This Asian city is on the up - literally
City Slicker: Hong Kong has added the world's tallest hotel to its attractions. Nick Boulos offers ideas for new and returning visitors
Sunday 25 September 2011
Hong Kong is not a place that stands still for long.
Right now, the city is buzzing with new developments that are keeping it at the forefront of innovation. The recent opening of the lofty Ritz Carlton and Sky100 (sky100.com.hk), the world's tallest hotel and state-of-the-art observation deck respectively, is helping Hong Kong reach new heights in luxury and sophistication. Both are located within the International Commerce Centre (ICC), a glass beacon made possible only by the 1998 closure of Kai Tak airport – an airstrip that became legendary for its hair-raising descents through the cramped apartment buildings of Kowloon.
For decades, residents of the endearingly chaotic district have gazed across Victoria Harbour and watched in wonder as Hong Kong Island's skyline developed at breakneck speed. But now it's Kowloon's turn to shine. Plans for the West Kowloon Cultural Districts – a major new arts centre that will transform wasted grassland into a 40-hectare complex of concert halls and exhibition centres – are well under way.
Yet, behind this rampant modernisation, Hong Kong holds on to its heritage dearly. Backstreets are lined with tiny teahouses and restaurants where the noodles are handmade and old ladies push around trolleys piled high with steaming dim sum. Elsewhere, the faithful clasp incense sticks and bow in silent prayer at the city's many ornate temples.
With the intense humidity of summer gone for another year and cooler temperatures starting to set in, now is the time to see it for yourself.
Star Ferry (starferry.com.hk)
There are several ways to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but none come close to the Star Ferry for sheer romance. Best of all, the fare is only 19p each way.
Hong Kong isn't all high-rises and neon boulevards as you'll discover at Lantau, the city's largest island, home to ramshackle fishing villages, 70km of walking trails and one big Buddha. Catch the glass-bottomed cable car for a glimpse of the famous bronze statue – all 34m and 250 tons of him.
Tim Ho Wan, 2-20 Kwong Wa St (00 852 2332 2896)
Said to be the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan, just off Dundas Street, serves dim sum at knock-down prices. Dishes start at £1. Don't be put off by the crowd outside – it's worth the wait.
Victoria Peak (thepeak.com.hk)
At 552m, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island and the view of the city spread out below appears on countless postcards. Take the peak tram, which has rattled along the steep track – a staggering 27 degrees at one stage – since 1888. Be sure to grab a seat on the right.
Happy Valley Racecourse (hkjc.com)
Gambling is illegal in the People's Republic (except in Macau), but you can enjoy a flutter at the races. Crowds gather under the floodlights here every Wednesday evening.
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, 220 Pai Tau Village (00 852 2691 1067).
As the name suggests, this hilltop temple in the New Territories is adorned with thousands of religious statues – each golden, life size and individually designed. Appreciating its full spectacle, though, requires a little effort in that you must climb 431 steep steps.
On the southernmost tip of Hong Kong Island is a pleasant village with a seaside feel and not a skyscraper in sight. A 15km drive from Central along windy roads, this is an easy escape from the throbbing metropolis.
Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula (peninsula.com)
Put on your Sunday best and enjoy a taste of colonial Hong Kong at its most historic hotel. Waiters in crisp cream jackets move silently across the lily-scented lobby to serve freshly baked scones and, naturally, cucumber sandwiches.
Once upon a time, this neighbourhood was overrun with sex workers, gangsters and mafia types, but Mong Kok has shed much of its X-rated past. A clean up and increased police numbers along with the arrival of luxury hotels and shopping centres have turned it into one of Hong Kong's most vibrant spots. You'll find the upmarket Royal Plaza Hotel (royalplaza.com.hk) and the Langham Place Mall (langhamplace.com.hk), home to the likes of Chanel and Dior. Elsewhere, there are lively markets, specialising in everything from goldfish to jade.
The Ritz Carlton
After 10 years in the making, the Ritz Carlton officially became the world's tallest hotel when it opened in March.It occupies the top 16 floors of the 490m ICC building, from where the unrivalled views across the harbour are, as you'd expect, the biggest selling point.
In five short months, trendy interiors store Xava has carved out quite a reputation thanks to its eclectic range of products from around the world. Expect handmade Polish ceramics, silk cushions from Morocco and richly scented candles from India. You'll know you've reached the right place when you see the naked blue Roman mannequin stationed outside.
Head to the 25th floor of the iSquare shopping centre to find W1, a restaurant that uses traditional methods to create authentic salty Yong cuisine from China's Zhejiang province. Executive chef Bai Yong Quan's signature dish is the wild yellow croaker, fresh from the East Sea.
Details: 63 Nathan Road.
This club has attracted top DJs and gained a loyal following since playing its first hip-hop beat at the start of the year. Sip sweet berry cocktails until 5am in the rustic industrial surroundings – think bare light bulbs, a concrete dancefloor and graffiti art on black brick walls.
How to get there
Nick Boulos travelled with Virgin Holidays (0844 557 3859 2460; virginholidays.co.uk), which offers return flights from London Heathrow and three nights at the Metropark Hotel from £899 per person, based on two sharing, including transfers and room-only accommodation.
Hong Kong Tourist Board (020-7432 7700; discoverhongkong.com).
Ranee Kwok, Fashion designer (raneek.com)
Lung Wah opened as a hotel in 1938 but now it's a restaurant that represents old Hong Kong beautifully. It's like stepping back in time with the carved wooden panels and classic Chinese decor. It's so authentic, they even shoot movies there. I always have the delicious Cantonese style pigeon with soy sauce.
Details: 00 852 2691 1594; lungwahhotel.hk
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