View from Cucina restaurant at night on the high-rise buildings of Hong Kong Island during the laser show, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Hong Kong in 5 days

Whether you like shopping, museums, beach going, the outdoors, history, architecture or you are a foodie, Hong Kong has much to offer in a rather compact territory! We have compiled the best of Hong Kong in an eclectic 5-day itinerary taking you from the must-go Victoria Peak to remote fishing villages while experiencing the best dim sums and grasping the challenges that the territory is facing. Keep exploring

Man and woman having dinner outside on a wooden deck on stilts, Tai O fishing village, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The best of Lantau Island in a day!

Bird songs fill the cabin of the gondola taking us to the Big Buddha. Through the glass bottom we observe the South Chinese Sea which we smoothly pass over towards the mountains of Lantau Island. Behind us Hong Kong airport, world’s largest cargo airport, where we have just landed gets smaller as we fly over the jungle. Sometimes we notice hikers in bright coloured T-shirts which like small dots move through the greenery on various trails beneath our feet. Keep exploring!

72 hours in Cape Town

With its jaw dropping geographical location between Table Mountain & the Atlantic Ocean,  you will need at least three days to explore its ins & outs and soak up its vibes. Spread the activities based on the weather as the ocean can be rough (for Robben Island) and Table Mountain is often covered in a table cloth of clouds. We can assure you one thing, after spending a few days in the “Mother City”, you will want to come back for more!

This article focuses on the city area where all is reachable by cab or Uber.

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Planting the seeds for concentration camps and segregation [The Anglo-Boer war]

“I visited the camp at the Springfontein railway station in the Southern Free State. What I was about to witness here… haunts me until this day. The mother sat on a little trunk, with a sick child across her knee. She had nothing to give it, and the child was sinking fast. Her plea for medicine fell on deaf ears. There was nothing to be done. And we watched the child draw its last breath in reverent silence… A friend standing behind the mother cried and called upon heaven to witness this tragedy. The mother neither moved nor wept for her only child. Dry-eyed but deathly white she sat there motionless, looking not at the child but far… far away into the depths of grief.” – Emily Hobhouse, May 15, 1901, what is now South Africa.

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A night at the opera in Oslo

Inaugurated only in 2008, the Oslo Opera House has already become the landmark of the Norwegian capital. Its architecture intrigues. Like an iceberg floating in the Oslo fjord, locals and tourists alike climb it to reach its roof via soft inclines or explore its warm and modern foyer. Far from the elite image of most opera houses, the Oslo Opera House is an open space decisively. It has revolutionized its area, a former shipyard cut off from the rest of the city by an ugly highway that was forced underground, and made it a favourite promenade attracting recommendable neighbours like the new Munch Museum or the bar code urbanization project. The building fascinates, and the temptation of exploring its ins and outs only grows bigger as one approaches it.

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Guernica unravelled

“No, painting is not made to decorate apartments. It’s an offensive and defensive weapon against the enemy” said Picasso.

And it can be such a powerful weapon that it can transcend the specific conflict to reach a universal status as a symbol of fight against barbarism. Such is the destiny of Guernica, Picasso’s most famous painting, an art and history icon showcasing strong artistic and political commitments.

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Soweto, way more than a township: an identity

Lungile leads the way and with a huge smile on his face he greets basically everyone we come across. “Sawubona! Unjani?” Zulu for hello, how are you. “Ngiyaphila“, I’m fine. “Chap chap“. “So you were born and raised in Johannesburg?” I ask him as I push hard on my pedals, biking uphill under the South African sun. “No!” he answers clearly offended to add with pride: “I was born and raised in Soweto!”

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Travelling back to the gold rush, South Africa

Sabie in the North East of South Africa is an outdoor paradise and the perfect base to explore the Blyde River Canyon, the Kruger National Park and the picturesque villages that made the gold rush history like Pilgrim’s Rest. Let’s dig more into it!

Digging for gold in the area started way before the 19th century gold rush. A long time ago, Indians landed on the East Coast of Africa pushed by the monsoon winds and started trading routes with African tribes to exchange eastern goods against gold, gems, ivory… Keep travelling!

Experiencing the Emirati culture in Dubai

Understand the Emirati culture while in Dubai, and also learn how to decrypt a mosque, with which hand to eat to not appear dirty and uneducated, what the five pillars of Islam are, the Emirati dress code…

Laying down on Kite Beach, I am admiring the ballet of colourful kites dancing in the sky which is turning orange as the sun sets behind the iconic Burj Al Arab building. The muezzin is calling for the sunset prayer as some women swim in burqas next to others in bikinis among the kite surfers. I am overhearing Keep travelling!

Modern buildings with water and a honeycomb roof, sunlight piercing through. Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Louvre Abu Dhabi unravelled

Imagine one dome covering all continents, all countries, and all civilisations, shining its light on all of them equally, unique as they are. A stroll underneath the ever-changing calligraphic shades of the dome, crossing oceans from one theme to another leads the visitor to all corners of the world in a search for universality where human concerns and evolutions are central. The specificity of Louvre Abu Dhabi, a universal museum at the crossroads of civilisations is to put these civilisations in regards. Keep travelling!

Uncovering a time capsule at the tenement museum, NYC

While Henry Clay Frick and John Pierpont Morgan were amassing their art collections with the millions they made during the industrial revolution and setting the basis for the USA, a different story was taking place in the low income areas of New York City, like the Lower East Side where newcomers to the USA flocked by hundreds and also shaped the country.

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Angkor off the beaten path & on the single track!

The majestic temples of Angkor are victim of their own success: with 4 million visitors a year mostly during the dry season focusing mainly on three temples, the atmosphere can be lost. Still, it is possible to experience the Angkor temple complex off the beaten path for a fantastic and authentic discovery, unravelling the splendour of the great Khmer civilisation.

I skilfully steer my mountain bike along a few pointy rocks on a narrow single track through the jungle of Cambodia. In front of me appears a desolated ruin, half swallowed by tree roots of strangler fig trees. Birds sing, butterflies flutter around reflecting the strong sun rays peeping through the dense vegetation on their brightly-coloured wings, and a cat yawns while stretching its front paws on the step of the almost-millennium old Khmer temple of Preah Khan in the temple complex of Angkor.

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Rope-skipping tricks, Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Phare the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia

 

A mind blowing blend of drama, dance, modern circus techniques and real-time painting on live music tells the true story of how art could empower a generation marked by the Khmer Rouge regime and the Cambodian genocide.

Sokha, an elderly bent woman slowly walks towards me. Her legs are shaky, her pace slow. Once close, she carefully sits down, opens a thick book and cautiously Keep traveling

From refugee kid to Cirque du Soleil star

Battambang was a flourishing city before the horrific Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, dramatically jeopardized the lives of its inhabitants. Many of them ended up slaughtered in the killing fields or neighbouring killing caves for no reason, whilst others were luckier and made it to close-by Thailand. Most of them spent years in refugee camps under harsh conditions. Kids grew up traumatised with hardly any access to proper education. In 1986, Véronique Decrop, a French art teacher, volunteered at the Site Two Refugee Camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She used drawings as a therapy to help traumatised children express themselves. That was the spark to what will become Phare Ponleu Selpak (Cambodian for the brightness of the arts), a non-profit organization improving the lives of Cambodians through arts and education, its highlight being one of the best circus schools in the world. Keep reading

Meet the Akha tribes of Northern Laos

A young woman with a peculiar headdress enters the smoky dark room. She brings in a big tray covered with breakfast dishes: fried morning glory, fried noodles, a bamboo woven basket filled with steamy sticky rice, some chicken, and the homebrewed whiskey! A fire burns next to me in a small clay pot on the dirt floor, and despite the smoke that stings my eyes, I stay close to the welcomed heat source. Reluctantly, I move my little stool closer to the very low table on which the tray is set, joining our guide Sivangxai, the Ban Peryenxangkao village chief and his nephews. Here, in the ethnically diverse Northern Laos, Akha tribes live according to their ancient traditions far from modern civilisation. Keep reading

Rubber tapping in Thailand

Tall thin trees with only very few leafs are planted in perfectly aligned endless rows that cover hundreds of hectares of Thai soil. They provide a little bit of shade during the hot summer months, give off a slightly offending smell and supply their owners and their farmers with an income. We are talking rubber trees and are about to discover the ins and outs of rubber making.

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Traditional crafts of Cambodia (5/7): fish paste, Battambang

“Smell like the hell, eat like the heaven”, Mr. Ola tells us with a mesmerizing smile while explaining his mother’s signature recipe for the traditional prahok, a Cambodian fish paste dish. I uncomfortably move from one leg to the other trying to carefully listen to his story but holding my breath at the same time, avoiding the offending foul smell. We are about to discover how the unmissable and key ingredient for many Asian dishes is made on the fish paste market of Battambang, Cambodia. Keep reading

Traditional crafts of Cambodia (3/7): Rice noodles, Battambang

Rice noodles are a favourite in many Asian countries. A pho for breakfast or rice noodles as a base for lunch or dinner are common. To serve this high demand, most noodles are produced in factories. However, it is still possible to buy them fresh and hand-made. In Battambang, a few families living in the rice noodle district have been passing on this know-how for many generations.

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Insider’s tips: Broadway seats for the best price

Watching a show on Broadway when visiting New York City is an absolute must. You might have heard of the red TKTS ticket booth already, as it has become a landmark of Times Square. Every day, hundreds of tourists queue to get discounted tickets for the same night performances. But read along, as a couple of insider’s tips may help you buy your tickets more efficiently: Keep traveling!

Meet the real Nicaragua: rural homestay in Miraflor

I am having a déja-vu: a 4:45AM alarm clock to catch an early bus en route for our next adventure. The now familiar chicken bus, the bumpy ride on the unpaved road, the farm workers getting on and off… It reminds me a lot of Carmelita, Guatemala. Except that instead of blasting music, the radio screams out the local news: challenges faced by women working in tobacco factories letting their kids alone for the day, a call for blood donations, free medical consultations on the main square of Estelí,… We are in the north east of Nicaragua, where the left Sandinista movement has been the strongest and still prevails. Keep traveling!

The rebirth of cigars, Esteli, Nicaragua

Comfortably seated in a cosy room, I am overlooking the Esteli River running through the sunbathed valley circled by green mountains, in what used to be the dodgy area of Estelí, Nicaragua. Contemplating my surroundings, I enjoy looking at the graffiti art hanging on the walls: the Manhattan bridge, the shadow of a motorbiker, rats dressed up in suits… A sweet aftertaste fills my mouth. Licking my lips, I prolong that delicious taste that makes me think I am enjoying a dessert. Keep traveling!

Stories on the walls of Ataco, El Salvador

A surreal scene of black cat on the roof of a house with windows shaped as coffee beans attracts my attention. Overlooking it in the garden, a pink owl is resting in a tree. Cherry blossoms flower and villagers are cheerfully at work, from drying coffee beans, to washing clothes in the river. The bright yellow sky shines fiercely above the cute houses. A street dog is sound asleep…. Keep traveling!

Hike and Help: Reach the ultimate view on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

A light is switched on, waking me up. With earplugs in my ears, my jacket and bonnet on, I am slowly extracting myself from my sleeping bag. It is early! 3:15a.m. Around me, other sleepy trekkers start to pack their sleeping bags and mattresses that cover the floor of Don Pedro’s dining room in a remote village in Guatemala. Only a few hours ago, the 15 of us from all over the world were singing songs Keep traveling!

Barren street of Tsumago, mountains and trees.

Hiking from Magome to Tsumago: timeless Japan

Article updated on May 22, 2020
Text & photos: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

During the Edo Period (1603 – 1868), an ancient route called the Nakasendō, literally meaning the Central Mountain Route, connected the political capital Edo (today’s Tokyo) to Kyoto, home to the Imperial Palace. Samurais and merchants used to cover its 534 kilometres through mountains and valleys. Today one can still hike the historical trail, its most atmospheric stretch being between the villages of Magome and Tsumago to explore a rare and timeless Japan.

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Beautiful view on the forest from the Yamamizuki onsen, Kurokawa, Japan. Experiencing the traditional Japanese spa.

Onsen hopping in Kurokawa, Kyushu, Japan

Article updated on May 19, 2020
Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

In Japan, onsens are natural hot springs. There are many due to the intense volcanic activity of the country, and Kyushu Island specifically is famous for them: Beppu which is no less than the second hot spring district in the world after Yellowstone in flowrate, Yufuin, and Kurokawa are some of the most renown. Keep travelling!

A group of Japanese kids wearing the traditional outfit chats during the Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in Fukuoka, Kyushu

Spectacular festivals of Japan: The Hakata Gion Yamakasa, Fukuoka & more

Article updated on May 15, 2020
Text & photos: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Festivals are very important in Japan. In a very fast-paced and ultra-modern country, they are an integrant part of keeping ancient traditions alive and passing them on to younger generations. If they take place throughout the year, the best moment to witness most of them is the summer. Be warned: some are so popular that they make travelling and staying in the hosting cities difficult. Keep travelling!