20th February 2014
Making the most of every meal while travelling is one of the tenants of seeing the world right, but knowing where to sup when you hit the ground in a new city can be tricky. I’ve had a lot of people mention that they’ve used my guide to Hong Kong when they visited this city, and it’s great to know it’s helped people find the best bits. However, I have to say I’ve learnt so much about this city since then, not to mention it’s a place that’s in a constant state of flux. To keep my recommendations current, you may have noticed I recently added a Hong Kong tab to my categories, I’m going to be adding recommendations along the way for the perfect stay, after all, it’s become clear that this city can’t really be covered in one post!
To start, let’s talk about food. Hong Kong has some amazing places to nosh, but let’s face it, also some not so good ones. The sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming when you’re new, and it’s sometimes impossible to pick the diamond out of the rough. In the past Hong Kong has provided well for the Michelin Star addict, and also those who prefer to sit in a Dai Pai Gong on the street, but recently there’s been a growth spurt of yummy, mid-range restaurants that provide the food and atmosphere you’re after when you travel (without blowing you budget, or having you wonder what the suspicious looking meat could possibly be). I thought I would share a few of these with you. All of my picks are located on Hong Kong Island… What can I say, I like to be able to walk to and from my favourite places!
Thai street food inspired by the Isarn region, my boyfriend and I are pretty much a permanent fixture here. Great drinks, fun music, everyone sitting all squashy together. The food is simple and yet stand out, with lots of yummy (but spicy) salads, fish and curries on the menu. When people ask me what makes a good place to eat I have to say the food, the atmosphere and the music, and I think they’ve got all three right here. Ask for the salads with less chilli if you’re not into super spicy food. My favourite is the Gai Yung chicken and the crispy pork Lap Moo.
One of my boyfriend’s recent projects (shameless, but justified, plug here), the lightly Italian inspired food here is absolutely delicious and the atmosphere is spot on. It’s cosy and cool in a way that many restaurant in Hong Kong just aren’t, with bar seating and a lounge area complete with foosball table. It also has an outdoor terrace which is great for drinks, you must order the Farmhouse Jam cocktail (seen in the top left picture above).
A touch of old world Hong Kong in this traditional tea house set in the beautiful gardens of Hong Kong Park, this is my favourite for dim sum lunch. It’s one of those places that actually very few people know about in Hong Kong. The food is vegetarian but very very delicious (one of those – I can’t even tell there’s no meat- situations). Make sure you take home some jasmine tea from the tea shop! If you’re looking for more, jazzed up, dim sum try either Duddells (lovely upstairs terrace) or DragonI (turns into a nightclub at night, so yeah, there’s that).
The China Club
Somewhat of an establishment in Hong Kong, it’s members only but if you’re lucky your hotel may be able to book it for you (I’ve heard of friend’s who’s hotels have done this). A little bit kitschy, a little bit Shanghai retro, decked out in a Chinese Tea House style with the most amazing modern artwork I’ve ever seen, it serves traditional Chinese food with a side of noodle pulling and tea ceremony. It’s a fun friday night and gets the good kind of rowdy. Have a drink on the roof once you’ve finished dinner.
This adorable tea house is set behind Tai Ping Shan Street in one of the last remaining old world areas of Central (i.e. 5 storey walk ups are yet to be replaced by 55 storey high rises, although the original inhabitants and old Chinese workshops owners are pretty much gone these days). Teakha has a slight Korean feel with it’s cutesy teal walls, ceramic cups and green tea cakes. Such a great spot to sit and relax, if you can try to get there during the week because it’s packed to the gills on the weekends. The area around here is a great place to explore small shops, art galleries and the Cat Street Markets.
Another of my boyfriend’s projects (don’t worry, I’m unbiased in my recommendations), this Laneway Mexican cantina brings a touch of LA to Hong Kong, with rough furniture, graffiti walls and blaring, fun hip hop music. The crowd is pretty fun and the wait for tables can be daunting, but it’s a great way to spend your late Saturday night. I’m told they serve food til 2am, not that I’ve had to test that before. Really hard to find down a laneway next to Milan Station (the handbag shop) Lan Kwai Fong but totally worth the adventure.
Not quite the same as the no frills style Greek restaurants I used to go to in Australia, this is a sexed up version with great food and a great atmosphere, it’s the perfect place for a night of wine, delicious haloumi and music. The Cypriot salad is to die for.
This tiny Schezwan joint is not for the faint hearted, as it serves seriously hot, but delicious food. It only seats 12 people so make sure you book in advance, and don’t bother taking anyone who can’t handle the spice, the food here is the hottest I have ever tasted. If you like spicy food you have to (AS IN HAVE TO) go.
Unfortunately breakfasts are nothing to write home about in Hong Kong, but you’ll be happy to hear that in the last few years the standard of coffee has slowly risen. The flat whites knocked up by the twins at Commonground are great and it’s a very cute spot on the stairs to sit and have some scrambled eggs.
Quick, simple and incredibly delicious, this Vietnamese noodle joint is one of my regular lunchtime haunts. Every time I go there I can’t help but exclaim about how yummy everything is, and it’s MSG free! May sound trivial but you’ll be surprised how few places are in Hong Kong. Just writing about it is making me crave a pho!
29th January 2014
I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I visited Hanoi recently but what I found was a quaint, chaotic and full of life city (more like a big village) with such an enthralling street grain and inspiring energy, I fell in love instantly. Although Hanoi doesn’t have the nightlife of Bangkok, or the trend culture of Tokyo, it has a distinct flavour and energy of it’s own, layer upon layer of history that makes it feel part Paris, part broke down Palace. The cluttered streets of the Old Quarter are filled with swarms of motorbikes and on every corner there’s boiling pots of street food and vendors selling vietnamese drip coffee. Lot’s to see, lot’s to do, and lot’s to eat. Could a weekend getaway get any better? See for yourself, and feel free to share any other tips you have!
The best thing in the whole world (seriously) – drip coffee with coconut frozen yogurt at Cong Caphe
After pretty much everyone recommended it, we splurged and stayed at the Sofitel Metropole Hotel, it was only for a couple of nights and we loved it! After being in the city I can see that there are quite a few options of places to stay, but nowhere beats the atmospheric charm of this French colonial hotel. It really is a touch of Paris in Hanoi!
Old Quarter - If you only do one thing while in Hanoi, take your time to wander the busy, hectic and utterly charming old quarter. I have to say I fell in love the first day and didn’t feel the need to do anything else other than that the whole time! The maze of streets are filled with tiny shops, each street dedicated to a single type of merchant, it’s utterly riveting walking around all day and felt relatively safe to do on your own (although, as usual, keep your wits about you).
Hoan Kiem Lake – At the centre of the city, this lake and it’s surrounding strip of park is a breath of fresh air amongst the old quarter, a place to stop for a rest and enjoy a brief moment of tranquility. In the top North West Corner of the lake there’s a very cute little rotunda and cafe where you can have a cool drink and relax.
Hoa Lo Prison - First built by French Colonialists to house political dissidents and then used during the Vietnam war to hold captured American POW’s, this prison has a chequered past. A museum has been built in what was the gatehouse and it’s an interesting insight into the history of the place and the city itself. The seemingly happy coverage of the POW’s while in prison (note all the smiling American servicemen) seems to be at odds with accounts I have read elsewhere, but see what you think when you go.
Ethnology Museum - We loved this museum, filled with tribal art and explanations of the many differing ethnic groups of the Vietnam region. It’s a little while away so perhaps combine it with a trip to West Lake.
West Lake – ‘Tay Ho’ is a large freshwater lake to the NorthWest of the Old Quarter, a suburb where it appears lots of expats live, and I can understand why. Such a beautiful area with a mix of old and new Vietnam. Visit the flower markets or grab a drink at the Intercontinental. A welcome (short) reprieve from the busy old quarter.
Shopping streets – The Old Quarter is full of great shopping, with the best stores centred around Hang Bac (lots of silver jewelry here), Hang Gai (tailors, fabrics, linen), Nha Tho and Ly Quoc Su (clothing and handicrafts) and Hang Trong (slightly nicer textiles and homewares)
Tan My Design - When you’re in Hanoi, make sure you don’t go home without a new set of linen, the city is known for it’s cotton, silks and embroidery. The best place to do this is around Hang Gai, I bought the most gorgeous set from Tan My Designs, not completely dirt cheap but worth soooo much more than I paid for them. I look forward to crawling into my cloud of a bed these days like never before!
Dong Xuan Wholesale Markets - These markets are just to the North of the Old Quarter, and super hectic, but a great place pick up some trinkets, cheap jewellery or a pair of sunnies after you lose yours (naturally).
Cho Hom Markets - This market, although a little bit to the South of the Old Quarter (grab a taxi to get there if you’re staying centrally), is filled with fabrics and the area around it has a few tailors who may be able to stitch you up something if you have the time.
Chie Handmade: I found lots of stores around the old quarter selling Asian handicrafts, and after a while they tend to all look the same – same fabrics, bags, toys etc. I chanced upon this store and loved the uniqueness of their designs, a little bit different and a lot more elegant than the usual tat you find everywhere. I bought a few fabrics, some cushion covers and some other handmade goodies here. Definitely recommend! Currently located at 49 Hang Trong, with another store on that street too. They have a facebook page but no website, as is the case with lots of places in Hanoi.
Eat & Drink
Cong Caphe - If you only have one vietnamese coffee while you’re in hanoi make sure it’s here. Seriously. I don’t drink that much coffee anymore but took up the addiction for a few days just so I could revel in drip coffee with coconut frozen yogurt. I visited the Hang Dieu store everyday and sat on the tiny military stools for hours, taking in the activity on the street and loving the tongue in cheek military vibe of the cafe. Love!
Metropole Chocolate Buffet - What better way to while away an afternoon than a chocolate buffet afternoon tea in the light filled conservatory that is Le Club at Hotel Metropole. One of those please-roll-me-out situations, leave all diet restrictions at the door!
Bar Betta - An amazing terrace house in the Embassy district that’s been turned into a super fun kitschy bar, decked out with old records and mismatched vintage furniture - perfect for a lazy after dinner drink.
Green Tangerine – Pretty courtyard restaurant that serves up interesting french/vietnamese fusion food, to be honest I loved the spot more than the food but sometimes that’s what it’s about when you travel
67 Hang Dieu Street - Best simple beef noodle joint on the streets of Hanoi. Just go.
The Hanoi Social Club – Tiny little veggo cafe in the Old Quarter, great place for a lunchtime pitstop.
Indochine Restaurant - We loved this pretty house with simple food and a lovely late night vibe. Note to all, most kitchens close around 9pm so make sure you head out early.
Bun Cha Dac Kim – Street side stall selling BBQ minced pork balls served with vermicelli noodles and salad. On Hang Manh and best for lunch.
Street fruit vendors in the old quarter | Propaganda poster shop on Hang Bac
High tea / chocolate buffet at the Metropole (promise this wasn’t all for me!)
You’ll see painted signs all over the city which apparently advertise handymen, plumbers etc | Old wing in the Hotel Metropole
Stopping for a bite at Bun Cha Dac Kim, Hang Manh Street in the Old Quarter
I went to this cafe virtually every day for the people watching as much as the drinks. As someone who rarely drinks coffee you can imagine it was like: zing!
Was so inspired by the amazing tiles!
Just a simple day in the old quarter | Bicycle florists
One of the quieter streets in the old town.
The Metropole was truly magical | Brokedown palace doorways are everywhere in the old quarter
Tailors around the Cho Hom markets | Peeking into people’s houses in the Old Quarter
Tomato noodles on the streets of the Old Quarter
It’s always tea time! | Meeting Miss Scarlet in the conservatory (ie Le Club in the Hotel Metropole).
The Old Quarter has such a gorgeous broke down palace feel, I didn’t want to leave!
The upper courtyard at the Metrpole, talk about dreamy! | More tile love.
The Old Quarter is full of amazing shop fronts.
Simple travel outfit: Zara flats, J Brand shorts, 7FAM top, Whistles bag
Shopping on Hang Gai | Shopping on Hang Dieu
The perfect place to read a book.
Shopping on Hang Bac | Shopping on
Travel outfit | Fresh food in the markets.
20th January 2014
If your New Year’s Resolution this year is to travel more, you’re not alone. But what if you don’t get to travel as much as you would like? Short of throwing off the shackles of life and and work and becoming a nomad backpacker (time to stock up on dreadlock wax and fisherman’s pants!) it’s likely that 2014 is going to be similar to most other years – so many dream destinations, so little time.
For me, that’s where novels come in. Like a lot of people, I often read fiction as a way of experiencing far off places, and feeling, for just for a fleeting moment, that I’m somewhere else entirely. In my opinion, the best books depict the place itself almost as a character, as much a part of the story as the heroic loner or the horny housewife (depending on what type of books you’re into…). And unlike characters, places rarely conform to stereotypes, which makes them even more interesting (to me, anyway).
Even if you do get to travel as much as you like, fiction is a great way to research and learn about a place you’re going, in a more meaningful way than a plain old wiki search (bearing in mind that fiction books aren’t always completely accurate, but to me that’s half the fun). With that in mind, I wanted to share with you a few of my favourite books about places, perfect fodder to prepare for any upcoming trips this year!
In case you’re wondering, this list also makes up some of my favourite novels (clearly I love a read that inspires a touch of wanderlust) which I’ve wanted to share for a while, but couldn’t decide the best way to do it – I know that recommending books can be tricky because everyone’s different. I’ve linked them all via Amazon so you can read the synopsis and download them, but most of them are a few years old so you can probably also find them in bookshops (or at the library). Enjoy!
Barcelona – The Shadow Of The Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Paris – Perfume* by Patrick Suskind
Scotland – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Ireland – Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
Turkey – Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Mexico – The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
Colombia – One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
China – Wild Swans by Jung Chang
Florida - Sick Puppy by Carl Hiaasen
Dominican Republic – The Brief Wondorous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz
Newfoundland - The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
South Africa – Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe
Congo – The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kindsolver
This is obviously the tip of the iceberg when it comes to good books about places so please share any favourites (or even just your favourite books) in the comments, I’m always on the lookout for a new read. Here’s to lots of travel and reading in 2014!
* my particular favourites