Monday, 17 August 2015

Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorge in the world and one of the most popular hikes in China. Yet standing at the trailhead I was in doubt that I was in the right place at all. Void of other hikers and any obvious indications that this was indeed the right place despite large ticket office the beginning of the trail is poorly sign posted. For the couple of hours of the trek you will find yourself snaking steeply uphill. Good footwear with ankle support and plenty of water is a must. I would suggest doing this trip over two days.  This will allow more time to take the hike at a more reasonable speed. Better the view take your breath away than the pace. There are many guesthouses along the high trail that are able to provide all sorts of amenities and services.  My travel buddy and I met a couple from Amsterdam when we were a little lost on the trail. Luckily they had a guide who was able to set us in the right direction. They were kind enough to let us hike with them. A fellow Englishman soon joined us. Together we hiked to the hostel cleverly but not so accurately named half way house. This guesthouse is situated in a beautiful spot with a viewing platform perfectly poised to take in an utterly breathtaking view of the mountains. However this is not the only guesthouse in the village, feel free to shop around for the best price.

The second day seemed only provide more and more awe inspiring views, as we past waterfalls, herds of mountain goats, interesting flora and a plethora of changing rock formations we arrived at a trail that passes the rock where legend has it a tiger leaped across the gorge to escape poachers. But I feel the real magic of this place is to witness the intoxicating power of the rapids crashing along the canyon. You can cross a rope bridge to stand almost dangerous close to the raging torrents. Although you are not in any immanent danger I would certain say this is not for the faint hearted. 

I assure you it's sturdier than it looks.

Continuing on we walked along a path cut out of the cliff face. We followed the along the ridge of the mountain. It’s important to be careful with your footing. A single slip could prove deadly. The trail continues through the mountains and under waterfalls. After a few short hours we arrived at our final destination a guesthouse in the last village before the end of the gorge. We tucked into some well deserved food and shared a celebratory beer.

Can you be both zen and sweaty?

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Hong Kong

Meaning ‘Fragrant Harbour’ this former British foothold in Asia still proudly displays its colonial roots, with the obvious exception of a rabid and unrelenting opium problem. Amongst the ultra modern skyscrapers and plethora of retina piercing neon signs you will witness a city that is modern, clean, dilapidated, and dirty. Unapologetic in its lived in appearance, yet sporting a romantic charm this place is just begging to be witnessed.

 With well over a thousand restaurants you are never far away from tucking into some delicious Dim Sum or Won Ton. If you are working at the lower end of the budget scale you may have to turn a blind eye to the kitchen hygiene, the staff certainly do. But as ever, fortune favours the brave; if you are willing to go off the beaten track you will often be rewarded with not only a taste of Hong Kong’s everyday life but its unique fusion produce.

My bravery was limited to attempting to eat chicken feet only once.

The number one sight to see in Hong Kong is its aforementioned collection of skyscrapers that sit along its bay. Stand on the Avenue of Stars and witness a view staggering, if not for its individual appearance but for its surprising tranquility. For a closer look take the star ferry across the bay.

I have plenty of exploring yet to do so expect more to come, but for now dear reader. I hope I have wet your appetite.  

Thursday, 23 April 2015


Yakushima is an island south of Kyushu where legend meets history. A place where you can truly understand why people believe that forest and mountains, are magical living things where spirits and gods reside.

Japanese legends tell of the gods coming down from the sky to the mountains in Kyushu. These places, at least by name and resemblance exist in Yakushima. A short hike will enable you to understand why; such legends have been retold for thousands of years. Misty moss covered forests, vast powerful waterfalls, and awe-inspiring mountains invoke an almost ineffable sense of mystic reverie.  Thoughts of Tolkien’s elves living in amongst the trees filled my mind. Trees so old they almost defy time: contorted, green, so ancient the feeling is palpable on the skin.

There are eighty-seven named mountain peaks on Yakushima. Including Mt Miyanoura: the highest mountain in Kyushu. Within the interior mountains lives the oldest claimed tree in Japan: Jomon Sugi. This tree is alleged to be between 2500 and 7000 years old. So revered it is one of the most popular Japanese pilgrimage destinations. The island is also home to many unique animal and plant species. A defining factor in gaining UNESCO world heritage status. You will often happen upon deers and monkeys in the mountains. In late spring you can watch sea turtles giving birth to their offspring on the islands beaches. The weather in Yakushima can be likened to warm yogurt: wet, ever changing, and evolving. Often dubbed ‘the wettest place in Japan’ one writer joked that it rains ’35 days a month’ on the island. Despite the writer only spending five days on the island in which it didn’t rain, the description is surprisingly accurate. It has been known to rain up to 50cm in a day. Effortlessly turning a mountain path to an impromptu river. This will of course not dissuade you my fellow adventurer.

If you are drawn to the island for it’s great outdoors, its legends, or it’s mysterious allure. I can assure you one thing. You will fall in love with Yakushima’s pedigree uniqueness.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The First And Last Word In The World.

Kyoto, Japan. An intoxicating place filled with temples, shrines, and surrounded by mountains. Kyoto is a keystone in Japanese culture. This is never more apparent than when exploring Kyoto’s many heritage sights. But I feel the real magic is to be found venturing off the beaten path into the mountains and the forests that encroach the city from every side. Here you can find a temple, a shrine, or a quiet wooded area to yourself. Just sit for a while and soak in the silence and the colours. Throughout the year Kyoto is painted by it’s many flowers and leaves. Nearly all temple gardens have something in bloom regardless of the season.

In nearby Uji my friend and I met an elderly gentleman who kindly showed us his favourite temple in town. Small and unassuming with a beautiful garden. We were then taken to a famous shrine. We stood at the threshold under the tori. Our impromptu guide explained that every shrine is guarded by two lions at its entrance. One has its mouth open and stands for the first letter in the Japanese alphabet あ sounds like ‘Ah’, the second has it’s mouth closed and represents the last letter in the alphabet ん sounds like ‘um’*. Quite literally the first and last word in the world.

I feel it’s these little details that will keep you coming back to this place. Majestic and enigmatic, you will be compelled to keep exploring and that is exactly what I intend to do.

*I looked up the phonetic symbols without any assistance from a native speaker so they could well be wrong. Please forgive my ignorance!

Thursday, 5 March 2015


I have no words for how beautiful this place is so here are some pictures. 

Saturday, 28 February 2015


Is there order in the chaos? Or do we merely see patterns? This was the question I asked myself while trying to navigate a busy intersection. After three days of observing Thailand’s grand metropolis. On the surface it seems very caught up with the appearance of order. Look a little closer though and you what you have is far more interesting. Bangkok is warm yogurt.

Thailand is at the forefront of the emerging Asia market. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in Singapore while inside one of Bangkok’s many vast up market shopping malls. It feels strange that you can buy a meal for less than $1, in the same mall that is selling Lamborghinis. When you consider the average monthly wage is around $200 and unemployment is less than 7%. It makes you wonder who has the money to buy Prada and Ducati’s in the mall?

The Thais are well versed in getting money from tourists. It is socially acceptable and even encouraged to bump up the price for a ‘farang’. So expect to pay way above the price for things like Taxis, purchases in local stores and market stalls. Even with this in mind you can survive a day, fully fed and entertained in Bangkok for as little as $15.

Public transport is clean and cheap. You can traverse the city for the entire day and still spent less than $5. I have however heard some stories that the Sky train can be dangerous at night but I did not personally see any evidence to support this. A single journey on the MRT or the BTS will set you back around 60 cents. One thing to note is that eating and drinking is entirely prohibited. I really hope someone in National Rail is reading this and taking notes.

I also spent some time in Northern Thailand. I stayed at a farm retreat about 2 hours away from Chiang Mai. There I volunteered on the farm. I practiced meditation, yoga, and had some time to practice my own martial arts training. Accommodation, three meals a day, and tuition with meditation cost me $4 a day. Chiang Mai’s main pull is not the town itself but the myriad of activities available in the local area. Elephant sanctuaries, snake farms, tiger parks are all within in hours drive from central Chiang Mai. You can also partake in ATV driving, Bungee jumping, Zip lining, and shooting ranges are also offered. If that doesn’t tire you out, you should go hiking. There are many trekking routes available. Be sure to shop around.

Thailand boasts itself as the “land of smiles”. My experience doesn’t contest this. Though sometimes the language barrier posed a few challenges. Nothing that your smile couldn’t fix. The Thais are very social. Just don’t be fooled by the droves that have their head constantly buried in their smartphones. I also found their attitude towards publicly and shamelessly taking selfies as a great source of entertainment.

Regardless of the chaos. I can tell you one thing. You will love Thailand.