It has been more than 5 months since I last traveled, I needed to go away to somewhere I can chill out and slow down. Re-sync with my inner-self against the side of me that has been stressed by sales target and work.
I have been to Vietnam before and I loved it, visited Hanoi – saw the natural wonder of Ha Long Bay and soaked in the history of war. So when I booked my flight on HKExpress for less than $1400 HKD, I didn’t do any research and went with the expectation of Nha Trang being similar to my previous travel.
Sometimes you go on a trip to explore and get very cultural, sometimes you need a vacation and this was a “vacay” for us. Nha Trang was nothing like Hanoi in fact, it was full of tourists (mostly Russians) and was in-between a young Pattaya and the current Boracay. Tourist centered basically. So we did what the tourist do, we got drunk a lot.
The reason of why there were so many Russians is because Nha Trang has a direct flight route from Russia and it’s visa-free for the Russians to go to Vietnam. I found out this information from my Tinder date actually, a very nice English girl who worked there as an English teacher.
Nha Trang in a nutshell.
It is great for a 3 days trip, it is for relaxing on a beach and not doing anything. Go to the handful of bars and hotel/ rooftop bars to have a drink to recharge yourself for the journey ahead.
Sure you can go on some day trips like ostrich riding, animal farms, shooting guns and other more relaxing activities such as spa and mud bath. It would not be a bad idea to take a day doing something outside of Nha Trang.
The best takeaway of this city is definitely the long beach, amazing landscape view from the top rooftop bar – Skylight and renting out mopeds to explore the countryside. Which I will write about in another article of What to do in Nha Trang!
There are things I can’t tell you – Thien Twat Trio.
Seriously I wish I could, something happened to me in Nha Trang that is so NSFW and soul reaping that I can only share as an anonymous writer on some “I wish I have never done that” blog. It was actually hilarious looking back now, just that I have to remind myself despite my love for Tequila. I have to watch my back especially if they have fresh pineapple instead of lime… You can literally go on taking shots without taking any breaks. Danger!
Thien Twat Trio, by the way, is not what you think it sounds like, it was a nickname me and 2 friends Aneesh and Jordan made up. Because we were not very good at pronouncing the street our Airbnb was on – Thien Twat (Thuat).
I will stop here before I give too much away, I will give you guys some suggestions of the things we did, where we ate and where we drank in the next article!
*If you are really really curious about what happened, comment below. If there’s a demand then I guess I have to be generous about sharing my experience XD.
I am going to show you how to get to Tap Mun (塔門) aka Grass Island, which is the most scenic and tropical place in Hong Kong.
Duration: 1-3 hours (depends on what you want to do)
Difficulty: 1 out of 5. It’s more like a day trip than a hike.
Scenery: 4 out of 5.
Cell phone coverage: Everywhere
Water needs: 2L to be safe in summer.
Why Tap Mun(塔門)?
Hands down it is one of my favorite place in Hong Kong, you can’t get a better view than this little island which is full of cows, trees, pebbles and chilled villagers. If you are looking for a getaway from the hustle in the city for some tranquility. Then this is it! 🙂
Before we start, here are a few things you should definitely take with you.
Food (although they do have restaurants there)
How to get there?
Take a taxi from MTR University Station, Exit B, to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier for a kaito. The journey takes around 1.5 hours.This way is easier usually, but the ferry time from Ma Liu Shui is very limited as you can see here.
Take bus 94 from Sai Kung to Wong Shek Pier for a kaito. The journey takes around 35 minutes. (RECOMMEND) This is easier because the ferry schedule is more flexible, plus there will be kaito/small speed boats will offer you a ride for around the same price ($20). I got the boat number here – 9177 2521 / 9874 1521. Call them and arrange your pick up to Tap Mun or getting back to Wong Shek.
Arriving at Wong Shek Pier on a sunny day was quite something, it was so relaxing. We were greeted straight away by the pier guided our eyes toward the blue ocean. Surrounded by trees and small islands.
I quickly checked with the ferry schedule and ended arranging a private speed boat with a couple other people. Not long after, we were on our way dashing through the calm water. Letting the wind blew over our head while enjoying the scenic journey.
Tap Mun is the second stop!
Don’t get off the boat at the first stop! Stay on and the second stop is Tap Mun. The boat journey only takes around 15 mins. You would be surprised how close it is, I thought it was going to take an hour at first lol.
Arriving at the pier you would want to turn right, toward the restaurants because that is the best way to start the walk around the island. And you can try their local cooking skill and homemade specials – Ice Milk Tea.
The people there are sooooo chilled, I was surprised by how friendly and genuine they were. This lady was so caring that she told me not to put on sun block after I scratched my mosquito bite as it started bleeding. She said it’s toxic, this was a new level of “hippiness”. I loved it.
Tin Hau Temple…
At the end of the small village, you will see the first site – Tin Hau Temple. Tin Hau Temple is found at every sea side town, village or port in HK. It’s the temple fishermen worships for a safe trip before they set off.
You can go inside and pay your respect by lighting up a few incenses and make a wish, the temple is small and there’s not alot to see (not like the temple here).
Coming out of the temple there should be a small path on your right side which has signs pointing to “balanced rocks”. Follow that sign and you will begin the journey through the jungle to the grass plain overlooking the sea.
By the way, there’s a fuck load of spiders along the way. I mean a shit ton of them just dangling in their massive webs on your side and above your head. We didn’t really notice anything until some of our friends started to freak out which freaked everyone out.
If you are tall, be careful. Always check what you are walking into haha.
Old school. Literally
As you can see, someone is freaking out about the spiders.
And dodging them.
Bliss is always on other side of terror…
Yes, after running through a jungle of spider, it was almost like an experience in Jurassic Park trying to survive through the woods.
We started to ascend to a nice grassy hill and when you get to the top. HOLY SHIT…WTF…..Wow… these words ran out of my mouth with no filter. It was stunning.
Usually open space is not really a luxury of HK, but here you get all of that. Sit under the pagoda in the shade and just relax for a moment, catch your breathe and soak it in.
The sea as far as you can see…
I suggest you pick a spot and chill from here, there’s some stairs you would see on the left. But there’s not much up the top, its an other pagoda but the view is blocked by the bushes.
You can spend some time relaxing, eating your lunch. Have your picnic before jumping into that crystal clear turquoise water ahead of you.
There is a path to walk down if you follow the sign of pebble beach. See this photo here.
Follow the path on your right and you shall reach the beach. Now pay attention: the best way to get into the sea is from the middle of the beach, where there are less large rocks and barnacles.
The rocks can be very slippery, so be careful when you go out. Watch every step, it’s easy as the water is crystal clear. Swim out to the sand area which is the lighter area and then just relax in one of the best quality water in HK.
Take your time and relax, when you have enough. Just follow the path toward balanced rock (which is a weird rock balancing on another literally). Then you have more scenic, bench areas to chill before the road lead you onto the village.
Arriving at the basketball court, you can ask the store owner for the ball and have a few rounds. Try their frozen pineapple, its the bomb after being out in the hot all day!
The way back…
Then the journey will come to an end, call your boat for a pick up and they can pick you up at the basketball court pier. When you get back to Wong Shek just get the bus back to Sai Kung and there you have it. Hope you guys would love it as much as we have.
Please take your rubbish away or put it in bins too, this place deserve all the care and respect.
Long days, scorching heat and air-con… Summer is coming for us in Hong Kong. It’s my favorite time because of course…the outdoor is going to be glorious and I am going to share some ideas for you to try out this summer!
1.) Rent an apartment in Lantau Island for the weekend.
Price: $400 – $1000 for a 2/3 bedrooms flat per night. $500 -$1000 for food & beverages
This is one of the thing I used to do religiously when I was young every summer! For a whole weekend I would take my skimboard, get some friends together and rent out an apartment with a roof right next to the beach in Tong Fuk. For 2 days, we would just be chilling, totally care free and live like the local villagers with our feet kicked up enjoying the day as it goes by.
Lantau is by far my favourite place in HK, Tong Fuk and Cheung Sha beaches are right next to each other, when the tide is low you can actually walk from one to another. The apartment is decent, clean and functional!
We always get the ones with the rooftops so you can have a BBQ at night for dinner (for locations and options, you can check in these links A, B, C! Probably need some help translating Chinese) So without the pains of camping, this can be a good alternative option for our weekend getaway!
2.) Work on your golf skills!
Price: $100 – $200 for the day.
Listen, I dont play golf but I love the occasional swing. Especially when you are taking your swings directly at a mountain as your backdrop. There’s a 48,500sqm pubic driving range in Tuen Mun, you can just rock up with no gears.
They will provide you with all the things you need! The journey to Tuen Mun is quite far considered by most people but if you haven’t explored New Territories, it can be a good day trip for you! Info – here! Dinner option, you can either go to Gold Coast for a nice relaxed meal by the sea or I recommend trying some seafood at Sam Shing, the seafood here some say is better than Sai Kung! I think so anyway haha.
3. Chill out at Ice-rinks.
Price: $50 – $60
Normal air-cons are not good enough? Then why not spend some time ice skating in some of HK’s best shopping malls. You can ice skate in Elements, Festival Walks and Megabox!
4. Kayak and explore!
Price: $500 – $800
If you are feeling adventurous and want to get out to see HK’s nature up close that most people don’t get the chance to see. This option is perfect for you, for a whole day you can rent our kayaks and guides will take you to some unbelievable locations that makes you question “Am I really In HK?”
Here’s a little story about irrationality, love and courage that I have heard during my travels in Europe which got me thinking quite a bit. When I first heard it, there were moments I stopped and stared into space. Imagining what it must feel like or recalling moments that were similar but I let it slipped. This is probably one of the best thing I have ever came across with and had a strong impact on my life and hope you would enjoy it.
When you are traveling, relationships between people you meet often are short and passionate. That’s one of the perks of travelling because sometimes you find someone that share that intense level of connection you wouldn’t find when you are at home. Or something that you subconsciously were searching for but somehow it comes at the most unexpected scenarios or situations…
Same thing happened to John and Miranda, who had met again in another crossroads in their life. They were friends from a young age when things were simple, naive and foolish. Their attraction developed then but how it was handled was the consequence of being young and foolish, it wasn’t taken seriously and it faded. As they departed from each other to move on with studies and their own life, which meant they would be in different parts of the world. What was left was memories which they had no intention of meeting again or at least imagining there would be opportunities to do so.
8 years later, they were all grown up and lived a very different life. Miranda is in a relationship, have a decent job and John was having a good time discovering the world. So as John was travelling and as he was planing his trip, he thought in his head “Why not go to visit Miranda? I have never been to her country anyway.” The idea became reality, both were excited to see each other again as old friends. Nothing more.
Just like old friends do, the anticipation doesn’t really justify how it feels when they reunited. John was telling me that he was so happy that he lost words sometimes because there were so much to say but somehow it was stuck in his head. But he told me that being with her again somehow seemed surreal, and that she looked different in a good way. All grown up i thought, they must look different lol.
John met the bf of Miranda and they were all having a good time, going around and having drinks together. Catching up, getting to know the country from a local perspective….
So……This went on for a few days, those 3 hanging around with each other and they were having a great time. John then started to feel something that was odd when he was alone at a hostel one night. He can’t stop thinking about Miranda, her face kept reoccurring in his mind and it drove him to frustration as he was confused with how he was feeling. He thought it must of just temporary attraction, he knew it was not logical at all to feel anything. And what was the point?
The next few days, he was keeping himself together but there were times he said, he just couldn’t stop looking at her in an affectionate way. Especially when they exchanged conversations in the car through the mirror. John said he was just trying to enjoy every single moments with her as he could before he leaves, nothing more than that. And so he did, making her laugh tried to ask her to come out as much as she could when she wasn’t working.
What John didn’t know was that he wasn’t feeling that connection alone, Miranda felt it too but not as soon as John. Miranda felt a zing at one of the sightseeing place they went to visit. Like John, she was confused and she needed to know the answer. So she decided to take him to the airport on the last day. As they said their goodbyes, it was very strange they recalled. It was almost like an unanswered question that no one wanted to take the chance to answer. That moment was right there, lingering in the air between them, John said he could felt all the sensation and butterflies rushing through his veins but nothing happened. They both turned and left.
John’s mind was all in the air, he said he was at the wrong terminal as well for his flight in which he nearly missed because of that. He had to do something about it, so he told me he texted her how he felt, it was a decision he had to make considering the consequences that would follow. But he said to me, what if you knew what you feel would simply fall into the past and never never will have the chance to express again. So he told her how he felt, unexpectedly…..Miranda told him the same thing.
As you can imagine how both of them would felt, I can only describe it as planets smashing into each other and creating thousands of big bangs. But what also came was regrets and frustrations for them, especially for John.
For the next few days they stayed in touch and talked about many things, for John, the guilt and regrets already was troubling him. But logically he knew that if he return for her, he would sabotage her relationship. John said he doesn’t support the idea of cheating at all before, he would never do such thing.
So when I asked him why did you take the chance and got involved this time? He knew what was about to happen was wrong, but he felt like sometimes when you know what you feel is true then nothing should get in front of it. He said he had to be selfish to actualize this intense feeling he has for her and he doesn’t regret a thing.
He paid great efforts to figuring out what they were like and ended up that Miranda’s relationship was near the end. After knowing this, John’s heart only gave him one direction which was to cancel his next trip and return for Miranda.
So John went for it, he was on a mission. With only one goal, and they were telling me that they had one of their best time spending that week together. They said it was so intense that it was unbelievable, unlike anything they ever felt. Time was not a thing when they were together, they were fully in the moment, living the presence and tried to treasure every part of it.
I felt that connection that they have, it was so strong that nothing needed to be said or question was it worth it for them. The way they looked at each other and how they enjoy so much to be with each other. It was truly beautiful, pure and rare. I have never heard or seen anything like that. What will happen is unknown, but they seemed pretty confident about the unknown. They said if you found the right thing, why let it go so easily?
Which made me wonder, if it comes to me…Would i do it? Would I leave my thoughts all behind and go with something my heart told me to. Because most often it might seem like the wrong thing to do but when it actually happens. It can’t be more right.
When your original plan fails, you better to have a plan B otherwise the frustration will catch up with you. That’s what happened with me a few weekend ago. Originally I should be writing about my journey into this white sandy beach near the Sai Kung geo-park. However, some of my friends couldn’t make it which left me hanging alone with a decision to make.
I have traveled already, stood next to the busy Sai Kung pier with “Junk-goers” ready to board their boats to party and relax in the sun for the day. Junk is the old Chinese vessels which can be hired for a day tour out in the sea. There were stands along the pier with ticketing service for reaching out to different islands around the area, So I just picked a random place and got on the boat.
How to get there?
MTR to Hang Hau, then catch a minibus or Taxi to Sai Kung town.
Mong Kok has a red minibus on Dundas Street near the rubbish collection centre (I know right) which takes you to Sai Kung pretty fast.
At Sai Kung:
Walk to the pier and ask any of the pop up stores for a return ticket for Sharp Island. It should be $30! There are a few operators, so dont worry about not finding a boat 🙂
Bup Bup Bup…
The sound of the old engines of the junk was loud but not annoying, it was kind of nice as it fitted in with the atmosphere around. The old wooden Chinese boat experience would be ruined if it was a powerful modern speedboat engine. The boat rocked up and down slowly with the wave smashing against the bow. Wind blowing through the boat and my hair, I could sleep easily at that moment. This made me so happy as I knew I made the right decision by embarking on this journey.
Leaving Sai Kung Town
Red Stones & The Lonely Island
Turned out this place is actually a part of a Geo-park in Hong Kong, as soon as i arrived on the pier. The water quality and and rocks instantly captured my attention. These rocks are so red, almost like someone painted them and threw them back in for decoration. I walked past the narrow beach where people were relaxing and the beach was surprisingly packed with dogs.
There was a small Island not far away from the main island, it was one of those places you can only reach when the tide is low. Luckily I got there at the right time, walking along the shallow water was very enjoyable. As it was so hot, the water helped to keep me cool but the view was amazing once you reach half way. Looking back on this path was so nice, picture perfect.
Exploring the Island
I walked around the island trough the large and peculiar looking rocks, this place was graded as a geo-park because of its geological age which dated back to the cretaceous age; 140 million years ago! I thought about dinosaurs straight away as I read the info board. The coolest rocks were the one which looked like the skin of a pineapple and those which has sharp rectangles. Looked like a stone mason crafted it!
There was a short trail which led me to the top of the hill, that was a nice vintage point, there was people sailing, snorkeling and doing all sort of water activities surrounding the island. I had my lunch up there, which was really pleasant. Coming downhill, a set of stairs descend into a curved exit made out of branches. On the side was filled with purple flowers, it was quite a sight.
The other side of the island was quiet, but you could actually walk out to the small light tower which would be a great place to relax or for photographers to take some great images. The island is small, you could spend around 2 hours and be satisfied. So I sunbathed a bit and caught the ferry back when I was getting hungry for some Thai food back in the Sai Kung Town.
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So you would question; so why aren’t you passionate? What are you passionate about?
I wish I can answer these questions with great certainty, if I could then I wouldn’t be here writing about it. I had an epiphany yesterday from attending a networking conference as well as a workshop. There was this one activity which is still very vivid in my memory. It was like a motivational therapy that emphasized on self reflection. Sounds like a pile of crap? I agreed at first, when I was asked to close my eyes and listen to the verbal instruction. I can’t help but started to giggle, I tried SO hard not to burst out laughing. Its just I wasn’t quite ready for the cheesy music and script, I was very skeptical and questioned why I came here.
The exercise required participants to fully cooperate in order to function properly, so I gave my best and started to let myself fully into this. It took me on a journey, From recalling our successes to failures, seeking the reasons behind and understanding without any influences.
The most memorable moment came upon me when I had to imagine myself pushing a door and seeing my future self standing there. Telling me what’s “his” regrets are and advises that the “current” self should know. I had a moment of confusion, because I knew this was just a matter of creating an identity which I believed will be my future desire. But deep-down there were 2 things that kept recurring – Happiness and No Regrets.
So that brought up many things that I started to question about, such as my passion. I have lost who I am in the recent years, bits by bits. Why is that? I pictured myself as the future self and I saw someone who’s putting others before him, doing things he sometimes doesn’t prefer to do or even the FEAR that stops him from doing what’s on his mind. This has to stop. That’s the epiphany, the light bulb that went alight.
It’s easy to blame it on others and things, surroundings and such external factors. Yes to some degree it has effects but Its really me that can really change what’s wrong. And if I keep fading then obviously I needed to do something about it. Express yourself, I think that’s a great first step to regain your passion. Just do the damn thing that’s on your mind and think about it later.
It is probably the most beautiful hike with rock pools in Hong Kong. Yes the Tai O infinity pool is beautiful, the Tai Long Wan’s rock pool is one of a kind. But this place took my breathe with its adventurous trail and the FOUR stunning rock pools. The highest point is around 200m so the hike won’t be hard in terms of elevation but the treacherous trails. So be careful and bring enough food and water. It is usually quite, without the crowd you would see at Tai Long Wan and Tai O which is great if you like to have some peace and enjoy the “private” pools by yourself with friends. Also, If you are into geography, walking up from the stream would definitely be a spectacle for you!
How to get there?
From Pak Nai:
You can go to Pak Nai by the western MTR line and get off at Tin Shui Wai. There you need to find the green minibus number 33 or the easy option: Taxi. Which will take you to Pak Nai and ask the villagers to point out the trail. Eventually you will see a bridge, stay to your left side and keep walking along until there is a floodgate which you have to go around on the right side. Just keep following the stream after that.
From Leung King:
Or….you can go to Leung King estate which is in Tuen Mun, this is the route i took. Go to Tuen Mun by train or bus and take a taxi to Leung King estate. From here it gets confusing as you will need to walk through the residential estate to the hill foot (ask the locals, would be good to save a photo and show them). The following direction will be shown below.
It’s going to take a long time so we started at noon, not the perfect time…rather stupid actually. As we started to walk up the hill to the turning point, we saw various signs. Some said you will enter a military training zone and some pointed the direction to “Pineapple Peak”. Interesting name, but there are no pineapple trees up there. I don’t know the exact reason behind it either, maybe it looks like an pineapple.
This was a short and pleasant hike, lots of local elders passed us with bags of empty bottles which i assumed they must come up here very often to collect fresh mountain water. People in Hong Kong are very sensitive and careful with drinking unfiltered water, especially with the recent scandal of excessive lead level in tap water. I guess this won’t be a worry for these people at all!
So that was the only elevation we needed to to do during this trail, sounds easy right? We took a moment there to relax and rest under the trees, asked local people about where the trail to the rock pools was. Usually you would see old people here listening to their radios, eating fruits or playing chess. Very typical Chinese retirement image right in front of our eyes. I don’t blame them, it is very relaxing up here, seats built specifically along the edges and under the trees so people could enjoy the view comfortably. This peak is no match for the Castle Peak which is nearby but it’s an easier substitution.
We found our way for the beginning of the real adventure, it was quite easy to spot because it was the roughest looking trail in the North West direction. We marched on with little information of directions as not many can be found on the internet. But that’s the point right of an adventure right?
“Hello!” greeted by the old lady who was filling up her water bottles with mountain water, she was very friendly. We talked for a while and asked her lots of questions about the water, We were skeptical about trying it as i mentioned the reason earlier but when she told us that she has been drinking this water for years and nothing has happened to her and it’s cold as water straight out from the fridge. I went for it.
It was sweet, fresh as you would imagine and very cold! We filled a bottle and poured it over our heads. We felt as fresh as the water, before we carried on we filled a bottle with it just in case we would run out later. You see, the trail was not very clear as there were different exit points. We thought we were hiking away from the stream so we took one of the exit and to investigate.
“WOW! What is this?” i thought, this place was definitely some sort of farm with tools scattered all around. It wasn’t very neat or organized. The bridge to the opposite side was practically useless because the steps has disappeared from the signs of a landslide. But behind me, there were a few lotus ponds, they were beautiful. Violet lotus stood tall against its big round leaves which scattered all across the ponds. I couldn’t believe i would see lotus ponds in the middle of a mountain.
We followed the stream to the end which we thought there was a way to climb down and that would eventually lead us to the rock pool. No. It was a drop and a waterfall! Good to know, it’s better to see a waterfall and turn back than walking down in the wrong direction.
We bumped into a man, a women and….a Parrot!? Seriously. This guy hiked with his parrot and seemed like they go everywhere together.I assumed that’s his wife who he was with and she definelty doesn’t get as much attention as the parrot does haha. The parrot was beautiful, the feather was so white it almost glittered in the sunshine. It was so smooth to pet, the man told us not to put our hands near her mouth otherwise you know what would happen.
After the “parrot man”, the fun seemed to began to chip away with every steps we took. This trail started to turn into a mini dried up riverbed with big deep cracks in the middle of the trail. On the left there was a concrete sealed wall to prevent landslide but half of it has cleaved off which created a crater like channel. It was obvious to imagine what this place would be like when there is a monsoon or a rainy day.
We continued to walk but we were confident about the direction we were heading, so what happens when you feel lost? Go to a high point and work out where you are! We went to this hill on the right and damn was that a nice viewing point. We were in the middle of a valley where mountains surrounded us, It was so quiet, there was only the sound of nature with the occasional helicopters flying passed. We screamed out loud to hear the echoes try to locate our position like a whale using their sonar radar, just kidding.
We saw another hill so we went there to get a better view point, there was small resting station created by a sheet of blue plastic which tied between two trees. That’s great i thought as people must come up here and rest during their hikes. I hoped deep down it wasn’t for illegal immigrants from China.
There it is in the distance!!! But we couldn’t see the way to get there, only a small crosswalk in the distance but there was no trail which leads to it. After some investigation, we found the way!
The Stunning Rockpools
I was filled with excitement as soon as i saw the stream, The crystal clear turquoise water and the sound of the moving water were exactly what i have been expecting. As we moved up the stream, these pools only got better, cleaner and bigger!
That feeling of refreshment when you jump into rockpools is just special, the closest thing could describe it would probably being baptized. I was so thrilled to be here, swam around like a playful seal. But this was only one of the FOUR pools. the excitement and amazement didn’t stop here.
Why i love this place and claiming it’s one of the best is because the FOUR pools all has their uniqueness which some are bigger for swiming, some are perfect for just lying down on flat rocks to relax while dipping your feet into the water and some are perfect with a waterfall and a place for jumping!
The excitement has settled and there’s a keener attention towards the finer details of the hotel grounds: the fresh smell of pinewood, the pervading greenery and the richness of material with which everything is built within and without. From the wood used to make furniture to the ingredients used in every single local dish, everything is created with dedication to quality and excellence. One could easily fall in love with this city for what it is – a place densely packed with history and an almost perfectly preserved culture. In a world where westernization is growing evermore, it’s a relief to be immersed in pure Ukraine, where signs and posts read no English and people exclusively speak Ukrainian and nothing else.
Kiev Pechersk Lavra
Our sightseeing tour began at the monastery of Kiev Pechersk Lavra, nearly 1000 years old. Shrines, beautifully decorated walls and paintings of saints and martyrs are in abundance around the pious priests and nuns. I detest religion. However, one can’t help but be in awe at some of the marvelous structures that religion has resulted in overtime. Unfortunately, my attention during this part of the tour was more focused on the cynical, piss-taking of the Christian traditions, which the groom and I, both atheists, could not help but do (apologies to the sensitively religious out there).
At one point, standing inside a very quiet building within the church grounds, the groom had made a joke which made me laugh very loudly, obviously upsetting a nun who was doing her prayers. “We should probably be more respectful,” I said to him, to which he replied “Is she fit?” And, right at that moment the nun turned around, with ghastly gargoyle-like facial features and in my fright I laughed even louder. Sorry folks, the temptation to upset the imaginary gods are far too strong to resist.
More photos from the monastery:
The most incredible part of the church grounds was the underground tunnels, about 300m long and packed with around 50 (I think?) naturally mummified saints wrapped in beautiful textile and preserved within glass coffins. The tunnels are so small and dark that groups must walk through in single file and holding candles. Each mummy would have been over 200 years old. We found our blasphemous jokes silenced at this moment, as we found ourselves walking through what is touted as one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine.
It amazes me how solemn and sad all the priests and nuns who walk the church grounds seem to appear. After all, isn’t being “closer to God” supposed to be a happy experience? Unfortunately the recent history of Ukraine is not so different when compared to the expressions on the faces of the religious. Within 400m walking distance is the awesome (and I mean, really awesome) statue: Mother Motherland, Kiev. This huge monument, standing around 200m above the ground, was the first thing to catch my eye up during the drive to the hotel on the day I landed in Kiev. So amazed by its glory, I had asked the non-English-speaking driver what it was, to which he angrily yelled out, “MATHA-FACKER!!!”.
Later on I would find out that the statue was a symbol of the Soviet Union (from its days as part of the USSR) and that the lady was thought by some to be a shemale. Hold on, why shemale? Peoples’ reasonings seem to differ but from my understanding of what our lovely tour guide Marina told me, it was created as a shemale-like figure to represent the power of the Ukrainian people, as if to say “our men are strong but our women are just as strong too, so don’t f**k with us.” Under the statue is a museum, which we didn’t have time to see. However, the history of the place is so densely filled with sadness and tragedies of war, one single blog post wouldn’t be sufficient to cover even the slightest bit of it: you have to go and see it for yourself. The most startling thing about the whole experience was how recently some of these atrocities occurred. So recent that a looming cloud of confusion still pervades the country as to what really happened, which reminds us that we are still very connected with its social and political history.
And now the fun starts…
We settled our tired bodies in a fantastic restaurant organised by the lovely bride, Anya. It was called Tsarskoye Selo and served the best local food I had experienced in the whole trip. The most memorable part of the experience was the culturally iconic Red Borscht Soup, which amazingly comes with a vodka shot. If you ever try it, make sure you have a Ukrainian friend to teach you how it’s supposed to be done!
The drinking continued back at the hotel until late into the night and copious amounts of vodka was consumed. They weren’t kidding about the Ukrainians: they do drink a lot of vodka.
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Arriving at the main hall, sound of a Buddhism chants gradually became louder and louder as i approach the door step. My sight was drawn into the interior where there stood a golden censer with a dragon sculpture as a background. Stronger scent of incense now creeping up to my nostril, all senses combined was quite an experience. I can’t help but to stand and appreciate for a while with the old Chinese architecture and the decor of Buddhist which incorporated the elements of Fung Shui.
I walked up to the sculpture of Pui Tou and bowed 3 times as a matter of respect and tradition then as i looked around there were hundreds of small sculptures which was really fascinating as each has a different expression and characteristics who represented different meaning for worshipers which i wont go into too much details about.
The incense, the vast and curled incense dangled from the ceiling and created a sight where it was rather artistic. The sun was reaching in from the roof, smoke drifting around, tried to escape to one direction all together, the bamboo stick of the roof created shadows between sun rays. Creating this picture perfect frame shot where the sun rays were highlighted with smoke yet narrow beams of shadow shot and cut through the light. It was beautiful.
Bring on the Peak and the missionaries
Leaving the monastery, i asked a lady which way is the peak she pointed me the right direction and i headed on. Completing my ultimate mission of the day. It seemed promising, there is still well paved steps with fences on the side. This must be pretty easy i thought in my head and it was, i was still shaded from the sun i was so happy thinking what a nice walk this is all the way to the peak. Effortless!
I stopped at a cross point and had no idea which way to go, on my left there was this trail leading on a rather flat path. On my right, there was this uphill trail with a few wild dogs grunting at me. Not exaggerating, but they looked like they were going to jump me and chase me back down to the monastery. Then this group of westerners started to approach and they were quite young looking, around 19-20. They had no idea where to go as well so we thought “Okay, there’s wild dogs over there and they don’t look happy but there’s 9 of us we can take them. Or that way? (pointed to the left)” So we all agreed to the left, only because we didn’t want to get rabies from wild dogs attacks.
So they turned out to be missionaries from Arizona, all of them! I was pretty surprised because none of them tried to convert me and it must be a pretty interesting experience for them to visit the monastery earlier on. They were all very nice, but not very wise because some of them were hiking in jeans!!! I was amazed, because i would be dead by now and one of them ate a big mac, never drink water. I was really baffled by this missionary.
What was funny though, they all had name plates on their shirts and as i was introducing myself to them. The old habits of mine is to look at the first name of the name plate i mean who doesn’t right? So the first person i shook hand with is called “Elder”, the second – “Elder”, the third – “Elder”. Ohhhh right i thought in my head, and i can’t help but to giggle and played it on and just greeted the others by saying “Hi” in the end.
Who made this trail?!!
Okay the sweet and easy time was over, i started to have a de ja vu of the Sunset Peak hike. The trail transformed, i guess i didn’t read the sign properly which stated the difficulty of the trail ahead. The yellow railings and smooth and even steps disappeared and in exchange we had to climb the uneven and massive rocks for the next 1 hour and 15 minutes. but we were still shaded every now and then with rocks for us to sit down and relax with few glimpse of the scenery.
Yes the peak!!!
After our struggles, we have arrived and i sat down at the pavilion and ate my orange. Its not hot up here at all, a strong breeze of wing arrived to cool us down every now and then. I shared my stories with the missionaries as they did with theirs. We talked as we kept exploring the area where there was a telecom signal point on one side and a rocky mountain on the other. So we went up to the telecom building to check it out and it was so windy up there, much like what it would feel like if there was a typhoon.
This place was cool, but certainly didn’t make me feel safe with all these warning signs which said Danger, electric shock risk all around the premises. We went to the other side of the hill to explore the rocky area, from there you can see China, it was a hazy day but you can still see Shenzhen in the distance. I could even see IFC in Central from here, it was quite a nice view point which has a 180 view of the city centers of Hong Kong.
Coming to an End
I stayed up there for a hour to enjoy the view and solitude. But I discovered that there was a small area where it is for working out, some weights made of concrete and pull up bars. Who come up for a workout i thought, It is quite extreme. So here i sat, looking over the city i hate and love at the same time. Thinking about the day and most importantly where is next.
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Castle Peak is one of the tallest mountain in Western New Territories, with the altitude of 583m . The hike is reasonably easy but adventurous (i am going to talk about this below), It gives you plenty of surprises in terms of scenery and the things you will discover along the journey. Being in Tuen Mun gives this peak an advantage of a 360 view point of Lantau, Shenzhen and even Central. Hence why the name Tuen Mun stands for “Garrison Gate” which originated from Tang dynasty.
How to get there?
I would recommend to find a transport (Bus/Train) to Tuen Mun City Centre and take a taxi to a light rail train stop – Tsing Wun which will cost you around $20-25 HKD. Okay! enough boring facts! lets hike!
Where is the entrance?!
I was pumped and ready to hike, but where is the start of the trail?? I walked up from the bridge next to a school and ended up at this crossing which i had no idea which way to go so i turned left and kept walking down until i started to see signs that mentioned the words “Tsing Shan”. Till then, just bear right and you will be on the trail! Lucky that i can read Chinese but dont worry! Here’s the directions in photos! 🙂
Up we go!
As i walked up slowly, i took out a couple things which i needed which are my camera, mosquito spray and headphones to prep myself so i didn’t need to stop every now and then to open my bag. I kept looking around, driven by my excitement and curiosity as there were so many things that’s unique and represented local cultures which you don’t often see in the busy side of Hong Kong (Kowloon & HK Island). There was an abandoned Buddhist school on my left, with a few broken windows and cats sunbathing in the court yard free of worries. Some old and broken table tennis tables sat in the back of the building which decayed over time with termites excavation.
“This place must be creepy at night” i thought to myself as i carried on walking up which i discovered some old and grungy Chinese post boxes, these are my favorite post boxes in the world because maybe i am Chinese and its a part of my culture but also the simplicity design of these rectangle metal boxes with two currency symbols printed on them. You don`t see them stand alone, always hanged in groups which collectively created a really unique picture.
I was walking with a smile on my face singing Inaudible Melodies by Jack Johnson, so chilled and anticipating the walk ahead wondering how hard it actually will be. I knew the walk would be easy in the beginning from my research and it mentioned the difficulty will gradually increase after the mid point of Tsing Shan monastery. Whatever i thought, the weather was perfect, gentle wind sweeping from the back with the sunshine, cannot be in a better mood right now, feeling free!
I saw a classic Chinese pavilion, a hexagon shaped with 6 red pillars as support at each point, decorated with patterned wood brackets at the corners. The iconic green double-eve roofs stood out with its pointy, upturned eaves and tiled corners. I didn’t want to rest however, but what stopped me for a few minutes was a little “temple” built by the villagers to worship different gods and goddesses.
From my experience and knowledge i knew these are for keeping bad spirits away, the god Tou-Dei who is a protector of the ground and believed to keep the ghosts and bad spirits out of the area. Chinese people are very superstitious, there’s a old saying which basically means “it is better to believe there is than there isn’t”. As a 23 years old atheist and realist in the 21st century, there is still a part of me that is superstitious and i can’t explain why.
Tsing Shan Monastery
Standing in front of the peaceful yet solemn entrance of the monastery which a pair of Guardian Lions stood firmed to keep evils away. It gave me an instinct feeling of peace but also a feeling of respect as it reminded me of my childhood experience visiting temples and monastery. Behaving appropriately and watch out for the things i say as taught by my parents, as you don’t want to show bad faith or offend someone or “something” in the premises.
It’s beautiful, ancient and majestic. It does not compare to other grand temples you have seen around the world like the Big Buddha in Lantau or the Temples in Forbidden Palace in Beijing. But the modest setting and surrounding nature mixed well together and i can see how and why this location was chosen for this monastery. I felt an indescribable feeling, a mixture of peace and spirituality. The air was clean with a scent of rich vegetation and sweetness to it, i took a deep breathe and the air filled my lungs, right to the bottom. Almost like you breath in pure oxygen from an oxygen tank and it awoke me instantly. I stepped across the entrance and began exploring.
Lost in curiosity & beauty
I spent a good hour in this small monastery, you will understand why by looking at my photos below. Everything was captivating my eyes and soul, the old wooden, colorful and detailed wooden door panels which squeaked when the wind swept in and out the room. Many old, beautiful bronze and gold censers stood around with incense burning graciously, creating the potent but pleasant scent that i will always remember as i grew up with these incense sticks. They always make my eyes water-up when the whole room is filled with the smoke, almost choked from it. Hardly anyone was around, i took my time taking nice photos, lying on my back to get a different angle on the objects as well as wandering around looking at the details of the sculptures and reading old scripts on the wall.
Worshiping Dragon`s bone?
Then i started to move toward the main hall which worships the reverend Pui To who was an Indian monk who used to travel around in a wooden cup, sounds pretty cool right? i want to do that! Would save alot on my travels. Along the way, after some stairs i saw this stone which named “Dragon-bone” on it and its placed as its an object to worship. Game of Thrones came up in my mind instantly, but what it actually is fascinated me even more. I read that there is an actual bone inside the stone, and it was a beached whale’s backbone. What? But it didn’t explain why it is being worshiped. Interesting.
Excessive amounts of statues and incense!
As i continue to explore this wonderful place, each room i walked into had me in awe as their unique characteristics overwhelmed me step by step…………Keep on reading Part 2