Saturday 25 January 2014

Hiking the Dragon's Back, Hong Kong

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It's funny how sometimes living can get in the way of life.  Other Half and I love hiking, and we are fortunate enough to live a quick 45 minutes from Hong Kong which is abundant with trails and islands to explore. But we have been there to go hiking exactly once, and it was just last weekend.

The hiking actually came around by happenstance. Friends of ours had planned to show us their favourite Indian restaurant tucked away in the bowels of the Chungking Mansions and since we were headed that way we decided we should also head over early enough in the day for a Dim Sum brunch. With those two food-centric goals in mind we needed to do something to while away the hours in between, and so the idea of hiking was born!

We chose to hike the Dragon's Back trail based on the recommendation of another friend, who is a hiking aficionado - and we're glad we did.  This was a picturesque hike that took us out of the hustle and bustle of downtown HK, but still kept us on the main island and took us through a variety of environments from the heavily wooded to the heavily exposed ridge top. 

This hike starts along the side of Old Shek-O road, winds you up and through Shek-O Country Park and finally finishes down at Shek-O beach.  It was a terrific hike, with a lot of beauty to take in.  If you're going to be in Hong Kong this comes highly recommended!

Along the way we were lucky enough to come across a paraglider just as he was preparing to take off. It was the most graceful process! The paraglider basically just shook the lines of his chute to get the wind in it and then sat back and off the cliff side, floating away in the breeze. A real treat.

And as if that wasn't enough, some lucky fellow named Jonah was having a birthday party on the trail that day and we took in a scavenger hunt along the way. Such a cool idea!

I think this hike really helped us realize we need to get out there more often, there is just so much to discover.  Here's to hoping that the living doesn't get in the way of the life too much!

Practical Info:
This is a moderate level hike and is easily accessible on Hong Kong's public transit system.  This website has good directions and a printable map. It takes approximately 2-3 hours to complete dependent on speed. We took it slow and stopped to chat a lot along the way and completed the trail in about 3 hours.  The first section of the trail was steeply uphill and then opened up on the ridgeline and the main reason it's called Dragon's Back.  The last half of the hike was through dense forest and provided some welcome shade.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Packing Light: A Guide

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I once read a story about a famous person travelling, and while they were waiting for their bag to come out at the baggage claim they started to see underwear circling along the conveyor belt. As more and more pairs of lost garments circled, their stomach sank realising that having the same underwear as the poor, unfortunate soul who's delicates were currently floating around the arrivals terminal could no longer be a coincidence. It was their laundry that was literally being aired out in public, and it was thanks to a busted zipper.

Packing is a skill. Some people are naturally adept at doing it well, like you may be at painting, singing, or building things. Others see it as an overwhelming battle to fight any time the words "trip", "vacation", or "getaway" are uttered.  And then there's me, stuck somewhere in the middle. I won't say I'm naturally adept at being a good packer, but I have had the opportunity to travel a lot in my life time and overtime I've honed this craft so that I can now face it without a well of dread forming in my stomach as I think about busting the zipper of my weekender bag before eventually giving in and going for an all out suitcase.

And so, to help those who just can't quite get it, I've developed this guide. This is almost exactly what I will be taking on my next holiday a week from now.  This will get me easily through about 2 weeks of travel.

1 - 3  I'm all about layering, especially when I travel, so a long sleeve tee is a must, as are regular tees and tanks.  I like to bring solid colours or simple patterns in a coordinated palette so I know I can wear anything, anytime.

4. A zip-up, waterproof, lightweight jacket is my best friend.  I have one that I bought at Mountain Equipment Co-op 4 years ago and it has travelled the world with me. A jacket like this is handy not only because you never know what the weather is going to do, but it's also a lifesaver in drafty airports and chilly airplanes.

5. A big scarf - easily my most used item on every trip. This becomes an impromptu blanket, pillow, towel, sarong, and so much more. It's rare that I leave the house without one in my day to day life, let alone when travelling.

6. Jeans - classic, comfortable. You can't go wrong.

7. Hiking pants are not always the most stylish things to done on a holiday, but our trips always include some level of hiking, trekking, or some similar excursion so they are always included. Bonus tip: if you'll be visiting anything remotely jungle-y make sure you have hiking pants, not shorts. They'll protect your legs from the brush as well as the critters!

8. Comfy, casual shorts are an obvious choice. If i'm going away for 2 weeks I'll likely throw in a second pair.

9. An infinity dress may not seem like your standard choice, but when you're trying to pack light, you're thinking about multi-tasking items and this baby takes me just about anywhere I wanna go.  It's perfect temple hopping where more conservative hem lines are often required (read: no short shorts! this and a long sleeve tee or button up are day trip go-tos).  I own one of the classic A-line dresses from American Apparel (in a light, quick drying cotton) and it's gone from Paris to Thailand and back again.

10. You'll be needing a day pack. Backpack, cross-body, tote ... whatever it is, make it big enough to hold all your essentials for the day, small enough that you'll actually be willing to carry it, and soft enough that you could toss it in your bigger bag if necessary.

11-13. Shoes! My favourite part. I've become good at keeping this area quite limited, despite my ever present desire to throw in just one more pair, for just in case. Flip flops have a guaranteed space in my bag, no matter what, because again these are multi-tasking bad boys. I can wear them out and about, in and around, and everywhere else I dream.  I'll also have a good pair of hiking shoes (because again, there always seems to be this element to my travel), and a pair of walking around shoes.  If I knew I definitely wouldn't be hiking, I'd probably swap these out for a pair of cute flats. Bonus tip! When packing footwear, make sure you pack items that are tried and true - you don't want to tromp around Montmartre in some spiffy new kicks only to be cursed with mega blisters for the rest of your trip.


  • Pack travel sized shampoo and conditioner and always pack it in a plastic bag.  There is no need for you to carry around a half litre of shampoo, and if it leaks in your bag, you won't ruin all of your stuff!
  • Roll your clothes when packing them. It takes up less space than the traditional fold, and prevents wrinkles. win-win!

Sunday 12 January 2014

Travel To: Coron, Palawan, Philippines

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There are two things you go to Coron, Palawan for - snorkelling and scuba diving. Oh and casual boat trips to white sand beaches and fresh abundant seafood and a chance to dip your toes in the turquoise Sulu Sea and... ok, maybe more than two things! But it's the snorkelling and scuba diving you'll hear the most about, and with great reason. I'm not a diver, so I stuck to the snorkelling aspect, but I was not let down for a single moment, the life an
d the colours, and the pure expanse was both jaw dropping and awe inspiring.

Before I begin to wax lyrical about how great it was, I will freely admit that I have never been snorkelling in a coral setting before.  In fact, my snorkel experience can be summed up to sweet lakes in rural Ontario - neat, but entirely different.

Coron is specially known as the site of 12 Japanese warships (most just supply carriers, but a couple of gunboats for good measure as well). Along with one of the top coral reefs in the world, this is the main reasons that many visit this area. And indeed, was one of the main draws for us as well.

While many travel to Palawan Island and stop at the other top hits of El Nido and Porta Princessa, we were looking for a mixture of outdoorsy-ness and relaxation (not always an easy combination but one we strive for more often than not), and so decided to forgo the other two locals and settle into Coron and make it our home for the week.

We arrived at the end of monsoon season, in the middle of a monsoon, making the hour long boat ride from the town dock to our hotel island an unforgettable introduction. Top that off with the sun going down and these two bleary eyed travellers weren't able to take in much more than high winds and a lot of salt water.  That is, until we got to our hotel.  We happened to arrive just as dinner was being served and so happily tucked ourselves into a meal of same-day caught crab and lobster.  From that moment on, things were starting to look up!

I like to think that Other Half and I are still resolutely in the "hostel" category when we travel, but it seems that more and more we've started treating ourselves to rooms with their own shower, and places that get cleaned on a near daily basis. I suppose these little splurges go along with such grown up things as steady paycheques. Anyway, the point of that little side story was to tell you that this time we splurged.  We stayed at the Chindonan Resort and Dive Centre which is on its own island and features its own coral reef and family of sea horses just out front. Or in other words, bliss. In addition to not needing to leave the surrounding area and still be entertained and well fed (breakfast and dinner included!), they offer their own tours of the Coron area, and have a dive instructor living on site.

Note: I am NOT being payed/endorsed in any way, I just had a really great time and want to share that with you.

While we did our research before leaving, and knew you could get a cheaper tour in town, we ended up taking 1 full day and 1 half day tour with the resort staff, because apparently we're ballers now. In Coron in general there are three main tours that people go on, and these can be done privately or in groups of up to 12 (I think). The resort (and probably other similar resorts) offer variations and different itineraries based on their location and so we chose a full day trip with several stops at popular white sand beaches, snorkelling spots, and hot springs.  In my personal opinion, this was only okay. And at times underwhelming.  Because there was so much natural beauty at the resort, we didn't take a lot away from this trip.

Our second, half day, excursion was to some epic snorkelling spots off the beaten path.  As with almost every travel experience I've ever had, going against the grain was worth it.  Malcatop, Lusong, and the coral gardens were our stops for the day and each proved to be different from the last, with the highlights being the pure serenity of Malcatop, the sunken Japanese gunboat of Lusong and the bat fish of the coral gardens.

On the days we weren't on excursions we would explore the house reef hunting for sea turtles and seahorses (no such luck for us!), head over to a teeny little island across the way to explore there or take the kayaks out and see what we could see. Each evening we would head down to the restaurant/bar, watch the sun go down with a drink in hand and then gorge ourselves on a seafood buffet.

As you can imagine, it was great week of exploring, eating and relaxing.  I must do if you're ever travelling through South East Asia!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Another New Year!

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Base Image from Trop Dope

Happy New Year to all!

It's always hard to believe how quickly time passes when you're faced with the dawn of another new year. Every year I'm convinced time has gone more quickly than the year before and I dream of the days when time seemed to babble on endlessly before me like languid streams. But alas, that was many, many, years ago and so it's on on to the future!

2013 was a solid year of love, loss, and learning.  While I look back on the ups and downs from last year and reflect on what they have taught me, I can't help but think 2014 is going to be a big one. We have a lot coming up this year which will plunge me into moments of change over and over again.   Not only will I be getting married, but I'll also be moving back to Canada, diving into (hopefully temporary) unemployment, finding a place to call our own and continually cooking and travelling up a storm! Each year gone by has given me lessons, and so hopefully I can use those to totally rock these coming 12 months.

This blog has also seen a lot over the last year, including some expected runaways in terms of popularity.  Our trip to Vientiane, Laos has been wildly popular (with good reason, it was a fabulous adventure) along with these nutella-stuffed cookies, these double chocolate red wine cookies, and these old-fashioned ice-cream sandwhiches - now if only you could be dining on all of these while in Laos. Whoa. It would almost be too much to handle. Almost.

I'm hoping the next year allows room for more adventures in food and travel to allow more growth and settlement of this space in the interwebbed world. It's been a year to remember, so here's to making the next 365 days of adventure as memorable or more!


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