With numerous daily direct flights between Dubai and Hong Kong, we are always surprised that more people don’t make the journey from the UAE for a few days of great food, activities, history and nightlife. Hong Kong is about so much more than commerce and the Rugby 7s, so I asked our friends at Lightfoot Travel to give us some tips on how best to spend your time there if you want to wander a little off-the-beaten-track. Lightfoot has an office in Hong Kong, so these are recommendations from people who genuinely live and love it 24-7. But first, a few impressions from Dubai-based Director Matt Vlemmiks, who just spent time at one of the finest hotels in Hong Kong, the Mandarin Oriental.
The inaugural hotel in the now-iconic Mandarin Oriental portfolio, there is still a healthy dose of grandeur and nostalgia attached to this Hong Kong institution. Its doors were thrown open as simply “The Mandarin” in the mid-60s, and it’s been the Hong Kong hotel of choice for luxury business and leisure travelers for most of the years since. This heritage is visible but never forced in many of the public areas, from the famous Captain’s Bar to the initial welcome in the largely unchanged lobby, and the old school British food and fine whiskies in The Chinnery. Many of the rooms offer this more traditional, almost colonial style, of course combined with all the facilities and attentive service you would expect from a hotel of this standing.
But Hong Kong is an ultra-modern city, and this hotel perfectly combines the old with the new. The Harbour View rooms have gone for a more contemporary feel to complement the outstanding views; M Bar is a swanky, 25th floor cocktails and tapas haunt with sweeping vistas of the skyscape; and the Café Causette thrums each morning to business breakfast meetings, as surrounding office workers decide this is the best place to start their day. This betrays another great attraction – the hotel’s unbeatable central location, on Connaught Street, right in the heart of the business and commercial action, but only a short walk from the markets, temples, restaurants and bars that will keep any holiday maker happy. And the harbour views from the upper floors are unforgettable!
How to Spend Your Time in Hong Kong
Head to Aberdeen Harbour and hire a traditional sampan to take you through the floating city of Chinese fishing boats. This gives you a great glimpse into a fascinating way of local life that has remained unchanged for decades.
The Aqua Luna is a refitted traditional junk boat. Most tourists do the cruise up and down the harbour, which is now a bit old-hat. At the weekend however, you can take the boat around to Stanley on the south side of Hong Kong Island. It’s a lovely cruise that lasts about 90 minutes, during which you get to see a quieter side of life in Hong Kong. Disembark in Stanley, browse the markets, have lunch by the sea and then get the double decker bus back to the hotel after a rewarding day out.
Hong Kong is renowned for being littered with Michelin starred restaurants, but you need to book months ahead for a prime time table and have limitless funds at your disposal to really appreciate them. For people who are here on a weekday and a slightly more modest budget, look at a lunch reservation instead. Most of the greats have excellent set menus that allow you to experience the incredible food without the mortgage-sized bill at the end, plus you can book just days in advance.
There are so many excellent local eateries that it is impossible to single out just one. So looking further afield for inspiration, ABC Italian Restaurant is an appealing oddity in the middle of the Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre. The food is hearty and satisfying, but the contrast of eating at a place with checkered table clothes and sipping red wine in the middle of the crazy and traditional cooked food centre is something very special.
The Central Business District is full of glitzy rooftop bars, but Sugar, located on the east side of Hong Kong Island in East Hotel, is quite a hidden gem. With an expansive terrace overlooking Kowloon and an impressive cocktail list, this is a great alternative place for sundowners.
Hong Kong With Kids:
Hong Kong has a reputation as something of a decadent playground for adults, but there is so much to keep younger visitors entertained. Stanley is great for using a scooter, running up and down the sea front with lots of child friendly restaurants along the way. Repulse Bay also has amenable restaurants and a beach for kids to run around on, plus playgrounds within the eyeline of the restaurants so parents can stay vigilant. Ryze Trampoline Park is always a big hit with kids of just about all ages, while the Marine Museum at Star Ferry Pier is very interactive and perfect for indoor fun in the colder months. And for something a little different, the Wet Markets (essentially fresh meat stalls) on Chun Yeung Street are great fun for youngsters with an interest in the gory and macabre!