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Hong Kong Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway


Hot for Hong Kong
Built on the Pursuit of Dreams
by Cynthia Rosenfeld


Hong Kong's skyline
Hong Kong City Lights

Since the handover from England to China in 1997, Hong Kong has evolved from the most Eastern of all British colonies to the most Western of all Chinese entities. It's a tension that plays out everywhere, as Western-educated managing directors nip out from soaring towers occupied by the world's leading banking institutions to check with their Chinese astrologer on the most auspicious day to sign a business deal. Streets are a cacophony of old and new, Occident and Orient, with fish flopping on wet market cutting boards within sight of gilded outposts of the finest European couture brands. Buying jade, chop-sticking tan tan mien (spicy Szechuan noodles), doing dim sum in a Picasso-filled private club, watching the sun set aboard a red sail pirate's boat and outlet shopping for Valentino are easily done in one day here.

More than most, Hong Kong is a city built on the laser-focused pursuit of dreams. Large handfuls of the moguls who now occupy the $10-million-plus homes on The Peak are self-made businessmen who first came to Hong Kong after fleeing poverty or working-class life in the province of Canton, a short train ride away. Throughout the centuries, Hong Kong has hosted all kinds of commerce — from sandalwood incense and fish to real estate and money markets — and it has always been of the entrepreneurial, invent-as-you-go type. This is what makes it such an interesting place to visit. Along with being a window into the culture birthed by the Mainland, it is a land of plenty (for virtually anyone who wants it to be) and flat-out one of the world's great cities.

Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong
Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong has a glut of fine lodging. Your main choice is whether to stay Kowloon-side or on Hong Kong Island, followed by determining your preference between colonial classic and cutting-edge modern. Choices are exceptional in all directions. The Peninsula Hong Kong is 76 years old and every bit as fetching today as it was when it opened, with its marble-clad interiors, pillar-strewn lobby in which to take high tea, rooms fit for Mandarin and Colonial magnates alike and service that rarely errs. Nearby, at a touch less the cost, the more modern-looking InterContinental Hong Kong sits literally atop Victoria Harbour and houses several great restaurants including SPOON by Alain Ducasse and Yan Toh Heen, possibly the top haute Cantonese joint in town.

Hong Kong Island's grand dame, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is perfectly positioned near some head-turning skyscrapers and at the heart of the shopping district. It's a beau monde magnet that boasts the best concierge and local guidance in town. Designer hotel fans who still appreciate the very best service and an unbeatably convenient location in the heart of Central should look into Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, the more contemporary but no less refined sibling to the original MO. The Grand Hyatt Hong Kong is modern and decadent, clad in wood, black detailing and high-tech gadgetry. It has both Hong Kong and Kowloon views thanks to its location in Wan Chai, plus some of Hong Kong's most delectable gourmet dim sum at the harbor-facing One Harbor Road restaurant. Price-conscious visitors can take advantage of Wan Chai's charm at The Fleming, a fourteen-story, 66-room boutique hotel with high ceilings, plush beds, generous desk space, aerodynamic office chairs, and indulgent bathrooms with powerful showers that make the intimate guest rooms feel cozy yet complete. Slightly further east, Taikoo Shing is home to the even more stylish and budget-friendly EAST Hong Kong, a modern art-filled business hotel with amenities usually only found at higher price points, a chic rooftop lounge and switched-on staff plus a 24-hour gym and instant access to the MTR directly below.

HONG KONG ITINERARY: DAY 1

The best Hong Kong welcome starts at the top — of Hong Kong Island, that is — with a morning trip up to The Peak. This is the most sought-after property in Hong Kong, an exclusive realm where tycoons, called tai-pans in local parlance, investment bankers and movie stars live. Temperatures are cooler, and panoramic views take in the South China Sea, city skyscrapers and outer islands. By far the most charming route up is aboard the Peak Tram. One of the world's steepest funicular railways, the tram has been climbing the island's heights for 120 years from Garden Road in Central to Victoria Peak. Sit on the right-hand side heading up for the best views. At the top, for unobstructed views and a taste of how the residents live, avoid the touristy area by the Peak Tower and climb Mt. Austin Road instead. You'll find fragrant gardens and the authentic Victoria Peak. It's a view you'll remember well beyond 72 hours. Everyone will be satisfied with the extensive, diverse menu at The Peak Lookout, best known for its dramatic vistas to accompany meals throughout the day.

The Peak Tram offers a scenic ride to the top of Victoria Peak
Peak Tram
Tram it back down from the Peak to poke around the side streets of Central. Old tea houses, dusty antique shops and Sino-influenced fashion boutiques rub shoulders with eateries specializing in egg noodles with pork and dumplings, roasted goose and the like. Dim sum fanatics can point, choose and try to elicit smiles from the gruff wait staff at the stuck-in-the-'70s-and-charming-for-it Luk Yu Tea House.

Stuffed and satisfied, wander a block over to Wellington Street and follow it down until you hit a market. Lychees, morning glory, star garoupa, cockles, frogs, orchids — you can get it all here. Continue on to the antique and art-filled Hollywood Road. Top contemporary art stops along here include Schoeni, Plum Blossoms, Cat St. Gallery and Grotto, which specializes in Hong Kong artists. Antiques meanwhile have a controversial reputation in Hong Kong but Chine Gallery owner Anwar Islam knows everything about Chinese antiques and his generosity in teaching customers is matched by his highly regarded collection.

Hollywood Road leads you into Hong Kong's version of SoHo — South of Hollywood Road. This neighborhood is chock-a-block full with creative fashion, high-end art, jazzy cafés and urbane martini bars. Sightseeing enters the picture in the form of the slightly dank, red and gold-hued Man Mo Temple, dating back to 1840 and thick with sandalwood incense. The temple also links up to the former Cat Street (the name comes from the brothels once here), now called Upper Lascar Row, where vendors hawk old photos, Mao memorabilia, antique furniture and lots of Sino-kitsch. Check out The Green Lantern for Oriental reproductions and housewares, then squeeze into Buttonhole for women's vintage-inspired style. Leather aficionados should bypass the big-name brands to collect handcrafted handbags and wallets in a rainbow of vibrant hues from Lianca, then nip into Spy Henry Lau, a local boy known for his outrageous style. Back down at the intersection with Hollywood Road, Hong Kong's most irreverent innovators keep things creative and not too serious at local home wares brand G.O.D. where Hong Kong goes to find quirky kitchen items and wacky wallets.

Amber restaurant at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong
Amber Restaurant
Head towards Hong Kong's waterfront then follow Queen's Road right into its cacophonous urban hub of soaring skyscrapers and luxury brand boutiques at every turn. The Star Ferry alights here and the waterfront houses many hotels (the Mandarin Oriental and Landmark Mandarin Oriental among them), shopping malls (the posh IFC) and alleys that teem with small Eastern-influenced shops (Shanghai Tang, Blanc de Chine). Serious shoppers will find it well worth spending some time around this area. By foot is the best way to go — this allows for lots of opportunities to gaze at the buildings. Landmarks include I.M. Pei's geometric Bank of China, Sir Norman Foster's robotic HSBC Building, the porthole-strewn Jardine House, and what is now the tallest building on Hong Kong Island, the soaring International Financial Center by Cesar Pelli. Look up then go in to check out what the buyers at Lane Crawford deem must-haves for Hong Kong's most stylish tai-tais and tai-pans.

Hungry for dinner yet? SoHo houses some of the best modern Chinese dining in the world. Yellow Door is a former "private" restaurant where poet and critic Lau Kin Wai serves home-style Cantonese and Szechuan. If you book ahead or make friends with a concierge, you can gain entry to Da Ping Huo, an industrial-sleek bolthole with incendiary Szechuan food and a chef-owner who sings opera after dinner. Finally, Bistro Manchu is a bona fide Sino-bistro with a lusty menu full of Northern Chinese specialties like stir-fried lamb with cumin and chili peppers.

Or spruce up and head out for cocktails at MO Bar inside Landmark Mandarin Oriental. This street-facing, low-lit lounge is a see-and-be-seen spot day and night, especially popular for its bite-size Wagyu burgers and creative cocktails. Gourmet-minded couples and business travelers seeking to broker their deals over Hong Kong's finest dishes can rely on Paris-trained Dutch chef Richard Ekkebus upstairs at Amber. His modern French-influenced menu is crafted from ingredients flown in daily, from the Tokyo fish market to those in Tasmania and Brittany. Lighter diners will be wowed by the Japanese flavors and couture-clad crowd at Zuma, Hong Kong's choicest sushi spot.

Continue to Day 2

MORE HONG KONG INFORMATION

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* All images courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

(Updated: 10/22/12 NW)

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