Private Dining: Where To Host Dinner Parties

Enjoying an intimate dining affair (or cocktails and canapés) has never been so easy

 

Those of us who move to Hong Kong are often shocked by the small spaces we call home. It’s not exactly easy to host a dinner party in 350 square feet. Luckily for us, there are a variety of private kitchens who make entertaining guests, holding intimate gatherings and enjoying a fantastic meal all the easier for you. Best of all, there’s no clean-up involved, and because you won’t be busy serving your friends, you get to be the hostess with the mostess! Here is a list of our favourite (and Sassy tested!) private dining kitchens where you will want to hold your next affair.

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Is Seeing the Aurora on Your Bucket List? Here’s How to Make it Happen

What no one ever tells you about the Northern Lights

 

Unpredictable and impossible to plan around, The Northern Lights is top of the bucket list for many, but how do we make it happen? Well, with a bit of prior planning (and a couple of things in mind), you just need to go for it. Earlier this year I embarked on the trip of a lifetime and called Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Ivalo, Finland home for three days. Although, sadly the Aurora didn’t make an appearance for us, we accepted that this was entirely out of our control and what we did experience was a magical winter wonderland.

Not sure where to begin organising your dream trip? I reached out to seasoned explorer, Ces Yee of Flight Centre for her advice and top tips when it comes to the arctic wilderness…

Read more: The Top 5 Destinations to Witness the Northern Lights

Fly To: Ivalo via Helsinki International Airport (just a short one and a half hour flight). The resort is a 30-minute shuttle bus away.
Flight Time: Roughly 10 hours from Hong Kong to Helsinki

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland

The Northern Lights are unpredictable.

“The Aurora Borealis is part of nature, which means, it’s unpredictable. We can tell you about where to go or when to go, but it’s not 100% that you will spot the lights.”

“There are plenty of apps you can download to help your chances and assist with the lights movement” says Ces, “but don’t rely on these too much. I’ve seen the lights in full glory on a supposed ‘low activity’ day.” Take environmental factors into consideration, “which includes the weather and the placement of the sun.”

“If I were to be super realistic, you need to understand that chasing the lights is super hard work. You have to be able to stand the cold, sometimes, you even have to be outside for hours. And there are nights when the lights do not appear,” expresses Ces. According to The Telegraph, “the hours of darkness increase the farther north you travel, and while the aurora can be sighted at any moment, 9pm to 2am tend to be prime viewing time,” so it really is a game of chance!

Sonja Eiramo, daughter of Kakslauttanen founder, Jussi suggests that “November- December is the most popular time to Aurora hunt, but for those looking to avoid crowds, January-March is best.” The season stretches right through until May, but as the nights are longer and darker earlier on in winter, “your chances naturally increase.” Don’t feel disheartened or cheated if luck isn’t on your side however. The lights came out to play the day before (and supposedly the day after) we left Kakslauttanen, and although this was disappointing, the bright, blue night sky we did encounter made for memories that will last a lifetime.

Read more: Ski Wear: Sassy’s Picks for Staying Chic on the Slopes

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Finland

Taking photos? They won’t show up on a camera phone!

People assume that they can easily capture the lights using their camera phones,” says Ces, but to actually be able to photograph the lights, “I highly recommend a DSLR or any camera that is capable of long exposures.” Find an “interesting but not overpowering foreground with minimal light pollution” she suggests. You need to have “enough open space that you can get at least a great 360-degree view of the sky,” which means getting away from the city and searching for somewhere really dark! “Light pollution will decrease the intensity of the aurora you can capture on film.”

Ces’ top photography tips:

  • Use your manual setting set to infinity.
  • Adjust your ISO setting, ideally between 400 and 800.
  • Use a wide-angle lens.
  • Use a cable release.
  • Use a small flashlight with green/red lights option to help you set up your camera when it’s pitch dark in the field. Do not use ridiculously bright lights.
  • Fresh batteries (and spare ones). The cold will drain the batteries fast.
  • A sturdy tripod will be your best friend. With long exposures, you will need to set your camera very still to avoid blurry shots.
  • GoPros work as well, if you set the interval to continuous and shutter at 30-sec.

If you are lucky enough to see them, “don’t get too obsessed about taking the best shot! Watch this beautiful phenomenon with your eyes. Just be in the moment and take it all in” Ces advises. “Chasing the lights requires a lot of effort. If you’re travelling without a guide, make sure to notify your hotel to ring you up at night in case the light appears.”

If you’re planning a trip in the height of winter, you will need to prepare for sub zero temperatures. “I was woken up at 2am by the hotel” recalls Ces, “I had to quickly change for the sub zero temperature and bring all my camera gear in tow. I remember vividly just holding my tripod stunned by the beauty above me. For the longest time, I was just watching the lights dance and weave through the sky. Moments later, I found a nice spot in the field and put my camera down.” In Ivalo, the days remain dark and temperatures can reach as low as – 40 degrees celsius, but towards summer (when we were there), the sun didn’t start to set until midnight, and the ‘midnight’ or ‘eternal sun’ is in full force.

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Husky Safari

Don’t base your trip around the Aurora, go for the experience.

Again, The Telegraph has it right, obviously where you choose to go “will depend on your budget and the time available” and you do need to make a decision as to what else you want to do when “you’re not standing outside in sub-zero temperatures staring up at the night sky with fingers crossed.”

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Kelo Glass Igloo

While some locations may require a trek or an organised tour to see the lights, Kakslauttanen is located right at the edge of the wilderness, along the road to the arctic sea, which means that when the lights appear, you’re surrounded by them. Famed on Pinterest for their glass igloos, the accommodation gives you every opportunity to witness the the spectacle! We stayed in a Kelo-Glass Igloo which had all the comforts of a log cabin (roaring fire and all) with the added option of sleeping under the stars in the attached glass pod; but as the lights can only be seen at night, what do you do during the day?

 

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort Snow Mobile Safari

Embarking on husky, reindeer and snowmobile safaris scrape but the surface of the resort’s activities! Available throughout winter, experience the arctic circle in full glory as you speed ‘down the fell into the snowy forest, enjoying some of the best scenery the region has to offer.’ Don’t take the little things for granted either, go sledding down the snowy hills and embrace being out of touch and away from an internet connection; forget updating your instagram stories, your actual stories are worth much, much more.

Sassy Tips:

  • Book well in advance! Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort fills up a year ahead, especially if you’re thinking of going at Christmas, you’ll have to start planning in the New Year.
  • A cheaper option to the Kelo-Glass Igloos, the standard igloos have essential amenities like a toilet and a kettle, but you’ll have to brave the cold to the communal showers in the morning!
  • Don’t stress too much about buying winter clothing! Most places will have the option of renting gear like snow suits, gloves and boots. At Kakslauttanen, these are included in the price of all activities and can be rented from the reception on a daily basis. During winter I’d highly recommend to dress up in layers and most importantly, invest in good thermal long underwear!
  • The resort is also open during summer months. Although you won’t be able to see the lights, the experience is worth it and accommodation is cheaper. Pick berries and mushrooms, ride through fields on horseback, rent an ATV and kayak rivers. Psst… Santa lives at the resort all year round and he’s always keen to say hello.
  • Pay for firewood. It may seem like a bit of a money spinner, but you’ll applaud yourself as you sip hot chocolate and warm your toes.
  • Don’t spend thousands on a fancy camera if you don’t already own one, a GoPro works just as well, is compact enough to fit in the zip pocket of your snow suit, and is quick and easy to fish out if the lights do appear! I would recommend buying a ‘GorillaPod’ before you go however (even one from Temple Street will do!); I didn’t buy one and just anchored my GoPro in the snow to snap some pics and the battery froze immediately… oops.
  • Buy a cheap pair of touch screen gloves to fit under your thermal ones. Under no circumstances remove your gloves to take a video as you’re zooming through a snow storm on a snowmobile. You will end up with minor frostbite.
  • Worried that you might sleep through the show? Ask your resort to give you a wake up call! And if this isn’t a service they offer, set alarms at intervals on your phone – sleep disruption is a small price to pay, right?
  • Give yourself time. When speaking to locals at Kakslauttanen they always advise people to book in for at least five days, even if it’s not at the same hotel. What are the chances of bad weather for a week straight, right?
  • Let the lights be a bonus! Try not to be disappointed if you don’t see the them, embrace the experience and soak in every second.

And finally…

When on safari with a pack of energetic huskies, bare in mind that if you fall off the sleigh, the dogs do not stop. I repeat, the dogs do not stop.

www.kakslauttanen.fi

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Alvy’s: Your New Neighbourhood Pizza Spot in Kennedy Town

NYC beer and pizza in K-Town

Meet me in the middle price sticker

District: Kennedy Town, Hong Kong
Cuisine: Pizza
How Much: Pizzas range from $108 to $168, with appetisers priced between $54 and $108, and beers between $68 and $88
Best for: 
A casual date night, or chilled dinner and drinks with friends
Must order: Bak Gwei Pizza

People often say that there’s no such thing as bad pizza. Hot, cold, freshly baked, or otherwise, it’s always pretty tasty, right? That being said, it’s still rare to come across a pizza that gets me genuinely excited. With so many lacklustre options out there (even in our foodie-hub of a city, good pizza can be hard to come by), I was more than excited to try out the new kid on the block, Alvy’s.

Coming highly recommended by friends, Alvy’s did not disappoint. In fact, it exceeded my expectations by a mile. The place itself is cosy and welcoming, with friendly staff, cool booths and a red brick pizza oven, aptly named “The Big Red Bitch.” Upon arriving, you’re instantly made to feel like this local pizza joint has been around for years, and with pizza this good, I’m hoping it’s going to be!

Offering up a menu full of sourdough pizzas, with an array of toppings, from the classic to the slightly quirky, along with a tempting selection of bar snacks, locally brewed and imported beers, not to mention proudly boasting the largest selection of American whiskeys in Hong Kong, Alvy’s hits the nail on the head when it comes to dining that is comforting, yet refined.

To start, we couldn’t resist the Yu Kwen Yick Fried Chicken Wings ($88). Served with a blue cheese dip, these wings aren’t for the faint of heart. The hot sauce packs some serious heat, and I found myself guzzling my beer after each bite to sooth my burning tongue. Though that’s not a criticism. Sure, these wings get fiery, but they tasted amazing, and coupled with juicy meat that just fell off the bone, along with the tangy blue cheese dip, I would 100% recommend to any spice fiends (and order them again myself).

alvys pizza kennedy town

We also tried out two of Alvy’s Pizzas, the Bak Gwei ($128), and the a la Vodka ($108). With a sourdough base, the pizzas here are thin and crispy, yet also manage to be chewy and doughy just when you want them to be. The Bak Gwei was an interesting mix of gruyere béchamel, char siu, mozzarella, and geung yeong. The east-meets-west approach of char siu and cheese may seem a little out there, but it worked amazingly (trust me!). The char sui was chopped into small chunks, meaning you got just enough sweet, meaty goodness, to compliment the gruyere and mozzarella. The a la Vodka (with vodka sauce, bocconcini mozzarella and pecorino), was also delicious. Not to be overlooked on a menu full of more unique topping combinations, it was bursting with flavour for a relatively simple pizza.

To wash down our food, I tried the Cha Chaan Teng Gose ($68), by Young Master Ales. Sour and thirst quenching, this unusual beer was a great accompaniment to our food. Alvy’s also offers up tastings of any of the beers on the menu, so you can try before you buy and ensure you’ve made the right choice. With HK brewed beers and specially imported beers, to whiskeys and classic cocktails, the drinks menu at Alvy’s more than measures up to the food.

By keeping its menu short and to the point, Alvy’s executes everything extremely well. It doesn’t need to try too hard, or have anything too fancy, just by serving delicious sourdough pizzas, cooked to perfection, with flavoursome toppings, it will always be sure to pull a crowd. And I’ll be sure to be going back.

Alvy’s, 8 Holland Street, Kennedy Town, Hong Kong, www.facebook.com/AlvysHK

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5 Reasons Why We Love {Hoboken in July}

The first official full month of summer has finally arrived! And with lots of outdoor activities and soaking up the sun comes lots of drinking activities. Although many of you will be going on vacations or heading to the shore for the summer, there is still plenty of fun going on in Hoboken this July!

1. 4th of July

fireworks

Hopefully you’re one of the lucky ones to have today off to make it a 4-day weekend! If not, you may still be in Hoboken for the 4th. From Hoboken you will still be able to see some of the Macy’s firework show. The show will start at 9:25 p.m. and last about 25 to 30 minutes. Also, go to the waterfront and try to catch other surrounding fireworks in the area!

 

2. An Evening with The Fat Jewish 

fatjewish

The Fat Jewish comes back again this year to Pier 13! Thursday, July 20th he’s expected to be back; the same night as the Food Truck Frenzy, so even more reason to go. Pier 13 will be offering:

  • $20 Bottles of White Girl Rose
  • $5 White Girl FROSE Cocktails
  • $5 Cans of Babe Rose.

 

3. Movies Under the Stars at Pier A

movies under the stars wtc

Come to Pier A every Wednesday night for Movies Under the Stars. Admission is free, and movies start playing at 9pm sharp. This is a great way to gather your friends or family and enjoy a drive-in movie type of feel with a backdrop of the New York City skyline!

 

4. St Ann’s Italian Festival

st anns

Facebook: St. Ann’s Italian Festival

This year is the 107th annual St Ann’s Italian Festival! Starting on July 22, join in on St. Ann’s famous zeppoles, nightly entertainment, cafe under the stars and a beer garden, and rides and games for the kids. There will be plenty of food and drinks, so bring an appetite as well!

 

5. Hoboken Happy Hours July Happy Hour

july hh

Join us at 7pm on Thursday, July 27th for our monthly Happy Hour at Wicked Wolf! This is a FREE event, but we ask that you please RSVP. When you RSVP, you’ll have drink specials such as $2 Summer Shandy & Coors Light Drafts and $4 VDKA 6100 specials. 1/2 Off Any Food Item (excludes items already discounted) and complimentary VDKA 6100 Oyster Shooters are also available for those who RSVP. Be sure to come check out the free giveaways as well!


Written by Rachel Willson

When she’s not throwing elbows to get a seat on the PATH first (but failing 9 out of 10 times), Rachel can be found at brunch with a pitcher of mimosas in front of her. Originally from Upstate New York, Rachel moved to Hoboken a little over a year ago when she started working for an ad agency in Manhattan. Being still somewhat new to the area, Rachel makes it her goal to try every restaurant and bar at least once. In her free time, when Scandal isn’t being binged watched, Rachel is typically finding joy in things out of her budget, speaking fluently in sarcasm, and crawling her way down Washington St. because yesterday was leg day.

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Making the Move? Expert Advice for Relocating Your Pet

No pet left behind!

 

The prospect of new memories and exciting opportunities often outweighs the stress of moving to a new country. However, packing boxes, coordinating the shippers, and ensuring that the entire process goes smoothly are but a few of the constant thoughts running through our minds… but hold on, “what about the pets?!” Dog, cat, rabbit, hedgehog – regardless of species, they’re a part of the family and there’s no way we’re leaving them behind! So, how do we arrange to greet their slobbery chops and wagging tails at the other end? We’ve turned to Dr. Gerry Pahl, qualified Veterinary Surgeon and founder of PetExportVet for his expert advice and reassurance. Not sure where to begin? Read on…

Read more: A Dog’s Guide to HK

Expert Advice for Relocating Your Pet

Do Your Research

Preparation is key. Relocating your pet is not always a (dog) walk in the park, and you need to ensure that you’re prepared, not only where you’re originating, but also at the other end. “Some countries have an extensive clearance procedure which needs to be taken into consideration, too” says Dr Gerry. Depending on where you intend to move to, the time needed to ensure that your pet is cleared to fly can seriously vary; “in some cases, those moving to Australia and New Zealand will need to start the process up to eight months before their scheduled flight, whereas the USA may only need a week.”

Requirements differ from country to country and where, for example, the UK is quite straightforward in its process, other countries may require a longer string of check ups and vaccinations. It’s also important to check with your agent which species are allowed in which parts of the country, as this can sometimes vary; there may be laws about importing non-native species. Always check these before factoring in your leave dates, as your pet may otherwise face a lengthy quarantine period.

Expert Advice for Relocating Your Pet

Preparing Your Pet to Fly

Health checks and admin aside, our main priority is to ensure that the entire process is as stress-free as possible for our pets. According to Dr. Gerry, “the most important thing is crate conditioning.” With your departure date in mind, “we will normally get the crate to the owner well in advance so that they can start using training techniques.” Cats are generally easy going, however with dogs, we want to reduce their anxiety, so “start by putting their favourite mat or rug in the crate, and keep the door open at all times,” he suggests. “Feed your dog treats and even their meals in the crate so that they can begin to grasp the concept of confinement. When they’re used to the environment, try closing the gate for short periods of time so they can get used to what it would be like during the flight.”

Know that the door will be closed until they arrive at their destination, so it’s important to get your pet as used to the crate as possible. We aren’t able to use sedatives, as research has shown that the risks far outway the benefits (respiration rate is depressed and the animal has a reduced ability to regulate their body temperature), however Dr. Gerry recommends natural remedies for anxiety. “DAP (Dog-Appeasing Pheromones) is a natural, calming remedy that can be worn in the form of a collar and applied a few weeks before travelling, and Adaptil can be ordered from specialty stores too, but the priority is to keep the environment as calm as possible.” Relocation agents can collect your pet prior to ‘pack up day,’ which can limit the dog from picking up on (naturally!) a lot of stress as you prepare to move. “We have to remember that some animals may have pre-existing medical issues or diagnosed anxiety which requires medication too, so we need to take a look at their history and work out what’s  best for them.”

Expert Advice for Relocating Your Pet

Commonly Asked Questions:

Are the airline conditions hazardous to my pet? Where will they be stowed?

According to Dr. Gerry, “there are a lot of misconceptions about what it’s like in the cargo hold,” and you have to remember that not all aircrafts are equipped to take pets, however “the ones that do are geared for it.” If you have a small animal, some airlines, such as Lufthansa, might allow your pet to travel with you in the cabin, “but I’m not a fan of cabin travel as the conditions can still be extremely cramped,” Dr Gerry admits.

Rest assured however, your pets are kept in a specific area of the hold, away from the major cargo, the crates are fastened down to a metal pallet and the area is climate controlled. “Most people aren’t aware that the same air which circulates the cabin is equally circulated in the hold. Pilots and crew are informed prior to the flight that pets are on board and thus the flight is set up for this. The temperature is controlled by the pilot and using a flight manifest checklist, the area is set up to ensure that the environment is at its optimum,” continues Dr. Gerry. “They are comfortable down there and perfectly safe.”

Do we need to provide food and water during the flight? Should I feed my pet as normal before the journey?

The most important thing is that your pet gets enough exercise before the flight. If you’re using a relocation agent, you’ll have a plan in place in regards to pickup, but note the time and ensure that “you go for a long walk and tire out your pet before they are collected“, advises Dr. Gerry. “If your flight is in the morning, they will be collected very early, so I would advise that you don’t give them breakfast beforehand, and if your flight is in the evening, give them breakfast in the morning but nothing after midday.” The export crate should come with a water bottle attached, however if not, you can easily purchase one from Whiskers and Paws.

Are there an age or breed restriction to consider before exporting my pet?

“Generally there are no age restrictions,” affirms Dr. Gerry, “however, older dogs and cats are more prone to health issues which might be more significant on a flight.” Some airlines will restrict animals until they are at least four months old, “but as long as they are healthy there shouldn’t be any issues.”

In terms of breeds however, “most countries and airlines will traditionally restrict ‘fighting’ dog breeds.” For example, you aren’t able to import American Pitbull Terriers into Hong Kong and most countries will have the same list of ‘banned’ animals. Another factor to consider is that many airlines are now putting in a ban for ‘snub-nosed’ breeds. “If you’re relocating from Kuala Lumpur for example, there are no direct flights which will allow a snub-nosed dogs. Cathay Pacific and Malaysian Airlines definitely won’t accept them, and you may find yourself in a predicament.” The risks of flying a snub-nosed dog is assumed to be higher due to breathing restrictions and many airlines aren’t prepared to take the risk. “Personally, I disagree with a total breed ban as the majority of individual animals within a breed are perfectly healthy and fit to fly. The key is identifying those pets that are at a higher risk due to airway obstruction or other related medical conditions. There isn’t enough research done in this area,” says Dr. Gerry, “but it’s certainly something to keep in mind if you are looking to move country.”

Is it necessary to use an agent? Can I organise the export myself?

“There isn’t anything stopping you from organising the export yourself. The only restriction you may encounter would be that some airlines won’t allow a private individual to make a flight booking for their animal,” says Dr Gerry. If you have the time and the energy to arrange everything on your own, “you certainly can, however, if there is a problem or any mistakes made, those can be extremely expensive to rectify.” When you hire an export agent, you’re paying for their knowledge and experience, “as well as someone to take on the responsibility of doing all of the work. There is an added  assurance that if something were to go wrong with the process, they could remedy that.” For most people, it’s comforting to know that your preferred agent has everything covered. Moving is stressful enough, and if an agent can provide a ‘door-to-door’ service, it’s a load off of their shoulders.

I’m moving to Hong Kong with my pet, is there anything I should know?

“All animals must be exported into Hong Kong via cargo – unfortunately you don’t have a choice in that and it must be arranged through an airline,” states Dr. Gerry. On arrival, dogs will be issued a Hong Kong dog license given a rabies vaccination and be microchipped. I would also recommend researching into what life in Hong Kong with a pet is like before moving here to – just so you’re prepared.” Let’s just say, it can be a little difficult for a pup who’s used to lots of grass! Click here for more information on the requirements for bringing cats, dogs and other animals into Hong Kong.

Recommended Relocation Agents in Hong Kong:

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A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

The ancient soul of Arabia

 

When it comes to the Arab world, Dubai is probably the first place that comes to mind. With its excessive wealth and many of the world’s ‘biggests’, it comes as no surprise that the desert city effortlessly steals the spotlight from its neighbours.

Most of us probably know little about Oman, a country that borders the United Arab Emirates in the northwest. Oman is a popular weekend getaway spot for expatriates living in Dubai as it is only a six-hour drive or an hour flight away. However, it’s the traditional charms and rich heritage Oman retains that makes it much more than just a city escape. Whether you are seeking adventure in the wadis (valleys in Arabic), looking for an authentic cultural experience or simply wanting to spend a few days in the Arabian desert with the Bedouin (nomads), Oman is the perfect gateway to engage with the Arab world.

Here’s a beginner’s guide to solo travel in Oman:

Muscat:

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Did you know that Muscat’s Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque once boasted the world’s largest rug (of Persia origin and took four years to complete), before Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Zayed Mosque pinched the record?

Regardless of the superlatives, the Grand Mosque is a must-visit for any travellers in Oman. It is a beautiful example of Islamic architecture and the only mosque in Oman open to non-Muslim visitors at 8am – 11am everyday (closed on Fridays). Try to get there early as you could easily spend an hour or two exploring.

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

A few things to keep in mind:

Entrance is free and cameras are allowed

While it is acceptable for both male and female foreigners to wear short sleeves in Oman, women must be fully covered from head to toe before entering the Mosque. You can rent an Abaya at the souvenir shop at the entrance of the Mosque for five Omani Rial (US$15)

If you have time, pay a visit to The Islamic Information Center inside the Mosque where Arabic coffee and dates await you. It’s a place where you can meet Omani people, learn and ask questions about Islam.

Starting from the entrance, you will pass through a lush green garden and a maze of arches and halls before reaching the main Prayer Hall. Expect to marvel at the massive, elegant chandeliers while walking around on seamless Persian rugs. The intricate interior designs makes the Mosque not only a place for worship but also an architectural masterpiece in contemporary Arabia.

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Mutrah Souq

No trip to Muscat is complete without a visit to the incredible Mutrah Souq, one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. The souq is not only a shopper’s heaven but also a delight to the senses. The scents of Frankincense awaits as you enter the narrow alleys and merchants would offer to put perfumed oil on your wrist as you pass by (go for it, it’s free!).

The Mutrah Souq is the best place to buy traditional gifts and souvenirs from Oman. Here, you can find beautiful scarves, khanjar (Omani dagger), incense burners with a wide variety of scents (sandalwood, frankincense, rose… you name it), kumma (traditional cap worn by Omani men), Omani coffee pots, spices, and pretty much anything you could imagine.

You will find that certain types of stores tend to cluster together. That means all gold shops are in one place, textiles in another, antiquities in yet another, and so on. The prices for most items are negotiable and haggling is expected so take your time to hunt for the best bargain. Even if you don’t buy anything, the 200 year-old souq is worth the visit to see the lifestyle of a bygone time.

Mutrah Souq is located on Muttrah Corniche, a lovely seafront perfect for an evening stroll. Look out onto the Port of Muscat as you sip traditional Omani coffee at one of the cafes along the harbour.

Tip: The souq is open in the morning and has an unofficial, extended lunchtime closing from 1pm to 4pm due to the high temperature during the day.

Nizwa, Bahla and Jabrin:

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Nizwa Fort and Goat Market

The historic town of Nizwa is only two hours away from Muscat and it serves as a good base for exploring interesting sites nearby.

Nizwa itself does not have many tourist attractions except the Nizwa Fort, which gives you a beautiful view of the town and the Hajar Mountains surrounding it as you climb to the top. There is a souq next to the Nizwa Fort, which has a Goat Market a traditional that happens every Friday.

For curious travellers, this unique weekly livestock market is often considered to be one of the highlights in an Oman trip. To really appreciate the action, it is worth getting there early (before 7am) to watch the trading going on in a manner pretty much unchanged for centuries.

Bahla Fort

Around 30 minutes away from Nizwa is Bahla Fort, the only fort in the country to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Inside Bahla Fort, you will find many rooms, towers, mosques and wells. Although Bahla Fort has been open to public since 2012, there is limited information to give context to the history and design of the fort with the lack of audio guide or signage in place. However, it adds a mysterious charm and authenticity to those who love to wander around and explore – it feels a lot more like an untouched town left with ancient ruins.

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Jabreen Castle

Jabreen Castle is one of the most beautiful and well maintained historic sites in Oman. The ground level of Jabreen Castle might not appear to be very interesting at first. But as you move up the castle through mud brick stairs and walls to rooms that serve different functions, you will find intricate interior designs featuring decorated windows, arches with inscribed Arabic calligraphy, and breathtaking ceiling artwork. The dim, maze-like interiors are designed to minimise the harshness of the sun (you’re in the desert, after all). For those who can brave the heat, the rooftop takes in a stunning panorama sweeping across a small oasis of dusty palm trees and towards the end of the Akhdar mountain range.

A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Wadi Shab

Oman has many gorgeous wadis but the most famous ones among tourists are Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid. Wadi Bani Khalid is great for a photo stop or a coffee break as there is a restaurant inside but the downside is that it is relatively touristy compared to Wadi Shab. Wadi Shab is truly a hidden gem of Oman and requires a lot more trekking, climbing and swimming, especially if you want to reach the cave at the end of the wadi.

No words can describe how heaven-like the cave is — you have to see it yourself. You don’t need a guide to explore this wadi. Just put on some trainers, pack your swimming suit and sturdy waterproof footwear and you are in for a great adventure. First, you start with a 45-minute trek deep into the wadi, which will lead you to a natural pool, where most people stop to relax in the shade of the cliffs and bath in the cool, turquoise water. For those ready for the challenge, follow the crystal clear water, keep swimming and start walking on the rocks. At one point you will have to climb along the cliff edge and jump off from the cliff into the pool. You are not far from the cave once you have made the jump. The entrance of the cave is under a huge rock – it is a hole big enough for your head to squeeze through – it is totally a different world once you are inside. I will skip the spoilers here.

Tips:

1. Meet locals through Airbnb
Hotels in Oman are expensive and Airbnb is not only a great budget option but also the best way to meet locals. I couldn’t recommend Muscat Mini Hostel enough as it is the only hostel in Oman that offers shared dorm rooms. Oman is not the most backpacker-friendly country but with Airbnb you will get to make friends with Omani hosts and meet other travellers.

2. Limited public transportation
Oman is not a cheap country to travel at all. That said, you get to travel in a place that’s pleasantly free of massive tourist crowds and you will definitely find the well-preserved natural sights well worth your extra cash. Self-driving is an obvious option for many travellers as most public transport systems do not extend to remote areas (like the wadis, deserts or mountains). If you are not comfortable to drive abroad or can’t drive, you could either hire a driver or make friends with your Airbnb hosts who (in my case) are willing to show you places.

3. Desert tour
Who says solo travellers can’t experience the desert? For an authentic encounter with the Bedouin and to get a taste of life in Bedouin camps in Wahiba Sands, Nomadic Desert Camp organises the best desert tours suitable for any kind of travellers. Everything is taken care of – from accommodation, meals to camel ride and sand dune safari, your tour guides are real, friendly Bedouins who are there to show you their hospitality and the beauty of the Arabian desert.

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Source: A Beginner’s Guide to Solo Travel in Oman

Sassy’s Guide to Calçada do Amparo, Macau

Macau’s hipster renaissance

 

Located in the heart of Central Macau, the area of “Calçada do Amparo” dates back to 1685 and was once home to an important customs service house for the Qing Dynasty. Fast forward to 2017 and this hidden alley way has been resurrected into a thriving hub for Macau’s creative minds. Just a few minutes-walk from the famous Ruins of St Paul, you stubble upon a large selection of stores, exhibition spaces and food shops. This quiet hipster renaissance of sorts is a great place to explore on your next trip over to Macau, and of course the colourful shop fronts are just begging to fill up your Instagram feed.

What to Eat and Drink:

Café Sab 8

If you are over in Macau and looking for authentic Macanese cuisine for lunch or dinner, look no further than Café Sab 8. Located in Patio de Chon Sau, the restaurant is owned and operated by two local Macanese’s sisters. They serve up an array of dishes, but the most popular item is the traditional Minchi, a true and authentic Macanese dish, made with minced pork and diced potatoes relished with soy sauce and topped with a fried egg. While it sounds quite simple, if you haven’t tried this, you haven’t tried Macanese food. This was the dish of my childhood in Macau! The Café is filled with locals enjoying their lunch and Macanese artist, Aquino da Silva, decorates the walls with portrait drawings and sketches.

Cafe Sab 8, Patio de Chon Sau, No. 10, R/C A, +853 2835 8191

Furu Furu Calçada do Amparo

Furu Furu

If noodles are your thing and you are feeling adventurous, Furu Furu has a range of interesting ramen and udon choices on the menu. Its best seller is the lobster ramen set, so I ordered that, along with the standard pork broth ramen bowl. While both were very generous servings (and I enjoyed them), I would just order the pork dish if I were to visit again. Its interior décor is very colourful, and full of graffiti paintings, which makes for a really cool vibe while enjoying some very affordable noodles.

Furu Furu, Patio de Chon Sau 10, R/C A, +853 2821 0201, www.facebook.com/furufurumacau

What’s Up Tea Bar

This eccentrically decorated exhibition space, with glass chairs hanging upside down from the ceiling, features antique and modern Chinese artwork. While appreciating the art, you can sip some of the tea on offer from Tea Forté, or if you’re hungry and on the go, you can opt for uniquely flavored pizzas (most of which are original recipes) at One Creative Café Express further down the street.

What’s Up Tea Bar, Edif. Tong Sin Kok R/c, Calçada do Amparo, +853 2835 2899, www.facebook.com/whatsup

One Creative Café Express, Calçada do Amparo 21, +853 6552 6889, www.facebook.com/One-Creative-Cafe-Express

World Cup

This store is home to the biggest selection of ramen noodle cups from all over the world! I’ve never seen so many different options available in Macau. While I don’t know the origin of the shop’s name, I can tell you it has absolutely nothing to do with football. The shop is covered from bottom to top in creative Japanese prints and comic book pages, with noodle cups hanging from the ceiling, and you can either eat inside, or pack your favourite flavour to go.

World Cup, Rua de Nossa Senhora do Amparo 28, Macau +853 2835 7525

Beer Temple Calçada do Amparo

Beer Temple

If I were a beer bottle, I would want to be here. This gem is the brainchild of Macau local Duarte Silverio, who is often found behind the counter.  Dedicated to craft beers, the store sells a wide selection, spanning the globe from Japan to Belgium, and has hundreds of beer bottles hanging from the ceiling, which give off a stunning chandelier effect. Bustling with people trying to snap a photo of the ceiling or enjoying a cold beer, it’s the perfect pit stop for while exploring the ruins (or any time of day for that matter).

Beer Temple, Rua de Nossa Senhora do Amparo 22, Macau +853 2835 2565, www.facebook.com/beertemple

Food Truck

If you have been to Portugal then you know what a Bifana or Prego is; if you haven’t, then Food Truck is the place to go. Located next to Beer Temple, it’s an easy on-the-go option, serving up authentic Portuguese snacks. I love the fried steak in bread (prego) and the traditional pork steak in bread (bifana), and at MOP$28 for one, it’s a bargain. With limited seating, it’s not a place to dine with a group, but it is a great snack or light lunch option while exploring the surrounding streets.

Food Truck, Rua De Nossa Senhora do Amparo 26, + 853 2821 0312, www.facebook.com/foodtruckcompany

What to see and buy:

Paper Scissors Rock

If interior design and decorating is your thing, Paper Scissors Rock has beautiful handmade woodcarvings, paintings, and much more, which are all sourced from African countries. This two-story shop has everything from creative light fittings and vases, and it also can provide gift-wrapping if you need it. Pick up something unique and special here to remember your trip to Macau By.

Paper Scissors Rock, Travessa de Chon Sau No. 5 Lai Hong R/c A +853 2835 8228, www.facebook.com/psr.kck

Buddy

Anyone who grew up in the 80’s will appreciate this shop. With walls of gumball machines, and so many different lollies and candy packets from around the world, this is a great place to keep the sugar rush going while touring around Macau for the day. They also make cute little gifts for kids, or for those who love to collect candy packets from different countries.

Buddy Patio De Chon Sau 14, R/c B, Macau +853 2835 8222, www.facebook.com/buddy

Castelbel Calçada do Amparo

Castelbel

Originating from Porto in northern Portugal, this brand sells quality handmade soaps and luxury fragrances for both the home and body. It also sells a range of scented candles, drawer liners and great pre-packaged gift sets. While not traditionally a Macau gift, its products and the smells are a reminder of the Portuguese influence found all over this former colony.

Castelbel, Patio De Chon Sau 21, Lai Hong R/c B, Macau +853 2835 8228, www.castelbel.comwww.facebook.com/castelbel.macao

T-O-W

Need to do some souvenir shopping and looking for something different? T-O-W sells the coolest stationary, revamped toys, and gadgets from Kikkerland, and the store is just as interesting to look around, as are the items to buy.

T-O-W Patio De Chon Sau 40 R/c A, Macau +853 2835 8111, www.facebook.com/tow

Macau’s creative area is a destination all on its own, and you’ll be glad to escape the crowds and explore this secret world just minutes away from the crowds!

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Source: Sassy’s Guide to Calçada do Amparo, Macau