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Lamma Island: A World Away From HK

I have always thought that Hong Kong was just city life and concrete jungle. I never knew that residents escape from the hectic financial capital to unwind especially during the weekends. But where to? Well, my friends Chris and Jane introduced me to Lamma Island :-)

Lamma Island is the third largest island of HK, after Lantau Island and Hong Kong Island. The island consists of the northern village (Yung Shue Wan), the eastern village (Sok Kwu Wan) and traditional fishing villages. Access to other parts of Lamma is by hiking or fishing boats.

The main attraction of Lamma is the abundance of nature and scenery. There are beaches and hiking trails. The atmosphere on the island is laid-back and peaceful, a complete opposite to the stressful pace and expensive cost of living in the city. The buildings are less than 3 storeys high and vehicles are nowhere to be found except bicycles and compact trucks which are mainly to transport materials or rubbish.

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When I contacted my friend Chris who is from New Zealand, and currently living and working in HK, firstly, he was happy that I was coming over because we were former colleagues in my previous company in Kuala Lumpur, and it has been a while since we last met. Secondly, he asked if I would be interested to join him and his Australian partner, Jane, for a walking trail in Lamma Island. I was intrigued but wasn’t sure if he meant just walking or hiking up mountains because I know that both of them are avid hikers…and they hike up treacherous trails! Chris reassured me that the walking trail is on paved road. I said, ahhh, ok, count me in!

Our meeting point was Central MTR Station, and we took a 20-minute ferry ride from Central to Lamma Island’s main village, Yung Shue Wan. While on the ferry, I could have taken in views of Victoria Harbour but I didn’t because the 3 of us were busy chit-chatting. It has been 3 or 4 years, I think, since we last met, so there was a lot of yak-yak-yak enroute to the island :-)

The walking trail starts at Yung Shue Wan’s Main Street lined with restaurants, shops and fruits and vegetables stalls. Walk along Main Street and head towards Hung Shing Ye Beach. I was told that the beach is rather popular during the summer months. Walk past the bathrooms to the end of the beach, continue up the hill and follow signs to Sok Kwu Wan. The 1-hour walking trail takes you up and over the island’s mountainous terrain along the coast. The hike is not difficult at all, in fact, many families go on this walking trail too and some also walk their dogs here. The reward for this 14km hike is the beautiful greenery and coast overlooking the South China Sea, and clean air.

Main Street

Main Street

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Beautiful coast of Lamma Island, overlooking the South China Sea

Beautiful coast of Lamma Island, overlooking the South China Sea

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That's Sok Kwu Wan and traditional fishing villages

That’s Sok Kwu Wan and traditional fishing villages

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Fishing houseboat villages

Fishing houseboat villages

The walking trail ends at Sok Kwu Wan, and the best reward I reckon is a meal at one of their seafood restaurants. Chris and Jane brought me to Tai Yuen Seafood Restaurant, and the first thing we ordered was a bottle of beer! Shortly after, we ordered more beer, bamboo clams, calamari, steamed fish, Chinese broccoli (kai-lan) and fried rice. Wish I could show you pictures of the food but I’m not for one who take photos of food. Sorry, folks! :-)

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Once we were done with our meal, we could have taken a ferry from Sok Kwu Wan back to HK but I wanted to take some photos of Main Street, so we walked the same trail back to Yung Shue Wan. There is no direct ferry from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan, so you have to hike up and down the mountainous terrain to get to the seafood restaurants. However, if seafood is your main objective, then the alternative is to skip the hike and take the ferry direct from HK to Sok Kwu Wan.

On our way back to Yung Shue Wan, we found this street art. "All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others" That's my caption for this piggy ;-)

On our way back to Yung Shue Wan, we found this street art. My caption for this piggy…”All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others” :-)

When we reached Main Street, it was already dusk. We met Chris and Jane’s friends at a steak restaurant where we drank more beer and enjoyed the cool air (it was delightfully 16C) until 7pm-ish to catch the ferry back to HK.

Lamma Island is a world away, such a vast difference from HK. If you would like to experience the walking trails on Lamma, wear a good pair of walking shoes, slap on sun screen and bring a bottle of water. Also, it’s best to experience the island early in the day or during the week as this popular destination fills up over the weekends.

If you missed the previous post on HK, please click on Hong Kong: Second Time’s A Charm

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Reward of Seeing A Wild Tiger

What does reward mean to you?

I have never seen a tiger in the wild until September 2010. Prior to that, just like most people, I only saw tigers in the zoo. At that time I was working in Delhi for a month on a project, and my former colleague recommended that I make a trip to Ranthambhore National Park in Rajasthan over the weekend to spot wild tigers. Ranthambhore National Park lies in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan, easily accessible by train from Delhi, a 3-hour journey.

I stayed at Ranthambhore Bagh based on my friend’s recommendation, and my friend knows the owner of Ranthambhore Bagh, Aditya “Dicky” Singh who is an avid wildlife photographer, conservationist, activist and trained engineer. I had an interesting conversation with Dicky over dinner on the first night at the resort – I knew nothing about wildlife photography and India’s Bengal tigers which were dwindling in numbers (I believe the tiger population in India has increased by 30%, thanks to major conservation efforts after such a long time).

Because of the dinner conversation, I was psyched about the trip. Excited and imagined what it would be like to see wild tigers! However, I was also informed that visitors might not be lucky to see tigers because there were 40 or so tigers in this huge national park. So I lowered my expectations and told myself that the key thing was to enjoy being in the wild and appreciate the beauty of nature :-)

Probably as a “reward” for being understanding, I saw my first wild tiger in the morning safari within 15 minutes of our outing! Initially, the ranger heard something and told the driver to stop. Within a few seconds, I heard the tiger roared and I swear that that roar came behind the bushes which was only 15-20 feet away from the jeep! Soon enough, the tiger appeared from the bushes and crossed the road. The experience was so surreal, unbelievable :-)

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Admittedly, I have mixed feelings abt this image - we are encroaching the tiger's space in the wild

Admittedly, I have mixed feelings abt this image – we are encroaching the tiger’s space in the wild

And saving the best for last…the beauty of the national park.

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Wing Lok St

Hong Kong: Second Time’s A Charm

The first time I went to HK was in 2011 to attend a work conference. Post-conference, I extended my stay for extra 2 nights to do some sight-seeing but I wasn’t sure what I had wanted to do or see in HK. You see, back then I wasn’t a seasoned solo traveller. My previous travels were always with friends and I just went along with their itineraries. For that first trip, I had booked the hotel accommodation which was located in an area where bus services were infrequent and no MTR stations nearby (I had checked out from the conference 5-star luxury hotel by then). I didn’t read or research before the conference, ended up walking around in the city, kinda aimlessly. As a result, the feeling about HK was just..meh.

Despite that confusing and disorienting first-time experience, I knew, by then, that this city was intriguing. There’s something about HK – it’s an urban jungle filled with tall buildings and skycrapers, people jostling against each other for every little space available, fast pace of life but it has..character. I hope I would be able to relate and share the “character” of HK with you in the next couple of posts.

Since HK is only 3.5 hours flight from Malaysia, I told myself that I would return again, hopefully, to have a positive experience. And indeed it was the second time around when we had a 4-day long weekend a month ago.

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One of the things I love about HK is the connectivity of public transport particularly the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) service. The moment you arrive at the airport, you can hop on to the Airport Express, the fastest link to the city. After that, most parts of HK can be reached with the MTR – it’s easy and convenient. Unlike other cities where it is advisable to purchase a tourist day pass to travel on public transportation, in HK, the Octopus card rules. The Octopus card is a stored value smart card used as a payment card when commuting in & out of HK (MTR, bus, ferry) and now increasingly accepted in many retail shops such as convenience stores, fast-food restaurants.

Octopus Card

Octopus Card

As soon as I exit from the Arrival Hall at the airport, the Airport Express customer service desk is located immediately on the right. I queued to top up the amount left on my Octopus card previously purchased on my first trip. The good thing about the Octopus card is that there is no expiration date. You can keep the card for future trips – all you need to do is to top up and you can use the card right away. However, should you feel that you won’t be returning to HK anymore, you can give up the card at their customer service desk and redeem the amount balance left on the card.

Here’s the MTR system map which the customer service staff gave along with the Octopus card:

MTR system map

MTR system map

I stayed at a friend’s flat located on Tung Lo Wan Road which is only 5 minutes’ walk from Tin Hau MTR station. I boarded the Airport Express (green line) from the Airport to Hong Kong, then switched to Central (blue line – heading to Chai Wan) and Tin Hau station is 4 stops away from Central. Easy peasey!

Tin Hau MTR station

Tin Hau MTR station

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One of the things that I enjoy most nowadays is to go on a heritage walk. No matter how modern a destination is, there will always be a historical part of that city/town which gives you an insight into how the city evolved over time. In some heritage areas, people still live and work just like how it was back in the old days.

In HK, there are areas which you can go on a self-guided heritage walk, and the area which we ventured into was the historical yet modernised areas of Central and Sheung Wan where traditions of the past juxtaposed with modern metropolis. Here are some of the photos I took during my afternoon walk:

(P.S. My DSLR camera decided to be temperamental during this trip, so all images were taken with my phone Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and weather was cloudy, unfortunately)

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Wing Lok St

Snacks and dried food stuff shop

Snacks and dried food stuff shop

Chinese herbs and dried seafood shop

Chinese herbs and dried seafood shop

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Ding Ding - HK tram

Ding Ding – HK tram

After a while, we didn’t really follow the map of this self-guided heritage walk. We just walked and walked, turned left or right whenever we felt, yeah, this looks interesting, let’s go :-) Somewhere along this heritage trail, I believe, it led us to Hollywood Road which is known for their curio and antique shops. I have often questioned the genuity of antique items – if I may be candid about this – there seems to be a trend or fad of liking everything “old” – so how would you know if the items were purposely produced to look antique or worse still, the items were bought from someone’s garage sale and sold off as “antique”?? I still think that even though we are in Year 2015, items that were popular in 1970s are not antique! If it’s 1815 or 1520, yeah I may believe it’s antique…OK, sorry, I digress! :-)

Further uphill from Hollywood Road is one of the first traditional-style temples built during HK’s colonial era is the Man Mo Temple. The Man Mo Temple pays homage to the Taoist God of Literature (Man) and God of War (Mo).
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More images below of steep roads along Hollywood Road and the ubiquitous high rise buildings of HK
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Markets on side lanes
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By evening time, we moved on from Central & Sheung Wan to Mongkok. Mongkok is in Kowloon Peninsula of HK and is choc-a-block with old and new buildings – shops and restaurants at street level, and commercial or residential units above – and lots and lots and lots of people! If I thought only India has high population density per square km, well, according to Wikipedia, Mongkok was once described as the busiest district in the world by Guinness World Records due to its extremely high population density of 130,000 per square km or 340,000 per square mile.

Mongkok has often been portrayed in films as the area in which Chinese triads run bars, nightclubs and massage parlours. Some say that Mongkok has a “cleaner” image now with more legitimate businesses in the area – hmm, if you ask me, well, that’s money laundering haha. To be honest, I don’t know but I like the lively atmosphere in Mongkok especially in the evenings when Sai Yeung Choi St is closed for pedestrians.

It might be an assault on your senses especially sight and hearing. Neon lights flashing from every shop selling electronics, food, desserts, cosmetics, you name it. Huge (and I mean, HUGE!) billboards advertising the latest fashion, brand or the upcoming film in the cinema. Buntings of all kinds put up on sidewalks to catch your attention, and if you are not careful (because there’s way too many people around), you might trip and fall on these buntings!

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Then, the sounds of Mongkok. Street buskers are everywhere on Sai Yeung Choi St but it’s more like an outdoor karaoke session – a group of men (or ladies) standing next to portable amps, singing Chinese and English oldies. Some sang beautifully. Some were tone deaf. Some beatbox. Some break-dance. Whether they sang well and collected lots of money or not, they were often surrounded by huge crowds of onlookers.

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Nearby, a group of students – young political activists – advocating the importance of political freedom and distributing stickers of the Umbrella Revolution. HK-23

In addition, there is the Ladies’ Market on Tung Choi St. Don’t worry, it’s not restricted to ladies only (I think the misleading name has stuck over the years) but with over 100 stalls of clothings, accessories, watches, bags, trinkets, this market has something for all ages and genders. It’s certainly a place for you to practise your haggling skills!

You may like or loathe the madness of Mongkok, but it is full of life and energy which bring out the character that I was longing to see in a city. It was a good start to the trip, getting reacquainted with HK again – I was looking forward to more surprises the following day :-)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

This week, compose your subject off-center, obeying the Rule of Thirds.

Ever since I started having an interest in photography and owning a DSLR in 2010, I have had been taking pictures not exactly following the “rules” of photography. Although I take into account of some fundamentals e.g. White Balance and ISO, I tend not to pay much attention to other technical aspects of photography. There are times I get bored with the technical stuff (I can hear professionals gasping there, saying “how could you not know?!) So, it’s only through WordPress Weekly Photo Challenges, that I now know about Rule of Thirds :-)

Here are photos I took from my travels, and I think they interpret the Rule of Thirds – do they? If not, enjoy these images anyway :-)

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Agra Fort

Elephant task sculpture at Jag Mandir Palace, Udaipur

Elephant task sculpture at Jag Mandir Palace, Udaipur

Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage, Sri Lanka

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Have a Goat (Good) Chinese New Year!

Tomorrow, 19 Feb 2015 is the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. According to Chinese astrology, Chinese New Year 2015 is the Year of the Goat.

I know, in some parts of the world, it’s also called Year of the Sheep or Ram but in Chinese, all 3 animals are called “yang” and means almost the same..I think :-) I’m Malaysian-Chinese but I don’t speak, write or read Chinese, unlike my other Malaysian-Chinese friends! As a result, I’m called a banana means “yellow on the outside, but white on the inside” but that’s another funny story. So, if you really want to know what “yang” means, please ask Mr. Google ;-)

To be precise, 2015 Chinese New Year is the Year of the Wood Goat (or Sheep). As some of you might already know, there are 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac and each year corresponds to one animal, hence it’s a 12-year cycle. This is why you may not reveal your age but if you mention your Chinese animal horoscope (i.e. the Zodiac), we know how old (or young) you are! In addition to the 12 animals, there are 5 Elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) in the Chinese Zodiac which are associated with their own “chi” or “life force”.

So what does the Year of the Wood Goat has in store for us in 2015? Since Goat (or Sheep) is a docile animal, its softer side represents peace, harmony, kindness and tenderness. The Wood element, by its very nature, associated with all living things, therefore it means life renewal process. 2014, on the other hand, was the Year of Wood Horse but Horse is Fire (horse gallops, wild, stubborn sometimes, thus tumultous) and wood fuels the fire to burn even more. That is why some say that last year was the year of intense pressure, instability,  high tension, heated clashes. Therefore, many are looking forward to the Year of the Wood Goat as it predicts a more calm atmosphere…well, I hope!

If 2014 was the year to gallop and take off, then how about moving forward in 2015 as the year to contemplate and appreciate our achievements, to keep peace and be generous, and be on a steady path for the future.

Here’s wishing you all KONG HEI FATT CHOY or GONG XI FA CAI or HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR! May you have a prosperous Goat year! :-)

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Taj Mahal - built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz

Weekly Photo Challenge: Symmetry of Taj Mahal

This week, share an image of symmetry.

Now I have not shared images of Taj Mahal in a long, long time. And how fitting it is to feature Taj Mahal for the challenge Symmetry.

The Taj’s architectural style, a combination of Persian and Mughal architecture, and the symmetrical structure of its minarets. Did you know that the minarets were constructed slightly outside of the tomb base so that in the event of a collapse, the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb?

Taj Mahal - built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz

Taj Mahal – built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz

The layout and the architectural features of the garden were inspired by Persian gardens but the landscape is similar to that of English lawns when the British took over the management of Taj Mahal during the time of the British Empire.

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Guest Post from Jack Lee: Bangkok to Kanchanaburi

This guest post was written by my friend Jack Lee who travelled from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi in Dec 2014. Jack has had been sharing with me his interest in the train ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi for quite a while. As soon as he returned to Kuala Lumpur, he contacted me right away and asked if I could help to post this article on my blog – I said, sure, I’d be delighted!

Jack doesn’t have a travel blog but do check out his pictures on Instagram .

Enjoy the post especially the YouTube video! :-)

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Who in the right mind would travel from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi on an almost 14-hour return trip by train, when it is only 4 hours by car? Apparently the not-so-right-minds are my better half and I. A day earlier, we were at Hua Lamphong train station, traveling to Ayutthaya by train (another story next time) and we remembered that we read online about the excursion train service that is only available on weekends. Feeling adventurous, we enquired at the information counter inside the station, obtained this itinerary, queued up at lane number 11 and paid 240 Baht for two 3rd class seats (only 3rd class seats are available, by the way).
BKK-KCHB-2The next morning, we left the hotel at 6am with just minutes to spare before the train leaving at 6.30 am sharp. For early travelers, bear in mind that BTS and Metro operating hours start at 6 am, so do allow longer service intervals as it had just started the day’s service. Modern, glitzy inner city Bangkok skyline disappeared quickly as the train chugged out of Hua Lamphong; replaced with slums, smaller towns, paddy fields, tapioca plantations and beautiful mountain ranges over the horizon.

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After an hour, we arrived at our first stop – Nakhon Pathom. As it was a Saturday morning, street food peddlers plied on the main streets, leading to the magnificent Phra Pathom Chedi, which is the largest pagoda in Thailand. This is also the first religious landmark that signified the introduction of Buddhism in Thailand. We had only 40 minutes before we were required to be on the train to our next destination.
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Dual track rail lines continued on until the Nong Pladuk Station, where the single track line starts. This is also the Thai-Burma Railway or more commonly known as Hellfire Pass starting station whereby construction begun on 16th September 1942. The 415 km long rail connection was crucial for the Japanese to mount planned attacks on India, during World War II as their naval strength was reduced in earlier battles.
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As we soaked in the scenery outside the train window, be careful of overgrown branches as the train passed by. Just as we began to warm up to other train passengers, the train arrived at the stop just before River Kwai bridge for photo shoot.
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Kanchanaburi is a town of about 40,000 population, located to the west of Thailand. Occupied by the Japanese in the second World War, it was here that Prisoner of Wars (POWs) were forced into building the 415 km railway tracks, stretching from Nong Pladuk to Thanbyuzayat, Myanmar (Burma). Due to maltreatment, and treacherous and unhospitable jungle conditions, over 100,000 lives of POWs were lost during the 1 year construction period.

Once over at the other side of the river bank, we moved on to the famous Wam Po viaduct crossing. The Wam Po viaduct, now maintained by State Railway of Thailand, consists of a series of trestle bridges following the curve of a sheer limestone cliff which falls into the Kwae Noi at the side.
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The tracks continued to be in operation until the year 1976 and it is the last stop, Sai Yok Noi waterfall where we rested for 3 hours, before leaving to Bangkok at 3pm.
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Although it was hot and dusty throughout the journey, the train ride was nothing short of spectacular. Here, you get chance to mingle with the Thais, despite they do not speak much English. One thing for sure, you can forget about adhering to the itinerary schedule as we arrived Bangkok an hour late. But, who’s keeping track of timing when you are having holiday?

*All images and text owned by Jack Lee.