While most people probably wouldn't consider Lugard Road around The Peak a hike, it does take considerably more effort to go around the 3.5K loop with a 3 month old puppy learning to walk on a leash.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
While most people probably wouldn't consider Lugard Road around The Peak a hike, it does take considerably more effort to go around the 3.5K loop with a 3 month old puppy learning to walk on a leash.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Everybody seems to do dim sum in this town on weekends. There are the local places that have been around for ages. Families gather at the large tables, the men armed with their Sunday papers and kids with the coloring books. These meals are supposed to be leisurely affairs. A good way to connect over some baskets of food that are spread out over a couple of hours. There are also the decidedly more trendy places, too, which are also meant for groups to gather, although the noise is and carts are replaced with more ambient music and a menu to boot.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve definitely been to a fair share of places. My top three picks:
1. Shu Zhai, 80 Stanley Main Street, Stanley
Made to look like an old Beijing teahouse, this is one of my favorite places to go on the weekends. It’s probably the ambience as much as the food that does it for me at this place. There isn’t one thing here that I’ve had that I can complain about, an everything comes served on pretty pottery (see pic). The dan-dan served here is my favorite.
2. Dragon-i, 60 Wyndham Street, Central
Better known as a trendy club and restaurant at night, this place does a great all-you-can-eat dim sum by day. All the regular standards are present, so there is no need to order off the main menu which is also available. I’d suggest reserving a spot since spaces are limited on the weekends. Once inside, however, the wait staff won’t make you feel rushed, and does a good job checking in on you to make sure you’re getting your fill of dumplings and other delights.
3. Dim Sum, 63 Sing Woo Road, Happy Valley
I’ll also give a shout out to Dim Sum, my local parlor for fried and steamed goodies. Although it is short on character, it does make up for it in quality of food. The proof? There is often a long wait on weekends, so it’s good to get there early.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
This past weekend was the Hong Kong Wine & Dine Festival. We went on the last day of the event, Halloween, and it turned out to be a great night. Lots of wine to sample from across the globe, good food and even live entertainment. Hong Kong definitely needs more events like this. The proof? By the end of the night, several booths were running out of wine. What a buzz kill!
Saturday, October 17, 2009
View dog park, happy valley in a larger map
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
I can understand why people love Shanghai. It is urban, has great architecture, and is constantly evolving. Take the Maglev train into the city at 431 km/hour and you know that this is a city screaming into the 21st century fast.
I decided to meet Brian in Shanghai for the weekend. We stayed at the Jia Hotel, a hip, boutique spot that would be comfortable in any metropolitan city. And while Shanghai has all the trappings of a cosmopolitan city -- posh restaurants, upscale shopping -- there is still enough of old China that exists that makes this city a cultural destination.
By far, my favorite glimpse of Old China was a side trip we took just outside of the city to Xi Tang. This 1,700-year old water is considered the Venice of Shanghai, and it’s just as picturesque with a definitively Asian flair. We saw old stone bridges flanked by willow trees; square homes with intricate roofs decorated majestically with red lanterns; and women washing their laundry in the river – even on this cold day.
One could spend hours touring the 120 tiny alleyways of this city. Around every new corner seems to be lurking a postcard perfect picture, too. There are also great bargains to be had in the variety of shop stalls set up around the town -- look for the natively made blue and white batik goods.
Back in the city, though, you can forget that China does have a quieter side. As far as population goes, Shanghai is more than 3 times as dense as Paris, and 1.5 times more dense than New York. Older (more charming) buildings are being bulldozed at an alarming rate to make room for more high-rises and large skyscrapers, the most famous of which are on the Pudong side of the city. This is where you can see famous buildings like The Pearl Tower and The Shanghai World Financial Center, known to locals as The Bottle Opener.
After taking a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of the sky deck, we decided to spend a quieterafternoon in the famous artist district off Moganshan Road. This enclave is home to painters, glass blowers and sculptors, with a good dash of restaurants and retail shops. It’s a great place to spend the afternoon wandering and picking up souvenirs.
We ended our long weekend meeting up with friends and taking in a leisurely brunch in The French Concession. This old area of the city has beautiful sycamore trees that line the streets and parts of it are definitely reminiscent of Europe.
It seems that you can still find balance in Shanghai. There is the culture, the sophistication, the quieter streets and alleyways. Shanghai is a city that impresses on the breadth of what it offers and what it has the potential to become.
Other fun spots we visited in Shanghai:
Spin -- great pottery boutique. I could have bought everything.
Shintori -- warehouse-sized space that serves some of the city’s most fresh, if not most avant garde, sushi.
Kathleen’s Five -- glance around at what Shanghai might have been at this restaurant/bar on top of the Shanghai Art Museum, the former Jockey Club.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
To be fair, there is still plenty about the country that echoes its past. Farmers still tend to their rice paddies wearing conical hats. Hawkers sell their fresh baguettes on poles by the roadside. Fisherman hurl nets off small boats to take in a day’s catch. There is still so much village life left in Vietnam, and its refreshing to
see that it hasn’t exchanged its soul for tourist’s cash … at least not yet.
Most of the cruise operators in Halong Bay offer a two-day or three-day sail. If you have the time, go for the three-day option. On our extra day, we were able to spend it sailing on a private junk, and we even took a tour of one of the fishing villages that call the islands home. It’s worth seeing how people live in this remote part of the world. The one-room school that the students attend, the outdoor restaurant that exists solely for tourists like ourselves and the large government building -- what could they need that much space for?
Back on our tour ship, life stood in stark contrast. We had a big stateroom decked out in lacquered teak. Evening entertainment included cooking demonstrations, squid fishing and kayaking, and meals were served with white table linens. Sipping cocktails on the main deck while watching the sun set behind the cliffs was something I could have enjoyed for yet another night. But we had other places to see in Vietnam,
Our next stop was at Tam Hai island. Getting there was an adventure in itself: Plane from Hanoi to Denang, two hour car ride, followed by a boat to get us to the island. But upon seeing Le Domaine at Tam Hai, we felt as if we had discovered Paradise Island.
The resort is a quiet place set along the beach with huts placed thoughtfully spaced among the beautiful tropical forest. Days are spent lounging by the pool, kayaking down the inlets or finding shells along the beach. This was not a cultural excursion, but Le Domaine takes relaxation seriously. One of my favorite aspects was dinner. Tables are set out on the beach and meals are served with fine china and silver. Want to enjoy an after-dinner cocktail or dessert? The staff puts out a couch and sofa table by the waves for you to enjoy your final hours before bedtime.
Of course, one can only be so rested, and while Le Domaine was a much needed and appreciated pit-stop, we had one more destination in mind: Hoi An. The town is considered a World Heritage Site for being on the map since the 10th century as an important trading port in the South Asia. The Japanese once owned part of the city, which was sectioned off by the now famous Japanese bridge. Tourists can still walk over the 16th century structure and cross easily between both sections of town.
My husband and I took up residence at The Life Heritage Resort. The rooms are designed with a definitive modern palate, although the exterior oozed old-world imperial charm. But we didn’t come here for the hotel, we came to see the city.
Hoi An is a small town, but it is chock full of small arts and crafts stores and tailors who can riff off any designs you may be coveting. In truth, it’s a tourist trap. It’s a great place to walk around for the day and pick up some unique souvenirs -- we made out with some lanterns, and kitchenwares -- but it isn’t a place that you can take up residency for too long without getting bored of the hawkers and their calls.
On our second day, therefore, we visited the nearby China Beach. This long stretch of sand was perfect for strolling, and I especially enjoyed playing in the cooling waves on a day that soared close to 100 degrees outside. Yes, Vietnam is hot in summer. Hotter than any place I’ve ever been. And remember, this is not a first world country,
so air conditioning is spotty at best ... when it’s available. In fact, a walk from our sun chaise to the ocean resulted in a couple of heat blisters from the sand. It’s hot!!
Back in Hoi An, we spent our last day getting last minute adjustments to some dresses I had made and watching the comings and goings of the market. One remarkable thing is that it seems only women are in charge of the business transactions. We watched women fishing, hauling the catch and selling their vegetables. Where were the men?
There is plenty that we didn’t see in Vietnam, but that only leaves many excuses to return. Beautiful scenery, fresh food and pristine places will beckon us back soon.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Monday, June 22, 2009
My friends and I were there to wish a couple bon voyage. Magnolia helped us get festive by handing out some fruity cocktails and delicious appetizers. My favorite was the fried goat cheese topped with a small slice of smoked salmon. Other crowd pleasers were the pesto cheese spread and crab legs.
After those teasers, we were ready for the main course. The staff ushered us upstairs into a private dining area. Lori personally came up to tell us about the menu, and ask about any special dietary concerns. With the formalities out of the way, we were ready to get at the food. And what food there was. The meal started with a shrimp gumbo, followed by a soft shell crab served fried to perfection on top of a green salad. Then, it was on to the main course of the juiciest, sweetest ribs I've ever tasted, accompanied with potatoes, collard greens, rice and piping hot corn muffins. All of the food it served family style and there's plenty of it to go around. By the time we got to the pecan pie for dessert, many of us were popping open buttons to make room.
Magnolia is hands down the best Cajun food I've ever had, and, yes, I have been to Louisiana. It's also BYOB, which keeps the prices reasonable. AWESOME!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
It's starting to get hot, which means that beach season is back! While there are a lot of beaches both on and off the island, these are the few I frequent on the Hong Kong side for a quick afternoon escape from the heat.
Big Wave Bay
Surfers head to Big Wave to catch the swells, while the girls who love them sun on the beach. Small coast, but it sure is pretty with large cliffs that hug either side. If you get tired of lounging on the beach you can wander up the trail or head to the beach side restaurant for a snack.
Nice, long sandy stretch of beach, but you'll be playing beach-blanket bingo when the weather is nice. Lifeguards are on duty and there are is even a playground for kids. Town shops cater to beach bums who need sunscreen and boogie boards. There also a couple of great restaurants if you stay through the afternoon.
South Bay Beach
A small beach tucked away from it all, this sandy outpost attracts expats in the know. There's a nice laid-back restaurant that's a great place for a snack or a cocktail, but be warned: the staff is as laid back as the vibe. Easy to get to, but hard to head home. You may want to put a taxi driver's number on speed-dial before you head out.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
First a roasted pig is carried out onto the beach and incense is lit around it. Staff members then go out and paint the eyes of the dragon red. Finally the staff takes out a golden blade and makes a sacrificial cut into the pig. I'm not quite sure what is done with the pig afterwards by the staff, but as for the teams, they continue to race.
Even though the competition is on a Thursday, there are still thousands of people out to watch the races, thanks to the fact that it is a national holiday in Hong Kong. More than 4,000 teams took part in this year's competition, and it seemed a good deal stuck around after to celebrate their wins or forget their losses down at Stanley's waterfront pub area.
Oh, and BTW -- SMUG ladies won it all on the beach this year!!
Friday, May 1, 2009
In some ways, these might seem like contradictions in people, architecture and neighborhoods, but they are part of who Beijing was, is and will become.
During our trip, we were able to sample the different sides of Beijing today. We visited local produce markets where the students had to use their Chinese skills. We hiked The Great Wall and marveled at the scenery around us. We gaped at the feats of the acrobats who had us at the edge of our seats. We flew kites in Tiananmen Square.
Our trip was made comfortable by our two tour guides, but it is easy to feel out of your element in China. It was peculiar for us to see children who went without diapers, or bathrooms without walls and starfish and scorpions done up as snacks on kebab sticks.
Coming from Hong Kong, it was intriguing to see this city in transition. Hong Kong shed much of its past long ago as it segued into its current cosmopolitan state. It’s easy to forget that the mainland was decades behind our city here, and yet, it is catching up at a rapid pace as communism is replaced by capitalism. It begs the question: How much longer will you hear the woman hawking fresh tofu in the streets? How much longer will you see the green hills around The Great Wall unmarred by souvenir shops?
Its past was as the home of emperors and the seat of power for dynasties that stretched back centuries. Its future depends upon it becoming the new economic powerhouse of Asia. Caught between these two realities, Beijing just seems to expand, allowing its circle roads to encompass it all.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Why did I wait so long? The cable car ride itself is far less than I would have expected for such a touristy place ($93 RT), and the view was well worth the value. Even though it was a cloudy day, we still enjoyed watching the clouds blow over the Lantau hillsides. As we came closer to Ngong Ping village, we saw the Buddha loom on the hilltop. I don't mean to sound cheesy, but it was a serene sight.
The Ngong Ping village is a bit of a tourist trap, but prices again aren't as inflated as one would imagine. We grabbed lunch at Zen Taiwanese Bistro and then made our way over to The Buddha. After climbing the steps, you can then wander around the Po Lin Monastery, a working Buddhist monastery where you can watch the monks pray or make some offerings yourself.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
There are a number of ways to get to The Peak. It all depends on how much time and energy you are willing to spend to get there.
Most tourists visit The Peak by way of The Peak Tram. You can add on The Peak Lookout to the price of the ticket, but IMO, it's not the best vantage point and you're better off going for the plain ol' ticket ($22 one way/$33 RT).
The lines for the tram can be killer, but once on board, the motorized cable car does an almost vertical climb uphill. It has great views of the skyscrapers and the tropical foliage along the way. At the top, riders are dumped into a mall where they can shop for trinkets. Head outdoors, though for the view.
For a roller-coaster like adventure, score yourself a front seat on the top deck of the bus that heads up from Central. Take in the awesome views as you zip along the windy roads leading back to the city. Better yet, take the bus down. It's more thrilling coming down.
There are several ways that you can hike to The Peak, as well. From Central, hike up Old Peak Road and you'll find the trail from there. While the trek isn't for the meek, beginners and more advanced hikers can hack the trail just fine. At the top, reward yourself with the view-- and a beverage stop.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Some of us had been here before, others had never stepped foot in the country. Yet, throughout the week, the guides and the people we met made it feel like a homecoming for all of us.
It’s hard not to feel some attachment to Israel. It’s here where three religions of the world intersect, which makes Israel one of the most revered and fractured places in the world. Yet, whatever your political or religious leaning, it’s easy to fall in love with this land.
In the north, mountains rise up majestically, the highest of which are capped in snow. Centrally, there’s the Mediterranean Sea and the urban playground of Tel Aviv. Further south, you can find solitude in the Negev desert. All this is within reach by car – or bus, as it was.
During our twelve day stay, we sampled a bit from every region. We hiked Israel’s hillsides, rappelled its stony crags and swam in its seas. But it wasn’t just nature that spoke to us, it was also the history of Israel.
At every turn another story whispered to us. On the stairs in the City of David, we remembered the Jews who hid underneath, but were ultimately discovered by the Romans. Overlooking Tel Azeka, we remembered David’s courage as we re-enacted his infamous fight against Goliath. On the high steppe of Masada, we debated among ourselves the choice the Zealots faced – death or slavery.
While it’s the ancient stories that are well told, we also walked in the shadows of modern men who helped build today’s Israel with their determination, hard-work, and for some, sacrifice. We visited the home of Ben Gurion, the man who ushered in the State of Israel, but chose to live his twilight years modestly on a kibbutz. We lit candles at the graves of soldiers, men and women who gave their lives to defend Israel. And we visited the grave of Theodore Herltz who rests in Israel because he lived in restless pursuit of a nation for the Jews.
Together, we did more than we ever thought possible. We met strangers who are now friends. We worked the land, harvesting vegetables and planting trees. We left friendships, memories and physical evidence that we were there behind, ensuring that when we return to Israel, we will feel welcomed, at home.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
This button, pictured here, was my ticket into the various venues that threw quite a party, complete with gorgeous art and free-flowing wine and food. Of course, it was all in the name of a good cause. Society for Community Organization, the recipient of the proceeds, helps the 'cage people' of Hong Kong.
These are people who rent out a 6 x 3 foot bunk bed in a flat crammed with similar small cubicles. In fact, a 700 sq. ft flat could be home to more than 21 cages. These 'homes' don't come free, either. A SoCo representative told me that the going monthly rate for one cage is $1,000.
There's a story about cage dwellers here.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Most private kitchens are small -- about 10 tables or less -- and feature a set menu for the evening. All you have to do is make a reservation and then show up and eat. Love it! No food envy when you all get the same meal.
Da Ping Ho is more artsy than Yellow Door. It is run by a husband/wife team. The husband is an artist who has outfitted the restaurant space in his own paintings. He also does most of the hosting, helping you pick your wines and shuttling the spicy concoctions to the table. Did I mention that this restaurant is Schezuan? The wife is the cook, but her talents don't stop in the kitchen. She is also a former opera singer, and after dinner she emerges from the kitchen to serenade the evening's diners. Dinner, entertainment and artsy digs - I'll be back.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
My brother-in-law, David, has mad skills on the drums. He was visiting us in Hong Kong and wanted to check out the local music scene. So we took him to Peel Fresco's open-jam night. They played everything from jazz to rock. Multiple musicians got up playing sax, piano, trumpet, guitar, bass and drums. It was a friendly crowd, as one would expect, and people were spilling out into the streets to get some breathing room as the room started to swing and sway as the night drew on and the tunes got louder and wilder.
P.S. - I've checked out this spot on weekends, as well, and the music is always top notch. My favorite jazz bar to date!
Middle Eastern is what we were craving, so we made our way to Sahara, a small oasis of a spot on Elgin. More lounge than restaurant, this dark little spot still takes its cuisine quite seriously.
With just three of us dining, we decided to make it a true family affair and ordered some platters for sharing. We started with the Mezze platter, a large platter with all the usual suspects on it: hummus, baba, Moroccan cigars, feta and spanakopita. With little room leftover, our main courses arrived, a mega platter of perfectly grilled shish kebab meats and a piping hot and aromatic lamb tagine.
The main courses came with a heaping bowl of fluffy couscous and lightly spiced steamed vegetables.
Price to portion, Sahara can't be beat. We ended up with a bag full of leftovers and actually toted them around town with us -- they were too good to leave behind!
Monday, February 2, 2009
Brian and I must come here once a week to get our fix of tandoori and daal. Mmmmm.
Bonus: They have a great quiz night on Thursdays. Be armed with your smartest mates, though: it's difficult!
Saturday, January 31, 2009
Our destination? Koh Samui. Friends of ours had raved about this small little island off the coast of Thailand, and we were anxious to check it out for ourselves.
We booked ourselves into a villa, one of our favorite ways to feel home away from home. Villa Sunshining, and the people who manage it, were amazing. Perched upon a hill, the villa commands a fantastic view over Big Buddha harbour. From our high vantage point, we were able to enjoy spectacular sunsets each night of our stay. This was the high point.
As for the rest of Koh Samui, it is quaint, but doesn't go so far as charming. Like most of Thailand, it has a pieced together feel: Big glitzy resorts next to shacks and huts. And, like many travel guides warn, it was overrun with folks seeking a neverending spring break rather than the neverending summer.
Chaweng Beach is the biggest and best known in Koh Samui, but unless you plan to stake out a piece of sand early, you will be hard-pressed (between bodies that is) to eek out blanket space. The beach is nice, however: calm waves lap against soft, white sand beaches. At night, Chaweng get groovin. The bars don't really start
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Here's a list of my favorite:
1. The tram. It's quaint and riding from the top deck gives you a different view of the city.
2. Junk trips. It seems everyone's company out here owns a junk, and they're a boat-load of fun to be on for the day.
3. Tropical plants growing EVERYWHERE ... the kind we keep as house plants in NYC.
4. Dim sum. Hong Kong's answer to weekend brunch.
5. The Star Ferry. The Hong Kong tourism board actually requires that the Star Ferry be added to any list on Hong Kong. It is a pretty great ride from Central to the Kowloon side.
6. Urban hikes. Having so many mountains means you can hike in Hong Kong just by walking outside your door.
7. Outdoor escalator. Did I mention the mountains? For those who don't want to hike, there is an outdoor escalator in Central. Very cool.
8. Gleaming skyscrapers. OK, so most cities have them, but I think that Hong Kong takes the cake when it comes to architecture. My favorite - Bank of China.
9. Shek-O. More like Vietnam than Hong Kong. In just 20 minutes you feel worlds away from the city at this shanty beach town.
10. Sheung Wan. This has become my favorite neighborhood. Antique shops, quaints cafes and restaurants, plus an old Hong Kong charm that seems to have faded from the rest of the city.