Colin White explores the gateway to Asia and discovers a wealth of opportunity for both leisure and business travellers alike.
Strategically located at the heart of Asia, Hong Kong has long held a fascination for those unable to sate their wanderlust. The city attracts foreigners from all over the world and is an ideal place to conduct business, regarded as one of the freest economies in the world.
Foreign entrepreneurs and business owners are welcomed to develop businesses in Hong Kong. Due to its simple tax structure, developed communications and liberal economic system, the possibility to thrive in Hong Kong is great.
Hong Kong is a city positively teeming with life; a neon environment full of contradiction and excitement. Its array of personalities are equally charming as they are intriguing. Here, a hotchpotch of cultures have entwined to create something quintessential to Hong Kong.
Surrounded by the South China Sea, the territory consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and over 200 offshore islands. In the area known as Central on Hong Kong Island, one can promptly sense the affluency. It is also clear that Central is at the heart of the city’s financial sector, with well-heeled expats mixing with tourists and the city’s ‘company men’.
Modern architecture, lavish hotels and indulgent boutiques cater to tourists and Hong Kong’s white-collar workers, while Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) and SoHo offer a wealth of restaurants and bars to choose from.
A pleasing nod to the past is also noticeable, as the city’s trams–affectionately known as ding‑dings to locals–have a history dating back to 1904. These ding-dings help to carry 200,000 passengers through Central every day.
Located above Central on the slope of Victoria Peak, the Mid-Levels is an oasis of calm away from the frenzy for those who can afford it. Superb views, lush vegetation and slightly cooler temperatures make it a much sought-after address.
Victoria Peak (or simply the Peak) is a mountaintop made easily accessible by the Peak Tram, which travels at a 45-degree incline to the elevated area of prosperity–the journey is an experience in itself. Upon arrival at the summit, Hong Kong’s majesty is displayed through stunning views of the one world’s great cityscapes.
The world’s longest outdoor escalator links the Mid-Levels with Central. This truly remarkable construction covers an impressive 800 metres and is as much a part of Hong Kong’s character as the city’s daily light show.
LIMOUSINES AND LAVISHNESS
Across Victoria Harbour to the city’s north lies Kowloon, and over two million Hong Kong residents, making it one of the most densely populated areas on the planet.
However, my next destination is the antithesis of overcrowding–Hong’s Kong’s finest and most well-known hotel: The Peninsula.
An adventure at The Peninsula begins lavishly, as the hotel’s fleet of Rolls-Royce limousines are on hand to transport guests to their temporary lodgings in style.
It’s this kind of attention to detail that has made The Peninsula synonymous with luxury. No stone has been left unturned in the hotel’s mission to provide the utmost care and attention to its guests. Amazingly, the team of pageboys open the large double glass doors in the lobby 3,000 times per day; 900 staff comprising 13 different nationalities and 12 languages are employed at the hotel, representing a staff-to-guest ratio of 3:1.
The Peninsula is located at the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula and is Hong Kong’s oldest hotel, dating back to 1928. As well as offering breathtaking views of the city’s iconic skyline, its position at the heart of Kowloon business, shopping and entertainment makes it an ideal place to explore the richness of Hong Kong.
The city’s highly functional Mass Transit Railway (MTR) subway system is a stone’s throw away, while the nearby Star Ferry offers a magical way to access Hong Kong Island.
The Peninsula is steeped in history and prides itself on the finest traditions of service and hospitality. The Lobby had the world’s first city check-in counter for airlines and today the hotel continues to set standards worldwide.
In 1994, a 30-storey extension was opened to offer modern facilities for guests, whether visiting for business or pleasure. The extension added 132 rooms and suites, making a total of 300. It also included ten floors of office space, shops and a range of hotel facilities (including a swimming pool, sun terrace, fitness centre, spa and meeting rooms).
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
After being shown to one of The Peninsula’s plush guest rooms, visitors can be forgiven for a sharp intake of breath as the cityscape is presented before them, perfectly framed within large pristine windows.
The beauty of the city is instantly noticeable. So too is the grandiose bed and palatial bathroom. The flamboyance of the hotel is perfectly portrayed by a collection of complimentary toiletries conceived by international fashion designer Oscar de la Renta for The Peninsula Hotels around the world, featuring a bespoke fragrance.
Hong Kong is a city positively teeming with life; a neon environment full of contradiction and excitement
There are some quirky touches, too. Freeform art installations are on display and, interestingly, each room is equipped with a portable nail-dryer. This is specifically designed for guests to avoid any inconvenience or delay due to wet nail polish.
It is evident The Peninsula is embracing technological advancements through its in-room services. Interactive digital bedside panels, touch-screen restaurant menus, wireless telephone with VoIP technology and an audio visual centre featuring a flat-screen television all add to the overall experience.
When I’m offered a tour of the grand establishment the following morning by public relations manager Helena Kok, I step into a world off-limits to the majority of visitors.
Helena typifies the quality of staff at The Peninsula. Extremely knowledgeable about all things Hong Kong, her passion for the role is obvious as I’m whisked through a myriad of behind-the-scenes delights: the smell of freshly baked bread from one of the hotel’s many kitchens; handmade chocolate created in true artisanal style; and chefs prepping the day’s numerous lunches.
Also explored are certain quarters usually accessed only by the rich and famous. The Peninsula’s premier suite is located on the 26th floor of the tower, and provides a spacious and luxurious setting for guests.
But, apart from the double-height living room with floor-to-ceiling windows and a landscaped terrace, what does it offer? Well, a ten-seater dining room, kitchen, gym and cinema for starters.
Twin helipads located on the roof of the hotel offer visitors easy access to destinations around the territory. Named after Pan Am’s first flying boat and located on the 30th floor, The China Clipper lounge is a tribute to the glory days of aviation. Usually reserved only for those on an organised ‘flightseeing’ tour, it was a pleasure to get the chance to relax in a very cool bar with such unique character.
If a helicopter flight isn’t your cup of Chinese tea, fret not, as The Peninsula has all the requirements necessary for total relaxation. The Spa occupies two floors and boasts 14 state-of-the-art treatment rooms, making for a perfectly tranquil hideaway.
Or perhaps you’d prefer to spend an afternoon in The Peninsula Fitness Centre’s pool and health club. Located on the eighth floor, the swimming pool is designed in a classical Roman theme. Linked to the pool is a sun terrace and fitness centre, which extends out over the west wing of the original building and features exercise equipment, Jacuzzis, saunas, steam rooms and cold tubs.
For the business traveller there is also a plethora of amenities available. The sixth floor Business Centre provides meeting rooms and communications facilities, including high-definition video conferencing.
The Conference Centre on the same floor offers two spacious conference rooms, accommodating up to 150 for cocktails, 100 theatre-style and 40 for roundtable and boardroom gatherings. Furthermore, The Peninsula offers one large and two smaller banquet and meeting rooms on the Mezzanine floor.
Having been made familiar with the hotel’s amenities, a dim sum lunch awaited at Spring Moon, The Peninsula’s authentic Cantonese restaurant.
Dim sum – my favourite snack during my Hong Kong adventure–is a Chinese dish of small steamed or fried savoury dumplings filled with fish, meat or vegetables, usually served with tea, of which Spring Moon has its own collection of 25 varieties.
The restaurant’s specialities also include its acclaimed XO sauce. The Peninsula was the first hotel in Hong Kong to introduce the sauce, which is made to a secret recipe incorporating ham, scallops and Chinese spices.
In Spring Moon, around 200 boxes of XO sauce are sold per month in addition to the large quantities consumed in the restaurant.
I wasn’t surprised to discover that, just days prior to my visit, Spring Moon had earned its first Michelin star. An extra-special accolade considering it coincided with its 30th anniversary.
The Peninsula is steeped in history and prides itself on the finest traditions of service and hospitality
A FUTURE UNWRITTEN
Hong Kong’s colonial past and the territory’s wranglings with its great neighbour have been well documented in certain quarters of the media in recent times.
As the city’s youth continue to protest and promote a sense of national pride, so too has China’s vice-like grip on Hong Kong tightened. Only recently, Hong Kong’s publishing industry has come under target from China to censor what it deems as sensitive material. Worryingly, Hong Kong publishers have been detained by the Chinese authorities, in some cases abducted and held against their will.
Tensions between the two states has grown since the handover of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China in 1997. Agitation is rising across mainland China regarding Hong Kong’s political system, culture and language.
Indeed, upon my arrival to the city there are news reports of clashes between thousands of demonstrators and police at a protest against Beijing’s attempts to stop independence activism.
The region’s past may be a quagmire of contradiction and imperialism, but the future of Hong Kong is yet to be written. As the most famous Hongkonger of them all, Bruce Lee, once said, “In the middle of chaos, lies opportunity.”
Victoria Peak: The highest point on Hong Kong Island offers one of the world’s truly epic skyline views. Take the Peak Tram up to the top, or, if you’re feeling energetic, the Morning Trail is a scenic stroll that will certainly work up a sweat.
Happy Valley Racecourse: Not a fan of gambling? Or horse racing? It doesn’t matter, as the vibrancy and carnival atmosphere of this 55,000-capacity racecourse will keep you entertained.
Kowloon Park: Tranquil Kowloon Park, previously an army fortress until 1970, offers relaxation through its Chinese garden, lotus pond and sheltered walkway. Visit during a Sunday when the locals converge to enjoy kung fu and lion dance performances.
A Symphony of Lights: Enjoy the free nightly multimedia show involving more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour. Named the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records.
Star Ferry: The Star Ferry has been carrying passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back since 1888. Have your camera at the ready as you experience the breathtaking Hong Kong cityscape from a unique vantage point on this short crossing.
Lan Kwai Fong: Lan Kwai Fong is Hong Kong’s most popular nightlife spot, home to almost 100 bars and restaurants. It’s eclectic; chic and raucous in equal measure. The ‘company men’ of the city’s financial district blow off some steam in this oasis of revelry amid a sea of neon. If you enjoy people-watching and a bit of boisterousness, this is the place for you.
Hong Kong Irish Festival: March sees a celebration of all things Irish in Hong Kong, with a month-long festival of events, taking in the best of Irish music, dance, art, sport and literature, as well as Irish food and a St Patrick’s Day parade.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Big Buddha: Tian Tan Buddha (pictured), also known as the Big Buddha, is located on Lantau Island. Take the cable car and climb 268 steps to this 34-metre tall statue, which was completed in 1993.
Wan Chai: Historic Wan Chai is one of Hong Kong’s party districts, as well as a busy commercial area. Although it is slightly rougher around the edges than nearby Central, Wan Chai nevertheless offers a look into another angle of Hong Kong life.
Stanley: Quite reminiscent of the south of France or New South Wales, Stanley provides an escape from the bustling city amid palm trees, cafés and boutiques. Visit the Stanley Market, cruise the promenade and chill out at Stanley Plaza–all this just 45 minutes from Central. Sit up front at the top deck of the number 6 bus from Central to avail of stunning views as you pass through Repulse Bay.
Mong Kok Stadium: If, like me, you’re a sports fanatic, check out a Hong Kong Premier League fixture at this quaint stadium with a great atmosphere.
The Verandah: Originally opened in 1933, a wealth of culinary styles are the signatures of The Verandah at The Peninsula (pictured). Hong Kong’s very first fine buffet concept, it is the ideal setting in which to enjoy breakfast while staying at the hotel.
Spring Deer: Spring Deer’s chefs serve northern Chinese food, offering authentic Beijing cuisine in a bustling atmosphere. The signature–and arguably standout–dish has to be the Beijing Peking duck.
Chesa: Opened in 1965, Chesa features regional Swiss specialities at The Peninsula. Being one of only two Swiss restaurants in Hong Kong, it holds a special place in the hearts of many.
Java Road Cooked Food Centre: Dine and drink with locals at what I can only describe as the local equivalent of a pub. Best to visit this large food court during peak times after Hongkongers finish a day’s work to enjoy the full experience.
Genki Sushi: The aim of Genki Sushi is to introduce a Japanese dining experience to the world while bringing sushi within the reach of everyone. There are a total of 40 outlets throughout Hong Kong, so you should come across at least one.
1941 Vietnam Cuisine: Cheap and cheerful spot serving traditional Vietnamese and other south east Asian cuisine.
The Flying Pan: The idea of an American-style diner in a melting pot of Asian cuisine like Hong Kong didn’t appeal greatly to me. But, after sampling The Flying Pan’s ranchero eggs, griddles and bottomless cups of coffee, I was won over. Open 24 hours.
Street food: The city’s numerous dai pai dongs are the essence of this metropolis. The quality of the street food on offer here surpasses any other Asian city I’ve ever visited. Street food is a massive part of the culture here and is not to be missed.
TIME TO IMBIBE
The Peninsula Bar: Classic cocktails served in a discreet, intimate setting at The Peninsula (pictured). The Bar’s whiskey list showcases an extensive selection of over 100 from around the globe.
The Jockey: If you’re planning a trip to the races, pencil in a visit to the self-named ‘biggest little pub in Happy Valley’.
Smugglers Inn: After exploring the markets of Stanley, why not check out this knockout pub on the waterfront, full of history and character (and the best jukebox in Hong Kong!).
Wooloomooloo Steakhouse: The rooftop bar at this eatery in Wan Chai provides panoramic views of Hong Kong. Located on the 31st floor of The Hennessy building, this bar is one of the pricier options in party spot Wan Chai.
The Wanch: Opened in 1987, The Wanch is Hong Kong’s longest-running live music venue. This unassuming bar is the undisputed home of live music in Hong Kong and runs music showcase nights and jam sessions. Live music every night, never any cover charge.
Club 71: Named after July 1st, a day strongly associated with pro-democracy demonstrations, Club 71 is a bohemian bar oozing cool, located in an alleyway just off the affluence of Hollywood Road. Very friendly and chilled, it’s the perfect place to kill a few hours away from the masses.
Cafe Nirvana: This no-nonsense bar located in the western district of Sheung Wan has a great range of draught beers amid a cosy setting with friendly service. Try to get there for happy hour, a staple in the Hong Kong drinking scene.
‘Club 7-Eleven’: Fancy a ramble and a beer? Relaxed public drinking laws allow the consumption of alcohol in most public spaces. ‘Club 7-Eleven’ is a term coined due to approximately 1,000 7-Eleven shops in every corner of the city serving booze at knock-down prices.