Saturday, September 24, 2016

My First Cat Cafe

Heart set on shopping for some of that particular Korean style sensibility, we headed for Myeong-dong district in Seoul. But something caught my eye! 'CAT CAFE!' I yelled and pointed! And indeed, it was. A coffee shop overflowing with kitties of all shapes and sizes. Not for the allergic or immune to cuteness, we ended up spending a good portion of the afternoon in Goyangi Noriteo Cat Cafe.

Hidden cat's tail gave him away

Upon walking in to Goyangi Noriteo, a giant fluffball greeted us by snorting in our direction and informing us of its presence with a huff. There was a wall identifying each of the cats, including those that were out of commission due to 'business matters.' Some of the cats frolicked around with lacy collars as if out of a Shakespearan sonnet, others hid in various boxes, tunnels, or corners, just out of reach of the enthusiastic children manhandling the cats with a bit too much gusto.

The first thing you see upon entering

Sadly didn't get to meet this guy as he was very busy

Sure, they serve typical cafe fair. Iced teas, cappucinos, etc. That's irrelevant, though. Because here you have a cat's playground open to the public where most of your time will be happily spent cuddling and playing rather than sipping or nibbling.

Looking up towards the ceiling

Cat cafes have quite the reputation all over Asia, but this was my first experience seeing as I am allergic to cat dander and never wanted to risk imminent hives. I had taken an antihistamine that morning and was feeling of a strong disposition though, and this opportunity just seemed to fall in our laps.

Cats, cats, everywhere!

The cats were definitely well cared for and happy at this particular cat cafe. Toys and catnip were abundant, and the kitty playgrounds sprawled from the floor to the ceiling. They perched on shelves, on refrigerators, on humans, where ever they felt like it, really. Playful, sleepy, or affectionate, there were options for every type of cat imaginable, and I couldn't help but sing, 'jellicles can and jellicles do, jellicles do and jellicles can...' as if T.S. Eliot had written Cats about that very cafe.

Magical Mister Mistoffelees?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Seoul Sisters

For the long weekend of the mid-autumn festival in Hong Kong, I ended up in Seoul with a couple girlfriends. The trip was haphazardly planned in a way, one friend booked flights, a couple of us booked different hotels figuring we could cancel the rejects last minute, and we had a shared Google Doc where we threw up information about stuff that interested us in the city. In the end though, we followed our gut each day (especially to find some tasty eats), and didn't ultimately rely on set plans or reservations at all.

Korean banchan breakfast

Our first Korean bbq meal

Street snacks in Myeong-dong

More grilled meats mmmm

Seoul was stylish in a completely different way from Hong Kong or Singapore or any other big, relatively wealthy Asian city that I have been to. And affordable! The receipt for cocktails in a fancy lounge one night surprised us as we had expected to pay Hong Kong rates. Food and fashion were cheaper as well. I ended up coming home with extra cash in my pocket, which is a rarity for me on the road (I've been known to scrape the bottom of the barrel at the end of a trip abroad).

Basement lounge for a fancy cocktail in Hongdae
Bukchon village is perfectly preserved

Posing in the summer palace

Grand architecture in a heritage site

The neighborhood we stayed in was called Hongdae, and in particular we ended up at the cutest freaking guesthouse called Space Torra that I would highly recommend to anyone traveling to Seoul. It's a big old house with a cozy living room area, ready to use kitchen, and charm galore. The surrounding neighborhood is home to the Gyeongui line forest park, where we spent multiple afternoons sprawled out in the grass chatting to locals and sharing snacks and beers, and popping in and out of quirky coffee shops.

Our guesthouse, Space Torra

The cute patio of Space Torra

Supporting coffee shops near our guesthouse

Yet another coffee shop in the neighborhood

Our meandering around Seoul took us to palaces, parties, and parks, from rap battles in the street to steamy spas. Cat cafes, food markets, and trendy Korean department stores drew us in, as well as art museums and traditional villages. And this was all in 3 days!

Street performers in Hongdae

A food market downtown

With a South Korean guard at a historical palace

Walking along a stream in the middle of the city

We decided pretty early to have some fun dancing around the city, which you can check out in this ridiculous video below (note: it won't play on phones because of copyright rules, computers only).

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

My 5 Days in Singapore

Hong Kong expats have some weird beef with Singaporean expats, so I'd heard a lot about the city before visiting. I heard Singapore was similar to Hong Kong, but more sterile. Less gritty, more clean, more regulated, even more wealthy and expensive, possibly more boring. And while there was a grain of truth to some of what I'd heard, for the most part, Singapore blew me away. I was there for 5 days and wanted to stay longer.

Our hotel's rooftop pool in the heart of downtown

Street art abounds in Singapore

Crazy sweet potato tea at a Korean cafe

The timing of my trip probably helped. There were multiple arts festivals going on and the weather was lovely for the most part. People were outside eating, listening to music, eating, strolling along the promenades, and eating. See a pattern here? Yes, most of my trip to Singapore revolved around, you guessed it... EATING!

Best bowl of laksa right on the beach

We sucked these fish bones dry

Not totally sure what we were eating here,
but it was delicious.

Ugggghhhh Singaporean food is so damn good. There's killer Indian grub, Malaysian dishes packed with flavor, Chinese dishes to rival Hong Kong, and local Singaporean specialities like chili crab. You can eat in hawker markets or upscale restaurants, drink on rooftop gardens or hidden prohibition bars.

Roast goose, duck, and glazed pork over rice

Insanely delicious crab dish

My favorite neighborhood by far was Tiong Bahru. I had a moment there, sitting in an artsy cafe, where it dawned on me, 'I could live here.' That's such a comforting feeling on the road, that reminder that you could land on your feet anywhere. Tiong Bahru had a vibe that felt familiar, and I spent an afternoon snacking my way through the area, popping into different little shops and parks.

Bincho is a speakeasy bar in Tiong Bahru

Damn delicious cocktails at Bincho

There is a flashy side to Singapore as well, and we made sure to check out the Marina Bay Sands area with the adjacent botanical gardens. I went into it thinking it was an overrated building and there are gardens everywhere and it's probably too damn hot to be exploring outside, but in the end, the area throughly impressed me. The curvature of the hotel looks crazy from the inside, and the gardens are lush and sprawling, a welcome respite from the city heat.

Botanical Gardens in Singapore

Marina Bay Sands, up close and personal

There were so many other neighborhoods I loved in Singapore. The whole area around East Coast Park, Little India, Chinatown, I feel like I could go back and keep exploring and still not see everything Singapore has to offer. We stayed at the Sofitel downtown, which is pricey but soooooo worth every penny. Cheaper guesthouses and hostels in Myanmar and rustic bungalows in Thailand helped me justify this splurge. Singapore is the perfect city for a weekend getaway, and I'd go back in a heartbeat.

Views on the waterfront are gorgeous 
no matter where you are standing

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Bloody Blistering Beach Break

For our first weekend back in Hong Kong, my friends and I decided to hike out to Tai Long Wan. Sure, it was a hot weather warning (95 degrees!!) but it's only a 45 minute hike down a hill to the first beach, and then another 30 minutes to the second beach, right? WRONG. Due to a landslide blocking taxis from dropping us off at the start of the trail, we added another hour and a half to our hike.

Not a bad view from the trail!

This hike was really beautiful, and despite our crackling skin and parched mouths, we were in good spirits because we knew what was waiting for us at the end of the trail. After reaching Sai Wan beach and chugging some cold sodas, we ventured off to the Sheung Luk waterfalls. This was my first time visiting! It was like a cool oasis just begging to be jumped in. Of course I had to scramble up to the top and jump off the highest rock I could find.

Imagine this waiting for you at the end of a scorching hot hike

Finally arriving at the natural pools of Sheung Luk

That would be me jumping off a rock

Then we had an afternoon of laying in the sand, bobbing around in the water, and crushing some Tsing Taos and seafood and noodles right on the beach. The boat ride home was gorgeous enough to remind me that I need to get outdoors more here in Hong Kong. I can't spend every weekend cooped up reading old Brian K. Vaughan comics in the library, although it is a good alternative.

Ham Tin beach with a random man seemingly posing for me

The boat ride home from Ham Tin beach can be booked 
on Sai Kung pier or directly on the beach itself

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Sanctuary in Koh Phangan

I've written about eco-lodges aplenty on here, and now there's one more to add to the list. Up there with the ranks of Black Sheep Inn, Secret Garden, Bahay Kalipay, Playa Escondida, and Earth Lodge, is a tiny tropical oasis on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand called 'The Sanctuary.' After what felt like an eternal bout of food poisoning in Myanmar this summer, a vegan yoga detox retreat was just what I needed.

Hired a local speedboat to jet me out to Haad Tien

First of all, Koh Phangan has a reputation. Heard of the Full Moon Party? Aka Spring Break: Asia Edition? That's on a beach called Haad Rin, which I purposely avoided like the plague. I spent my time scuba diving in Chaloklum on the north end of the island, and then took a boat to Haad Tien, home of The Sanctuary. It's unreachable by road, which adds to its appeal.

Approaching The Sanctuary from the water

Oh. my. god. the characters! Haad Tien is part of a string of 3 beaches that can only be reached by boat and they are a roost of yogis, hippies, healers, and wonderful weirdos. Impromptu beach parties pop up, but the vibe is completely different from what is happening on Haad Rin, only ten minutes away. Everyone in the area always has a big smile on their face (especially those who are on the last day of a fast). Many of the people at The Sanctuary are there for an extended stay, and I wish I had had a month to devote to the area as well, rather than the ten days I spent there. You can tell these peoples connections run deep.

You'd have to try NOT to make friends here

A party on the next beach over- Haad Wai Nam
Ten minute walk from The Sanctuary

I chose to hike around the area a bit and leave The Sanctuary for occasional meals, but many guests just settle in and nest at the retreat. With multiple restaurant options, movie nights, a spa, healer's 'tea temple,' 3 yoga studios, daily meditation classes, open mic events, varying workshops, all on a stunning beachfront property, why leave?

Jungle and beach view from my pedicure chair

This beach pup followed me around for days

My stay there was deeply relaxing and comforting. I woke up every morning in my jungle top bungalow and opened the sliding glass doors to an orchestra of birds. After the 8 AM yoga class, I would lounge around in my hammock reading for awhile before going down to breakfast. During my time there, I took a workshop of feminine creative energy and wrote a slew of new songs on my ukulele. I practiced a style of meditation called yoga nidra that was new to me, but which I have now incorporated into my normal routine.

My luxurious bungalow quickly felt like home

The view every day inspired some epic naps

As the days passed by, The Sanctuary began to feel like home. Guests faces began to familiarize and the staff learned my usual lunch order. The creatures occupying the jungle around my bungalow begin to comfort me. Each day at The Sanctuary is an opportunity to follow your bliss, whether that is to unwind and melt into a lounge chair on the beach, or put yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new in a workshop or class. You can opt for a yoga or detox package, or just pick and choose extra sessions as you go.

Some of the salad options

Fish nuggets with cashews at the main Sanctuary restaurant

This was definitely the most luxurious eco-lodge I've stayed in, and I never once felt like I was 'roughing it' at The Sanctuary. Whether you want to go full hippie, or just disconnect from the rush of city life, The Sanctuary surely has something for everyone.