North American’s taking the jaunt across the Pacific to vacation in Hong Kong do so without an air of nonchalance. Direct flight times hover around 14 hours which translates into 3 meal services, 5 bottles of wine and 6 feature films. Some lucky travellers may find time to catch a few zzz’s or read a few pages from Jackie Collins latest but as soon as the plane screeches itself onto the tarmac the entire cabin lurches for the front door.
My return to Hong Kong would mark my second visit to China’s jaw dropping electrified urban shopping haven meets luxurious treat yourself hotspot. Most importantly, the food here is exceptionally good. My first trip to Hong Kong was in 2008, part of an Asian backpacking adventure which had me sleeping at the cheap-oh Chungking Mansions in Kowloon and eating myself silly on fantastic street food. Hong Kong Round 2 would be an entirely different experience…
I was picked up at the airport by a Mercedes limousine and a short thirty minute drive later found myself walking through the lobby of my new home, the recently opened Hotel Indigo located in the heart of Wan Chai. I checked into my room and upon arrival filmed a video tour of my suite which offered a meticulously hand crafted floral mosaic, comfy king sized bed, a cutesy meets kitschy design aesthetic featuring goldfish bathmat and tai chi statue. The cherry on my sundae was rolling out of bed each morning and pulling the curtains back to stare out of the wrap around window, stunning views overlooking Wan Chai and its bustling Market.
Beyond the bedroom, I frequented two other spaces at Hotel Indigo. Breakfasts each morning took place on the 2nd floor and offered a plethora of options with a nod to east meets west. One could easily eat a traditional asian inspired meal including a pot of hot jasmine tea, bowl of congee and selection of local tropical fruit or indulge in the flavours of home with a foamy latte, french pastries, hash browns, bacon, sausage and omelette. Hopping on the elevator to the top floor guests enjoy a fabulous rooftop pool and jacuzzi tub which offer spectacular views of Frank Gehry’s Opus, the most expensive condominium in Hong Kong. The pool is for thrill seekers as its floor is built with glass allowing swimmers to stare down at the traffic and pedestrians below.
My itinerary in Hong Kong was a press trip coordinated by Hong Kong Tourism and included three other Canadian journalists. The following are a collection of my favourite experiences, a “must do list” for your next jaunt over the Pacific.
Victoria Peak: Guests start by clambering onto a tram which climbs up the mountain at a steady pace. Once at the top the panoramic view induces a jaw drop (and cameras are quickly flung out of pockets). We were blessed with a blue sky that morning so the bustling harbour and its ferries along the skyline were perfectly illuminated and ready for a photocall.
Repulse Bay Beach: Those looking to work on their tan will find heaven in Hong Kong at Repulse Bay Beach. Interestingly enough in 1841, the bay was used as a pirate base and caused serious concern to foreign merchant ships trading with China. Today tourists and locals alike throw on their bikinis and speedos and enjoy the bays soft sand and warm ocean waves.
The Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival: I’ll never forget the evening I spent at the Hong Kong’s Wine and Dine Festivals 2013 Opening Night. It so happened that it was on the eve of Halloween so was happy to snap a few photos of oenophiles wearing Hello Kitty masks and devil horns. The Festival takes place each year in the late Fall with much fan fare. Tickets sell out and throngs of locals wait in massive lines eager to sip and nibble their way through the festivals pavilions. This year the event was hosted at the New Central Harbourfront, offering guests stunning views of the cities iconic skyscrapers which glowed neon across the night sky. Opening night launched with a massive pop/dance troupe singing a rendition of Gangnam Style followed by the plume of fireworks.
The food offerings were inconsistent, catering to those with a pristine palate (French foie gras and truffles, Spanish jamon, Italian parmigiano) as well as a few head scratching booths offering pyramids of boiled hot dogs which sat smiling in their buns. The wine offering was largely focussed on bottles from France, most notably Bordeaux as they were co-sponsoring the event. It all makes sense, the Chinese have fond affections for the French Brand, whether showing off a new LV bag or Chanel sunglasses, the wines of France are in fashion here and indicate quality and luxury to a population that is just beginning to appreciate the term terroir. No shocker to read that 40% of the wines imported into Hong Kong are French. The Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival may not showcase the world’s most prestigious wines or creme de la creme culinary creations but for locals living in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, offers an unique opportunity to enjoy a few sips and nibbles al fresco under the stars.
Get Yourself an Education: Culinary tourists have plenty of opportunities to enjoy an edible education when visiting Hong Kong. At Easy 123 Cooking Studio guests sign up for a wide selection of courses, all of which take place in a spacious studio kitchen hosted by a patient and always smiling chef. We popped by for a Dim Sum class where we made both savoury and sweet creations. If you prefer to get out of the classroom and strap on your walking shoes, first time visitors are encouraged to sign up for a Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tour. We enjoyed an afternoon whisking our way through Central and Sheung Wan neighbourhoods where we sampled a plethora of local Hong Kong delicacies: wonton noodles, barbecued pork rice, sugar cane juice, tea, dim sum and sweet egg tart.
A Symphony of Lights: HK’s famous public multimedia show inclues more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour and is named as the “World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by Guiness World Records. The best spot to view this nightly spectacle is along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront by the Avenue of the Stars. On my first visit to Hong Kong I’ll never forget standing by the iconic statue of Bruce Lee while watching the cities skyscrapers come to life. For those with sturdy sea legs hop on the Aqua Luna, one of Hong Kong’s last remaining Chinese junk boats. Grab a glass of wine or bottle of beer from the bar and sip the night away as the moody glow show shoots across the cities harbour.
Treat Yourself: I spent the last day of my trip relaxing at the Grand Hyatt’s stellar Plateau Spa. Located on the 11th floor, the Plateau offers privacy, seclusion and an escape from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Award winning treatments are conducted in luxurious private rooms with en suite bathrooms that offer jaw dropping views of the Hong Kong skyline. I spent one hour indulging in the spa’s signature massage treatment, “The Plateau” which uses a combination of Shiatsu, Thai and Swedish techniques. Guests are able to select one of three essential oils for their treatment: Relax (lavender, frankincense and geranium), Flow (safflower, litsea and citrus, and Detox (rosemary, geranium and marjoram). After the massage enjoy a hot pot of tea before heading out into the sun where you’ll find yourself at the hotel’s spacious rooftop pool. Have yourself a soak, you deserve it!
Sip and Nibbles: Food was of course the the focus of my trip and am so happy I had the opportunity to dine at some of the cities newest gems and old favourites. Highlights from the table include Lei Garden, Budaoweng Hot Pot, Summer Palace, Bistro du Vin, One Harbour Road, Sorriso Italian and Duddell’s for a sampling of some of HK’s very best sips and nibbles.
My visit to Hong Kong was a press trip coordinated by Hong Kong Tourism. Flights, accommodation, restaurant visits and activities featured in this destination guide were complimentary.