An evening at Mapopo organic community farm

Whenever I travel to Hong Kong, I would seek out unusual activities or places to visit, I am more interested in the ‘alternative’ side beyond shopping and eating. On this visit, I found out about Mapopo organic community farm in Fanling, New Territories, where they would host an evening with guided walk around the farm observing nature, followed by an organic vegetarian meal cooked from locally sourced produce. My friend and I decided to book onto this event to check out what organic farms are like in a small modern city like Hong Kong.



In Asia, you cannot live without mosquito repellents… even though my friend and I had already put on an excellent mosquito repellent cream ( which I bought from Germany!) and used mosquito repellent patches, we still managed to get bitten on areas that we missed! These mosquitoes are terrifying… we felt incredibly sorry for one girl who worn shorts and ended up with about 30 bites on her legs!

Despite the mosquito scare, the event was interesting and informative; we were taken around by young local villagers and were given transparent red paper to cover our torches so that we wouldn’t disturb the insects and animals. The tour lasted about 2 hours and we saw a firefly, several kinds of snails and frogs etc. I learned a lot more about these small creatures at the tour, but what amazed me was the location of this farm: it is only a street away from several residential high rises!



The vegetarian organic meal cooked by a local farm resident was delicious, we were surprised to learn that these tasty vegetables and tofu were all locally produced. However, even though organic farming is on the rise in Hong Kong, there are still many obstacles esp. when land is so scarce here.

At the end of the evening, we were told that the government has proposed to ‘regenerate’ the area by getting rid of more farmland ( the farm had already been reduced by half previously) for more residential high rises! Meanwhile, property developers ( which control Hong Kong on the whole) have already started evicting farmers from their land even though the proposal has not been finalised. I can’t help but feeling angry towards a government which only cares about profit making, yet there is little that we can do to stop them. When nature and its habitants are destroyed, there will be no turning back… I just hope that this community will get more support from the locals and media because only people’s voices can possibly make differences in our societies.

Mapopo organic community farm (their website is only in Chinese) hosts weekly organic farmers market on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, as well as workshops like ceramics and bread making.



Asia society Hong Kong Centre

A Buddha head sculpture by Zhang Huan on the rooftop


The new non-profit Asia Society Hong Kong Centre opened in February this year on a hill above several 5-star hotels and a large shopping mall in Admiralty. Located at the former Explosives Magazine Compound built by the British Army in the mid-19th century, three of the buildings on the site were classified as Grade 1 historical structures.

New York based architects, Tod Williams Billie Tsien architects were chosen as part of a competition in 2001 to restore the compound, aiming to blend the old with the new while preserving the lush surrounding as much as possible. Now the completed site is comprised of galleries, theatre, café, shop, office and a roof garden.

Since I became more interested in Buddhism, I have been attending more events related to Buddhist Art esp. at the British Museum, including one by Antony Gormley. However, as it is a complex subject, I can say that my knowledge on it is still very shallow. After my visit to the Sukhothai historical park in Thailand, I was eager to find out more, and so I took the opportunity and attended a free public talk at the centre on Asian Buddhist Art by Dr. Gauri Krishnan (from the Indian Heritage Centre in Singapore), which was part of the events related to the current exhibition, “Transforming Minds: Buddhism in Art“.



The exhibition showcases Buddhist works from the Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection along with contemporary works by leading Asian artists. Although the collection/ exhibition is relatively small, the works have been carefully arranged and curated, again, emphasizing on blending the new with the old in a harmonious manner.

For me, the work that stood out was the late Thai artist, Montien Boonma‘s Lotus sound (1992), composed of 473 black terra-cotta bells arranged in a semi-circular position with gold-leaved lotus petals suspended above. Montien was one of the most celebrated conceptual artists in the Thai contemporary art scene, but tragically lost his battle to cancer in 2000 at the age of 47.



I love Colonial-style architecture, while many were demolished and made way to endless ‘modern’ high rises in Hong Kong, it was a bit of a relief to finally see some progress in the conservation and regeneration of these heritage buildings. Walking around the site, it was almost hard to believe that I was in Hong Kong, as it is often hard to find a ‘breathing space’ here, so this site feels like an oasis in the middle of a hectic city.



Transforming Minds: Buddhism in Art” exhibition has been extended until the 22nd July, 2012.




Disappointing gift fairs in Bangkok & Hong Kong


I must be the slowest blogger out there, I have a backlog of entries that I started but never quite finished, including this which was on supposed to be published after the trade fairs last month…

I visited the biannual Bangkok International gift and household fairs a few years ago, and I decided to return because of my interest in Thai design. Although I am not a fan of trade fairs, it is however, the easiest way to meet suppliers under one roof, to see new products and understand what the upcoming trends are.



Compared to a few years ago, I was quite disappointed because there were hardly any new names and the new products from the more established designers or brands were not so different from what I had seen before. As a frequent visitor to design shows and fairs, I get to see more ‘designed’ products than those who are not in the industry; but what prevents me from walking around like a zombie is when I see products that are inspiring or unique. Sadly, I saw very few at the fair this year, and was told by local Thais that the show was quieter than usual this year, with notably less foreign buyers.



The Thai contemporary design scene boomed around the mid 2000s, and what made their products unique was their eco-conscious and sustainable way of ‘designing’ by using local materials and traditional methods to create beautiful craft-like designs esp. lighting, furniture and household products.

Hopefully, the slip in standard was due to many design studios and designers opting out of the gift fair rather a reflection of the overall Thai design industry. But if this fair was a showcase of the best in the Thai design industry, then the organiser needs to try harder in the future.



Hong Kong gift fair is the largest gift fair in the world, but being the largest does not make it the best. Depending on what you are sourcing, but for those sourcing for innovative, inspiring and cool products, then you are most likely to be disappointed.

Most of the local design brands were located on the ground floor, but two issues bothered me incredibly after the fair. The first was that many brands were very trend-driven, with mostly iphone or mac-related accessories. My question to these designers and companies is that “what happens if Apple releases iphone 5 that is round in shape? What will happen to all these ‘outdated’ accessories? Since most of them are made of plastic, how will they recycle or dispose of them?”

Hong Kong has always been viewed as one of the ‘least’ creative cities in Asia, but it’s not because there are no talented designers there, it has more to do with the local market. When most mass consumers only care about being ‘trendy’ and ‘in’, designers and companies simply respond to the market needs by giving them what they want. Hence, trends come and go quickly, while many local designers and companies are being criticised for having no identities. And this was exactly what I observed at the fair… design for design’s sake is hardly good design.

My other concern was to do with the exhibitors’ attitude problem… perhaps I didn’t look like a major buyer and so many weren’t very helpful when I enquired about their products, while others just chatted among themselves, ignoring me completely. This was a huge contrast to the Thai exhibitors, who were mostly friendly and informative.

The one positive note regarding the fair was seeing more companies switching to environmental materials and methods in the production of their products, but could this be another fad? Only time will tell.


Hong Kong International Art fair 2012

Nishino Kozo’s ‘Memory of the Sky’



Originally, I wasn’t planning to go to the Hong Kong International Art Fair, but thanks to my brother who got free access to the show and other related events, I took the opportunity to see what the fuss was all about.

Art HK started in 2007, which was a relatively small regional art fair, but has since become more important in the international art circuit for contemporary Asian art, especially after Art Basel acquired it in 2011. Apparently, this year, the show has attracted many new galleries as well as foreign visitors, which also meant that it was almost impossible to book onto most gallery events related to the show!



After attended the rather cramped and commercial London Art fair earlier in the year, I wasn’t expecting much from this. But surprisingly, there were wider varieties and more experimental works from both Asia and Western galleries. However, I wasn’t not so sure about the ‘collectable value’ of these art pieces, many of which seemed like ‘promotional’ pieces that aimed to draw attention, but then again, that is how I feel towards most contemporary art works anyway.

One of the most ‘talked about’ pieces was Ai Weiwei‘s ‘Cong‘ – externally displaying 123 letters from regional governments whose schools collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, while internally listing the 5,196 students who were tragically killed in the event due to negligence by construction companies and local government officials ( see below).



Meanwhile, there were also many works by contemporary Korean artists, including some rather eye-catching inflatable lotuses by Choi Jeong Hwa ( see his ‘golden lotus’ below).



My problem with large trade and art fairs is that I tend to get overwhelmed very quickly, and would lose interest after a while. My friend and I managed to do one floor in just over 2 hours and decided to head to the bar while completely missed the other floor!

Oh well, I guess there is always next year…




Damp days in Hong Kong

I rarely travel to Asia in spring and as I discovered, it probably wasn’t not the best time of year to visit… While Thailand was extremely hot, Hong Kong was mostly wet, grey, hot and humid.

I had no idea that my body would react so strongly to the weather… for days, I was feeling extremely tired and battling against bad headaches, all because of the high humidity ( apparently, it does cause headaches)! I dislike air-conditioning, but there was little choice… the dampness was too unbearable.

Continuous downpours and unpredictable weather meant I couldn’t go on hikes or plan outdoor activities… What a letdown! When I learned that UK had the wettest April on record, I didn’t feel particular glad, but upon hearing the temperature was about 20 degrees lower, I suddenly felt better… Everything is relative after all.


Super moon in Hong Kong



Shopping in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has many interesting arts and crafts shops; on Charoenrat Road, there is Colour Factory, a shop that sells painted art elephants from the Elephant Parade, an organization that supports Asian elephant conservation. Over the last few years, their open air art exhibitions which took place in different cities ( including London in 2010) has created worldwide attention and awareness. Many well-known artists and designers have taken part in this project, you can support the project by purchasing the art elephants, which I think are great gift ideas for friends and families.

On this road, there is also a ceramics outlet called Earth and Fire, where you can buy locally made ceramics at bargain prices. Further down, there is Circle source paper, which sells handmade paper and paper products.



Not far from the Wat Phra Singh, there is another handmade paper shop called HQ paper maker. There is a large collection of mulberry paper and paper products, but what is interesting is that they host one-day paper making workshops outside of the city centre, where participants can learn and understand the process of paper making from the beginning to the final stage. I hope that I will be able to try it when I am in town next time!


On Prapokklao Rd, I stopped by at Herbs basics, a local shop that sells natural and herbal skin products. Compare to many natural skincare brands or spa lines in Bangkok, the products here are much cheaper, yet the ingredients are similar, so I took the opportunity and stocked up products for myself and friends.

On the same road, I walked into a cute-looking shop and gallery called Things called art, that sell art work and merchandise by two artists, Supachet Bhumakarn and Siriwan Lohacheewa. I was particularly intrigued by Supachet‘s elephant art work and started chatting to Siriwan, who was in the shop at the time of my visit. No, I didn’t purchase Supachet‘s art work but I did buy a few of his lovely greeting cards because they are just too cute…

Like I mentioned before, there are many cool shops including many fashion shops around Nimmanhaemin Soi. My favourite one is Kit-bit-s, a local fashion brand set up by three sisters. They use cute and colourful fabrics to create simple but youthful pieces that remind me of the French label, Paul & Joe sister at very reasonable prices!


Personally, I think shopping in Chiang Mai is more interesting and cheaper than Bangkok, perhaps there are less recognisable brands, but I love the locally made products which are individual and not trend-driven. So if you visit Chiang Mai, do remember to spare a bit of time and support these local designers, artists and businesses!


Graffiti in Chiang Mai

I have a strong interest in graffiti, but I didn’t expect to see such ‘high quality’ graffiti artwork in the city centre of Chiang Mai. I was especially amazed when I stumbled upon several walls covered with graffiti art outside a car park next to a large shopping mall. I am sure there are many hidden gems in the city, here are just some that I accidentally ‘discovered’…




Chiang Mai’s museums & art galleries

Museum of the past: Wat Ket Karam


Chiang Mai is known for its art and culture, it’s no surprise to find cool art galleries here, but I was esp. delighted to find two rather quaint museums that are off the beaten track. Apart from the Chiang Mai city arts & cultural centre, I never saw other visitors during my visits ( and hardly any staff for that matter), so overall it was a very unique experience:


Chiang Mai city arts & cultural centre – Established in 1997, this centre is located in a beautiful historical building constructed in 1924. It traces the history of Chiang Mai back to the ancient Lanna Kingdom; although its layout and concept is similar to Museum of Siam in Bangkok, it is not as detailed and well thought out. However, it is still worth a visit if you are interested in the history of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Philatelic Museum – located not far from the flower market, the 100-year old colonial building used to be a post office before being turned into a museum in 1990. I am not sure if many tourists would visit this museum, but it is rather quirky. I love how they have preserved the old communication tools as well as the furniture, walking around the museum made me feel like I was caught in a time warp. I also bought some beautiful sets of stamps ( which I will blog about in another entry), which are great as souvenirs for friends!



Wat Ket Karam Museum (also known as Uncle Jack’s Museum) – I love this museum! I stumbled upon it while I was walking along Charoenrat Road. Located in the compound of the 15th century Wat Ket Karam temple, I was a bit hesitant before stepping in but once inside, I felt like I was transported to another era, it was just amazing…

Founded in 2001 by Jarin Bain or Uncle Jack ( who is over 90 years old now), this free museum only came about because its building ( a 100 year-old ex residence of the monks) was in danger of being demolished by the senior monks of the temple. Hence, Uncle Jack decided to self-finance and conserve the building as well as its contents and turned it into a community museum. With donations from the Wat Ket community and his antique dealer friend, Uncle Jack single-handedly created a mesmerising heritage treasure trove that is more personal and interesting than the official cultural centre!

The museum has a large collection of ancient Thai scripts and literature, artefacts, collectibles and a room full of old black and white photos of Chiang Mai. Wandering around the museum (alone), I felt like I was in an antique collector’s house rather than a ‘proper’ museum. My only wish is that someone will  take over Uncle Jack‘s job when he is no longer around, someone who will dedicate as much time and care to this unique place…



Lanna Architecture Center  – this beautiful building in the city centre is now used as a research and exhibition center for Lanna architecture. The exhibits were not as interesting as the building itself, but it was still quite pleasant to wander around if you happen to be in the area.



On Charoenrat Road, there are many interesting art galleries, cafes and handicrafts shops. One of them is Comedara Art Gallery & restaurant, which is housed in a beautiful colonial building and exhibits artwork by local artists.



The ‘hippest’ area in Chiang Mai is Nimmanhaemin soi, where most cool shops, cafes and art galleries are located. I walked by Gallery SeeScape and was attracted by its laid back and accessible vibe. If only all galleries are as unpretentious as this…



2 days in Chiang Mai

My Thai friends have been urging me to visit Chiang Mai for a long time as they know that I have an interest in arts and crafts. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to make this trip, but after spending only 2 nights here, I realised that I would like return again and spend more time here. My impression of the city is that it is artistic, friendly, quirky, eco-conscious and laid back, rather different from Bangkok.

Stay – For my entire trip in Thailand, I have chosen to stay at small B & Bs instead of hotels, which I think was the right decision because not only did I receive more authentic and personal service but I also met many interesting and like-minded people. In Chiang Mai, I chose to stay at Baan BooLoo, a friendly and eco-consious B & B within the old city wall.

As eco tourism becomes more popular, many hotels now claim themselves to be eco-friendly, but how many of them are truly authentic? What I like about this family-owned B & B is its effort to be as sustainable as possible. The staff work as a team to create an unique oasis in the middle of the city where travelers can enjoy authentic Thai hospitality and lifestyle. While I was there, I found out that not only the guests all happened to be from London, but one of the family member/owner also lives in London, which was an interesting coincidence!

Map – If you need a guidebook/ map in Chiang Mai, then I highly recommend Nancy Chandler‘s Map of Chiang Mai (there is also one on Bangkok). I bought this in Bangkok for 250 baht, a bit pricey for Thai standard but it is really worth it. Nancy Chandler is an American artist who has spent decades living in Thailand; her maps are fun, informative and beautifully illustrated. I only wish that every city would have a map like this!

Transport – I love taking public transport when I am in different cities ( I even managed to do it in Los Angeles); in Chiang Mai, songthaews ( a shared taxi) is a convenient and cheap way to travel around the city. Most of the time, I was the only passenger, so it was fun to sightsee from the back of the truck for around 20-30 baht per trip…

Temples – There are many amazing temples within the old city walls, but the recently-restored Wat chedi (Jedee) Luang is probably the most impressive. Originally constructed in 1401, the massive pagonda was destroyed in an earthquake in 1545. Apart from the huge chedi ruin, there are also other smaller halls, including one which houses a 30-foot-long reclining Buddha.


Markets – I love visiting food markets when I travel, so instead of going to the night bazaar, I went to Warowat and flower markets by the river. I love the vibe, smell, colours and variety of food markets, they are also great places for (local) people-watching. I was particular thrilled when I saw a coffee stand at one of the entrances, shame that he doesn’t sell takeaway coffee beans… The area around the market is also very busy with stalls selling food, fruits ( even strawberries), flowers, fabrics, gadgets and handicrafts etc, it is a very interesting area and not at all touristy.



To be continued…


Sukhothai historical park

If I have to choose the most wonderful and sustainable airport in the world, Sukhothai airport would be on the top of my list ( see below)! It is privately owned by Bangkok airways and serves only two arrivals from Bangkok daily. Not only it is beautifully designed in traditional Thai style, it also has an organic farm as well as a small zoo with animals like zebras and horses! I was so distracted by its beauty that I left the airport without my luggage! I had to return to the airport an hour later and an officer just grinned at me as if he had been expecting me… and when I identified my luggage, he insisted on carrying it all the way to the car for me. Would I receive this kind of service at airports elsewhere? I doubt it!

Since I started traveling independently at the age of 19, I have made a few mistakes by picking the wrong travel season i.e. visiting Morocco/ Sahara and Egypt in the summer. And finally, cycling around Sukhothai in their hottest season…

Not only it was boiling, I was also given a ‘PINK HELLO KITTY’ bicycle by the owner of my guest house who rents bikes to their guests! He spoke little English but insisted that it was right for me… All I could think of was that I wouldn’t be seen dead in this if I was in London, yet reluctantly I accepted and tried to see the hilarious side to it…



I have been warned by my B & B owner, Tong not to cycle around the park before 4pm, but I couldn’t resist the temptation… Though not long after cycling in the heat, I had to escape to the Ramkhamhaeng National museum because it was too unbearable! Looking around, I only saw foreigners cycling in the heat, the Thais were nowhere to be seen…

Considered as the ‘first national capital’ and an Unesco world heritage site, the Buddhist temple sites and statues at Sukhothai are truly spectacular, especially the restored 13th century, Wat Si Chum ( the temple of the bodhi tree – see below). There are secret passages between the outer and inner walls with depictions of Buddha’s life, where devotees were able to climb up to get a glimpse of the seated Buddha statue ( this experience has now been recreated at the museum).



The historical park itself overs an area of 70 square kilometres with just under 200 ruins, but there are many sites outside of the park that are rarely visited by tourists. For safety reasons, Tong warned me to stick within the area shown on the map and not to venture too far out, which I did follow.

Strangely, there are hardly any cafes or rest areas within the park, and when I eventually found one, I was happy to pay the ‘tourist’ price for an iced lemon tea and downed it within a few minutes!

At around 6pm, cars started to appear at the park and groups of (wise) Thais with fans and cameras in their hands emerged enthusiastically. While I sat there exhausted and dehydrated, I realised I must have looked like an idiot to them with my pink bicycle parked nearby…

However, watching the sunset, I felt incredibly moved… Was it worth the sweat and energy? Yes, but if I ever return again, I would do it the Thai way…