One winter’s day in Brighton



Not surprisingly, I have never visited Brighton in the winter, but an exhibition on my wish list brought me to the coastal city in January. Obviously, I had to check the weather forecast before booking my train ticket, and it was lucky that the forecast was correct for a change.

Sunshine and blue sky makes a huge difference in winter, especially in Brighton. I actually prefer Brighton’s seafront in winter than summer as it is calmer and less crowded. Walking along the beach in the morning was uplifting; I later returned here to watch the sunset before heading back to London, which was beautiful and mesmorising.












Although I have always liked Brighton, I don’t think I have explored it fully in the past. I am aware that many Londonders have moved here over the last few years, and it is not hard to understand why. As I wandered around the North Laine district, I was happy to see many indpenedent shops and cafes in the area. Honestly, I am so bored of seeing ubiquitous branded and chained stores in London these days, it actually puts me off going out to shop. Yet in Brighton, the shops look more interesting (at least in North Laine), and I liked the laidback and friendly vibe too. It is pathetic to hear people in the retail sector blaming online shopping for UK’s dying high streets. I believe that customers only turn to the internet because the high Streets are uninviting and uninspiring. If you visit cities like Norwich, Brighton or even Totnes (the famous Market town full of independent shops), you would see that their high streets are very vibrant and inspiring.








img_5515-min  img_5645-min




I never realised that Brighton has so many chocolate shops before; I was particularly intrigued when I walked past Be Chocolate by Michel Clement (15 Duke St). The chocolates looked so enticing that I walked in without much persuasion. I had a short chat with the chocolatier, and he told me that they have recently opened a counter in Selfridges. I told him that a counter is quite different from a shop, and I think that the shop is much more inviting. In London, I would rarely go into a chocolatier to buy chocolates, but here, I couldn’t resist the temptation and splashed out willingly. Their chocolates are fresh and excellent, so I do recommend a visit to their shop if you visit Brighton next time.


be chocolate  be chocolate

Be Chocolate


I have wanted to try out the famous seafood restaurant Riddle & Finns for some time, and since it is the new year, I decided to treat myself on this occasion. The oysters and seafood linguine were fresh and delicious, and I had an interesting conversation with an elderly Scottish gentleman sitting opposite me about our oysters, traveling and Scotland. For some strange reason, while chatting to the gentleman, I felt like I was on holiday, even though I was only less than 2 hours away from home. Perhaps it was the beach walk or the rosé, or a combo of the two…




Seafood at Riddle & Finns


It is hard not to notice the wonderful street art all around the city. I found it very relaxing to walk around the city, and felt that the people working in shops and cafes are friendlier than London. It is not that I dislike London, but the city has become too commercial and touristy in the last two decades, so much as that it is losing its charm and appeal. I have been pondering over leaving London for some time now, and a day trip to Brighton has reignited my inner debate. Yet even if I don’t move here, I would love to return this charming city and Hove again in the future.


brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart  brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart  brighton streetart

brighton streetart

brighton streetart


To be continued…

Hiking in Hong Kong: Lamma island

lamma island

lamma island


Hiking is definitely one of my favourite acitivities in Hong Kong, and I would do at least one hike whatever I visit the city. Not long ago, I reconnected with an old friend in the city who is a keen hiker, and she suggested taking the ferry to Lamma Island (35 minutes from Central) for a hike on a clear and sunny day in April.

The Sok Kwu Wan circular hike is a popular trail and takes around three hours to complete. We passed through the old Mo Tat village, which is several centuries old, and a new one nearby with more modern housing. There are also many banana and mango trees growing here – it is good to know that there are still people who choose to live in small rural villages like these ones in Hong Kong.


lamma island

lamma island

lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island


Hiking in Hong Kong has become more popular in recent years, and I believe this is related to the global ‘back to basics’ lifestyle trend. Unlike the previous generations, people now understand how stress is affecting our health, and many are trying to find a balance between work and life. Yet living in a small and dense city like Hong Kong, it is easy to feel suffocated and stressed, so turning to nature seems like the obvious choice for people to rejuvenate. Luckily, there are plenty of hiking trails in the city for stressed out people to escape from their hectic city lives.


lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island  lamma island


After a relatively easy walk, we encountered a long stairway up to Ling Kok Shan. I usually don’t have an issue hiking uphill, but it was around 3-4 pm in the afternoon, and the sun was right on top of us, with no breeze at all. About 3/4 way up the hill, I felt quite nauseous and had to sit down for a rest. My friend was worried that I was suffering from heatstroke, and so she told me to take my time to rest and drink lots of water before continuing on. Later, I learned that the temperature had reached 28 degrees at 3 pm.


lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island


After a 15-minute rest, we embarked on our journey again and I felt much better after rehydrating myself. Despite the slight hiccup, I soon put that behind and was captivated by the panoramic views from the top of the mountain. The precarious-looking rocks from 164-140 million years ago are also one of the attractions here. Thankfully, our descend was easier, meanwhile, the sun was also less strong, which undoubtedly helped.


lamma island  lamma island

lamma island

lamma island


When we reached Tin Hau Temple at Yung Shue Wan, the sun was starting to set. We decided to get a drink by the pier to watch sunset, followed by a seafood meal at one of the seafood restaurants facing the sea. The seafood was delicious and I felt it was well-deserved after a challenging hike.


lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island

lamma island


My last surprise of the day was the ferry journey back – seeing the spectacular Hong Kong skyline at night brought some unexpected excitement. Overall, I did enjoy the day, but would probably check the weather forecast properly before I take the plunge next time.


hong kong skyline

hong kong skyline


Mandvi beach & the ancient craft of shipbuilding



I don’t know if Martin Parr has ever visited the historic seaport town Mandvi in Gujarat before, but if he has, he surely would be clicking away on the beach capturing the rather surreal beach scenes. Mandvi beach faces the Arabican sea, and was extensively used by ship merchants in the 18th century due to maritime trade. Now the beach is recreational but does not get overcrowded.






There are several interesting points about Mandvi beach that differs vastly from non-Indian beaches: there is a windfarm on the beach (I have never seen this before elsewhere); there are camels and horses everywhere (for rides); the oddest, though, is that there are no sunbathers nor swimmers! Perhaps it is due to religious and cultural reasons, but all the men and women I saw on the beach were fully clothed, while a hand full of people would go into the water to take selfies. Most of the activities took place on the beach, and few in the sea, which I found intriguing.









mandvi beach


mandvi beach




After spending some time walking barefoot on the sandy beach, we headed towards the shipbuilding yard to see Mandvi’s 400-year-old dhow-making tradition.

Founded by Maharao Khengarji I in 1580, Mandvi was a gateway to West Asia and Africa, as it was located at the intersection of the spice route and the camel caravan route. The Kharva community of both Hindus and Muslims became experts in building ships (or dhows) for the thriving maritime trade.

Amazingly, these ships are still being built today – by hand – using sal wood imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, and locally from Gujarat’s babool trees. The shipbuilders are mostly from the carpenter community who learned their skills from their fathers and grandfathers. Yet this is another dying craft as the issue of priracy in Somalia and Yemen is affecting the cargo trade, and fewer ships are being made now.












I have never been inside a handmade wooden ship before, and what came to my mind was ‘Naoh’s ark’ when I stepped in – undoubtedly the sturdy-looking ship can carry many animals, people and withstand a storm. I felt like I was in a time warp. There are hundreds of screws, nuts and bolts being used, and you can truly appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty when you are inside.


shipbuilding mandvi






Yet how can we preserve this ancient and dying craft if the demand for handmade cargo ships is dwindling? Can the craftsmen apply their skills to another trade? I don’t have the answers, but I think it would be a great shame to lose this craftsmanship, and only see this ship in a museum/virtual museum in the future.


Scottish Highlands: Ullapool



This summer, I spent two weeks staying in Ullapool, a small picturesque port on the shores of Loch Broom with around 1,500 inhabitants up in the Scottish Highlands. Before this trip, I have never travelled anywhere beyond Inverness in the Highlands. Since Ullapool cannot be reached by rail, I had to take a bus from Inverness, which took about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Although it is only a village, it draws many tourists as it serves as the gateway to the Western Isles. Large ferries and cruise ships can be seen at the port, and tourists can be seen embarking and disembarking all through summer. The village is also known as the centre for the arts and music, with several music festivals taking place here throughout the year.







Due to the peak season, I initially struggled to find accommodation for longer stay. After spending one week in a rental house, I went to the Isle of Lewis via ferry for a few days, then returned and stayed at a B & B up on the hill away from the centre. Luckily, the host told me that he has another rental studio by the loch in the centre, and that I could move over there after their guest had moved out. Somehow it all worked out, and I was more than happy to be staying in a studio facing the loch.

Ullapool is convenient as a base to explore the N.W. Highlands. I, too, used it as a base for my paper-making course in Elphin, and Geo Park tour. Hence, although I stayed in the village for 2 weeks, I did not get to visit the Ullapool museum, which was a pity.





ullapool  ullapool


Officially founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society, Ullapool was designed by Scottish civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford. Although evidence of human settlements can be found along the coast and on the road side dating back over two thousand years. Some of the original 18th century buildings can still be seen facing the harbour.

However, the village is also associated with Scotland’s darker past as the harbour was the emigration point during the Clearances, where many crofting communities were evicted from their land by their landowners to make way for large-scale sheep farming from 1750 to 1860. During this period, many families in the Highlands left for the New World from Ullapool and never returned again.










Since Ullapool is a port, seafood is a ‘must’ when you visit this village, and the best seafood place here is not a restaurant, but a shack. The multiple award-winning Seafood shack (9 W Argyle St) offers fresh local seafood at affordable prices, and the menu changes daily according to what is being delivered on the day. I went there a few times for dinner, and the food was always delicious with a contemporary twist. I also had fish and chips from Deli-Ca-Sea (West Shore Street), a small fish and chips takeaway near the Ferry terminal, where they serve traditional fish and chips.

There is also a pleasant bistro facing the loch called The Frigate (6 Shore Street) that serves a variety of dishes made form locally sourced produce. And on the last night, I had drinks and dinner with a new friend at the friendly and bustling The Ferry Boat Inn (26-27 Shore Street). The Blue Kazoo Seafood Cafe not only serves fresh and tasty seafood, you can also enjoy live music there in the weekends. We had a brilliant last night there and loved the vivacious atmosphere.


seafood shack

seafood shack

seafood shack


The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn


The inspiring landscape of the Highlands is alluring to many musicians, artists and artisans. Hence it is no surprise that many of them have moved up to the Highlands to live and work.

At the paper-making workshop, I met Jan, a geologist/botanist/bookbinder who co-runs a beautiful art and craft shop in Ullapool. Ceàrd (21 West Argyle Street) focuses on locally made products by Scottish makers. You can find paintings, prints, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, crochet, carved wood and many wonderful items in their shop.


ceard  ceard





On the opposite side of the street is An Talla Solais Gallery, where they showcase practising artists across the North West coast of Scotland through their regular art exhibitions. I stumbled upon the opening night of local artist Peter White‘s exhibition and was intrigued by his nature-inspired work.

Peter collects stones from the hills he walks in, paints on them and eventually returns them to the summit of the hill they came from in memory of people who have died. Interestingly, I did encounter one of Peter‘s work when I was hiking up the hill one day (see below).








Further away from the centre, there is Highland Stoneware Pottery (North Road) where visitors can visit the pottery workshop and purchase unique pottery handmade by craftspeople in Lochinver and Ullapool. They have a vast collection of tableware, and an online shop where people who live outside of Scotland can order and get the items shipped to them directly.





img_5561  img_5562



What I enjoyed most about Ullapool is that I could easily go for walks or strolls by the river and beach without leaving the village. Nature and wildlife is abundance.







ullapool  ullapool



ullapool  ullapool













If you enjoy hill walking, then a short ascent up the Ullapool hill and the Braes would enable you to enjoy the panoramic view of Loch Broom and Ullapool. The highest point is the outcrop of Meall Mor with views inland of Loch Achall and surrounding countryside.

As I walked up to the highest point, the rain cloud started to move towards the village and it was engrossing to watch from the top. Luckily, I didn’t get too wet when I descended.


ullapool  ullapool









Last but not least, a trip to The Ullapool Smokehouse (6 Morefield Indstrial Estate) is a MUST before you leave the village. Located in an industrail estate, this family run business sells smoke fish, cheese, meat and eggs, using traditional wood-smoking methods. I bought some smoked salmon and smoked cheese and the quality is much higher than what you would find in the supermarkets. You can also order online via their webshop.


ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house


Dungeness, Prospect cottage & Hurricane Ophelia



One early October weekend, I was checking the weather forecast on my iPad and it showed that Monday would be sunny. The symbol of the sun somehow triggered an urge in me to go to the seaside. I thought of visiting The Folkestone Triennial, but the photos of some contemporary art installations randomly (or not) placed around the seaside town did not really appeal to me. Then I thought of Derek Jarman‘s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness – a National Nature Reserve that I have wanted to visit for years – and within the next hour, my day return train tickets to Rye were booked.

I had no idea how to get to Dungeness from Rye, and after some frantic search on the internet, I found out that I had to take 2 buses to get to this remote and desolate part of Kent.


shells  the pilot  

the pilot

The Pilot Inn


On the day, with the help of a kind bus driver and a lovely elderly passenger, I arrived outside of The Pilot Inn in Dungeness around lunch time. The pub was surprisingly busy on a Monday afternoon, and after having their famous fish and chips, I began to ramble towards the sea. And soon I found myself alone on the beach. Where were all the people from the pub? It turned out that they all drove to the pub for lunch and left afterwards.

I have read a lot about Dungeness before I arrived, but nothing could prepare me for what I saw and felt while I was there. Dubbed “Britain’s only desert” by the Met Office, the landscape here is truly unique. From the surface, the 468-acre nature estate appears to be barren, it is in fact home to 600 species of plants – a third of all plants found in the UK. And in 2015, the estate was sold to EDF Energy (which owns the nuclear power station on site) for more than £1.5m. And they had been paying up to £100,000 per year to use shingle to protect the power station from the sea!

Yes, I had expected to see a vast shingle beach, but I was surprised to see plenty of abandoned rusty machinery, a few old boats and even disused railway tracks scattered across the site. The rusty machinery on the shingle beach fascinated me, because they are like art installations (I was glad that I chose to spend the day in Dungeness rather than Folkestone), and I began to meander across the site following the trails of the machinery.





dsc_0113  dungeness





During my first hour on the beach, I did not see a single person around. Although I enjoyed the solitude, it did feel slightly strange (perhaps I have lived in London for too long). Eventually I headed towards the sea, and despite the strong wind, the smell of the sea, and the sounds of waves and seagulls made me feel grateful to be so connected to nature.







dungeness  dungeness


dungeness  dsc_0221


It is easy to lose track of time and bearing here. I somehow felt like I was in an episode of The Twilight zone. Beguiled by the surroundings, it suddenly dawned on me that time was slipping away and I needed to head towards Prospect Cottage – the purpose of this trip!

I am not sure why it took me so long to visit Derek Jarman‘s famous garden, especially because I learned about this place when I was still a student. It was my cousin who suggested that we should go and watch his feature-length film, The Garden, at the ICA. I remember the cinema was almost empty and we both nodded off during the film. However, after all these years, some imagery of the cottage and garden still remained in my memory.




prospect's cottage

prospect's cottage


Twenty-three years after his death, the appeal of the multitalented British artist/filmmaker still endures. His garden book became a best-seller; his former cottage and garden became a mecca for gardeners, artists, designers, poets, and film buffs etc. This is not Stonehenge, so you will not see coaches of tourists flocking here. Instead, you are likely to meet individuals making their own pilgrimages to pay their respect to a visionary artist. In our trend-driven world today, Jarman‘s influence still lingers because he never followed trends; he only followed his heart and his garden reflects that.

Although this is a private property (now occupied by Jarman‘s former lover Keith Collins), visitors can walk around the garden and appreciate a distinct garden that truly unqiue. Maintained by Collins and Jarman’s good friend Howard Sooley, a gardener and photographer (of his book), the postmodern style garden blends exceedingly well with the dystopian surroundings.





There is a poem on the black timber wall of his cottage from John Donne‘s ‘The Sun Risingand it reads:

Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run ?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices ;
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
In that the world’s contracted thus ;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere ;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere.






Walking around the garden, it reminded me of the Zen gardens that I visited in Kyoto. The rusty installations, the rock circles, and choices of plants seem to capture the essence of wabi sabi. Inspired by dolmens, the garden’s rustic style and laidback attitude reflect the director’s distaste for perfectionism. In his garden book, he criticised The National Trust’s gardens as being too manicured and said: “If a garden isn’t shaggy, forget it.”

While I was there, three cars stopped by (one after another) and coincidentally, three elderly ladies with cameras got out of the car and spend 5 minutes walking around taking photos while their husbands (I assumed) waited for them inside the cars. And as soon as the ladies got into the cars, they were off in no time. I thought this sequence was rather amusing.






Walking away from the cottage, I was surprised (again) to pass by some rundown bungalows with abandoned furniture and suitcases scattered outside. Yet not far away, there are some intriguing contemporary houses like The Shingle House designed by a young Scottish practice, NORD for Living architecture which is available for holiday rental. Another holiday rental house is Pobble house designed by British architect Guy Hollaway. A recent addition is the North Vat by Rodić Davidson Architects, a shed-like structure that replaced the site’s fisherman’s cottage.

There are also two lighthouses here, one is the Grade II listed Old Lighthouse opened in 1904, and a newer one built in 1961. The landscape here is full of contrasts, contradictions, and nothing seems to make much sense, but this is also the reason why it is so unique.


The Shingle House

pobble house



Top row: The Shingle House; 2nd row: Pobble House; 3rd row: North Vat


As I started to head backwards, the sun gradually turned bright orange and so did the sky. I was completely confused as it was only three o’clock and yet it looked as if the sun was setting. Seeing the nuclear power plant and lighthouses against the hazy orangy sky and sun made the landscape look even more surreal and apocalyptic. It was only later I learned that the unusual phenomenon was caused by Hurricane Ophelia pulling up Saharan dust, which was then reflected and refracted in longer wavelengths, giving an orange colour to the sun and sky.








Could I have picked a better day to visit this desolate site? I couldn’t believe my luck. The day felt like an adventure; it was memorable and full of pleasant surprises. I love Dungeness and will surely make another trip back to explore further afield.



Day out in Southend-On-Sea

southend on sea


Given the proximity of Essex to London, it is surprising how the county is often overlooked by Londoners. Is it because of our biases and stereotypical images of the area and its residents? Londoners would rather visit Kent, Hampshire, Sussex, or Suffolk if they need a short getaway… Essex is quite low on their lists. And from the Brexit results, we can assume that London and Essex definitely don’t see eye to eye in politics.

When my friends and I were planning a day hike/ walk from London, one of them suggested hiring bicycles to cycle along the promenade of Southend on Sea. It only occurred to me then that I have never visited that area before, or most of Essex for that matter. I was quite curious.


southend on sea

southend on sea




None of us have visited Southend on Sea before, and we bought our group saver tickets from Fenchurch Street station – which none of us have used before this occasion either! And just over an hour later, we arrived in Shoeburyness, the mouth of the Thames Estuary.

The day didn’t start off well for us. First of all, the weather wasn’t exactly summery – it was grey, drizzly, and very windy! Then we found out the bicycle hire shop was closed… on Sundays! We had no option but to walk.

In the 19th century, Shoeburyness was a garrison town housing the Royal Artillery and Gunnery schools. Nowadays, the Shoebury Garrison is recognised as an area of national importance and is protected – much of it as a conservation area. Many of the historical buildings are listed and protected by English Heritage as scheduled ancient monuments, while others have been converted into luxury houses.

As we walked along the seafront, we came across the derelict Heavy Quick Firing Battery built in 1899; the military history here is discernible, which makes the area more interesting than many other coastal towns in the U.K. If I were to visit Southend on Sea again, I would probably spend my time here rather than the Central part.






IMG_6400-min  IMG_6402-min

Southend on Sea Central


As we approached the Central part, the subdued vibe was replaced by noisy theme park rides and crowds on the pier. There was also a vintage and classic car show with rows of shiny and well-polished cars on display.

Walking along the seafront esplanade, the scenery reminded me much of photographer Martin Parr’s iconic British seaside images. Although it is more vibrant than some coastal towns like Hastings; the tacky amusement arcades and casinos are sad reminders of the decline of the British seaside resorts over the past decades.

The biggest attraction of the seafront is its 19th century Grade II listed pier – the longest (1.34 miles/2.16 km) in the world. Over the years, the pier had suffered from fire, crashes, collapse and closures; and after continuous redevelopment by the local council, it was reopened in 2012. We found it odd to have to pay £2 per person to walk on the pier, and so we decided to skip it.







Finally, after walking for 11 miles (with lunch and coffee breaks along the route), we reached the calmer Chalkwell and headed back to London by train.

Ironically, as soon as we boarded, the grey clouds above our heads all day suddenly subsided and the sun decided to pop out to tease us! I guess one can learn much about life through nature especially the British weather – which is always unpredictable and inconsistent. And since we are all powerless against it, we have to just accept or even laugh about it, which was what we did on our way back to sunny London.


Winter getaway in Portugal

cascaiscascais cascais


Like always after the busy Christmas season, I longed for a holiday/getaway to revitalise myself. As I discovered, January is the perfect time to travel to the southern part of Europe; it is warmer, sunnier, less touristy, and best of all, much cheaper than London.

Portugal has become one of my favourite getaway destinations in recent years. I first visited Lisbon with a friend in 2009, and I was smitten by this historical, charming, laidback and friendly city. A few years ago, I visited Porto with another friend for a long weekend; and again we had a wonderful time and spent many hours port tasting at various port cellars!

Whilst planning my trip, I wanted to revisit Lisbon but at the time venture beyond the city. I decided to spend some time by the seaside and explore other provincial cities/towns away from the hustle and bustle.


I didn’t realise how much I had missed the sea and the beach until I saw it! I am not into sunbathing/sun-seeking holidays, but I love hearing the sound of the waves, and seeing the sea and beaches alone fill me with immense joy.


santa maria lighthouse cascais cascais cascais


I spent two nights (which was too short) staying in a studio minutes away from the beach in Estoril (half and hour’s train ride from Lisbon), and I strolled to the nearby Cascais along the promenade everyday (which took about 45 minutes). With the sun on my skin, the sea next to me and joggers running past me, I felt mere bliss and gratitude to be there.


Historical city & town

I left the Lisbon region and traveled eastwards to the Alentejo ( also known as the “bread basket”) region, where it is especially well known for their wine, olive oil, cheeses, smoked hams, cork and marble (apparently, Portugal is the second largest exporter of marble in the world). I first visited the Unesco World Heritage site Evora, and then took a bus to the nearby marble-town Estremoz.

There were few tourists about and thus I was able to enjoy these places in a relaxing pace and observe the locals getting on with their daily businesses.


estremozevoraestremozevoraevoraestremoz estremozevora evora evora university


Blue sky & white walls

Traveling in this region, the colours that you are most likely to encounter are: blue and white. The blue coloured sky is so sharp that it reminds me of the TV screen when it goes all blue at times, which creates a huge contrast against the white walls and buildings. Estremoz is known as “Cidade Branca” (white city), not only for its traditional white houses but also for its marble architecture. Arriving into the town via a local bus, I was astonished to see an entire bus station built from marble including all the seating, flooring and toilets!

To call this town ‘sleepy’ would be an understatement. With an university situated in Evora, one can still see young people; in Estremoz, I seldom saw people under the age of 50 on the streets. There was not much to do or places to visit, so I spent most of my time wandering around the small town and randomly stepping into public places with their doors opened!


estremozevora evoraevoraevora cascaisestremoz



Portuguese are one of the friendliest and hospitable people I have encountered throughout my travels. Perhaps it’s to do with the weather and their laid-back attitude, most of the people I met are welcoming, patient and calm. People here enjoy a slower pace of living; they are more concerned with the quality of life and this is something I miss living in the stressful and unfriendly London.


estremoz evoracascaiscascais estremozestremoz



I always enjoy visiting parks and gardens whenever I travel. Yet I didn’t expect to see chicken walking freely, nor peacocks posing complacently on a wall of a ruined former palace within the public gardens! And even in the midst of winter, there are still tropical plants and flowers to be admired, as well as orange and lemon trees everywhere.


chicken in the park evoracascaiscascaisportuguese flowersportuguese plant flowers lemon trees


Quirks and unusual sights

There are always quirky and unusual sights to be found while traveling. One of the quirkiest was when I came across a front garden covered with about 20 or more soft cuddly toys on sticks! Unfortunately, there was an elderly couple in the garden and I couldn’t take a proper photo of the garden, but I found the idea utterly amusing!


cascaisevoraestremozevora graffiti cascais portugal evora



It is rare to be able to watch beautiful sunsets on almost daily basis while traveling, but I was able to do so on this trip. The sunsets in Portugal are mesmorising and the colours are stunning; whether I was by the sea or up on a hill, these were precious moments that would stay with me for a long time.


evora sunset lisbon sunsetestremoz sunsetcascais sunset cascais sunsetlisbon sunsetestremoz sunset


Silent nights

It is not easy to enjoy silence and solitude in cities like London at night. Yet there were times during my travel when I noticed that the streets were almost empty, it was strange for someone like me who is used to seeing people around or hearing traffic all the time except for when I am in the countryside. Silence and solitude is something that city dwellers require from time to time, as it is the best time to wind down and clear our minds.


evoracascaiscascais cascais


To be continued…


Eastbourne & Beachy Head hike

birling gap

Birling Gap at Beachy Head


The hiking season has resumed! Although hiking can be an all year round activity, it is most enjoyable during the summer because the sun sets later (which means we can do longer hikes) and the temperature is warmer. My first UK hike this year was a circular hike from Eastbourne, where we hiked along the coastline and enjoyed some spectacular views of the area with plenty of sunshine. We passed by Beachy Head, a chalk headland with the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162 metres (531 ft) above sea level. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most notorious suicide spots in the country!

An article in the Telegraph recently reported that the Beachy Head Chaplaincy Team, a trained voluntary team that patrols the area 24/7 to save lives is under threat due to lack of funding. A significant amount is needed for the service to continue and donations can be made via their website above.


eastbourne P1090484P1090486 P1090485

Top right: East Dean Village; Bottom left & right: Sherlock Holmes’ retirement home (?) in East Dean


Before we reached Beachy Head, we walked past the village East Dean and had our picnic lunches on the village green. After lunch, I noticed a blue plaque on the front of a house, and to my surprise, the house did not belong to a painter/musician/poet but the fictional character Sherlock Holmes! Apparently Holmes experts have maintained that Holmes ended his days in East Dean after Sherlock author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hinted it in the preface of one of his books. Now thanks to the new TV series, the character is more popular than ever and a special walk is created for Holmes‘ fans!


birling gap beachy headbeachy head cliffbeachy head cliffbeachy head cliff

Bottom left: The beachy head lighthouse; Bottom middle: Birling Gap; Bottom right: Belle Tout lighthouse


One of the landmarks in the area is the Grade II listed Belle Tout lighthouse, which was featured in many films and TV productions. The lighthouse was in operation from 1832 to 1902 until a new lighthouse was built in the sea below to replace it. The lighthouse suffered damage during the second world war but was rebuilt in the 1950s. In 1999, the lighthouse was moved (in one piece) more than 17m (50ft) inland from a crumbling cliff edge due to coastal erosion. Now the lighthouse has been converted into a 6-room luxury bed and breakfast and has proved to be very popular!


eastbourne beachy head cliffbeachy head cliffbeachy head cliff beachy head cliff


After hiking up and down the cliff for miles along the coastline, we arrived at a memorial site, The Bomber Command Tribute that commemorate the RAF who lost their lives during the Second World War as Beachy Head was their final departure spot in the UK.


eastbourne eastbourneeastbourneeastbourne eastbourne

Eastbourne and the Eastbourne carnival


Finally, we arrived into the coastal town of Eastbourne and coincidentally stumbled upon the Eastbourne Sunshine Carnival taking place on the seafront. The seafront was packed and it was nice to see much excitement and joyful spirit everywhere. We had our early dinner in a pub where most locals were dressed up as pirates, so we really stood out in our hiking gear!

This hike was one of the most memorable and enjoyable in recent years, and as always I also met some lovely people. Although we were all exhausted after the long day, we all felt refreshed and content afterwards… now I just can’t wait until my next walk/hike!

Slow living on Peng Chau Island

peng chau


While I was in Hong Kong, the weather was greyer and cooler than usual and I hardly saw the sun. Hence when the sun came out one day, I decided to take the opportunity to get out of the city. But where? I browsed through the little booklet on Hong Kong’s outlying islands that I picked up from the Hong Kong tourism Association office and I decided to head for Peng Chau, a small island that I have never visited before. I took a cab to the Central ferry pier and boarded onto a (fast) ferry heading towards Peng Chau, and less than 30 mins later, I felt like I was on a different planet!


peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau


Another reason why I picked Peng Chau is to do with the fact that it is still considered as ‘rural’ and much less developed than other islands. From what my friends told me, Lamma island is now full of expats and trendy cafes and bars, and even Cheung Chau is becoming more touristy than ever.

For someone who wants to get away from city life and be in touch with nature, Peng Chau is ideal. There were hardly any tourists on the day (it was a weekday) and when I arrived on the car-free island, I saw mostly elderly sitting in groups by the pier or riding leisurely on their bikes. The pace here is slow and laidback, so immediately I felt relaxed and calm.


peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chauP1090196peng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau


Unlike other outlying islands of Hong Kong, the ‘centre’ of Peng Chau is rather sleepy and I did not come across any Western bars/restaurant/cafe except for one on near the main square. On the main covered high street (Wing On Street), there is a stretch of inexpensive shops and Hong Kong-style cafes but many were closed on the day. I had a quick and inexpensive lunch at a Vietnamese cafe before setting of to explore the island.

I was quite taken aback to see the centre being so run down, the huge blue building where the former Peng Chau theatre once stood reveals that it wasn’t always the case. Peng Chau was once a thriving centre for lime and matchsticks productions during the 70s and 80s. Public can visit the former sites of the lime kiln and match factory (now just ruins), but I skipped them and visited some nearby temples instead.


peng chau temple peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chaupeng chau peng chau

Top & second row left & middle: Tin Hau temple; 2nd row right & 3rd row left: The Golden Flower Shrine; 3rd row right: Temple of Morality (Taoist); Bottom left: A small shrine near a village; Bottom right: Seven sisters temple


There are several temples on this small island, the easiest one to locate is the historical Tin Hau temple, located about 5 mins walk for the pier near Wong On Street. The temple was restored in 1798 and rebuilt in 1882, but the exact history of the original temple has yet to be traced. Tin Hau Goddess is the most worshipped deity in Hong Kong, there are over 100 temples dedicated to her in Hong Kong. She is said to protect fishermen and sailors, and the island celebrates a yearly Tin Hau festival on the 21st day of the 7th lunar month.

Not far from it is The Golden Flower Shrine dedicated to Lady Golden Flower, which sits under an old banyan tree. Worshippers believe that Lady Golden Flower can grant many generations of descendants.

Another interesting temple is the Seven sisters temple on Pak Wan. The ‘seven sisters’ are somewhat versatile deities; while they usually help young women improve their needlecraft (not sure how many women would be praying for this nowadays), at this temple, they aid couples who want to start families.


peng chau peng chaubamboo in peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau

Nature on the island


After visiting the temples, I walked up to the highest point of the island, Finger Hill to check out the view. I was hoping to see a panoramic view of the island from the top but was disappointing to find the trees blocking the view. Hence I walked towards the sea and chilled out at the pavilion where I could see Hong Kong island from a distance.


peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chau


It didn’t take me too long to walk around the island, but it would have helped if there was more signage for directions. Though I was happy to see many empty beaches, I was also bothered by the rubbish on these beaches esp. by the Fisherman rock. I am not sure if the rubbish came from the sea or was left by visitors, either way it is a nuisance when people do not respect the environment and nature.

After spending about 5 hours on this island, it was time to leave… as I was approaching the pier, commuters were starting to return home from Hong Kong island. I felt incredibly exuberant as I headed back to the city, and I sincerely wish that the island will continue to remain ‘local’ and not be over-developed like the other outlying islands. Yet this may be wishful thinking because new modern housing is already being developed now, and Peng Chau may soon loses the authentic and tranquil quality. I hope that this will not be the case but the government needs to protect Hong Kong’s nature and not sacrifice the citizen’s quality of life for economic growth/development. As a so-called international city, Hong Kong is very behind in its environmental effort ( air pollution is a good example) and urban planning, when will they wake up and smell the roses? If they continue to ignore these important issues, then there will be no roses to smell soon!


peng chau peng chaupeng chaupeng chaupeng chau peng chaupeng chau


Hong Kong: beyond the high rise

Like many, I never fully appreciated what Hong Kong has to offer (besides shopping and dining) until recent years. Now I finally know what I have missed out on for all those years!

When I contacted my new friend whom I met on a hike last year, we decided to try out Sai Kung since we it was new for both of us. Our original plan was to take a bus from Sai Kung town centre to Pak Tam Au and do the Maclehose trail section two. However, after some consideration, we opted for an easier section (one) of the trail and started from Pak Tam Chung instead.

Although the day started out with an overcast, the sun did show its face in the afternoon and it got quite hot as we walked around the High Island reservoir. It is rare to see clear blue skies in Hong Kong these days because of pollution, so even though the clouds cleared, it was still quite hazy.

While we were having our packed lunch at a picnic spot, we spotted a cow wandering on its own; initially, we worried that it was going to come towards us but it never did. We were surprised to see a cow walking freely (in Hong Kong) and were worried about its safety especially when we saw taxis speeding along the road!

The trail around the reservoir was relatively easy because it was mostly flat but the scenery didn’t change a great deal until we reached the East dam. After over 2 hours of walking, we decided to make a pit stop at the beach past the 300-year-old, Pak Lap village.

Well, the pit stop turned out to be our end point because we loved it so much that we almost didn’t want to leave! The beach is sandy, secluded and even the water quality seems decent! There is a cafe by the beach and we decided to have a beer (not sure it was the best thing to do after a hike!) while the owner and his friends played volleyball on the beach. It would have been nice to carry on after the pit stop but we realised that the sun was setting and we needed to leave before it got dark.

I have heard a lot about the beautiful beaches in Sai Kung but I was still surprised to see such an unspoilt part of Hong Kong. I probably wouldn’t have time to do Sai Kung again on this trip but it will definitely be on my agenda next time. I also think we should be grateful that the British protected the most beautiful part of Hong Kong before they left; if not, Hong Kong would probably end up like other cities in China… an urban concrete jungle!