48 Hours: Hong Kong

The night skies are lighting up all over the Chinese city-state as residents welcome the dawn of the Year of the Dragon. Matthew Bell reports.

Click here for the 48 Hours In...Hong Kong map

Travel essentials

Why go now?

Hong Kong explodes into life on Monday, with the eve of the Year of the Dragon. Chinese New Year celebrations started last week and continue until 6 February with flower markets, a night parade and a firework display in Victoria Harbour on Tuesday (00 852 2591 1340; discoverhongkong.com), followed by the traditional day's racing on Wednesday (Sha Tin Racecourse, HK$100/£8.30 for a Tourist Badge; hkjc.com).

Even if you aren't there to celebrate, Hong Kong enjoys a temperate climate, with temperatures far warmer than the UK at the moment.

Touch down

I travelled with Hong Kong's flag carrier, Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; cathaypacific.co.uk), which flies four times a day from Heathrow; returns from £559. The other non-stop options from Heathrow are BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Qantas (08457 747767; qantas.co.uk), Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; airnz.co.uk) and Virgin Atlantic (0844 874 7747; virgin-atlantic.com).

Hong Kong airport is located at Chep Lap Kok, 35km north-west of the centre. Catch the Airport Express train into town – it takes 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island Station (1) for a fare of HK$100 (£8.30) single, HK$180 (£15 return).

Otherwise, metered taxis wait outside the terminals, and are colour coded: red for downtown, blue for the Lantau Island airport region, and green for the New Territories, the suburban region in the north. The fare to Hong Kong Island is about HK$300 (£25).

Get your bearings

Although most of Hong Kong's seven million inhabitants live in skyscrapers in the centre of Hong Kong Island, the "Special Administrative Region" is spread over an area of 1,130 square kilometres. Much of this is the New Territories to the north, a peninsula attached to the south of China surrounded by 265 islands, many wild and unpopulated.

At the heart of this former British colony is Hong Kong Island, whose northern rim is lined with skyscrapers in the district called Central.

Just across Victoria Harbour is Kowloon, the southernmost part of the New Territories.

The main branch of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (2) is located at Kowloon Star Ferry Concourse, Tsim Sha Tsui, open 8am-8pm daily (00 852 2508 1234; discoverhongkong.com).

Check in

For superb views, the InterContinental (3) at 18 Salisbury Road (00 852 2721 1211; hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com) stands in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Kowloon, with most of its 495 rooms facing the harbour. Doubles start at HK$2,882 (£236), room only.

The Peninsula Hotel (4), also on Salisbury Road (00 852 2920 2888; peninsula.com) is known for its fleet of monogrammed Rolls Royces, which are liveried in a special "Peninsula green". Doubles from HK$5,000 (£419), room only.

Similarly lofty are the views and rates at the Ritz-Carlton (5), 1 Austin Road West (00 852 2263 2263; ritzcarlton.com), which starts on the 102nd floor of the International Commerce Centre tower and is the world's highest hotel. Doubles from HK$6,000 (£503), room only.

On Hong Kong island, the JJ Hotel (6) (00 852 2904 7300; jjhotel.com.hk) at 165-171 Wan Chai Rd has doubles from HK$1,200 (£100), room only.

Day one

Take a view...

... from the deck of the Star Ferry, one of Hong Kong's simplest (and cheapest) thrills. Buy a HK$2 (16p) token from the machine at either terminal (7 and 8) (exact change required) to be shuttled across Victoria Harbour on a route that has operated since 1888, linking Central to Tsim Sha Tsui. Though there are now underground train and road connections, the ferry is still the most exciting option, especially at night. (It runs until midnight.)

Take a hike

Start at the Taoist Man Mo Temple (9) on Hollywood Road, built in 1848, where you have your fortune read through the ancient tradition of chim. You shake a box of numbered sticks, and when one falls to the ground, you look up the number it bears in a book of forecasts. Mine wasn't good. Cheer yourself up by wandering along the leafy Hollywood Road, which boasts antique shops and galleries of both ancient and contemporary art: go upstairs at Wattis Fine Art (10) (00 852 2524 5302; wattis.com.hk) to see black-and-white photos of the city 100 years ago in its colonial prime. Pass Shelley Street, where the world's longest escalator (11), opened in 1993, runs up the middle of the street.

Lunch on the run

Try one of the chaotic open-air food stalls, known as dai pai dongs, at the Graham Street end of Stanley Street (12) in Central. Share your Formica table with strangers as you slurp your way through a giant bowl of noodles for HK$30-40 (£2.50-£3).

Window shopping

Hong Kong's first Apple store (13) at the International Finance Center, 8 Finance St (00 852 3972 1500; apple.com) opened in September. It is a two-storey cathedral to designer technology; iPads start at $3,888 (£326), £73 cheaper than the UK list price.

An aperitif

The idea of a fashion-branded bar may appal, but Hong Kong is unashamedly commercial. Dress up, or you won't be let in to the sleek black Armani bar (14) in the Chater House Mall, 11 Chater Road (00 852 2805 0028), which has a constantly changing light display, and head out on to the terrace. Drink a luminous Fire Opal – orange and mango and a fair amount of alcohol (HK$100/£8.40).

Dining with the locals

You can find almost every cuisine in Hong Kong, but for quality northern Chinese food, head to Hutong (15) at 28/F, One Peking Road (00 852 3428 8342; aqua.com.hk), which, like all the best things in Hong Kong, comes with an astounding view, thanks to its position on the 28th floor. Book a window seat, and arrive before 8pm, when the city's nightly light display begins: 40 buildings now contribute to this 10-minute spectacular, which has grown to become the world's largest permanent light-and-sound show.

Particularly good are the "Ma La" chilli prawns, fried with lots of whole Sichuan chillies. It comes with so many you think they must be of the not-too-hot variety. Trust me, they're not.

Day two

Sunday morning: take a ride

Double-deckered and ludicrously narrow, with open windows and a smart green livery, Hong Kong's trams are anachronisms. They look all the more antiquated as they ding-ding their way through Hong Kong's slickest and tallest towers. The six routes also provide the cheapest city transportation: the flat fare is HK$2.30 (19p). You need the exact coins to drop into the machine – as you dismount, not when you board. Get on where Wan Chai Road meets Johnston Road (16); get off at Admiralty station (17).

Go to church

Take the underground from Admiralty (17) to the Chi Lin Nunnery (18), a sprawling reconstruction of a Tang dynasty (618-907) temple built entirely of wood (not even a metal nail was used) – you'd never know it was built in 1998. Surrounded by high rises in the Diamond Hill district, this complex of shrines and Chinese gardens is worth the half-hour train ride (fare HK$12/£1).

A walk in the park

For an inner-city park, Kowloon Park (19) (00 852 2724 3344; lcsd.gov.hk/parks; admission free) has more than most: turtles in the pond, plumed parakeets in the aviary, a flamingo lake, sculpture park and a vast swimming pool complex. The pool is open 6.30am- 6pm, November to May (HK$19/£1.60).

Sunday brunch

Dim sum is the ultimate fast food – bite-size portions of dumpling, spare ribs or spring roll that can be eaten at any time of day, for as little as HK$10 (80p). There are good dim sum canteens all over the city, but if you can be bothered to queue for up to three hours, Tim Ho Wan (20) at Shop 8 Kwong Wa Street, Kowloon (00 852 2332 2896; open 10am–10pm), has been awarded a Michelin star, making it the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.

Cultural afternoon

Three important cultural sites are conveniently located in a row along Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui: take your pick from the domed Space Museum (21) (10 Salisbury Road, 00 852 2721 0226; lcsd.gov.hk/ce/Museum; open 10am-9pm at weekends; 1-9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Friday; closed Tuesdays, HK$10/80p); the Museum of Art (22), home to some gorgeous Ming and Tang dynasty pottery (10 Salisbury Road, 00 852 2721 0116; 10am-6pm Sunday-Friday, to 8pm Saturdays, closed Thursdays; HK$10/80p); and the Cultural Centre (23), a carbuncle on the water that hosts concerts and exhibitions (00 852 2734 9009).

The icing on the cake

Bespoke tailoring is ludicrously cheap, though quality varies. Founded in 1957, Sam's Tailor (24) at Ground Floor K&L, Burlington Arcade, 90-94C Nathan Rd (00 852 2367 9423; samstailor.com), is a Hong Kong institution. Leave plenty of time for fittings: I got three beautiful suits for about £300, but one chest measurement was out, so I now look like a pigeon.

 

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