Travel: 4 pristine beaches that are worth the extra mile

I like to work for my beach breaks. Beaches that are easy to get to are just the more likely to be overrun by fellow tourists and are easy targets for litterers. And obviously, being forced to walk that extra mile means that I could compensate in extra food later. Here are my top 4 picks of gorgeous beaches that make you sweat getting there, but are totally worth the walk (or cycle).

Tai Long Wan, Hong Kong

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Where: Sai Kung, Hong Kong

How: Hiking, 4 hours from end to end of the trail starting at Sai Wan Pavilion

Difficulty: 5/5

Facilities: Restaurant and toilets at the beach

This is the ultimate “walk-for-me” beach, smack bang in the middle of the Hong Kong countryside. Tai Long Wan literally means “big wave bay”. Make sure you don’t mix it up with the Big Wave Beach down south on Hong Kong Island – that one you can take a minibus from Quarry Bay to. But this Tai Long Wan, you have to walk for it.

How do I mean by walking for it? Oh, just a casual 4-hour hike. It was the most gruelling hike my delicate constitution has ever endured. To make it slightly easier for yourself, take a taxi from Sai Kung centre to Sai Wan Pavilion, which takes. From there, you start your hike, and there’s no turning back.

It took us about 2 hours to get to the actual Tai Long Wan beach (there are a couple of crappy, dirty ones before the main event). The good news is that Tai Long Wan actually has a small village population, so there is a full-blown restaurant right on the beach which serves up simply and delicious food Hong Kong style. And beer, you might need it.

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Tai Long Wan is unquestionably the most beautiful beach in Hong Kong. It stretches on pristine and soft sand, and the water is very clean by our city’s standards. The catch is, of course, that to get out of there, you either retrace your steps (up some VERY steep slopes) back to the Pavilion, or you follow the rest of the trail, another 2 hours through dense woodland which doesn’t offer as many views as the first leg. And bear in mind that you can’t stay for the sunset because the trail would be too dark. Not to mention walking pass that abandoned village near the end of the hiking trail would be really freaking creepy.

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If you really want to cheat, especially in the height of summer when you could actually die from heat stroke, you could also rent a boat out to Tai Long Wan.

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

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Gorgeous lookout from Cala Macarelleta

Where: Menorca, Spain

How: Hiking, 2 hours from Cala Galdana

Difficulty: 4/5

Facilities: No facilities at Cala Macarelleta, but there is a small stall selling food at Macarella (it was not open the day I went)

I love Menorca. I went there alone to escape a miserable May just before the final project for my Master’s programme was due – I had to go just to preserve my sanity. Southern Menorca has the best beaches the island has to offer, sandy and crystal blue waters compared to the rocky shores of their northern counterparts. The great thing about the beaches? There is no way of getting there other than on foot.

Many of the trails to the south’s lovely beaches start at Cala Galdana, the slightly soulless resort town with a beautiful, gigantic shallow beach. Facing the sea, you could go to Cala Mitjana to your left, which is a much more relaxing 20-minute walk through the woods, but you don’t want to take the easy way out. Turn right, and start the hike to Cala Macarelleta.

I made the hike in sandals, which nearly ended in tears and a sprained ankle at more than one point, so make sure you wear decent shoes. The hike isn’t difficult, but it is long, and the views improve massively once you reach the first beach, Macarella. It’s a lot of stairs down this way, so yes, it will be a lot of stairs back up on the return leg. Don’t stop here, but walk straight across Macarella and start the ascent up towards Macarelleta (which means “little Macarella”).

Views of Cala Macarella on the way to Macarelleta

Views of Cala Macarella on the way to Macarelleta

Up here, the views are absolutely breathtaking. It’s also a lot of fun clambering over boulders. It’s only about another 20 minutes on the trail before Macarelleta appears, all turquoise waters and golden sands, to your left. It’s a steep descent to the beach, so be careful and take it slow. It’s such a beautiful place, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Be aware that it is a nudist beach, so try not to stare when middle-aged hikers strip straight down to their birthday suits and make for the water.

The Marina, Corniglia, Italy

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Where: Corniglia, Cinque Terre, Italy

How: Hiking down the stairs next to the main piazza

Difficulty: 3/5

Facilities: No facilities at the Marina, but restaurants very close in the main piazza

It’s slightly embarrassing that I’ve been to Cinque Terre twice, but I’ve never spent any time outside of Corniglia, the smallest out of the five picturesque towns. The first time round I had just finished my A-Levels, on my first trip to Italy, and I was absolutely besotted with Corniglia. The second time round, I was no less besotted and abandoned plans to go to the other four towns.

The main event really, is the Marina. It’s a punishing walk (mainly on the way up) to the rocky shores, but it is quiet and the perfect getaway from the daytrippers that swarm Corniglia during the daylight hours. Climb over the big boulders (be careful, they’re slippery) and lie on the flat rocks that carve out a little lagoon by the cliffs, and you can easily spend the day there. The waters are crazily clear and clean, but be careful walking into the waters as the rocks are slippery and some are sharp. If you don’t want to walk back up for food, make sure you bring a picnic – there are no facilities at the Marina. The walk back up is always hell, but it’s definitely worth the legwork.

Cala Rossa, Favignana, Italy

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Where: Favignana, Aegadian Islands, Sicily

How: Cycling, 30-45 minutes from the port

Difficulty: 4/5

Facilities: No facilities at the beach

I love, love, love Sicily. It is so vividly different from the rest of Italy, in food, in its people and beauty, and so affordable compared to other parts of the country. We stayed in Trapani, a major port with convenient ferry routes to the many charming Sicilian islands. We chose to go to Favignana, one of the three Aegadian Islands close to mainland Sicily that was easily manageable as a day trip with many fast boats during the day.

Favignana’s main square is nothing to write home about. So I’d recommend renting a bike as soon as you get off the boat, and cycle to the most beautiful beach on the island – Cala Rossa. Legend has it that Cala Rossa (“red cove”) is named as such because a battle between Carthaginians and Romans turned the water red with blood. Okay, so it’s not true, but it’s a good story.

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Cycling was mainly on sandy tracks

Cycling on Favignana is not difficult, though I did fall off my bike (it hit a big rock wedged in the sandy ground). Get a map from the rental store and have them mark out the route to Cala Rossa for you. It took me around 45 minutes (including a detour at the island’s beautifully peaceful cemetery) to get there. After you put your bike away, you have to walk pass the abandoned quarries that frame the shores, and then it’s another rocky and at times, steep descent to the actual shores where sunseekers set up camp. It’s manageable in flip flops, but try not to run towards the amazing water.

The waters are probably the clearest I have ever seen, anywhere. It was the height of summer and it was crowded, but nothing can take away the beauty of this place. As with rocky beaches, beware of slippery rocks and sharp shells when you get into the water. But seriously, just get in there. It’s quite shallow for a while and you can see straight to the white sand at the bottom, with fishes and shells all around.

Travel: The Pools of Mandarava Resort, Phuket, Thailand

Mandarava is probably the best resort I’ve been to, ever. It’s the perfect size, just big enough to be able to have a meaningful wander around it, but definitely walkable (with some good cardio opportunities up the stairs and slopes).

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Enjoying a late afternoon poolside mojito at Pomelo Pool

The best part of Mandarava is the choice of pools. There are 3 gorgeous infinity pools, all accompanied by a poolside bar, and there were always loungers available.

The main event is at the Mango Pool, which has a bar right in the pool. It looks glorious in the morning light and it gets sun throughout the day.

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Pomelo is definitely a close second. It is the only pool from which you can see the sea, even though it’s quite far away. It’s also lovely at sunset.

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Sunset at Pomelo pool, Mandarava Resort & Spa, Karon, Phuket

The only con is that the pools don’t officially “open” until 10AM, as the pool towels don’t get delivered from the laundry until then. So the best thing to do would be to cheekily keep a towel from the day before, or bring your own!

Review: Mong Kok, Hong Kong Cat Cafe – Cafe de Kitten

Address: Shop 701, 7/F, Pakpolee Commercial Centre, 1A Sai Yeung Choi Street South, Mong Kok Closest MTR station: Yau Ma Tei, Exit A2 Nearby: The famous Ladies Market and Sneakers Street are just down the road from Cafe de Kitten Minimum spending: $80 per person between 18:00 to 22:00, $40 otherwise Hours: 13:00 – 1:00 Best time to go: The waitresses said that the cats are most active around 13:00 and 14:00.

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This is Fei Zai, he’s the troublemaker!

I used to be a dog person, but my boyfriend converted me to a cat lover as well. We’ve been talking about going to one of Hong Kong’s cat cafes for ages, and we finally took the plunge when I surprised him with an after-dinner hangout at Cafe de Kitten on his birthday. Located in the bustling area between Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei, Cafe de Kitten is an upstairs cafe. They are open until 1:00 AM, which is great for a post-work hangout. IMG_4322 Minimum spending is extremely reasonable (HK$80 per person at peak times 18:00-22:00, HK$40 otherwise) and the waitresses are in no rush to get you out of the cafe. There are plenty of board games to entertain yourself with. And of course, the cats! Beautiful, well-groomed cats snooze and roam the cafe. We were there from 21:00 till 23:00, and while the cats weren’t particularly active, they did do their rounds and were happy to be petted and fussed over.

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Oh, you beauty!

One highlight of Cafe de Kitten was the relationship the waitresses have with the cats. It’s adorable watching them fuss over the cats, and they were happy to chat with customers about them. I particularly loved how they playfully berated Fei Zai (Fat Boy) the orange tabby cat for being a bully to his friends! The cafe only has less than 10 tables, so there was plenty of space and photo opportunities with the kitties. We didn’t try the food this time, but from what we saw it looks pretty good! We were sorry to go at the end of the night, but with its central location, I can totally see us going back some time soon, perhaps sometime in the afternoon when the cats are more awake.

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Isn’t he just adorable?

Review: Cheeva Spa, Mandarava

Cheeva Spa is in the Mandarava Resort, a 15-minute walk uphill from the northern end of Karon Beach. It’s a lovely little spa with a picturesque jacuzzi that overlooks the main pool.

Note that I said: a little spa. Book early. Unfortunately the spa doesn’t open until 10 AM, which means that the evening slots are pretty rammed when hotel guests come back from the beach.

Here’s the Cheeva Spa Menu. They also have offers exclusive to hotel guests, so keep an eye out for them. The prices are extremely reasonable compared to Hong Kong. Plus the spa is spotlessly clean, the masseuses are fantastic, and you can have the jacuzzi on the terrace to yourself if you book in advance. It is a cold jacuzzi though, which gets a bit chilly in the evening!

The three of us tried most things on the menu while we were there (our room was right next to the spa!). The Cheeva massage (1600 THB, 60 minutes) was my favourite, a combination of Balinese and more traditional aromatherapy massage. The Hot Stone massage (2500 THB, 90 minutes) was another highlight, it helped that the air conditioning was on!

Complimentary ginger tea at the jacuzzi after our massage

To top it all off, the views of the sunset at the jacuzzi are just marvelous.

Cheeva Spa Menu (update 31 Jul 14).

Travel: Finding the hidden gem – MaMa Jin, Karon, Phuket

MaMa Jin is all the rage right now in Karon’s restaurants pages of Tripadvisor, and it is THE place to go for authentic, cheap and cheerful Thai food on the shores of Karon beach.

It’s not easy to find – especially when you’re starving after a gruelling all-day snorkelling boat trip – and reviewers don’t seem too forthcoming with directions, so here I come to the rescue.

But first, the food.

Simple, unpretentious good Thai food. Nothing fancy, just amazingly cheerful service which left us grinning until our cheeks hurt. The flavours are a bit milder than the Thai food I’m used to, and I’m guessing it’s because Mama Jin is the most authentic Thai place I’ve been to so far. Anywho, it was a refreshing change to the palate.

Seafood fried rice and chicken skewers. Loved the bright purple tablecloth, it looks surprisingly good with the food!

Grilled squid, while admittedly a bit on the bland side, was fresh and tender. And the sweet and sour sauce is there for a reason!

Amazing Pad Thai with prawns.

And finally, the coup de grace. I don’t eat sticky rice, but my friends swear on their lives that Mama Jin’s mango and sticky rice is the best that they’ve ever had. I can’t vouch for the sticky rice, but the mango was yummmmy!

The views were also amazing. Try get a table right by the entrance, and you can easily watch dusk descend upon Karon Beach. The beach is literally a 15-second walk from Mama Jin, on the other side of the parking lot.

Now, how to get to Mama Jin.

Navigation 101 in Karon: It’s easy. Face the sea. To your right is the north, to your left is the south. MaMa Jin is at the northern end of Karon beach, on a little dirt track sandwiched between the beach and the big road.

Directions to Mama Jin if you’re coming from the north: You know where the big lake is? Walk around it towards the white pavilion. MaMa Jin is right next to it, facing the parking lot. Do not confuse Mama Jin with Mama Restaurant, whose front entrance is on the big road. Walk straight past its terrace at the back which actually overlooks the lake. It has terrible reviews, so don’t go there.

These photos are for reference, taken with Karon Beach on the right.

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Directions to Mama Jin if you’re coming from the south: Go past the big roundabout with the statues and walk straight up north for about 5 minutes. There’s a big gateway area, follow the path off the main road, and it leads towards the pavilion. Just keep walking past the pavilion and you’ll see MaMa Jin on your right!

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Lastly, go early or book a table, there were people waiting for tables by 7pm. Hopefully this post was helpful, now go get that amazing Thai food!

Travel: The best views in Phuket, probably – Mom Tri’s Kitchen, Kata Beach

I have a thing for restaurants with a view, as you do. From the stunning Chateau Eza in Eze on the Cote d’Azure, Trattoria Santa Croce in charming Nocelle (a tiny village perched right on top of Positano), to Cafe 103 in Hong Kong, I always make an effort to go eat somewhere with a bird’s eye view wherever I travel.

Karon itself is rather flat, so we took a 10-minute cab ride out to Villa Royale by Kata Beach, where the famed Mom Tri’s Kitchen is based.

And dear me, were the views absolutely stunning.

You walk through a tranquil little garden, and then you catch the teasing emerald waters, which, once you get down the stairs, quite literally slap you in the face with its stunning beauty.

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Paradise. I have found you.

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Food is secondary at Mom Tri’s Kitchen, mostly because it is so dismally average, expensive and undeserving of a location this magnificent. Service was impersonal and offhand, it very nearly spoiled the experience. But seriously, look at this and I dare you to not enjoy it.

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The table in front of us, which was thankfully empty for most of our meal

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Soft shell crab with green papaya salad

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Double seafood Pad Thai time

There’s also an indoor bar/lounge area with high ceilings and lovely windows that open up to the sea view.

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None of these images have been adjusted at all – even I find it hard to believe. What a breathtaking place. If I could look at those gorgeous blues every day, I’d be the happiest girl on earth.

Travel: Karon, Phuket in 10 Snaps

Karon was an absolute dream. I can’t believe I’d never been until now, considering that I only live a 3.5-hour flight away from Phuket and the fact that I am obsessed with Pad Thai.

I have some Phuket posts lined up, but for now, these are my top snaps from our mini break.

It’s also a crazy busy month for cake, with three more birthdays coming up in the next two weeks! Can’t wait to get elbow deep in flour and butter.

Travel: 48-hour countdown to… Phuket!

The day is almost here! I’m heading off to Phuket with two of my girlfriends for a 4-day beach and spa getaway on Friday morning, and I can hardly contain my excitement!

We will be staying at the Mandarava Resort and Spa, which looks like the quiet haven that I desperately need.

Meanwhile, I’m testing out shooting under artificial light since I only have time to blog after I get home from work. It’s taking me so long to get a hang of all the lighting and the bouncing, I definitely need a lot more practice. And so I did while I was procrastinating about packing!

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There’s nothing like reading for holiday inspiration whilst on holiday. I’ve read Under the Tuscan Sun twice and it never gets old! And Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer sunscreen is my holy grail for beach holidays.

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Packing three bikinis for a four-day trip, like a boss. Excited to finally wear my new Triangl Lily Aqua Punch bikini!

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After half an hour of messing about, I think I finally got the lighting kind of what I wanted it to be in this last picture. This is my favourite sunflower dress from Missguided which is coming out of hibernation. Along with what smells like summer for me – the best organic blood orange scented soap from Pacifica, and the wonderful Cardmom & Moroccan rose candle from Jo Malone’s limited “Wanderlust” collection, which my boyfriend brought back from London.

I’ll be instagramming Phuket pics on our account @flourandbeans! Also look out for posts from my sister in London who’s always looking for the best cafes in town. See ya next week!