City of contrasts is an understated way to describe this home to 7.4 million people with 350-plus skyscrapers (more than New York) and 227 restaurants with Michelin stars (three times as many as London). Hong Kong’s population is squeezed into just 80 per cent of the country’s land. The rest, including another 260-plus islands, is not urbanised. Here are five must-dos in the city that will host the 32nd LAWASIA conference in November.
SPLASH OUT ON A HOTEL
Hong Kong Island or Kowloon? Where to stay is a key decision and each option has advantages. If you are working, staying on the island makes more sense and many argue that, even for a holiday, Hong Kong Island has more atmosphere. Kowloon, however, can offer terrific views back to the island, though does have a more industrial feel. As one lawyer who lives near Mongkok explained, Kowloon seems more genuine. Whatever your decision, make sure your hotel is near the MTR underground rail system, which is cheap, efficient and far less manic than taking taxis to appointments.
The Mandarin Oriental takes pride of place near the water on Hong Kong Island. With 501 rooms, including 67 suites, this luxury hotel used to be right on Victoria Harbour before land was reclaimed to create more space. Even if you don’t stay there, make time to check out the gorgeous Venetian glass chandeliers in the foyer and, if you feel like splashing out, head to M Bar on level 24 at dusk to watch the city light up. Rooms start from about A$600.
On Kowloon, the Peninsula, with its popular high tea offering, is right on the water. It was the first five-star hotel built in Hong Kong. Also on the Kowloon side is the Kerry Hotel, which isn’t as well known but has the same terrific view, a first-class spa, and a bar called Red Sugar, which is a must at dusk. Rooms overlooking the harbour start from A$400.
A couple of MTR stops further from the water is the Cordis Hotel, which is right in the thick of things in Kowloon and linked to another shopping mall. The rooms are compact but the service and offering in the Club lounge (24-hour office services, private breakfast buffet and snacks throughout the day, plus free drinks and buffet from 6-8pm) make it a good deal from A$500. The Cordis also has a terrific spa and open-air rooftop pool.
Hong Kong Island or Kowloon? Where to stay is a key decision and each option has advantages.
Hong Kong has eight restaurants with three Michelin stars and another 227 restaurants with one or two Michelin stars, which is an indication of the indulgent food offerings in the city. By comparison, London has a similar population and 77 Michelin star restaurants.
One of the best bargains in Hong Kong is Ming Court, a dumpling restaurant that has maintained one Michelin star for 10 years, yet is unassuming and tucked away on level 6 of the Cordis Hotel. The atmosphere is pure elegance, from the black and copper resin place setters to the pottery around the room (copies of artifacts dating back 2,000 years that were found when the hotel was built), to the courteous and unrushed service. For about A$24, you can sample jasmine tea and a trio of dumplings, including one topped with a gold leaf and filled with scallops and chopped zucchini. The wine list is what you’d expect in a five-star locale, with bottles of Australian white from A$70. But avoid the booze and dive into the delicate dumplings for a fine experience capped off with a custard dumpling – light dough filled with steaming, yellow custard.
If you really want to splash out, dine at the Mandarin Grill + Bar and Grill, which is more like a spacious private dining room than a “grill” and has incredible décor (they change the chair coverings with the seasons) and stunning food, including oysters flown in from eight countries and many ingredients sourced from Japan because the chef thinks they are the best. The wine list will knock you over (and not just for the price) and main meals cost about A$140.
If you want an Australian connection and something more affordable in the funky Soho area on the island, Sydney chef Fabio Nicotra, ex Merivale, leads the team at 121 BC, serving an Italian menu.
Meals start from about A$30.
For a two-Michelin-star experience at the other end of the price spectrum, but one you won’t forget, try the Landmark Mandarin’s stylish restaurant Amber for breakfast, lunch or dinner. The décor alone will have you talking long after your meal and it is being refurbished over the summer to reopen in April.
TAKE TO THE WATER
They used to say a trip on Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry that links the island with Kowloon was the cheapest and best tourist offering in the city. Do it at dusk as the lights come on, and it’s probably still true.
If you want a longer ferry ride and some peace, take a ferry to Lamma Island. Lamma used to be a fishing island and there’s still evidence of this, as well as some well-priced and lively seafood restaurants. However, it’s the chance to hike with butterflies flying around you on the 70-minute “Family Trail” from one side of the island to the other that makes this a gem. There are great beach views, too, but look away when you spot the huge power station on one side of the island.
For a chance to see Hong Kong above the water, take the MTR to Tung Chung station on Lantau Island (near the airport), then a 25-minute gondola ride over the water and bushland to the Big Buddha. The bronze figure is 34 metres tall and there’s a temple, monastery, and vegetarian restaurants nearby. It’s best to pre-purchase the gondola tickets (you can take a bus or a taxi but the road is windy) and head there early to avoid the crowds. Try the discount website Klook for tickets.
If ever there is a city that celebrates cocktails, this is it. The offerings are staggering, and not just for the A$30-plus price. At M Bar in the Mandarin Oriental, your drinks come with toasted nuts and dehydrated okra that has a crunch and saltiness that can be addictive.
At Ozone Bar on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton on the Kowloon side, cocktails and the chance to boast that you have had a drink in the highest bar in the world cost $A35. There are terrific views across to the island, too.
A midi of Sapporo beer at Hexa, an elegant bar at the end of the Harbour City shopping mall, will set you back A$27. The view back to Hong Kong Island makes it worthwhile, and you can sit outside, which is a relief after hours in air-conditioning.
If you want to try Asia’s fifth-best bar (according to Asia’s 50 Best Bars list) head to mid-levels at Aberdeen Street near Central for a liquid treat at Old Man.
With the crazy pace on the streets outside, retreating to a spa may be just the ticket, and with so many five-star hotels in the city, the spa offering is competitive albeit not cheap. You can find an hour’s reflexology for about A$30, but if you want true indulgence, make time for a classy hotel experience.
Many hotels offer spa deals for their guests – a complimentary 30-minute treatment, for example. Book ahead and make time to relax in the sauna and steam room or hotel pool before and after your treatment.
For about A$70 (weekdays) and A$90 (weekends) you can spend a full day at the Kerry Hotel, which is part of the Shangri-La group, indulging in the infinity pool overlooking Victoria Harbour and lazing on the lounges on the sun deck (with the same stunning view). The Kerry also has a small but classy spa. The De-aging Yoghurt Body treatment (A$160 for an hour) includes skin brushing then a luxurious wrap, and a light massage that will leave your skin renewed and your soul soaring.
Chuan Spa at the Cordis, linked to the Chuan Spa at the Langham Hotel in Sydney, is a larger retreat worth your time. It won the 2018 Luxury Spa Award for Australia and Oceania in the World Luxury Spa Awards based on votes from users. The range of treatments is staggering and, as like most spa treatments in five-star hotels in Hong Kong, the services aren’t cheap, so team your indulgence with an hour or two in the steam room and sauna plus a swim in the open-air rooftop pool to add value.