn’t even need to dip it in the accompanying sauce.

Dessert

fang-fang-8-1024x683.jpgGreen Tea Ice Cream (HK$75)fang-fang-9-1024x683.jpgGinger Creme Brulee (HK$85)

Dessert at Fang Fang is not to be missed. The Green Tea Ice Cream (HK$75) tasted natural and had a smooth texture, unlike the more grainy artificial kinds. The presentation was also lovely, especially the edible chocolate butterflies. I loved the strong presence of ginger in the Ginger Creme Brulee (HK$85) without it overpowering the more subtle flavors of the natural custard.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a new restaurant to check out in Hong Kong that won’t disappoint, visit Fang Fang. The menu has a fantastic variety of pan-Asian cuisine at reasonable prices. Cocktails at Fang Fang are unique, full of flavor, and very photogenic. I’ll definitely be heading back to Fang Fang to try some of their other dishes and to tick off a few more cocktails on their menu soon.

Fang Fang
8/F, LKF Tower
33 Wyndham Street
Central

Tel: 2983 9083 


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I’ve now been living abroad (in Hong Kong) for five years and a whole lot has changed since I first moved here. Thankfully, the one thing that has remained constant is my wonderful family. I’ve grown a heck of a lot over these past years and have learned so much about myself and the world around me. While I’ve always been close with my parents, moving half way around the world has certainly changed a few things. I can never thank my parents enough for everything they’ve done for me, so here is a little ode to them in the form of five things I’ve realized about family after living abroad for five years.

5. FaceTime makes the distance bearable

Living abroad in the age of smartphones certainly makes things a lot easier. Whether it’s a quick FaceTime chat on my way home from dinner (what I refer to as “my walk and talk”), or sending a few random messages and photos throughout the week, I’m pretty darn grateful that there are so many easy ways to keep in touch with my family. I ritually FaceTime with my parents every Sunday night (morning in Canada) to have a proper catch-up. Whether we have meaningful things to talk about or not, it’s nice having that routine to check in on each other just to say hi.

4. Their never-ending support, near and far

Whether it was packing my life up to move to Hong Kong, scrambling to find a flat in only 10 days after landing, or starting up this blog, my family has always been there to give me guidance and support (not to mention listen patiently as I complained and vented about all of the above). I can’t thank them enough for their willingness to support me near and far, and through the highs and lows of these past five years.

3. My mom is my best friend

I’ve had my fair share of “best friends” throughout my life, but the only person who has stuck by me through thick and thin is my mom (well, my dad too, but it’s just not the same for a daughter :P). She is the person I  go to whenever I have news to share, or just need some life advice on how to be an adult (which is basically every week). My mom is a great mother, an inspiring role model, a comedian, the most outgoing and charismatic person I’ve ever met, beyond generous, incredibly supportive, beautiful on the inside and out, and my very best friend. I truly feel like I won the daughter lottery in life.

2. I’m still their “little girl”

I’m not sure if it’s because I live abroad, but whenever I go back to visit my family, I get the “little girl” treatment. If you’ve lived abroad, you probably know what I’m referring to: your parents will make you lunch and dinner, they’ll ask what you want from the grocery store, they stock the kitchen cupboards with all your favorite foods before you arrive (in my case, it was 10 bags of Sweet Chili Heat Doritos!), they willingly lend you their car, and the list goes on and on.

On the other hand, when I’m abroad and tell them I’m not feeling well, I get a dozen questions including, “have you gone to the doctor yet?”. Sometimes I question whether they think I’m “adult enough” to take care of myself (which at times, I also wonder), I remind myself that they’re only asking because they’re concerned and care about their “little girl”.

1. My family are the most important people in my life

When you pack up your life and move abroad, you leave a whole lot of stuff behind (some of which you’re probably better off without).  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that my family is one of the few constants in my life: they don’t break up with you, they don’t ditch you for new friends, and they certainly don’t stop staying in touch after you move away. At the end of the day, I’ve only got one family, so I’m damn well going to make sure they know just how important and loved they are at every opportunity I get.

 

How did your relationship with your family change when you moved abroad? 


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Cabana has been open for quite some time above The Pulse on Repulse Bay Beach, but I could never quite justify paying to lounge on their beach chairs or soak in their onsen baths when a free beach was only steps away. This past Saturday, G.H. Mumm Champagne hosted a “Save Water, Drink Champagne” event that I had the chance to go to and I had a great time. I mean, what’s not to love about a glass of bubbly in hand, a comfy reclining beach lounger, and incredible views of Repulse Bay?!

Vibe at Cabana

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The rooftop area at Cabana is beautiful: there are dozens of loungers and a handful of onsen baths, all with perfect views of Repulse Bay along with larger tent-like seating behind the main walkway. The staff are very friendly and always on hand to help out (AKA get you more bottles of champagne!).

What to expect

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Bottles and bottles of Mumm’s Champagne with my new Valentino sunglasses from SmartBuyGlasses!

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To get into Cabana, you need to purchase a package for the day. Afternoon tickets are available on the weekend and public holidays from 2:00 – 7:00 pm, and include access to the loungers, baths, towel service, a live DJ, and a bottle of champagne for HK$580 (pre-purchased ticket). There are also other packages available during the week from Wednesday to Friday and from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm on the weekend. Aside from being completely relaxed, one thing I loved about Cabana was being able to catch a gorgeous sunset before we left.

Verdict

Though it’s not exactly cheap, if you’re wanting to relax in style and #treatyoself, grab a bunch of friends and head to Cabana. The fact that your entrance fee includes a bottle of champagne makes the price tag (slightly) more bearable. That being said, I do wish that the venue was open longer than 7:00 pm. The staff also need to work on maintaining the bathrooms throughout the day, as they were not in good condition when I went to use them.

Cabana
Lobby A Rooftop
The Pulse
Repulse Bay 

Tel: 2889 5939


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Casa Lisboa formerly occupied a floor in the LKF Tower for a number of years until it silently closed its doors in preparation to move. I’ll be honest: I had no idea it was relocating to Wyndham Street until I walked by the building and saw a sign in the lobby. Given that my last experience at Casa Lisboa wasn’t too enjoyable, I was skeptical about trying it again. After a bit of debating, I figured as long as I kept my expectations low, it wouldn’t hurt (this mentality can be applied to almost anything, mainly dating). The decor has completely changed for the better, and the food is much more appetizing, both in taste and how it is presented.

Vibe at the new Casa Lisboa

Casa Lisboa underwent a complete makeover after they moved to their new location. They went from old, drab decor to a bright, modern design with plenty of blue and white decor. When I walked through the doors, it felt like I was stepping into an entirely new restaurant, which I imagine is what they were going for. The restaurant lets in ample amounts of natural light through the floor to ceiling windows that span across the wall.

Starters

casa-lisboa-1-1024x683.jpgPiri-Piri Quail (HK$180)casa-lisboa-2-1024x683.jpgPortuguese Octopus Confit (HK$280)As a fan of Nando’s (I mean, who isn’t?), I was looking forward to trying the Piri-Piri Quail (HK$180). The fennel underneath the quail was lit before arriving at our table, giving it an aromatic, smokey flavor. While I did really like the overall taste, it was a bit of a struggle to eat it and unfortunately there wasn’t much meat on each piece. The Portuguese Octopus Confit (HK$280) was infused with Moscatel wine, adding a semi-sweet flavor, however I would have preferred the octopus to have a slightly crispier exterior.

Mains

casa-lisboa-3-1024x683.jpgDuck Rice Lisboa Style (HK$180)casa-lisboa-4-1024x683.jpgA5 Grade Flame-grilled Chunk Rib “Preguinho” (HK$380)My favorite dish of this meal goes to the Duck Rice Lisboa Style (HK$180) with chorizo and slow-roasted pork belly. The broth uses fresh duck bones to cook the rice, making what might normally be a simple dish irresistible (no, literally – I couldn’t stop eating this). You’ll find tender shredded duck meat throughout and I loved how crispy the top bits of rice were. Half of the A5 Grade Flame-grilled Chunk Rib “Preguinho” (HK$380) was fantastic, but the other half was far too fatty for my liking. The sous vide beef is served with a side of mustard and cheese sauce, though I’m not sure the flavor of the cheese sauce complimented the beef.

Dessert

casa-lisboa-5-1024x683.jpgPineapple, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Pistachio Sponge Raviolis (HK$75)casa-lisboa-6-1024x683.jpg“Chocolates with Bread” (HK$80)All eyes at our table darted towards our waiter when the Pineapple, Vanilla Ice Cream, and Pistachio Sponge Raviolis (HK$75) were brought over. Pineapple slices that have been seasoned in a syrup of sugar and spices were placed over a scoop of ice cream and homemade pistachio sponge cake. I really liked the flavor and texture combination of this dessert, but there was a chunk in the middle that was frozen. We also tried the “Chocolates with Bread” (HK$80) – a popular children’s snack in Portugal. This dessert is made with extra virgin olive oil caviar, homemade crisps and chocolate mousse. This seemingly odd mix of ingredients was a slightly sweet, but light way to end our meal

Verdict

Casa Lisboa has made quite a few improvements after their relocation, most notably in the decor and general atmosphere of the restaurant. While I did enjoy many of their dishes, Casa Lisboa is really going to have to step up their game if they want to compete with the never-ending amount of restaurants that pop up just as fast as they close down in this city.

Casa Lisboa 
2/F, Parekh House
63 Wyndham Street
Central

Tel: 2905 1168


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Since I haven’t tried too many Korean dishes (I usually stick to gimbap or bibimbap), I figured I would finally try Momojein. Helmed by Korean Chef Lim Hee Won (who is incredibly sweet and down to earth, and is well known in Korea for being on a reality TV cooking show), Momojein offers diners a modern take on a range of traditional Korean dishes. Chef Lim Hee Won has recently introduced a handful of new dishes to Momojein’s menu that I had the chance to try.

Vibe at Momojein

I went to Momojein during lunch and loved how bright the restaurant was; there’s plenty of natural light and the decor was modern/minimal. The rectangular dining area offers plenty of seating throughout and is great if you’re in a larger group or if you’re dining solo (there are individual seats along the windows). Staff are welcoming and service was fairly prompt given the lunch rush.

Starters

momojein-1-1024x683.jpgGujeolpan (HK$138)momojein-2-1024x683.jpgSpicy Bell Pepper Tuna (HK$162)momojein-3-1024x683.jpgYukhoe (HK$178)

We began with the beautifully presented Gujeolpan (HK$138), which dates back to the Kingdom of Joseon of the late 1300s. Nowadays, this dish is mainly served during festivities. The gujeolpan at Momojein consists of nine ingredients (beef, egg white, egg yolk, cucumber, carrot, two types of mushroom, zucchini, and onion) with fresh flavored pancakes in the middle. Put whichever ingredients you fancy onto the spinach, beetroot, and white lotus flower pancakes, fold it up, and dip it into Momojein’s homemade pine nut mustard sauce. My favorite starter was the Spicy Bell Pepper Tuna (HK$162). These mini bell peppers were stuffed with tuna marinated in Gochujang (Korean hot paste) and were deliciously spicy. The presentation was inspired by a tinned tuna product from Korea, adding a touch of “awe, so cute” to the dish. If you’re a fan of tartare, you’ll enjoy the Yukhoe (HK$178). This raw beef dish is made with a number of interesting ingredients, such as pear, and is served with their housemade seaweed chips.

Mains

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Since Korean fried chicken is still incredibly popular, we opted for the KFD (HK$128), where Momojein’s version only includes drumsticks, hence the “D”. The batter is light and crispy, but I did wish there was a bit more meat on each drumstick. I really loved the Smoked Pork Belly (HK$350) and everyone at our table seemed to agree as it was gobbled up in a matter of seconds. The technique used to create this dish is time consuming: Korean bean paste and Jung Jong (Korean wine) are rubbed onto the Iberico pork, which is then slow-cooked for 12 hours. The pork is then roasted before being put into a clay pot with wood shavings that are lit at the table to give it that intense smokey flavor. I was surprised at how much I actually liked the Soondoobu Stew (HK$208). This stew is made with a variety of Korean seasonings, along with pork, seafood, vegetables, tofu, and egg, and has quite the spicy kick to it.

Dessert

momojein-7-1024x683.jpgBaesuk Sherbet (HK$88)

After a hearty meal, I was thankful that dessert was rather light. The Baesuk Sherbet (HK$88) is  the perfect summer treat for both your stomach and your eyes. This dessert is made by first boiling the Korean pear in a sweet soup made of cinnamon, honey, ginger, and sugar. Part of the soup is then used to make a sherbet while the other part is mixed with soda water. This dessert was incredibly refreshing and I really liked how strong the cinnamon flavor was.

Verdict

You can really tell that Chef Lim Hee Won puts plenty of passion into his cooking – even the charcoal used for grilling is imported from Korea! Each dish uses high quality ingredients and is plated with care. If you haven’t had the chance to try the food at Momojein, I would highly recommend it.

MOMOJEIN
23/F, QRE Plaza
202 Queen’s Road East
Wan Chai 

Tel: 2789 1949


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Private dining has become increasingly popular in Hong Kong over the last few years as more people in the city are opting for private kitchens to celebrate an event or to have a more intimate dining experience (no doubt thanks to the size of most flats in the city, making hosting near impossible). While there are a few private kitchens that have been around for a number of years, I went to a newer raw, plant-based private dinner the other week at Masalas and Olives. I’ve never been into the whole vegan/raw eating, but I’ll admit I was really impressed with the food and atmosphere.

Vibe at Masalas and Olives

Masalas and Olives is a private kitchen run by raw vegan chef Kanch and is located in her home in Mid Levels. The large dining area offers fantastic views of the city (which will likely leave you feeling quite jealous) and gives off a homey feel that is welcoming and comfortable. Kanch’s mission is to “connect people over a delicious raw plant based meal”, which I think she was quite successful in doing while I was there.

Course 1 – 3

masalas-and-olives-2-1024x683.jpgMasala Cheese Plate
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masalas-and-olives-6-edit-1024x683.jpgCreamy SaagWe began with the masala cheese platter made with tree nuts, okra, and papaya. I’d be lying if I said I preferred vegan cheese to real cheese, but I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was. My favorite was the kimchi cheese on dehydrated pineapple – a perfect pairing of spicy smooth cheese on a slightly sweet chewy pineapple. Next up were the kimchi dumplings made with spinach, beetroot, and ginger foam. We were all quite surprised at the kick these little dumplings packed. We finished up the starters with a creamy saag made of naan chips, spinach, and mung salad. This dish was definitely a highlight for me – the smooth saag paired perfectly with the cirsp naan chips.

Course 4 – 5

masalas-and-olives-4-1024x683.jpgSmokey Pho
masalas-and-olives-5-1024x683.jpgChocolate Cake, Passion Fruit Ice CreamNext up was the smokey pho made of zucchini noodles, tamari mushrooms, and vegan tofu. Everyone around our table couldn’t believe that there wasn’t meat in this dish and I absolutely loved how apparent the smokey flavor was. To wrap up our dinner we had a chocolate cake with passion fruit ice cream.  While I did enjoy the chocolate cake, it was the ice cream that really stole the show. The passion fruit was surprisingly pronounced, and the texture was creamy and dense.

Verdict

If you’re looking for a private dining experience that’s a little bit different, I would recommend checking out Masalas and Olives. All of their menus are raw vegan and there’s a variety of cuisines to choose from including Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Japanese. The menu takes Kanch five days to prepare, which just goes to show how much time and effort is put into each dinner she hosts. Masalas and Olives hosts dinners from 4 – 16 people with menus ranging from HK$580 – $600 (extra for an additional wine pairing, or you can BYOB).

Masalas and Olives 
Mid Levels (address provided after booking)

Tel: 5944 4971


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Since its opening almost a year ago, I’ve been wanting to try Mama Malouf after hearing plenty of good things about the place. This quaint Lebanese restaurant gets its name from the Alex Malouf’s (the owner) mother. The dishes take inspiration from Alex’s mother and the recipes have been developed from his experience growing up in a Lebanese home. You’ll find traditional, as well as more modern dishes on Mama Malouf’s menu, all of which are hearty and satisfying. In terms of atmosphere, you can expect a cozy, home-like feel at Mama Malouf with minimalist decor.

Mezze

mama-malouf-1-1024x683.jpgCucumber and tarragon labne (HK$58)mama-malouf-2-1024x683.jpgBaked eggplant salad with burrata (HK$128)mama-malouf-3-1024x683.jpgHaloumi & fontina cheese fondue with fig jam (HK$118)

We began with the cucumber and tarragon labne (HK$58) with safron and caramelized onions. The dip was thick and creamy, and the caramelized onions added an extra punch of flavor. My favorite starter was the baked eggplant salad with burrata (HK$128). This was a more modern dish on the menu, and I loved the contrast in texture from the creamy burrata, smooth eggplant, and crunchy salad. If you love cheese, you should definitely try the haloumi & fontina cheese fondue (HK$118) with fig jam. The cheese came to our table bubbling (get those Boomerang’s ready!) and the combination of the melted cheese and fig jam on brioche was absolutely divine.

Mains

mama-malouf-4-1024x683.jpgGrilled beef kafta skewers (HK$178)mama-malouf-5-1024x683.jpgWhole roasted baby snapper (HK$168)

I was a big fan of the grilled beef kafta skewers (HK$178) with pita, padron peppers, sumac salad, and tahini and harissa sauce. The ground beef skewers were incredibly tender and full of flavor, especially when made into a wrap with the pita, salad, and sauces. The whole roasted baby snapper (HK$168) had a bit too many tiny bones for my liking, but the flavor was certainly on point and others at the table said this was their favorite dish of the evening.

Dessert

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We finished our very filling meal with the Turkish delight chocolate fondue (HK$58). We took the Turkish delight, which is imported directly from Lebanon, and dipped it into the melted chocolate before covering it in crushed pistachios. I liked how this dish had just the right amount of sweetness – perfect for when you’ve overindulged on mezze and mains, but can’t say no to dessert.

Verdict on Mama Malouf

If you enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine, I would definitely recommend giving Mama Malouf a try. The vibe is cozy and homey, while also being minimalist and modern – perfect for a date night or to catch up with a friend. Expect traditional Middle Eastern spices and flavors that have been incorporated into contemporary, satisfying dishes.

Mama Malouf 
93 Catchick Street
Kennedy Town

Tel: 2817 3828


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I love to indulge in a free-flow weekend brunch, but there comes a point where drinking glass after glass of champagne on a Sunday afternoon becomes a bit excessive (yup, even for me). I felt like I needed to give my liver a break, so I tried Divino’s new weekend Recovery Brunch and really loved it. Although typically a after work and late night hot spot, I would definitely recommend trying the brunch here. The food was healthy and very filling, and I didn’t feel like the rest of my day was a waste thanks to a food and drink induced coma.

Divino Recovery Brunch Drinks

divino-brunch-1-1024x683.jpgLemon, Ginger, and Chili Detox Water (HK$58)

I started with a glass of refreshing Sweet Herbal Apple Detox Water (HK$58), unlike the glass of champagne that accompanied my brunch the day before. Divino serves up three different types of detox water and they’re all refillable, so you can try all three. The other two choices are a lemon, ginger, and chili water, and pomegranate infusion tea with mint.

Food

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For our mains, we ordered the Oven-baked Beetroot and Cottage Cheese (HK$138) with 24 year balsamic and basil oil. The beetroot were delicious, and the subtle addition of cottage cheese added a nice contrasting, smooth texture. We also shared the Chef’s “Healing Bowl” (HK$138), comprised of quinoa, smoked salmon, avocado, capers, baby spinach, poached eggs, and pesto sauce. I loved everything about this dish – the poached eggs were perfect and there wasn’t too much sauce, which meant you could distinctly taste each ingredient. To finish up, we couldn’t resist the Greek Yogurt and Granola Parfait (HK$98) and were impressed right away with the beautiful, Instagram-worthy presentation. Layers of fat-free Greek yogurt, banana, berries, and granola, with fresh passion fruit and bee pollen sprinkles on top made this parfait utterly irresistible.

Verdict

The Divino Recovery Brunch is a fantastic alternative to the endless boozy brunches available in Hong Kong. Not only were the brunch dishes at Divino healthy, but they were incredibly satisfying. I didn’t expect to leave this brunch feeling stuffed, but we literally waddled our way out of the restaurant.. at least it was all healthy, right?

Divino Wine Bar and Restaurant 
73 Wyndham Street
Central

Tel: 2167 8883


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As I was planning my trip to Tokyo, I was told numerous times that it was a ridiculously expensive city. I ended up bringing about ¥35,000 in cash for food, drink, and whatever else I wanted to throw some dollar bills at (not including my hotel), and only had about ¥2,000 left after five days. I’m a fairly money-conscious individual, but do like to indulge every once in awhile. While there were certainly things I didn’t do while in Tokyo given my time constraints (the Robot Restaurant, for example), I left feeling like I did everything I had originally wanted to and was able to really enjoy my time here. So, if you’re wondering “how much money should I bring to Tokyo?”, keep reading for the breakdown of all my expenses over five days.

Day 1:
Transportation, dinner, and drinks

Our flight touched down at Narita International Airport Saturday night and we had a bit of a tough time sorting out transportation to our hotel in Shinjuku. If we had more time (and if there was actually information in English), I’m sure we could have found a much cheaper way to get to our hotel, but we were tired, frustrated, and just wanted to get out of the airport.

After we checked into our hotel, we decided to wander over to Memory Lane for a late-night bite to eat. This is where we discovered a little shop selling the most delicious soba noodles (this was our cheapest meal of the trip). We then wandered over to the well-known area of Golden Gai for a glass of sake before passing out for the evening.

Breakdown: 
¥3128 – train ticket from airport to my hotel 
¥400 – the most delicious soba noodles 
¥900 – sake at a little bar in Golden Gai

Total: ¥4,498

Day 2:
Suica Card, the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had, Family Mart snacks and drink

Despite the wet weather, we wandered over to Harajuku with a beer in hand (gotta love the liquor laws in these countries). We later stopped by for a very sweet milk tea shaved ice dessert at Ice Monster.

After a bit more wandering around, we went to Kuumba du Falafel for the most incredible falafel sandwich I have had (and likely will ever have). Since the weather was absolute crap and we were exhausted, we decided to hit up a 7-Eleven for some drinks (read: wine and beer) and snacks (a mix of mochi, onigiri, and other odd things we wouldn’t fully know until opening the package) to take back to our hotel.

Breakdown: 
¥190 – breakfast danish  
¥500 – money added onto my Suica Card (used for the metro) 
¥500 – dessert at Ice Monster
¥135 – beer to-go from Family Mart
¥1200 – the best falafel sandwich I’ve ever had at Kuumba du Falafel
¥636 – hotel late-night snacks (wine, mochi, onigiri, beer)

Total: ¥3,161

Day 3 :
Tsukemen, sake in a cup, cherry blossoms, ice cream

We started our day with a tsukemen ramen meal at Fuunji. For those who haven’t tried tsukemen before – it’s life-changing. Plus, Fuunji is meant to serve some of the best tsukemen in Tokyo and, after trying it, I would have to agree.

Since we were in Tokyo during sakura season, we went to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden to surround ourselves with all of the beautiful cherry blossoms. On our way home, we decided to try one of the restaurants in the metro for dinner, as we had heard they’re all meant to be really good. Unfortunately, my miso katsu wasn’t fantastic (the only meal I didn’t love in Tokyo), but thankfully my triple-tiered ice cream afterwards hit the spot.

Breakdown: 
¥1200 – Tsukemen ramen at Fuunji   
¥238 – cup sake from 7-Eleven (literally the best thing)
¥200 – entrance into Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (for the cherry blossoms)
¥1000 – recharge of my Suica Card
¥1100 – dinner (miso katsu in the metro)
¥470 – soft serve matcha, strawberry, and Hokkaido milk ice cream

Total: ¥5,408

Day 4:
Tsukiji Fish Market, omakase lunch, hilarious dinner

We were cursed with yet another day of rain, but it was our last chance to head to the Tsukiji Fish Market since it was closed the following day. So off we went, umbrella in hand, to devour all of the snacks and sushi from the market. By 10:00 am, we had eaten our fair share of snacks as we wandered around, but saved just enough room to enjoy a fantastic omakase lunch at Sushi Katsura.

For dinner, we went to well-known Narukiyo. There was penis paraphernalia everywhere, great music, a hilarious chef, and just all around super fun vibes. Although on the expensive side, I think the experience alone at Narukiyo is well worth it.

Breakdown: 
¥906 – snacks from the Tsukiji Fish Market (strawberry mochi, corn fritters, salmon onigiri, tomago)
¥280 – coffee at a local cafe 
¥1340 – lunch at Sushi Katsura 
¥596 – 7-Eleven snacks and drinks
¥10000 – dinner and drinks at Narukiyo

Total: ¥13,122

Day 5:
Cooking class, Sensoji Temple, Ippudo Ramen

I began my day incredibly hungover (thanks to three flasks of sake at Narukiyo, followed by a night of dancing in Shibuya), but managed to make it to my wagyu kaiseki cooking class at Cooking Sun (the cost of this class would typically be ¥8,500 per person, but it was sponsored by Flight Centre).

After a few cups of coffee and some food, we made our way over to the  Sensoji Temple where we walked around the area and ate plenty of snacks. We found an Ippudo Ramen nearby, and while there is one in Hong Kong, we figured we’d try the “real deal” here in Tokyo. As expected, it did not disappoint.

Breakdown: 
¥538 – amazing instant coffee from our hotel, found at a grocery store
¥150 – coffee at 7-Eleven (which was surprisingly good)
¥560 – Suica Card recharge
¥960 – snacks from the Sensoji Temple 
¥890 – Ippudo Ramen lunch
¥185 – pastry dessert

Total: ¥3,283

Day 6:
7-Eleven haul, coffee, flight back to HK

We had an early morning flight to make, so we were up at 4:30 am. After a quick 7-Eleven haul (including the most heavenly matcha choux cream puffs), we made our way to the Ginza line. We were headed to Ueno Station to catch the first train (Keisi Skyline) to the airport that departed at 5:58 am. The train is super fast, and we made it with a bit of time to spare (our flight was at 8:40 am).

Breakdown: 
¥660 – 7-Eleven haul before heading to the airport 
¥200 – Suica Card
¥2200 – Keisei Skyline to the airport transfer
¥130 – vending machine coffee

Total: ¥3,283

Hotel

I chose to stay at the Washington Shinjuku Hotel Annex for a number of reasons. Namely, because it was in a central location and it was one of the more reasonably priced hotels (you could definitely find cheaper if you want to stay in a capsule hotel). You can read my full hotel review here.

Total for five nights at the hotel: ¥48,925 (per person)

Grand total for five nights in Tokyo: ¥81,877

 


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One of the great things about Tokyo is that you’re guaranteed a good meal at just about any restaurant or little shop you walk into. Heck, even the Family Mart and 7-Eleven offer great options if you’re on the go. While you could certainly eat up a storm in Tokyo without doing any research ahead of time, I’m pretty damn glad I did because I managed to have an incredible meal each of my five days in the city (as well as some great ones that just didn’t make my ‘top 5 places to eat in Tokyo’ list).

5. Kuumba du Falafel

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I know what you’re thinking: why in the world would I get a falafel in Tokyo?! Simply because it will be the best falafel you’ve ever had. Kuumba du Falafel is a little shop in the outskirts of Shibuya with only one thing on the menu: falafel. I ordered the full portion of the falafel sandwich (¥1,200) with all the fixings and was honestly in vegetarian heaven (and I didn’t even really like falafel before coming here!).

Read more about Kuumba du Falafel here

4. Tsukemen at Fuunji

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I had heard a lot about tsukemen (the type of ramen where you dip the cold noodles into the lukewarm, slightly fishy broth) before, but had never tried it prior to arriving in Tokyo. Fuunji was recommended to me and after doing a bit of research, I quickly discovered this was one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for tsukemen. Arrive early (or late) to beat the queues, as there are only about 15 spots around the kitchen, and indulge in a massive bowl of unbeatable tsukemen for a very reasonable ‎¥‎1,000.

Read more about Fuunji here.

3. Sushi Katsura

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A trip to Tokyo isn’t complete unless you visit the Tsukiji Fish Market and have an incredibly fresh omakase experience at a nearby sushi shop. While the more famous shops, like Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi, charge a pretty penny and have queues that start as early as 3:00 am, Sushi Katsura is a much more reasonable option. With no need to queue up at a ridiculous hour (it only opens for lunch and dinner) and an omakase menu that starts at only ¥950, Sushi Katsura is a perfect alternative for those who care more about the quality of sushi (and getting a decent night sleep) than the name of the restaurant.

Read more about Sushi Katsura here.

2. Soba Noodles on Memory Lane

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I stumbled upon this little soba noodle shop along Memory Lane in Shinjuku on my first night in Tokyo at around 10:00 pm when we were scouring the streets for something to eat. There were about 10 seats crammed around the small one-man kitchen and five people queuing in front of us, which naturally led us to believe this place was a winner. For only ¥400 (the cheapest meal I had in Tokyo), I sat down to a delicious bowl of fresh soba noodles, a mountain of vegetable tempura, and a soft boiled egg.

Read more about the soba noodles on Memory Lane here.

1. Narukiyo

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This was my one splurge during my time in Tokyo and I don’t regret a single yen spent. From the moment I stepped foot inside Narukiyo, I knew I was going to have a great time. The place is covered in penis paraphernalia (yes, you read that correctly) and I had the pleasure of sitting right in front of a massive black penis for my entire meal. As I’m sure you can guess, the vibe is incredibly fun (be sure to snag a seat around the kitchen) and we ended up spending over three hours in the restaurant. As for the food, you simply tell the waiter if there is anything you won’t eat and after a few minutes, your food starts arriving. We had three flasks of sake and 7 courses (three individual, four shared), and our bill came to ¥20,700.

Read more about Narukiyo here.


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The Tsukiji Fish Market is on just about everyone’s must-do when traveling to Tokyo, and for good reason! Earlier in the year, it was rumored that the fish market would be shutting down and relocating to another area of Tokyo. Thankfully, for those that have yet to visit the market, that plan has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. Until it does close, head on over to the Tsukiji Fish Market to try an array of street snacks, eat some ridiculously fresh sushi, and explore the wholesale market.

How to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market

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The Tsukiji Fish Market is surprisingly easy to get to. The market is about 25 minutes from Shinjuku Station and only a few minutes’ walk from Tsukiji Station (just follow the direction of all the other white people :P).

Street snacks found at the Tsukiji Fish Market

tsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-2-1024x768.jpgMochi with fresh strawberry (¥300)tsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-4-1024x768.jpgOnigiritsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-7-1024x768.jpgTonkatsutsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-5-768x1024.jpgTomago (¥100)tsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-3-768x1024.jpgCorn Fritter (¥320)

We arrived at around 9:00 am and stopped at just about every other stall to grab something to eat. We first tried the mochi with fresh strawberry (¥300). The massive mochi is filled with various flavors: red bean, matcha, chocolate, etc. and was an odd but satisfying morning snack. There were a few shops selling onigiri and tonkatsu, though everything was in Japanese, so it was a bit of a guessing game when choosing. I loved the simple and fluffy tomago (¥100), especially since it was served hot on the very cold and rainy day we decided to go to the market. The corn fritter (¥320) was definitely a highlight for me – the ones served at the market are made with a mild fish paste that was surprisingly delicious.

Where to go for a sit-down sushi meal

sushi-katsura-2-1024x683.jpgSushi Katsura

You’ve likely heard of some of the popular sushi shops by the Tsukiji Fish Market, like Daiwa Sushi and Sushi Dai, that people begin queuing up for at 4:00 am (or earlier!). Since there was no way I would be waking up that early just to stand in line for 3+ hours, I managed to find an alternate sushi restaurant only a few minutes’ walk from the Tsukiji Fish Market. Sushi Katsura (すしかつら) is a fantastic alternative with an omakase menu that starts at only ¥950 (compared with the above mentioned restaurants where it’ll likely cost triple). Sushi Katsura also doesn’t open until lunchtime, so you don’t need to wake up at a ridiculous hour to enjoy high quality sushi.

Read more about my experience at Sushi Katsura here

Places to explore around the Tsukiji Fish Market

tsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-9-1024x768.jpgWholesale areatsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-10-1024x768.jpWholesale areatsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-11-1024x768.jpIndoor markettsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-12-1024x768.jpWasabitsukiji-fish-market-tokyo-8-1024x768.jpgAlong the streets

You can head into the wholesale warehouse to explore after the auctions have taken place, however, it’s a bit chaotic and they ask you to put away your camera before going inside (I clearly didn’t listen to the rules). Things were winding down when I went in, but I did come across some of the largest scallops I’ve ever laid eyes on. There are also two indoor market areas you can walk through with little stalls throughout selling fresh sushi, sashimi, uni, and plenty more.

Things to know

Hours: 
The outer area of the market is open from 5:00 am – 3:00 pm (hours may vary slightly depending on the shops).
The wholesale area opens to visitors as of 9:00 am.

Days of Operation:
The Tsukiji Fish Market is closed on Sundays, holidays, and most Wednesdays. Be sure to check the calendar before you plan your visit.


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Figuring out which area of Tokyo to stay in and then finding a hotel that doesn’t cost a fortune can be a logistical nightmare (especially when traveling over the popular sakura/cherry blossom season). After plenty of research on where to stay, I opted to pay a bit more for accommodation in a central area, as opposed to staying a bit out of the way to save some money. Shinjuku was on just about every travel guide and blog I read, so once I settled on that location it was time to choose a hotel. I narrowed it down based on price, distance from the metro, and facilities. The only hotel I found at the time to be within reason was the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex.

First Impressions of the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex

shinjuku-washington-hotel-5-1024x768.jpgMain lobby

To start, this is not a fancy hotel by any means. The hotel is located right next to the Shinjuku Washington Hotel (which we initially confused for our hotel) and you walk through a building full of restaurants and a convenient store (which ended up being very convenient) to get there. The lobby area is basic, but the staff do speak English fairly well and were able to help us with any questions we had. Check-in was painless and they offered a buffet breakfast (at an additional, but reasonable, cost) at a variety of different restaurants, depending on your cuisine preference.

My Room

shinjuku-washington-hotel-2-1024x768.jpgRoom with two single bedsshinjuku-washington-hotel-4-1024x768.jpgRoom facilitiesshinjuku-washington-hotel-1-768x1024.jpgPJ time

Though the room wasn’t large by any means, it still had ample space to move around and throw our luggage down (sorry – photos were clearly not taken when the room was clean!) without feeling like we were in each other’s way. The amenities were simple, but much appreciated – daily bottles of water and coffee/tea (side note: the pour-over coffee was insanely good. So good, in fact, we went on a mission to find a grocery store that sold this type of fancy instant coffee), freshly pressed pyjamas, a mini-fridge, and a hair-dryer. The bathroom was also equipped with shampoo, body wash, complimentary toiletries, and an amazing toilet. A flushing noise would come on once you sat down so no one would have to hear you do your business and it had a built-in bidet that would clean both ends. Originally I was skeptical about the bidet, but soon after became obsessed (TMI?) and am still wondering why these toilets aren’t used everywhere around the world.

Overall Thoughts

I would definitely recommend the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex if you’re looking to stay in one of Tokyo’s central areas without paying a fortune. The hotel has a decent sized room, basic amenities, and is close to the metro. I stayed at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex for five nights during cherry blossom season at ¥19,570 per night including tax (of which I paid half since I was sharing the room with a friend – so around HK$700 per night).

Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex
2-9, Nishishinjuku, 3 chome 
Shinjuku-ku
Tokyo
Japan

My stay at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel Annex was paid for entirely by myself. As always, all views and opinions expressed are my own. 


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8. When Groupon sells stuff like this.

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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.

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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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The Discovery Bay to Mui Wo hike is perfect if you’re wanting to get off Hong Kong Island without wasting much time getting to and back from your hike. This hike is very straight forward and offers fantastic views of Discovery Bay and the surrounding islands (if the weather is cooperating). The first half of this hike can be challenging, with a lot of uphill stairs and a fairly steep climb up to Tiger’s Head. However, the rest of the trail is flat and downhill. The hike ends at Silvermine Bay Beach, so bring your bathing suit and take a quick dip in the water before catching the ferry back to Central.

Starting point of the Discovery Bay to Mui Wo hike

Head to Central Pier 3 and hop on the Discovery Bay ferry (view the timetable here). The journey takes about 25 minutes and the hike begins 5 minutes from the pier.

Discovery Bay to Tiger’s Head (Lo Fu Tau)

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-1-1024x768.Take the first right along this beach-side walkway

Once you’re off the ferry and at Discovery Bay Plaza, head right towards the beach. Depending on what time you start this hike, you could grab breakfast at one of the cafes (there’s also a Pacific Coffee there) beforehand. Otherwise, keep following the path towards the beach. Once on the walkway along the beach, you’re going to take the first left (where you see the people in the photo above) up the path between the housing complexes.

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-2-1024x768.Go rightdiscovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-3-1024x768.Cross the street and go up the stairs where you see the green and white sign

Walk past the housing complex and make a right after the houses at the intersection (see first photo above). Walk down the path where you’ll have houses on your right and trees on your left across the road. At the first crosswalk, turn left and cross the street. You’ll see a green sign and a white sign (can see them in the middle-left of the second photo above) with stairs leading up. This is the start of the hike.

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-5-1024x768.Views of Discovery Bay

Although not long, the stairs leading up to the Discovery Bay lookout are quite steep, and can be relentless on a hot and humid day. That being said, the views are fantastic once you reach the top.

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-6-1024x768.Go rightdiscovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-7-1024x768.Take the first right and head up the dirt path

After you’re done taking a few photos, head down from the lookout point (just keep following the path) and turn right after you finish going down the stairs (if you head left you’ll see a helicopter pad followed by a gazebo with another lookout point). Only a few steps down that paved path is where you’ll make the first right and head up. From here, you’ll be going up a dirt path to get to Tiger’s Head (Lo Fu Tau Country Trail).

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-8-1024x768.View from the (almost) top

At this point, you’re almost at the top – the dirt path you see in the photo above is the same one you’ll be climbing up to get to this point.

Tiger’s Head (Lo Fu Tau) to Mui Wo

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-9-1024x768.View from Tiger Head (if you could actually see past the haze/smog)

If the skies are bright and blue, the view from the top would be stunning. Unfortunately, I had no such luck when I went and couldn’t see anything more than a few feet ahead of me (but at least there was a photo to show me what I was missing out on, right?..). From this point, the rest of the hike is all flat and downhill – just keep following the path.

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-10-1024x768Turn left (follow the signs for Mui Wo)discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-11-1024x768Heading into Mui Wo

After about 20 minutes, you’ll come to a fork in the path with a little pavilion. Go left towards Mui Wo, which you’ll be able to see in the distance as you descend.

discovery-bay-to-mui-wo-hike-12-1024x768Go left (down the stairs) to get to Silvermine Bay Beach and the ferry pier

Once in Mui Wo, you’ll walk past a small waterfall, a few temples, and the Silvermine Cave. Shortly after the cave, you’ll have a point where you could continue to walk straight, but you’ll also see stairs looping down and going back in the direction you came just to the left beside the tree with all the signs on it (see photo above).

To get to Silvermine Bay Beach and the ferry pier, turn around and head down the stairs and continue along the path. After a 10 minute walk through the little local villages, you’ll reach the beach. From here, you can take a dip in the water, grab a snack, or head back to the ferry pier if you’re eager to get home. On your way to the ferry pier, there’s a cooked food center with tables looking out onto the water that I would recommend eating at if you’re hungry.

Journey Length: about 10 km
Total Time: about 2.5 – 3.5 hours


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If you want to visit temples in Japan, most people will direct you to Kyoto where you’ll find plenty. However, if you’re only staying in Tokyo, you’d be missing out if you didn’t make the trip to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Although a very popular tourist spot, I loved walking around the Sensoji Temple and the surrounding Asakusa area. You’ll see plenty of locals partaking in various Buddhist practices, try a range of snacks at one of the numerous shops, and grab a souvenir or two before you leave.

How to get to the Sensoji Temple in Asukusa

The Sensoji Temple is incredibly easy to get to via subway, as it’s only a few minutes’ walk from Asakusa Station. Since Tokyo’s subway system is an actual mess (at least to those [like me] looking at the dozens of subway lines for the first time), I’d recommend just asking someone at the service counter for directions if you’re feeling a little lost. Or if you’re quite good at reading subway maps, just make your way towards the light red/pink Asakusa Line. Once there, take Exit 1. From here, it’s only a 5 minute walk to the Sensoji Temple.

What you’ll see

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There’s much more than just seeing a temple and then leaving when you visit the Sensoji Temple. As Tokyo’s oldest temple, the Sensoji Temple is beautiful and you can find a few other smaller temples nearby if you wander around. When I was there, I saw plenty of locals who were partaking in a variety of worshiping rituals: a water fountain where people would take a cup of water and “wash their hands”, tying little notes onto a display rack, and opening and closing little drawers filled with items I couldn’t see (but I could certainly hear). Aside from the religious aspects, you’ll find a range of little food stalls and souvenir shops (surprisingly, the only ones I saw during my time in Tokyo) lined up along the cherry blossom-covered main walkway.

What you should eat

senso-ji-temple-asakusa-8-1024x683.jpgThe main walkway to the Sensoji Templesenso-ji-temple-asakusa-10-1024x683.jpgMelonpansenso-ji-temple-asakusa-9-1024x683.jpgMatcha and Hokkaido Milk soft serve ice creamsenso-ji-temple-asakusa-11-1024x683.jpgRed bean taiyaki

One piece of advice: come to the Sensoji Temple hungry. There are dozens of little food stalls around the temple and though I didn’t know what a lot of the snacks were, they were so cheap that I just tried whatever I thought looked good.

Melonpan (¥250) is a very simple, but oddly delicious street snack that’s basically a slightly sweet bread with a crunchy outside. The matcha and Hokkaido milk soft serve ice cream (¥350) was good, but admittedly I’ve had better. Finally, the red bean taiyaki (¥160) was probably my favorite snack of the day. I found this little stall just outside the main area in one of the shopping tunnels. You get to watch the taiyaki being made before, so you know they’re hot and fresh. Since I had my eyes on a bowl of ramen from Ippudo for dinner afterwards, I didn’t go too crazy on the snacks, but there were plenty more to choose from.

Sensoji Temple
Address: 2-3-1 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo
Opening days: Everyday

Hours: 6:00 am – 5:00 pm (though the main hall is always open)
Entrance fee: Free


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Hong Kong is a city where weekends are filled with boozy brunches. If you’re looking to take your standard champagne brunch one step further, head to Ozone at The Ritz Carlton for their Ultimate Dom Perignon Brunch. Indulge in a buffet spread the size of a soccer field, eat copious amounts of Joselito ham, take in the sweeping views of the Hong Kong harbor from the 118th floor, and drink all the Dom Perignon 2006 you can handle. Held every Sunday, the Ozone brunch has #treatyoself written all over it.

Buffet Spread at Ozone brunch

ozone-brunch-4-1024x683.jpgAll-you-can-eat Joselito Hamozone-brunch-1-1024x683.jpgSushi /raw seafood startersozone-brunch-2-1024x683.jpgSalad barozone-brunch-6-1024x683.jpgRound 1ozone-brunch-7-1024x683.jpgDesserts

If you’ve only been to Ozone at night for cocktails, you’re missing out. The space is beautiful during the day, with massive floor-to-ceiling windows that offer an abundance of natural light and breathtaking views of the Hong Kong harbor.

What can you expect in terms of food? One of the unique offerings is the Joselito ham (which is meant to be the best in the world),  which is carved off the leg for you. The ham was incredible and I couldn’t help but go back for a second plate. The other stations throughout Ozone were typical of a grande hotel buffet: appetizers, sushi, raw seafood, salad bar, selection from the grill, eggs benedict, live waffle station, and a massive dessert selection. Some of my favorites were the Joselito ham, deviled truffle eggs, the grilled lamb, and the tiramisu.

Verdict

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If you love Dom Perignon and are able to get your money’s worth by drinking a bottle of it during brunch, it’s definitely worth it. However, if you’re not much of a champagne drinker (or can’t fully appreciate the difference between brands), then it might be hard to justify spending HK$1,298 on brunch. Don’t get me wrong, the food was great and the views (after the haze cleared up) were fantastic, but there are also plenty of other restaurants in the city that put on a lovely champagne brunch for half the price.

Details

“The Ultimate Dom Perignon Brunch” is available every Sunday at Ozone from 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm.
Price: HK$1,298 including free-flow Dom Perignon 2006 OR HK$2,198 including Dom Perignon Rose 2004

Ozone 
118/F, The Ritz Carlton 
International Commerce Centre (ICC)
1 Austin Road West
West Kowloon

Tel: 2263 2270


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I was told to get to the Tsukiji Fish Market early (like, 5:00 am early), so that we could queue up for one of the sushi bars for breakfast. The two restaurants that were recommended to me were Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi. After doing a bit more research and reading nightmare reviews of people queuing for up to four hours for an overly priced, mediocre omakase sushi breakfast, there was no way I was going to get caught in that tourist trap. Instead, I stumbled upon a fantastic alternative, Sushi Katsura (すしかつら), just a few blocks away from the Tsukiji Fish Market. You can expect an incredibly good-valued omakase lunch at Sushi Katsura with zero queues and no 4:00 am wake-up call.

Vibe at Sushi Katsura

sushi-katsura-5-1024x768.jpgSushi Katsura exteriorsushi-katsura-4-1024x683.jpgThe main sushi counter

We were the first ones in Sushi Katsura (it opens at 11:30 am for lunch) and there was a slow trickle of customers who came in shortly after, but it was nowhere near as busy as I thought it was going to be. The two sushi chefs behind the counter were all smiles while making our sushi. Sushi Katsura is simple, fuss-free, and serves up some fantastic sushi at insanely reasonable prices considering the area.

Omakase menu

sushi-katsura-6-768x1024.jpgEnglish menusushi-katsura-2-1024x683.jpgPart 1 of my “Sushi for 1.5 persons” omakase setsushi-katsura-3-1024x683.jpgPart 2 of my “Sushi for 1.5 persons” omakase set

I had read that Sushi Katsura didn’t have an English menu, however, they must have been getting enough business from tourists to create one because they handed us an English menu after we sat down. I ordered the “Sushi for 1.5 persons” which was ¥1,050 and came with 11 pieces of nigiri sushi, a maki roll, and a bowl of miso soup. The sushi is served on a bamboo leaf in front of you and comes out as the chef prepares it. My friend ordered the “Jo-sushi” for ¥1,900, which was meant to be a “high class” sushi set with a few more pieces of different nigiri. Though she did like it, the difference between my set and hers wasn’t worth the price difference.

Verdict

I would highly recommend Sushi Katsura as a solid alternative to the over-hyped sushi restaurants in the Tsukiji Fish Market. There’s no need to wake up at the crack of dawn to queue for a sushi breakfast, the prices at Sushi Katsura are incredibly reasonable (expect to pay three to four times the price at Sushi Dai or Daiwa Sushi), and the food is incredibly fresh and delicious.

Sushi Katsura (すしかつら)
2-15-4 Tsukiji
Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 3543 1800


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If you ask for suggestions on where to go for a fun night out in Tokyo, it’s likely that many people will tell you to head to Golden Gai in Shinjuku. This well-known area of Tokyo is famous for its nightlife. You’ll find 6 parallel alleyways with tiny bars crammed everywhere (there’s said to be over 200 bars). Many tourists come here for a bit of bar hopping (if you manage to find a seat), though there are a handful of bars that cater to a “Japanese-speaking only” crowd. While I can’t say I loved Golden Gai, I thought it was a unique experience that is worth checking out.

Vibe around Golden Gai

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We went to Golden Gai on a Saturday and, at first, it seemed pretty quiet. There weren’t as many people milling about the alleyways as I had imagined. However, just about every single bar that I walked by was completely packed. The bars in Golden Gai can only comfortably seat about 8 – 10 people, so it’s best to get there early if you wanted to go to a specific bar or if you’re with a group of 3 or more people. The majority of people in Golden Gai appeared to be tourists looking for a fun night of drinking far too much sake while having good conversations with friends and strangers, and taking in a bit of Tokyo’s past.

How to know which bar to go into

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I found walking through Golden Gai to be a bit overwhelming, since it can be difficult to decide which bar to go into. Many bars have a cover charge of around ¥600 – ¥1000, just keep your eyes peeled for the signs outside that usually say if there is a cover charge or not. Any bar that has English signage is a safe bet to go into, but there were a few bars that had signs saying they only wanted Japanese-speaking people to enter their bar. Since we were there quite late, most of the bars were already packed, but we managed to find one that only had three other people in it and didn’t have a cover charge. Drink prices vary, but I ordered sake (the glass was massive) for ¥900. Just don’t expect any menu with prices at the bars. You simply order and hope that it doesn’t cost a fortune when you ask for the bill.

Overall thoughts on Golden Gai

My feelings on Golden Gai are mixed. On one hand, I would recommend visiting the area because it’s a unique and historical part of Tokyo with plenty of character. On the other hand, I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I was going to be. I didn’t like how most bars had a cover charge, that certain bars wouldn’t admit non-Japanese speakers, and how smoking was allowed inside the bars. Regardless, I still think it’s worthwhile to check out Golden Gai for yourself if you haven’t already!


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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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Fuunji Tokyo was said to serve up some of the best tsukemen in the city, and since I had never tried that type of ramen before (I know, I know) I was looking forward to trying it. The shop is a popular spot for both locals and tourists, so be sure to arrive early or go late, otherwise you should expect a queue (we went just after it opened and we still didn’t get a seat right away). There are only two things on the menu: ramen or dipping noodles (tsukemen), but the vast majority come for the latter. And trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Vibe at Fuunji Tokyo

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Fuunji Tokyo is not somewhere you go to have a casual bowl of ramen and catch up with your friends. It’s definitely more of a get in, stuff your face with noodles, and get out kind of place. When we arrived, there wasn’t a queue outside the restaurant like I had read about (apparently the queues can be huge if you go during peak hours), but there was one inside. People actually queue up behind people eating, which certainly adds a bit of pressure to finish your meal quickly. Thankfully, we were able to get seats by the entrance, which meant no one was breathing down our back. There were a handful of other tourists there, which made me believe this place was more popular than I had originally thought. The main chef (perhaps owner?) had longer, light brown hair, was incredibly friendly, and could speak a bit of English.

Tsukemen Ramen

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Right as you enter the door, you’ll see a big machine on your right. This is where you order your noodles. The choices are ramen (‎¥‎750), special ramen (‎¥‎950), dipping noodle (‎¥‎800), and special dipping noodle (‎¥‎1,000). I’ll be honest: I have no clue what the difference is between the “special” version and the regular version, but we knew we wanted the dipping noodle and everyone ahead of us ordered the special dipping noodle, so we just followed suit and did the same.

The noodles come in either small or large (no extra charge for the large), so I obviously ordered the large. Shortly after we sat down, an actual mountain of noodles arrived alongside the soup and I actually struggled to finish the whole thing. The tsukemen broth is a mixture of rich chicken with hints of fish. The fishy taste is heightened by the spoonful of fish powder on top. Not realizing the tsukemen came with an egg and seaweed, I ordered an extra serving of both (oops!) at ¥‎100 each. The tsukemen also came with a good amount of tender chunks of pork, hidden at the bottom of the bowl. One thing I was surprised about was that the ramen actually wasn’t hot; the noodles were cold and the soup was mild in temperature, but I really didn’t mind. It was pretty much love at first slurp with this tsukemen.

Verdict

The intense and rich flavored broth completely won me over and I would absolutely return to Fuunji Tokyo the next time I visit the city. If you’re looking for good quality tsukemen in an authentic Japanese ramen shop, head to Fuunji. Just be sure to arrive right when it opens or go late at night, otherwise you’ll likely be queuing for at least an hour or so.

Fuunji
2-14-3, Yoyogi
Shinjuku
Tokyo

Tel: +81 3 6413 8480


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