Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Outdoor Festivals in Hong Kong

I've written about Hong Kong's biggest music festival before. Clockenflap is a jam-packed party at the West Kowloon waterfront that brings in huge headliners as well as local talent. But it's not the only outdoor festival in Hong Kong! In a city this naturally lovely, it would be silly not to take advantage of the stunning scenery for a range of events. Here are a few I have really enjoyed:

Outlook Festival was held in north Ma On Shan in the fall. This featured many local bands, DJs, and artists, and definitely attracted some characters. By characters I mean people that were running around covered in glitter and sequins and clearly tripping balls. The location could not be beat- it was way out on a secluded piece of property in the middle of nowhere, so you felt like you were in on a secret.

Panoramic views at Outlook Festival

Beertopia is an annual craft beer festival on the Central waterfront. I love the atmosphere at this one- beer nerds from all over unite to sample and sip our way through as many beers as possible. There is a stage with fun acts to keep it lively, and you can buy a 5 or 10 beer pass. The food trucks here are slamming as well.

Temporary panda tattoos at Beertopia

Picnic in the Park in Discovery Bay is a more low-key event, but still energetic with a lot of variety. There are a couple different stages, although some more local acts like little kids from a dance studio might not interest everyone. But it's always nice to be able to sit outdoors on a blanket with friends, especially with fog covered mountains in the background!

Food stalls at Picnic in the Park

Finally, this isn't really a festival, but if you want to chill with your friends outdoors, the horse races at Happy Valley on Wednesday evenings have an energy that can't be beat. Every half hour the siren rings and the horses take off, and in between races jovial betting crowds yell and dance and crush beers. This is one of my favorite activities for people watching in Hong Kong, and it happens weekly, so you will have many opportunities to check it out.

The stadium at Happy Valley Racecourse

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Exploring My City

Visitors can be exhausting. Playing tour guide can be a drag when you have work obligations and routines and everything goes out the window. You get home in the evening and just want to sink into the couch and watch Jessica Jones for the umpteenth time in your pjs.

BUT.

Every once in awhile someone comes along that reinvigorates you and inspires you to get out there and explore, renewing a sense of pride in your city and lifestyle. Seeing Hong Kong through that lens confirms what I already know deep down but mostly take for granted- this is a special place. And my guest was a special person.

Day 1 in Hong Kong- The Udderbelly Festival!

Hiking on the beautiful Dragon's Back trail

A good friend from Chicago came to visit recently, and what I thought was going to a fun weekend showing him around turned into 18 days crawling into the underbelly of this eclectic city.

Chili crab in the night market

We ate all the dumplings and noodles we could get our hands on

Australian circus? check. 2 AM reggae show on the dark side? check. Toy museum that smelled like cat piss? check. Sophisticated jazz concert? check. Island days and foot reflexology and rooftop drinks and mountain hikes? check check check check.

The bizarre ass toy museum of Yau Ma Tei

Evan has travelled onto Vietnam now, but his visit reinvigorated me and reminded me of everything I love about Hong Kong. I will probably be moving away from Hong Kong in the summer of 2017, but I’ve still got plenty of time to keep exploring the city and surrounding region.

Overcast day at Cheung Chau Island

The friendlist bridge troll there ever was

This spring, I have trips planned to El Nido, Nanjing, Taipei, and Beijing, and haven’t even decided where to go for spring break yet! Having Evan here got me so excited to hit the road. Bring it on, world!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Backpacking SE Asia: Highlights

When backpacking in South America, you can expect empanadas, perilous bus rides, and salsa dancing. SE Asia has a few of its own highlights that you are going to encounter whether you are in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, or Laos. Here's what you can expect if you are traveling in the region.

Street Noodles- The more street noodz the better, in my opinion.

Tuk Tuks- How many adults can you shove into one of these? Six.

Elephants- Please be careful that you are visiting elephant reserves that respect these majestic creatures and don't force them to perform/carry humans. There are options.

Temples- New or old, each one is completely unique.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Backpacking SE Asia: Our Route

I didn't really write too much about this on my blog, because it held such a sacred spot in my heart that I didn't want to share it and dilute the experience at all, but some months ago I backpacked SE Asia with some friends in what quickly became known as 'The Summer of Dong.' Geez, ya perv. Not literal dongs! Vietnamese dong, the currency.

#summerofdong

The Dongers quickly settled into our rhythm as a traveling quintet, and I truly couldn't have asked for better travel buddies. We started in Hong Kong together, where we acquired some matching shirts for the trip, as one does. Then it was off to Bangkok! We pretty much just ate our way through this city, and didn't try to 'do' too much of anything. Our street noodle habit began in Bangkok, which would prove to be a hard habit to break.

We travel in style

Happily tricked into renting an overpriced private boat

From Bangkok we opted for an overnight train to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand. We had our hearts set on cooking classes and elephants, and Chiang Mai did not disappoint. We clicked with Chiang Mai so much, we actually extended our stay here an extra night because we weren't ready to leave.

Handling the cutlery during our cooking class

From Chiang Mai, it was off to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Siem Reap was such a pleasant surprise! I figured it would be a home base for exploring the region's better known sites, but the city in itself was really fun. From the epic Bar Street, to yoga classes, a trip to the history museum, and eating silk worms at a non-profit restaurant, Siem Reap was three days well spent.

Ta Phrom in Angkor

We did a quick one night stopover in Phnom Penh, which was meh, moving on to Sihanoukville very excitedly from there. Papa Pippo's in Otres Beach became our base for a few days of lounging around, more yoga, passing around bottles of wine on the beach, and ukulele sing-a-longs in the sand.

My final stop with the Dongers before they continued on to Vietnam and I headed to the Pacific NW was Palm Beach Resort on Koh Rong. Imagine the feeling if you walked in to a bar and your favorite celebrity was sitting there waiting for you with a glass of your favorite whiskey and your favorite album was playing in the background and someone was lined up to rub your feet and a purring kitten jumped in your lap and they started frying bacon behind the bar at that exact same moment and you received a text message that a distant relative left you a sizeable inheritance and you never had to work again. That kind of describes the feeling of walking up to Palm Beach. Sort of.

Our sunset boat ride to Koh Rong

Our stay in Palm Beach was completely happenstance- I emailed a bunch of different hotels on Koh Rong and they were the first to respond! We had reserved the family bungalow for 50 bucks a night, unaware that it also came with a hostel dog, welcome beers and cocktails, and a hammock overlooking the bay. The water there literally sparkles at night because of a native algae, just to up the magic factor in case Koh Rong didn't have you convinced already. Palm Beach hosts evening seafood barbecues, lets you plug in your iPod at the beach bar, and aims to help you completely disconnect from whatever demons you left on the continent. Koh Rong was koh, koh right.

The pier to enter Koh Rong's Palm Beach

Beaching it up in Koh Rong

This is where I reluctantly parted ways from the group. They tore up Vietnam, and I ventured off to Canada for the first time. We did all of this in three weeks but you could surely slow it down and spend a lot more time in the region.

A final snap of The Dongers

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ubud Adventures

I still can't believe how quickly my five days in Ubud flew by. Ubud had quite the reputation to live up to, and not only did it exceed my expectations, but I was genuinely sad to leave! My days there were so jam packed with exploring and feasting and adventuring that I never even had time to take a yoga class, or sit in a coffee shop and fill out postcards, or see a Balinese dance performance, or check out any temples. There is just way too much to do in this incredible city.

A perfect Bali afternoon starts with a coffee at Seniman Coffee
 and ends with dinner across the street 
at Fair Warung Bale, a non-profit restaurant

Alchemy- a raw/vegan cafe and shop

I'd say this is a city to check out when you want to reboot and get your health in check. If you've considered a raw diet, or experimenting with yoga, or been wanting to try reiki or a colonic or buy a bunch of hippie pants, if you love organic locally-sourced coffee, or you just want to stare out at the rice-paddy fields and contemplate your existence, then Ubud is the place for you. My visit to Ubud began with a 30 kilometer downhill bike ride near Mount Batur.

This bike ride resulted in my epic farmer's tan
that I will now sport for the rest of winter

The whole region is very food conscious- vegan and raw restaurants are in abundance, as well as chocolate and coffee farms to visit. Most of the restaurants I went to in Ubud had some sort of view, of rice paddy fields or epic valleys or waterfall packed ravines. Bali is just stunning.

Old trees near the monkey forest

My days in Ubud were really action-packed- although I did manage to squeeze in a massage and a facial, of course! My heart was stolen by some critters in the monkey forest, and after randomly bumping into some friends on a path in the park, I was whisked away on a fun day trip of white water rafting.

I was SO SO SO excited about this monkey

That's me in the front about to get a wave in the face

For the last two nights in Ubud, I splurged and stayed at a resort called Bisma Eight. Oh. my. god. This was hands down, the nicest place I have ever stayed and probably ever will stay. I mean, where do I begin? The infinity pool? The rooftop terrace breakfast? The turn down service at night (who does that?!) My private hot tub? The chic coffee shop, stylish decor, and impeccable service were way too much for me to handle. I couldn't stop squealing in excitement, and it was really hard for me to leave the hotel after checking in. One night I did peel myself away to check out a night market in a neighboring town and eat some suckling pig in the street, only to find that bed time cookies had been left on my pillow for me by the hotel staff. Seriously!!

My garden suite at Bisma Eight

This pool. This life! 

I love Bali. So now what? Do I go back? I've got no April break or summer plans as of yet (although it's looking like I will be going to Nanjing AND Sri Lanka in February!) The eternal traveler dilemma- do you return to a place you know you love, or venture on to somewhere new and exciting and out of your comfort zone? Because surely Bali is in my comfort zone after this trip. It was easy to travel there, but I still got to squeeze in some adrenaline pumping cycling, rafting, and scuba diving. No matter what type of traveler you are, Bali has you covered. To my next travel destination: I challenge you to be half as perfect as Bali. Go on, I dare you!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bonkers for Bali

My American teacher counterparts are missing out on a little secret called October break. In Hong Kong, not only do we get TWO spring breaks (February and April), yes, we also get a week off in October for fall break. In the past I have gone to Thailand and Taiwan for this vacation, and this year I chose to go to the infamous island of Bali. I was expecting beautiful temples, serene landscapes, lazy beaches, flavorful food, and Bali did not disappoint!

The front door of a typical Balinese family compound

For the first part of my trip, I stayed in Sanur, a smaller resort town on the east coast of Bali. Four million people live in Bali and there are some bigger cities, but I wanted a more laid back approach so I avoided Seminyak, Kuta, and Denpasar. Sanur was more family friendly, but also more budget friendly. I had a private villa right next to the beach for about $25 USD a night at the Kesumasari Beach Hotel.
My patio where breakfast was served every morning

I used Sanur as my base to go scuba diving through Joe's Gone Diving. On our first dive in Padang Bay, we saw reef sharks and a sea turtle, and on a different dive later that day, we saw manta rays! The water was bitching cold so a second wetsuit would have been appreciated, but I was so distracted by the reefs and coral that it wasn't too bad.

Padang Bay was the launching point for some awesome dives

Sanur was a great little beach town. The food was slamming, it had a 5 kilometer path along the coast, and there was a plethora of quirky little cafes, restaurants, spas, and boutiques. This was not a party spot, but that was ok by me. Beachfront yoga at Power of Now Oasis was one of the highlights of the trip for me. After Sanur, I headed to Ubud, which will be my next post!

Can every yoga class be in a beachfront bamboo structure?

Luhtu's Coffee Shop on the beach was one of my favorite finds-
in part thanks to the unexpected company

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My Yoga Studio

I began a regular yoga practice about a year and a half ago with a life-changing yoga retreat in the Philippines. This was a part of my healing process after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress after leaving Ecuador. Yoga remains a therapeutic part of my routine. After developing a home practice as part of the Yoga With Adriene online community, I decided to branch out and join a yoga studio in Hong Kong.


Mostly for logistical reasons, I chose Pure Yoga. There is a branch 15 minutes from my house that I can walk to, they gave me a corporate discount, and the space actually has 5 studios, so that there are constantly classes running that work with my schedule. What became a practical decision far exceeded my expectations, and I now go to my yoga studio 3 or 4 times a week. It’s a big part of my life here in Hong Kong.

Some downsides? Yes, it seems expensive, but at $100 USD a month for unlimited classes, I definitely get my money’s worth. Classes are jam-packed, and yoga mats are placed about 8 inches apart. I’ve gotten totally used to this, although it did use to bother me when I first started at Pure. My biggest complaint, however, is the online sign up system. You can register for any class starting at 9 AM two days before the class, but if you forgot to log on the app and register, the classes normally fill up within the first hour. What’s with that?! To be fair, most of the time I am wait-listed, I eventually get into the class, but it makes me think that Pure either needs to offer more classes or limit membership.


I find that yoga provides a moving meditation. I focus all of my thoughts on one concept or mantra each practice, and use the sequences to settle this idea in my bones. At the beginning of class, when I scan my body, I listen carefully and try to intuit what it is I need. Some of my regular mantras include:

Energy- When I go into yoga feeling completely exhausted, I try to tap into my inner energy source in each pose and feel alive. By the end of class, I am invigorated and have a new spring in my step.
Integrity- Sometimes I need to feel like I am coming from a place of honesty and strength. With each yoga pose, I build from a place of integrity and rise up out of my bones, knowing that when I get back to the real world, I won't be cutting any corners.
Connection- If I ever feel isolated or socially anxious, I try to move in sync with the other yogis in my class. I notice how our bodies move through the sequences together, and then when I meet up with friends later, I feel like I am a much more agreeable person to be around!

I want this over my bed!

Pure Yoga Soundwill Plaza is my branch, and I LOVE some of the teachers there. Dana is my absolute favorite, if I could just attend all of her classes all day everyday I would, but alas, real life beckons. Dana is infectiously enthusiastic and clear in the way she describes poses. We get to use fun props and she guides us through sequences that build up to more difficult poses, like forearm stands and wheel. Nitai's classes are thoughtful and more deliberate, while Marcus motivates us through an hour of fast-paced yoga fun every time. Maurice's classes are probably the most physically demanding if you want a real workout, and Eswar is always very straight-forward but clear in his directions. There are a few other great teachers but these are the ones I go to regularly.

Pure Yoga has many branches all over Hong Kong, and if you live here, I would highly recommend doing a free week long trial at any one of them! However, drop in classes for non-members are $350 HKD per person, which is absurd in my opinion. For more affordable and adventurous yoga, check out the free Sunday Sunset yoga in the park series! In a city that is moving so rapidly at all times, yoga is my favorite way to slow down and self-reflect.

The last Sunset Yoga in the park was a blast

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