Six years on: Peng Chau revisited

Hong Kong skyline

ferry to peng chau

peng chau


After my trip to Japan was cancelled due to COVID19, I was stuck in Hong Kong for many months… and like many locals, I felt rather claustrophobic after spending days on end indoor. Luckily, unlike the U.K. and many Western countries, there was no lockdown in the city, hence it was still possible to roam around town – at your own risk.

When the covid cases dropped and the hot summer was over ( I found it hard to cope with Hong Kong’s humid summers), I was able to do more outdoor activities again. I decided to revisit Peng Chau after a six-year gap (see my earlier blog entry here), as I thoroughly enjoyed the island’s tranquil and unspoilt environment. Has the island changed over the last six years? Yes, certainly, but currently it is still less ‘developed’ than other islands such as Cheung Chau and Lamma Island.


peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau


One notable difference from my last visit was that there were considerable more visitors due to the global travel restrictions. Stuck within the small city, many lcoals are starting to appreciate nature and fresh air, and they are desperate to get out of the urban jungle – who can blame them? In the past, Peng Chau was probably the least visited Outlying Islands in Hong Kong as it is the smallest and the least commercial. However, the pandemic changed everything, and even Peng Chau has become a hot spot for local tourists.

When I visited six years ago, the island’s eateries were divided into two categories: big seafood restaurants or small cha cheng tengs. Western-style cafes were almost non-existent, let alone bars… now there are a few more cafes including a cosy Island Table Grocer Cafe (9 Peng Chau Wing Hing St) and a tiny Japanese tea room, Daruma Chaya (38 Wing On Street).


peng chau

peng chau daruma chaya

peng chau  peng chau


There was not much to see at the dilapidated Grade III listed former leather factory six years ago aside from a plaque commermorating the island’s once booming manufacturing industry. But over the past few years, a local resident, Sherry Lau, rented the 4000 square metres factory and began to convert it into an art hub filled with junk collected from the island. An alleyway off the Wing On Street would lead you to ‘My secret garden’, featuring some interesting junk art, street art murals, and an antique shop (also an Airbnb). It is very unusual to see junk yards like this in Hong Kong, and I am glad that Ms Lau took the initiative to transform the derelict space into something so unique. It seemed very popular with local tourists as it certainly was a selfie hotspot during my visit…


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peng chau

peng chau

my secret garden

peng chau

peng chau  peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

‘My secret garden’/former leather factory


Since Peng Chau is a very small island (0.99 square kilometres to be exact), it is easy to walk around the island within a few hours. I went up to Finger Hill first, the tallest point of the island, but the view here is a bit disappointing, so don’t get your hopes up too high. Personally, I prefer walking along the Peng Yu Path, a coastal path where you would pass by many empty sandy beaches with Hong Kong’s skyline as the backdrop.


peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau  peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau


One significant change took place since my last visit and it is the new addition of residential developments on the island, notably the row of luxury residential houses overlooking the sea near the pier. I can’t say that I am surprised by this because property development is contantly taking place in Hong Kong. But I am wondering if the island will lose its charm as more (wealthy) outsiders move here. Will the island become another Discovery Bay, which is full of expats, upmarket restaurants and bars? Six years ago, I was charmed by the island’s unspoilt, low-key and calm environment, but I wonder if this is under threat now – I sincerely hope not.


peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau


When I headed back to Central at around 5pm, the waiting area at the pier was completely packed and social distancing was all out of the window. And to my surprise, every seat of the ferry was taken despite the fact that this was a weekday afternoon… Not being able to travel meant that bored Hong Kongers are seeking out local sights to visit, and hiking has become one of the most popular activities during the pandemic. It would be fine if people respect nature and the environment, but many of them don’t, which is very frustrating. I think the pandemic has made many people realise the importance of nature in our lives, but outdoor ettiquette needs to be followed too.

I wonder how Peng Chau is going to evolve in the future, especially if more people are looking into moving out of urban areas after the pandemic. Perhpas its limited infrastructure is stopping people from moving here, I guess only time will tell.


peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

papaya  plant peng chau

peng chau

peng chau

Peng Chau’s tree, plants and flowers



Stunning coastal walk: Dover to Deal



I have attended many group coastal walks/hikes in the past, like Seven Sisters (from Seaford to Eastbourne), Hastings circular, and Newhaven to Brighton… the coastal walks/hikes around the South East England are extremely popular with many meetup walking groups due to its proximity to London, and of course, the spectacular views.

It was a sunny September Sunday, and I joined my regular meetup walking group on a walk from Dover to Deal. The fine weather was a huge draw, so places filled up quickly. We took a high speed train from London to Dover and arrived in just over an hour. It is amazing that we could enjoy the sun, sea, and panoramic views in less than 80 mins from London. I think we all got quite excited when we hiked up to the top of the clff and saw Dover Castle. Interestingly, all our networks switched to the French ones when we reached the top of the cliff, which shows how close we are from France!



dover castle

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

dover cliffs

idover cliffs

South Foreland Lighthouse


Compare to some other coastal walks, this one is relatively easy and linear. The distance is 10 miles (16 km) and takes about 4 hours. The first part of the walk offers the most breathtaking views of the white cliffs, and passes by South Foreland Lighthouse, a Victorian lighthouse built in 1843 on the South Foreland in St. Margaret’s Bay.

About half way, we descended down to St Margaret’s Bay where we had our lunch break. There is a pub at the bay that offers lunch, but many of us chose to have our packed lunch on the rocky beach while listening to the waves and seagulls.


st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay

st margaret's bay


The last half of the walk was fairly easy as we descended down to Deal’s seafront. We walked past two histoic landmarks: Walmer Castle and Deal Castle. Like most group walks, we ended the walk at a pub for a drink before heading back to London.














I highly recommend this coastal walk and I think it would be even better if you can combine it with visits to the castles en route. Since it is easily accessible from London, it would be a perfect day trip with friends or family. I had a brilliant time and would definitely want to do explore this area more next time.



Watching sunset from the train



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


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.





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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


Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (last day)



Japanese breakfast at Minshuku Momofuku in Koguchi


After having a big Japanese breakfast at Minshuku Momofuku, I was ready for my last hike of the pilgrimage trail. Mr Nakazawa warned me about the first stretch of the hike, which requires a steep climb of 800 metres in elevation over 5km. This section of the trail is called Dogirizaka meaning ‘body breaking slope’. Mr Nakazawa smiled and told me that he had done it a few times, as shown in the photos on his wall.


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The most challenging section of the trail is Dogirizaka. The famous poet Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) stated in his pilgrimage diary from 1201 that, “This route is very rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is”.


Out of all the days, the last day was the day when I encountered the most hikers. Oddly, the supposedly most difficult section seemed to attract more hikers than the rest. Early in the morning, I saw a couple having an argument while hiking up the woods; the husband stormed off (carrying nothing), and his wife (who was carrying a handbag) had to chase after him! It was a bizarre scene. Not long after that, I ran into the couple from San Francisco again and we decided to hike together. We all felt that carrying our own rucksacks while walking the pilgrimage trail was important to us… it would have been much easier to have our rucksacks forwarded to the next destination, but it would completely miss the point and notion of the pilgrimage.

We learned that the Dogirizaka section is tough because the rock staircases appear to be endless, and at times very steep and slippery. Since I have previously suffered from a knee injury, my poles helped me enormously throughout this trail.


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Finally, we survived the toughest section and reached the Echizen-toge pass. Yet it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from then on, because there were still several descends and climbs from one mountain to another. However, we all felt that having companions made the journey easier… mostly because we were having some interesting conversations and were distracted from the walking.

At the Jizo-jaya teahouse remains, we met another group of hikers and had lunch here altogether. Since our water supply was low, we were thrilled to see a vending machine here. Normally, vending machines are conspicuous in Japan, but on this trail, they are rare and are considered as precious commodities. Like the one I saw yesterday, the one at the teahouse remains had ran out of water as well, so we had to opt for other drinks. After lunch, we carried on with the awareness that we were at the last stretch of the trail.




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Nachi Kogen Park
A pleasant surprise awaited us at the vast and picturesque Nachi Kogen Park, which at the time was full of cherry trees! We saw an ultra long slide and got very excited. We decided to try and slide down, but it was very difficult with the old rollers and ended up using our hands to move down the slide. Luckily, the view from the top of the slide was stunning because of the cherry trees and mountain backdrop, so it made up for the slow motion down the slide. Two Japanese guys saw us struggling and gave a cardboard to my American companion behind me. Thus, he was sliding down very quickly while I was struggling in front of him and worrying that he was going to crash into me… We all had a laugh in the end, especially because it was all quite unexpected, and not long before we reached our destination.




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Nachi-no-Otaki and Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine


When we finally got a glimpse of the Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall while descending from Mount Nachi, and we were all over the moon. Yet the first thing we did when we arrived at the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine was to rush into a shop with an ice-cream sign outside! We felt that we deserved some reward for the hard work, and the delicious plum ice cream did the trick for us.

After our treat, we walked around the Shinto Nachi Taisha Shrine and the Buddhist Seiganto-ji Temple (the two structures used to be connected but were separated in the Meiji era). The temple is reputed to be the oldest structure in Kumano and said to have been founded in the fourth century by an Indian monk who also founded the Fudarakusan Temple .

The location was the Grand shrine offers a fantastic view of Japan’s tallest waterfall, Nachi-no-Otaki (133 meters high and 13 meters wide), which has long been a site of religious significance in Japan. The worship of the nature and kami (meaning superior to the human condition) is at the heart of Shintoism, hence the waterfall became a place of worship or pilgrimage site.

It felt odd to see tourists roaming around at this site, since I barely saw more than 20 people over the last few days. I spent more time with trees than humans during my pilgrimage trail, and despite the challenges, I found the experience extremely meditative and gratifying. Being able to walk the ancient trails where pilgrims have passed through for over a thousand years was a privilege, and I would never forget this amazing journey.


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After wandering around the site of the Shrine, it was time for the American couple and I to say goodbye. We exchanged contacts and then parted our ways. My journey would have been quite different without them, and I was glad that we were able to complete the trail together.






I waited for the last bus that headed towards Nachi-Katsuura, a fishing port where I spent my last night before leaving the region by train. Nachi-Katsuura has the highest catch of tuna in Japan, and its morning tuna market is a local attraction. It is also known for its onsens, and I splashed out on my last night of the trail at Manseiro Ryokan, located right across from the pier.






The seafoof banquet at Manseiro Ryokan


The building of the ryokan is rather old and the decor is modest and dated, but the highlight here is its meals. After three days of hiking, I think the spectacular kaiseki-style seafood dinner was a great way to end my journey. The star of the meal was of course, tuna, and apart from eating it raw, it was also served as sukiyaki (usually beef is used). The food just kept coming, even the waiter was laughing because I looked stunned whenever he brought more dishes over.




After the never-ending meal, I rested a little before taking the free ferry (10 mins ride) across to the neighboring Hotel Urashima, where it is famous for its Bokido onsen cave bath overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hotel Urashima is a massive and touristy resort with numerous souvenir shops, karaoke bars, and game centers, and I was quite shocked when I arrived in my onsen yukata. Nonetheless, I managed to find my way in the labyrinth of hallways with colour coded lines on the floor.

Unlike the chaotic lobby and hallways, the natural hot spring bath in a cave by the ocean is very tranquil. Not only you can hear the waves beating against the rocks, you can also feel the sea breeze and look up at the moon and stars while soaking in a hot spring bath. It was a truly unforgettable experience, and I absolutely loved it. Even though all my aches was melting away, I was also feeling exhausted from my 8-hour hike, so I didn’t stay that long in the cave. All I could think of was ‘bed’ after the soak.



Another big breakfast…


Public foot onsen



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After another big but healthy Japanese breakfast the next morning, I ventured over to the tuna market. Although I had missed the early morning auction (I was in need of sleep), I was still curious to see where most of the tuna in Japan originated from. Luckily, there was still some actions to be seen… and I managed to take some photos from the observation deck of auction’s aftermath.

After a short stroll around the quiet town, I bought a fish bento and some seafood snacks for my train ride to kyoto. My five-day journey in the Wakayama region had been sublime and extraordinary, and what struck me most was the largely unspoilt nature along the Kumano Kodo trail. This part of my trip revealed the beauty of Japan that is usually depicted in nature-related documentaries, and I am sure my Shinrin-yoku/forest bathing time was beneficial to my physical and mental health.



The view from the train


Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (Day 1)



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After a restful night at the lovely Happiness Chikatsuyu, I was feeling mentally prepared for my pilgrimage walk. According to the map, the distance from Chikatusuyu to Hongu Taisha-mae is about 25 km/15.5 miles with an elevation of 650 meters at the highest point of the route. On paper, it doesn’t sound too difficult, but in fact, my first day turned out to be the most challenging day of the entire trail. This was partly due to the exceptionally warm weather. It was the last day of March, and I had brought along my fleece, waterproofs, hat, scarf, etc.; what I did not expect was sunny blue sky with temperature reaching up to 25/6 degrees, and I ended up sweating throughout the day.

I walked to the village around 8 to have breakfast at the same cafe that delivered my dinner the previous night, and I had to order a takeaway bento as there are no other food/ convenient stores nearby to buy my lunch. My plan was to take the 9am bus that would take me up the hill to save some energy, however, after waiting for about 15 minutes, the bus still hadn’t arrived (in fact, it never it), hence I decided not to waste more time and started walking.


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Bottom right: Nonaka-no-Shimizu Spring is one of the 100 famous waters of Japan


Hiking over 200 meters in elevation up to Mt. Takao was arduous because the sun was right on top of me. It was not even 11am yet, and my back was soaked because of the rucksack. Even though I am an avid and experienced walker, the heat was making me slight wary about the rest of the day.




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I walked past Nonaka where there are a row of minshukus (family-run bed and breakfasts) that overlook the mountains nearby. Since the accommodations along the trail are limited, it is best to book in advanced esp. during the high seasons.






I tried not to stop much and kept at a constant pace, but it got much tougher during the 4 km detour due to a typhoon damage in 2011. This section includes a steep hike over the Iwagami-toge pass (650 meters elevation), then descends to the Jagata Jizo. My foldable walking poles worked wonders during the descend, and I was glad that I bought them for this hike. Nonetheless, I had to stop and rest occasionally during the uphill section, and I felt as if my rucksack was getting heavier as I hiked upwards.


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After passing through Yukawa-oji, there is another steep climb upwards towards Mikoshi-toge Pass, where there is a rest area with toilets. By the time I reached Mikoshi-toge Pass, it was already 2:30pm, and I was feeling hot, tired, and starving. Here, I ran into the Japanese couple i met earlier in the day, and they were having their break and lunch as well. My simple bento consisted of three Onigiri, some fish sticks and a section of a banana. I could have eaten more, but at least the rice was quite filling, which was what I needed.



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Funatama Shrine and Inohana Oji


After the break, I continued on and there was more descend through an unpaved woodland path. Eventually when I left the woodland, there was a flat section (usually the flat part doesn’t last long) where some lovely cherry trees were starting to blossom.

Not long after, I walked past the Funatama Shrine which enshrines the god of ships dating back to the Edo period (1603-1867). And further down from the Shrine is Inohana Oji; in kanji, the term ‘Inohana’ means a pig’s nose, and apparently, it originated from the topography of the area which is supposed to resemble a wild boar’s nose. Hmm…

Throughout the trail, there are stamps available at various spots where hikers could stamp onto their stamp book. I did not managed to pick up a stamp book at Kii-Tanabe, so I stamped onto my free map, which probably wasn’t ideal. Yet seeing a new stamp on each page did provide me with a slight sense of progress and a bit of excitement.






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Hosshinmon oji


By around 4pm (after hiking for seven hours), I finally arrived at Hosshinmon oji, one of the most important sites on the trail. It is known as the “gate of awakening of the aspiration to enlightenment”, and passing through the gate is a transformational rite marking the initiatory death and rebirth in the Pure Land paradise.

From here, I still had about three more hours to walk until I reach the destination, Hongu Taisha-mae. I saw a warning sign reminding hikers that the sun would set around 6pm, and so I decided to walk towards the bus stop to try and catch the next bus. At the bus stop, I saw the Japanese couple from earlier and we waited patiently for some time, but the bus didn’t show up (again!). It was only later that we found out the bus at 4:30pm only runs in spring/ summer, and we had already missed the last bus, which was at 2:30pm! Luckily, they managed to call a taxi (apparently, it is the only one in the area) to pick us up from the bus stop…





During the taxi ride, I found out that the couple was from Tokyo and it was also their first hike at Kumano Kodo. They found the trail more challenging than they had anticipated, and decided not to continue on.

After about 20-30 minutes’ ride through the mountains, I finally arrived at my destination: Pension Ashitanomori, a Western-style guest house at Kawayu Onsen. The couple and I split the taxi fare and they carried on towards Wataze Onsen, another onsen district nearby.



Kawayu Onsen


There are three onsen districts in Hongu, and I chose to stay in the historic Kawayu Onsen because of the Oto River and its natural hot spring. There are a row of lodgings along the river, and apart from the pre-dug hot springs at the gravel river bed, guests can also dig their own onsen if they wish to do so.





Pension Ashitanomori at Kawayu Onsen


I felt a sense of relief after arriving at the pension. Although I didn’t complete the route today, I was grateful that I managed to get a ride to the lodging before sunset. Hiking alone in the dark through the woodland would have been too dangerous, and it was not a risk worth taking. The trail was undoubtedly more strenuous than I had expected, and according to my iphone, I had walked over 37000 steps in a day! Rather than feeling regretful, I felt like I had achieved something remarkable, and I rewarded myself by soaking in the private indoor onsen, followed by a visit to the outdoor onsen after dinner (wearing clothing provided by the hotel because I didn’t have any swimming costume). This was probably the best onsen experience I have ever had because not only I was there alone, it was also full moon and the sky was very clear. I could feel the aches and pains from the day melting away as I was soaking in the hot spring while gazing at the stars and moon. It was pure bliss, and I couldn’t have been happier after a long day’s hike.


Art, nature & permaculture in Fujino



Most foreigners who visit Japan tend to stick to big cities or well-known onsen/resorts, and they rarely travel to the rural parts of Japan. On this trip, I completely fell in love with Japan’s rural countryside. The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage was a highlight, but I also loved Fujino, a rural town (with population of just over 10,000) located in the northern edge of Kanagawa Prefecture and about 1.5 hour outside of Tokyo. Officially, the town name doesn’t exist anymore after it was merged into Sagamihara city (it became Midori Ward in 2010), but locals still fondly call the area Fujino. Surrounded by mountains and tea plantations, the numerous hiking trails are big attractions for hikers who live in Tokyo due to its proximity and beautiful scenery. On a clear day, you can even see Mount Fuji (which we did one day) up on the hill.


fujino  fujino


fujino  nature fujino


spider web


Actually Fujino is not near Mount Fuji, its name means wild wisteria town. As soon as you step out of the railway station, you would see a ‘love letter’ art installation – an envelope sealed with a heart held by 2 hands – midway up on a mountain opposite the station that welcomes visitors.

So what differs Fujino from other rural towns in Japan? First of all, it is the first official Transition Town in Japan, and the 100th in the world. The world’s first Transition Town was initiated in 2005 by Transition Network founder and permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins in Totnes in Devon (see my earlier blog entry here). The Transition Town Movement is an international network of grassroots groups that aim to increase self-sufficiency through applying permaculture principles to reduce the potential effects of peak oil, climate destruction, and economic instability.

Hence, Fujino is considered a hub for sustainable communities that use local resources, farming, traditions and culture to increase self-sufficiency and tackle peak oil and climate change.




fujino flowers

fujino flowers

fujino flowers


Besides permaculture, the area has also been attracting artists for decades. During the times of WWII, some sixty of Tokyo’s most prominent artists (including Tsuguharu Foujita, Toshio Nakanishi, and Genichiro Inokuma) evacuated to this village, with the goal of building a ‘city of artists’ here. Since the 1970s a number of foreign artists, artisans and craftsmen have also moved here.

Although Fujino never became a world-renown ‘art city’, a ‘Fujino Furusato Art Village Plan’ was launched in 1986 to promote it as an art dwelling community. In 1995, a multi-purpose art centre called Fujino Workshop for Art was built. It has a 300-seat concert hall, rehearsal studios, craft-making studios and accommodations. The venue provides workshops in pottery, woodworking, and natural dyeing for local children, adults and visitors.


fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino  fujino

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

fujino The Kumano Shinto Shrine

After doing the Kumano Kudo pilgrimage in Wakayama, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Kumano Shinto Shrine up in the mountains


Soon it was followed by the opening of the Fujino Art Village, an art and craft market where local artisans and craftsmen sell their work in 9 individual huts. The village is not massive, but it is a good spot to find one-of-a-kind handmade crafts and designs and support local artisans. You can find glassware, woodwork, leather goods, ceramics, and home accessories here.


fujino art village  fujino art village


tsumugu fujino art village  tsumugu fujino art village



fujino art village  fujino art village


Fujino art village


At the art village, you can also enjoy lunch at an organic cafe/restaurant. From Fri to Sun, the cafe becomes a pizzeria serving stone oven pizzas with organic produce made by potter, Touhei Nakamura (also a friend of Bryan). In addition to the standard pizzas, he also serves some unconventional ones with an Asian twist, and they are super delicious with very thin base and crunchy crust.


fujino art village

Touhei pizza  fujino art village

Touhei pizza

Touhei pizza


While staying with Bryan, we had the opportunity to meet his artisan friends who live locally. One of them is a basket maker and his basketry works are incredibly beautiful and intricate.


basketry  basketry




Bryan also took us to visit a potter who lives in a very secluded place… we had to walk downhill along a trail off a road for about 15 minutes in order to reach his home studio at the bottom of the valley.

While the potter normally sells his pottery through a gallery, we got to buy his very reasonably-priced work from him directly, and needless to say, we were all more than happy to part with our cash in exchange for some exquisite handcrafted pottery.






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A secluded potter at his home studio


Last but not least, we also visited a secluded art gallery and cafe called Studio Fujino founded by graphic designer/art director, Yuko Higashikawa. After working in Milan on exhibition planning for some time, she returned to Japan to pursue a slow life. Her galley is surrouned by nature, and its secluded location means you are very likely to miss it if you are led by a local. (N.B. Unfortunately, I learned that the gallery closed its doors two months after our visit, but I hope it will revive in a different form in the future).


 studio fujino studio fujino   studio fujino

studio fujino

 studio fujino

Studio Fujino


After spending 10 days being surrounded by nature, it was hard to leave this place behind. My only wish is that I can return again in the near future.





Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (Day 2)





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Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine


Since I missed the Kumano Hongu Taisha Grand Shrine yesterday, I decided to visit the shrine before starting my walk today as it is one of the most three important shrines on the pilgrimage route, as well as the head shrine of over 3,000 Kumano shrines across Japan.

Originally located at Oyunohara, a sandbank at the confluence of the Kumano and Otonashi Rivers, a severe flood destroyed many of the shrine buildings in 1889. The salvaged remains of three pavilions (out of five) were rebuilt at their present site. The entrance to Oyunohara is marked by the largest Torii shrine gate in the world (33.9 meters tall and 42 meters wide). It is a formalized gateway that designates the entrance to a sacred area, and signifies the division of the secular and the spiritual worlds.

After a brief visit, I took the bus to Ukegawa where the second day of the journey began.


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Unlike the day before the route from Ukegawa to Koguchi is shorter and less strenuous, and the distance is about 13km. After a hike up Mt. Nyohozan, there is a rewarding panoramic view of the 3600 peaks in Kumano at the impressive Hyakken-gura look out.




Hyakken-gura look out


Here, I bumped into a couple I met continuously since yesterday and we started chatting for the first time. I found out that they were from San Francisco, and they had flown over for a week just to do this trail. Interestingly, we all thought the previous day’s hike was extremely challenging; they also couldn’t complete it on time and ended up getting a lift from a French couple. Since we were all heading towards Koguchi, I ended up running into them throughout the day at various spots.




A solar-powered toilet


It was another clear and rather hot day, but the trail was gentler with less steep climbs and descends, and so I was able to take a more relaxing pace today.



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Sainokawara Jizo


When traveling in rural Japan, I would often come across a carved stone statue of a person wearing a red apron/bib. The couple from the US and I were curious and wanted to know more because they are conspicuous along the pilgrimage route.

It turns out that this is the statue of Jizo Bosatsu (or Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva in Sanskrit), also known as the earth bearer, and he is full of awesomeness, compassion and fortitude. He is the protector of travelers and children, which explains his presence along the route. Jizo also takes care of the souls of unborn children and those who die at a young age. Red bibs were said to have been worn by children in earlier times, hence Jizo is often seen wearing a red bib.



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Ishido-jaya Teahouse Remains and my special pre-ordered bento


Aside from the statue of Jizo, teahouse remains are common sights along the pilgrimage route. When the trail was in its heyday, there were abundant teahouses providing tea and resting places (some even offered lodgings) for pilgrims.

At the Ishido-jaya Teahouse Remains, I was looking forward to the special bento that I had pre-ordered online. After reading all the rave reviews, I splashed out and paid 1150 yen (just under £8) for this beautifully arranged and packaged bento. And it didn’t disappoint – it tasted as good as it looked. (N.B. the bentos I had yesterday was only 300 yen, so 1150 yen is considerably higher than the average).



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Arriving at Koguchi… Bottom: Koguchi Shizen-no-Ie, a hostel/campsite converted from an old school


For some time, I had read news and accounts on the issue of depopulation in rural Japan, but it didn’t hit me until I came to this region. After spending one night at the sleepy Chikatsuyu, I spent another night at the even ‘sleepier’ Koguchi, where there are only two lodgings available for hikers. One of them is a hostel converted from an old school that offers 11 rooms, and the other one is Minshuku Momofuku, a small guesthouse with two rooms.



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Like Chikatsuyu, I didn’t see a soul as I walked through the slightly eerie village. I came across a average-sized shop, so I went in… it seems to be the only shop in the village which sells food (mostly dry or frozen), drinks, clothing and accessories, stationery, hardware, etc. It is like a convenient store that is stuck in a time warp.





Minshuku Momofuku


I arrived at Minshuku Momofuku at around four, and was greeted by Mr. Nakazawa, who speaks sufficient English to communicate. I was told that I was the only guest at their house, so I got to enjoy the place to myself. I was quite blown away by the amount of food at dinner – it was the best dinner I have had since Saizen-in at Koyasan. Apparently, the most challenging hike was yet to come, so I felt justified to indulge before the hardship began.


From Koyasan to Kumano Kodo

When I was planning my Japan trip, I came across an article about the ancient pilgrimage trail, Kumano Kodo, in the Wakayama region. Despite numerous visits to Japan over the years, I have never heard of this trail before. I became interested and started researching about the trail. Unlike the famous pilgramge route, Camino de Santiago in Spain, Kumano Kodo comprises several routes and walkers can be flexible with the days and distances. The most popular route is the Nakahechi route which starts from Kii-Tanabe on the western coast of the Kii Peninsula and traverses east into the mountains towards the other side of the Peninsula. Since the 10th century, the Nakahechi route had been extensively used by the imperial family on pilgrimage from Kyoto. Since this was my first multi-day trail, I thought I should stick with the more popular route.


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Although there are some sample itineraries on the official Kumano Kodo tourism website, I decided to make some alterations; meanwhile, I still used their free reservation services for accommodations and bento boxes. Instead of using the rather pricey daily luggage transfer service, I forwarded my luggage in Osaka to my next desination after the pilgrimage trail.

Before my trip, I bought a pair of foldable walking sticks and a foldable rucksack big enough to carry essentials and clothing for 5 nights. Like the protagonist in the film ‘Wild’, I was constantly packing and repacking to make sure that I wasn’t carrying too much. Yet later I acknowledge that I had still taken too much unnecessary stuff, like a book that I never got to read (too exhausted), accessories such as scarf and hat (too warm), and a heavy camera… minimalising is never as easy as we think.




Due to the traveling period (low season), the route from Koyasan to Kii-Tanabe (the beginning of the trail) was a not a straight-forward one despite that they are not that far apart by distance. I ended up taking 3 buses and 2 trains, which took over 6 hours of traveling time! Luckily, the stunning scenery along the coast made the journey more interesting.

When I arrived at Kii-Tanabe, I had to rush over to the Tourist office to get a copy of the route maps as I would have to depend on it a lot over the next few days. Since I spent almost 1/2 day traveling, it meant that I didn’t have time to walk to my destination, hence I took a bus and headed to my lodging at Chikatsuyu village.



kumano travel  kumano kodo

The starting point of the trail: Kii-Tanabe


My original plan was to stay in Takahara village, a ridge-top village that offers a panoramic view of the mountains in the surrounding area, but all the lodgings there were full when I tried to book, so I had to skip the first part of the trail and start from Chikatsuyu village. With only a few choices in the village, I decided to rent a cottage owned by a lovely Ms. Muya (according to the official reservation website) who named the cottage: Happiness Chikatsuyu.





Chikatsuyu village


Not only I was the only person who got off the bus at Chikatsuyu, I did not encounter anyone during my 15 minutes’ walk towards the cottage. I went to pick up the keys from the neighbour and he kindly showed me around the cottage and suggested that I take a bus up the hill tomorrow and start the trail at the top of the hill.


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dsc_0232-min  kimono 



The cottage is way better than the photos on the website. In fact, I understood immediately why it has been named ‘Happiness’. Honestly, I could feel the love and positive energy at this cottage. The spacious and bright cottage is not over-furnished, and has three exquisite kimonos hanging around the house. Yet more ‘happiness’ could be found outside in the garden.





The cottage is located on the top of a hillock overlooking the Hiki-gawa River. I felt incredibly blissful sitting inside the gazebo surrounded by the beautiful and tranquil environment.

Since there are no restaurants nearby, I had to pre-order dinner, which was delivered by a friendly lady who runs a small cafe in the village. It was a simple bento dinner, but enjoyable nonetheless especially because I was able to savour it in the garden.



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img_8563-min  flowers


After dinner (which was only around 7pm), I decided to stroll into the village to see if there is a grocery shop or convenient store for my lunch tomorrow. Again, I did not see anyone along the route, nor did I see any food shop nor convenient store. There is a derelict petrol station and surprisingly, a wonderful bric-a-brac shop that sells vintage items and ceramics. I went into the shop but again, I didn’t see anyone… suddenly, I felt like I was in a surreal film where everyone in the village has vanished! Where is everyone?








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Although I have read a lot about the issues of urbanisation and rural depopulation in Japan, I have never seen it in real life until this trip. Chikatsuyu is only one of many. Walking back, I felt a bit sad that people would rather live in congested, polluted, expensive and high density concrete jungles than villages surrounded by natural beauty. And yet Japan is not alone – this is happening all over the world.

After I got back, I had to prepare for the big day ahead and was slightly anxious because the first day would be the longest day out of the three, with approx. 8 hours of walking time. I would need to reach my destination before sunset, but I could save some time and energy by taking a bus up the hill from the village in the morning.

I thought I had planned everything quite well, but as we all know, life rarely turns out the way we plan it…



Hiking in Hong Kong – From Lung Fu Shan to the Peak

peak trail

A view of Hong Kong from the Peak trail


Every time I visit Hong Kong, I have to fit in either a day hike or take the ferry to the outlying islands to unwind and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

One of my favourite hikes is the Lung Fu Shan trail, which leads you either up to the peak or towards Pok Fu Lam reservoir. I would start from Conduit Road in mid-levels, walk along Hatton Road, pass Lung Fu Shan country park, hike up to the Peak, and then walk down via Old Peak Road. The hike can be completed within 2 hours, but it can be stretched to a 1/2 day hike if you decide to have lunch or do sightseeing around the peak area. I once did this hike on a sunny morning (around 26 degrees) before my long-haul flight back to the UK in the evening, and I felt immensely exhilarated after the sweaty but fulfilling hike.


lung fu shan trail  lung fu shan trail

lung fu shan trail

peak trail  peak trail

hong kong flower  hong kong plant


When I am hiking up the trail, I am always amazed by the greenness around me; and it is hard to believe that the city centre is only 20 minutes away. I especially love walking through the bamboo forest, which tends to remind me of Japan or specifically Kyoto.

On Hatton Road, you can still see one of the city’s seven boundary stones erected by the Hong Kong Government in 1903. Now six of these stones remained – one of them disappeared in 2007 – and they marked the city’s historical boundaries.


peak trail  peak trail

lung fu shan trail

peak trail  peak trail


Established in 1998, Lung Fu Shan Country Park covers an area of about 47 hectares, and it includes the disused Pinewood Battery as well as the Pinewood Garden picnic area. The disused Pinewood Battery is a historic military site constructed between 1901 to 1905, and it received a Grade II conservation status in 2009.


lung fu shan

peak trail

peak trail

peak trail   peak trail

peak trail

Lung Fu Shan Country Park and Pinewood Battery


From Pinewood Battery, one can walk along the Lung Fu Shan Fitness Trail – a 2750m long trail that leads up to the peak or another trail that heads towards Po Fu Lam reservoir. Being a semi-tourist, I have opted for the grand harbour view than the reservoir view, hence I have yet to do the reservoir trail.


peak trail  peak trail

peak trail

peak trail


I started to appreciate Hong Kong more when I do these hiking trails, partly because they remind me that the city has much more to offer than shopping, eating and drinking. There are many inner city hiking trails that are minutes away from the crowded and polluted streets, so if you get a chance, try to explore the city’s hidden nature through these trails.



peak trail