“No,” Bart said forcefully, “Not here. The view isn’t the one I saw in my friend’s photo. We have to go further.”
On a grassy ridge at the top of Gunung Prahu, the mountain shaped like a boat’s hull, I was getting exasperated. “Close enough,” I thought. We’d pulled ourselves out of bed at one in the morning, as the rest of the village slumbered peacefully under the brightness of the full moon. Captivated by the rugged scenery around Dieng, a fertile basin in Central Java’s volcanic highlands, our group had unanimously agreed to a sunrise hike some two days earlier. By this time, on the cusp of dawn, I had grown so tired and miserable I almost didn’t care. Read more
The hike to Kawah Ijen begins with a struggle. It is most likely the sulphurous fumes rising from the depths of the volcano, combined with the effects of little sleep. Bama tells me he doesn’t feel well – he is gripped by nausea. We limp along a trail of volcanic ash, taking refuge on the gnarled, low-slung branches and tree stumps beside the route.
Running along a windswept ridge on the southeast arm of Hong Kong Island, Dragon’s Back might just be the most famous hiking trail in the territory. In recent years it has also become a major draw for tourists, especially since TIME magazine named it the ‘Best Urban Hike in Asia’ back in 2004. I had long known of its existence, but it took Bama’s third trip to Hong Kong, and a sudden spell of clear weather, for me to revisit the trail after a hiatus of six or seven years.
There is an old Chinese idiom which expresses a person’s unbreakable ties to their family, hometown, and ancestral land: “Falling leaves return to their roots”. Read more
The old man hovers over our table and grins, lowering his voice to almost a whisper. “Order the Singapore noodles,” he admonishes, “It’s the best.”
Long a staple of Hong Kong’s ubiquitous cha chaan teng – those small teahouses and diners serving generous portions of comfort food – Singapore noodles are in fact a Cantonese creation. It is something of a misnomer; gastronomes would be hard pressed to find this exact dish in the Southeast Asian city-state, so famous for its street food. Read more
When winter comes to Hong Kong, chapping lips and penetrating homes with no insulation nor central heating, I dream of a faraway tropical island among a chain of more than 17,000 spread like jewels along the equator. It waits in the shadow of its famous sister, separated by nothing more than a deep sea strait. Read more
Standing precariously on a ridge of loose volcanic scree, I squeezed the top of the trekking pole and pushed down with all my strength. A thin, broken trail of lights was now snaking its way to the summit roughly 100 metres above my head, a darkened mass that loomed tantalisingly close under the brightness of a full moon. In the distance I could just make out the finish line: two pinnacles forming a natural gateway to the peak. Read more
Place names in Hong Kong often have poetic, almost legendary origins. Kowloon, the peninsula of ‘nine dragons’, actually has a backdrop of eight peaks, but the extra dragon denotes a Song emperor, who took refuge here with his entourage to escape the Mongol invasion. Read more
Hair wrapped artfully in a turban of black cloth, her tough frame is softened by a lilac top and short frilly skirt. As she saunters in and out of the room, I watch the light momentarily catch on her earrings – they are two silver crescents, raw and slightly tarnished, sweeping around a hollow in the shape of the full moon. Read more
At 4:00am I am jolted from my slumber. Stumbling across the room, I pull open the curtains, half-expectant in the hope that yesterday’s rainclouds have already moved on. We are here in Xingping to walk the 1159 steps up Lao Zhai Hill, a proud shaft of rock jutting high above the riverside town. Read more