Winter warmers

While Charlotte is soaking up the Sydney sun, the switch has been flicked from ‘cold’ to ‘very cold’ in Hong Kong and I’m freezing my socks off! If you’re a winter wuss like me, here are a few bits and pieces I swear by to make the chilly months slightly more bearable…

Hong Kong winter

Teapigs

Not all tea is created equal and Teapigs is proof of that. This cult UK brand landed on HK shores a while ago (available online, select health food shops and international supermarkets) and totally transformed my tea game. My brew of choice: liquorice & peppermint.  Served in biodegradable tea temples (not tea bags), this worship-worthy herbal infusion is naturally sweet, making it a perfect pick-me-up. While on the slightly pricy side, the Teapigs range is totally worth it (and a tea bag is good for at least three cups – not that I’m counting).

EOS hand lotion

Cute, compact and delicious-smelling, EOS hand lotion is an absolute must-have for winter. The nifty (can’t remember the last time I described something as ‘nifty’) tube is easy to carry in your purse or pocket. The formula is quickly absorbed and paraben-free.

Super Food Lab

The cooler air can often wreak havoc with your immune system (and that is not cool). To help stay feeling well (and hopefully sickness-free), upping your fresh juice and smoothie intake is worth doing. I recently discovered Super Food Lab’s Super Red Antiox and am hooked. Made with nutrient-dense pomegranate, goji berries, blueberries and cranberries, this is a supplement powder that actually tastes as good as it sounds. If you’re on the green juice bandwagon, try giving their Super Green version (made with wheat grass, barley, spirulina and chlorella) a go instead. I especially love the fact both these powders are available in travel sachets (packs of 10) – it makes them super handy to have at work or on the go.

Lanolips

I’ve made no secret about my love of Lanolips – it is, without a doubt, the best lip balm I’ve ever used. Morning, noon and night, I keep my pout plastered with this stuff and it works a dream. I’m currently burning through the Apple 101 Ointment which is also doubles as an awesome cuticle balm.

Tallore

Homemade soup is one of the very few things I genuinely love about winter. While there is no shortage of places that sell soup around HK, finding a decent one (delicious, healthy and well-priced) can be tricky. I couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled across Tallore – an artisan soup joint – in Wanchai. Along with serving amazing gourmet soup (five flavours available daily), this Belgian eatery also has hearty sandwiches and fresh salads on offer. If you don’t live or work near Wanchai, Tallore is on the books with Food Panda (whoop whoop).

Foxtail & Broomcorn

Noodles are always a good idea but especially during winter. Because Hong Kong is a bit of a wonderland on the noodle front there are limitless options. One place worth specifically scoping out, however, is Foxtail & Broomcorn. This modern little noodle bar in Sheung Wan has only been open a few months and already has a loyal following with queues out the door daily. With a focus on wholesome food, the menu includes eight MSG-free noodle dishes and an array of low-carb mains. In terms of noodles, the ‘Tokyo’ (fresh ramen noodles, onzen egg and harissa beef ribs in chicken broth) gets my vote. Slurp-tastic.

Stay warm!

E x

Finding my mat

Unlike Hong Kong, Sydney offers a plethora of yoga studios to choose from – from the see-to-be-seen hotspots to smaller, holistic studios tucked away on back streets. Given that my regular practice consisted of Pure (and I’m not knocking it, I went all the time), I wasn’t quite prepared for just how overwhelmed I would be at the variety on offer. So many places, so little time. And spread out. So spread out – seriously, Hong Kongers you forget how lucky you are!

Sydney is one of those cities – on the weekends lululemon is practically mandatory and every third person is carrying a yoga mat. It’s like a little slice of heaven for someone like me and despite my ridiculously healthy lifestyle taking a slight turn (in my defence, I’m in a new city and I need to meet people!), I have relished in exploring what Sydney has to offer.

Finding a great yoga studio is like choosing a potential partner; it’s a commitment – you want to find somewhere that makes you feel comfortable but challenges you at the same time, invites you to go deeper and broaden your horizons. At home, I knew who I loved, the style I craved, and I had a pretty nailed routine… In Sydney, I’m starting that all over again, so here are my tips for finding a great studio, no matter where you live:

  • Location is key: with no MTR and $3 bus rides, you need to really think about a) when you practice and b) where you are at that time – I love evening classes, so somewhere close to work makes much more sense
  • Don’t listen to the hype: when I arrived, everyone was like “you have to try this place” and in all honesty, I didn’t enjoy it – it may be one of the most popular places to practice, but it didn’t float my boat and I was happy with that
  • Get outside your comfort zone: I challenged myself to an Ashtanga class – scary, so scary!
  • Talk to people: the best way to get a feel for a studio is to chat with the people there, in the studio I ultimately decided on, everyone is friendly, smiles and there’s a good vibe – lots of places don’t have that, so it’s important to find somewhere that makes you feel welcome
  • Try, try, try: unlike Hong Kong, so many places do trial weeks – make the most of them, experience as many teachers as you can and keep trying until you find the right fit, it’s worth it in the long run!
  • Instagram: there are so many yogi’s on instagram it’s ridiculous! Start following local yogi’s in your city and see where they practice, where they hang out etc. and you’ll find your groove in no time!

C xYoga in Sydney

Seoul got soul

You know a city is pretty special when you leave feeling like you could live there. This was the case for me after spending five amazing days in Seoul recently.

From kimchi to K-Pop, Seoul’s got it all going on. If you have plans to visit this South Korean metropolis – or if you’re in need of inspiration for your next city break – here are a few highlights and tips from my trip…

Where to stay

As is the case with many big Asian cities, decent hotel accommodation is pretty pricey in Seoul. Keen to be central but not wanting to shell out big bucks for a small, below-average hotel room, we decided to scour airbnb for a place to stay. We struck gold with Daysom Guesthouse, a traditional Korean hanok thought to have been built about 120 years ago. Although not very big, it was cute, comfortable and easy to get to via airport limousine (i.e. airport bus). We were close to bus stops, subway station entrances, as well as just a five-minute stroll to Changdeok Palace.

I’m a big fan of airbnb, having only had positive experiences with the platform. If you haven’t used the site to scope out accommodation options before, it’s worth doing (especially in big cities) as I think you’re more likely to get a better feel and understanding of the place.

Seoul is sprawled so location is key. Have an idea of the neighbourhoods you want to spend time in and the things you want to do before you book anywhere.

Seoul

Daysom Guesthouse

Wood and Brick Seoul

What to do

There’s no shortage of things to do and places to go in Seoul.

Exploring the Gyeongbok Palace  and the Changdeok Palace is worthwhile. While Gyeongbok (closed on Tuesdays) is the bigger, more famous of the two, I actually preferred Changdeok – there were less people and the ‘secret garden’ (which you need to buy an extra ticket and be part of a tour group to visit) is beautiful.

The N Seoul Tower is a place that doesn’t seem to get much airtime but is worth a visit. Accessible by cable car or bus, the area around the base of the tower has basically become Seoul’s answer to the Love Lock Bridge in Paris. Hooked along railings and handle bars, thousands of colourful padlocks and have been popped and locked for the world to see. While it might not have the same romantic vibe as its French counterpart, it’s a fun spot to take photos and chow down on churros.  The view is good too.

Bukchon Village was one of my favourite pockets of Seoul. Utterly picturesque, this neighbourhood is made up of beautifully restored hanoks with what feels like an endless array of little shops, cafes and galleries to discover. I could have happily spent hours there.

We decided to check out the DMZ (the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea). Booking a tour was easy to sort the day before (our airbnb host lined it all up for us). Because it was just a half-day trip, there wasn’t much down time which I liked. The history between the North and South is really interesting so factoring the tour into our trip was time well spent.

If you’re a culture vulture, you can’t go past the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Literally heaving with groundbreaking installations and exhibitions, this gorgeous museum was a definite Seoul highlight.

If you want absolute confirmation that you’re not a cat person, go to a cat café. We visited Cat Playground in Myeongdong and I didn’t touch a single cat (a good effort considering there were 46 of them sifting around). I found watching the ‘cat people’ most entertaining. I’m glad I ticked the cat café box but won’t be rushing back to one any time soon.

Gyeongbok Palace

Gyeongbok Palace

N Seoul Tower

Bukchon Village

Myeongdong

DMZ Korea

National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art SeoulWhere to shop

Seoul’s shopping scene is really impressive. South Korea is incredibly fashion-forward and pretty fearless when it comes to style. I loved discovering Korean brands (most of which I’d never heard of) and exploring the independent boutiques dotted along the streets in most neighbourhoods.

I found the best places to shop were Garosugil (a very trendy part of town lined with street-level boutiques), Myeongdong (basically Seoul’s answer to Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay but bigger and busier) and Hongdae (student-ville with massive flagship locations for New Balance, H&M, Forever 21 etc).

Aside from clothes, South Korea is a mecca for cosmetics and beauty products. I fell in love with Too Cool For School – kind of like Kiehl’s but cheaper.

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Bukchon Village

Eating and drinking

In terms of café culture, Seoul schools Asia. Seriously. I was in awe of the number of gorgeous, independent cafés serving great coffee and good food. Two of my favourites were Wood & Brick in Jae-Dong (near Bukchon Village) and Talk Service in Gangnam-gu.

We found Gangnam great for bars – there are lots of little spots to grab a drink (just be sure to look above street-level to find them).

If you’re not keen for Korean food, you’re bound to find something to eat in Itaewon (along the main pedestrian street behind the Hamilton Hotel). This place reminded me of a slightly cleaner, toned down version of Lan Kwai Fong.

Kimchi

Korean BBQ

Korean BBQ

I loved Seoul and can’t wait to go back. It’s definitely one of the best city breaks I’ve had since living in Asia. Add it to your travel ‘to do’ list’!

E x

Our favourite Hong Kong cafés

Hong Kong is in the midst of a café boom and I’m doing my best to keep up! If you’re in the 852 and on the lookout for a new ‘local’ or simply just need to be pointed in the direction of good latte and bite to eat, here five of my favourite coffee joints of the moment. Enjoy!

Elephant Grounds

Located right at the back of cult speciality store WAOW on Gough Street, Elephant Grounds is an independent roaster and purveyor of seriously good coffee in a modern, quirky setting. Along with serving ridiculously amazing ice cream sandwiches (the Hong Kong style milk tea one with honey comb and white choc flakes is insane), their beverage menu is also standout. One drink that separates Elephant Grounds from the rest of the Hong Kong herd is their bulletproof coffee. The bulletproof latte is a mix of coffee, milk, un-salted butter and MCT oil. While it’s a bit on the heavy side, it’s quite tasty and delivers a slow-burning seven-hour caffeine hit. If you’re craving something different (and slightly healthier) the almond milk latte also gets a big BGBC tick!

 Elephant Grounds

ZAI FÉ

Along with their flagship Quarry Bay branch, ZAI FÉ has opened two new locations in Central and in Kwun Tong! Their Central location is a hidden gem, tucked out of sight at the back of Bo Concept on Wyndham Street. Set on a sheltered outdoor terrace, this café has to be one of the best kept secrets in the district (a friend actually asked me not to tell anyone about it because she didn’t want word getting out about how good it is). Along with serving stellar coffee, ZAI FÉ’s deli-style food menu is also fantastic. Healthy, simple and not out of a packet, this is the place to hit this winter if you’re craving some hearty soup, a delicious toastie or gourmet pie. If you’re with someone who isn’t much of a coffee drinker, steer them in the direction of ZAI FÉ’s blueberry jamtini – it’s a game changer.

Zai Fe

NOSH

Nosh is one of those neighbourhood cafés you walk into and instantly like. As the name suggests, it has an awesome food menu (the breakfast, brunch and lunch options are delicious and slightly more creative than the standard fodder on other café menus around town).  The coffee is really well made, and, given how busy the place is with people dining in and constantly swinging by to take away, it seems that’s no secret. If you’re craving something cool and sweet, the iced caramel latte here is sure to hit the spot.

 NOSH

Coco Espresso

Good coffee is no longer hard to find in Wanchai – actually, it’s becoming increasingly harder for cafés and espresso bars to stand out from the crowd. A spot that never fails to deliver on the quality front is Coco Espresso. Along with having a really nice team behind the counter (who genuinely try to remember your order if you’re a regular – a Hong Kong rarity), their coffee is skillfully made. If you’re feeling hungry, Coco Espresso’s homemade banana bread is top notch (next level when heated and served with a dollop of butter).

 Coco Espresso

18 Grams

I’d heard lots about 18 Grams before finally getting around to visit their Sheung Wan branch. One thing’s for sure, this is a place for serious coffee drinkers – people who really appreciate the art and science of a good brew. In terms of atmos it’s a bit lacking so I normally opt to grab my coffee (and slab of their home-made banana loaf) to go.

18 Grams - lattte

 

E x

An adapted version of this post originally ran on Sassy Hong Kong

Taking on the Macau Tower Bungy

When Virgin Atlantic recently got in touch with Sassy Hong Kong (a website I – and that Charlotte used to – write for) to issue a challenge for someone to take on the Macau Tower bungy jump, I threw my hand up to do it. As the team’s token Kiwi and having bungeed twice before – both times at the Auckland Harbour Bridge site in New Zealand – I figured it was a good opportunity to brush off some cobwebs, get the blood pumping and heart racing.

Then I crunched the numbers…

While the Auckland Harbour Bridge jump is 40m high (and pretty scary), the Macau Tower site dwarves that by standing at a whopping 233m! Not only did I realise it was more than five times the height, I discovered it’s the current title holder of highest commercial bungy in the world (my hands get sweaty just typing those words). I immediately freaked out. What was I thinking signing up for something so extreme?! So high?! So extremely high?!

Once I got my head around the task that lay ahead, I locked in the time and date of the jump and the countdown began…

In the days leading up it, I become increasingly nervous. I tried psyching myself up by reading reviews and watching as many videos of people doing it as I could. I kept imagining what it would be like when it came time to stand on the edge of the platform. Unlike a skydive (where you’re strapped to the instructor and therefore don’t actually make the decision to jump out of the plane yourself, you just get taken for the ride), with a bungy it’s all down to you to jump, step or fall off the ledge. And the moment when you make that decision is intense.

After telling anyone who would listen about my impending jump, the big day finally arrived.

The Macau bungy site is managed by AJ Hackett. For those unfamiliar with the brand name, AJ is in fact the man who invented bungy jumping – the godfather of the sport. Did I mention he’s Kiwi too? Anyway, it’s needless to say the technology, safety and professionalism makes for one slick operation.

Macau Tower Bungy 1

There’s no mucking around when you reach the observation deck of the Macau Tower. With dance music pumping, things happen pretty swiftly once you’ve been registered,   weighed and suited up in the harness. The team is awesome. Not only are staff relaxed, friendly and insanely knowledgeable (they have detailed answers for every bungy-related question under the sun), the set-up process makes you feel really secure.

After watching four people (successfully) jump ahead of me, it was my turn.

Macau Tower Bungy 2

With my harness pulled tight, I tried my best to keep it together as I shuffled out to the edge of the platform. I was told to stay calm and – rather than jumping – to fall forward as though I was landing on the end of a bed. My plan was to avoid looking down at this point, but curiousity got the better of me. I started screaming as soon as I locked eyes on the ground below. A few more safety checks were carried out and then it was time: 5,4,3,2,1 BUNGY!

Macau Tower Bungy 3

It’s best to let the video do the talking from this point but I will say, IT WAS A MASSIVE FREE-FALL. It was long enough for my brain to register what was happening about halfway down – a very weird realisation to have mid-drop. It’s hard (almost impossible) to explain how it feels to be completely aware of falling.

And then it was done. I had done it! And I’d survived! The rush was insane –a feeling of complete, adrenaline-induced euphoria. It was absolutely awesome.

So, do I think you should take the plunge too? Short answer: YES!

If you’re an adventure seeker and in need of a thrill that revs the system, the Macau Tower bungy is a way of pushing your limits in a really safe, controlled environment. The sense of satisfaction once it’s all said and done is indescribable. Given how scared I was in the build-up, if someone like me can go through with this, I think anyone can – and I challenge you to give it a go. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience (and pretty cool to say you’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt for conquering the world’s highest bungy)!

Thanks to Virgin Atlantic for making this happen. To check out what else they recommend doing in this corner of the world, check out this great article.

E x

An adapted version of this post originally ran on Sassy Hong Kong