6 September 2013 by Tim Tan
Hong Kong makes an excellent stopover destination - there's so much to see and do crammed into a small space that you'll wish for longer to take it all in.
In equal parts relaxing and stimulating, what you'll encounter is a feast for the senses and a great way to break up a long flight. High finance and high fashion collide amidst the soaring skyscrapers. Complex and charming, the buzzing modern metropolis still remains rooted in its brackish, sultry past and, along with its rugged hills, wild coastline and beautiful countryside, provides a fascinating destination waiting to be explored.
Start with Hong Kong Island, the original territory ceded to the British; now the region's administrative hub, it has many of Hong Kong's best attractions, restaurants and shops as well as miles of sheltered beaches with a quiet, almost Mediterranean quality. Then head over to the Kowloon Peninsula on mainland China for traditional dining and markets as well as the vibrant contemporary charms of Tsim Sha Tsui.
Stay in Hong Kong
First opened in 1963, the Mandarin Oriental was revamped and reopened to a great fanfare. Rooms are luxurious and boast great sitting rooms; Favourite features include the Captain's Bar, Clipper's Lounge, Michelin Star rated Mandarin Grill and a spa with a decadent 1930s Shanghai ambience. Within the same group but more affordably priced, is The Excelsior, close to Causeway Bay, which has elegant and beautifully furnished rooms, award-winning restaurants and a well-equipped wellness area.
The Langham is a vibrant, refined hotel within easy walking distance of a number of key attractions. The hotel itself is accommodating and well-equipped, with spacious, elegant rooms, modern conveniences and first-class service. Dining is an experience in itself, with chinese and European fusion flavours available at L'Eclipse and authentic Cantonese cuisine on offer in the award-winning, Michelin-starred Tang Court. Work up an appetitie in the fitness centre or simply relax in the top class spa. Alternatively, retreat to the rooftop pool and surrounding sundeck to escape the hurly burly of Hong Kong.
Island Shangri La
The sumptuous Island Shangri La hotel is ideal for art lovers. The hotel has more than 700 Viennese chandeliers, lush Tai Ping carpets and more than 700 artworks and paintings on display. The crowning glory is the 16-storey high Chinese painting in the atrium that was drawn by 40 artists from Beijing. Rooms are generously proportioned and well-kitted out. They also have superb vistas, whilst the hotel's location, directly above Pacific Place means you're ideally placed to take advantage of Hong Kong's best shopping and entertainment complex.
Intercontinental Hong Kong
Internationally acclaimed as a top hotel for business and leisure, the Intercontinental Hong Kong boasts impeccable service, luxurious accommodation and world-class restaurants including SPOON by Alain Ducasse and NOBU Hong Kong. Rooms are contemporary and comfortable; the Presidential Suite is considered one of teh most spectacular in Asia and the largest in Hong Kong, with a vast terrace and infinity swimming pool overlooking the harbour.
Eat in Hong Kong
Pause at this prestigious, historic hotel for afternoon tea. A modern extension has somewhat spoiled the elegant outline of the grand dame but once inside it's all old world glamour and opulence. Tea is taken in the palatial lobby, which serves as an exclusive backdrop for finger sandwiches, scones and earl grey. In the evening, come to the hotel to dine at Gaddi's, the hotel's good, French haute cuisine restaurant, which has attentive service and a long wine list.
Tea houses & dim sum joints
If you're looking for local dining culture head to the Lin Heung Tea House, a gloriously out-of-time parlour in the Central District that makes no concessions for modernity or English but which serves authentic treats such as lotus paste buns and glutinous rice dumplings. The Luk Yu Tea House in Central is one of the city's oldest joints and similarly famous for its dim sum; for a late night treat, try the dim sum restaurants around Star Street, which stay open all night.
Designed by Philipe Starck, this avant-garde eaterie in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel continues to dominate the Hong Kong restaurant scene despite the rash of competition. The unusual, innovative setting is complemented by the views, food and glitzy clientele who come to see and be seen. Take a seat in the dress circle, enjoy a cocktail and order from the menu of modern European cuisine for a spectacular night out.
Drink in Hong Kong
Cocktails at sunset
Catch the spectacular sunsets and dramatic changing colours of dusk with a delicious drink at one of Hong Kong's many top hotel lounges; there are so many to choose from that you'll be spoilt for choice when it comes to picking viewpoints and cocktails to accompany the end of day.
Lan Kwai Fong
Many of Hong Kong's best bars are located in Lan Kwai Fong; head to this renowned party district to see how Hong Kong lets its hair down. Once a gathering place for hawkers and sellers, these days it's a hangout for expats who congregate in large numbers and spill out onto the street, especially around special occasions such as Halloween or New Year's Eve. Other burgeoning nightlife districts include SoHo, and Wan Chai.
Play in Hong Kong
The subway connecting Hong Kong island and Kowloon may be quicker but it's a poor cousin of the cheap and dramatic ferry crossing. From the Central Ferry Pier catch the Star Ferry to Tsim Sha Tsu. The crossing is short - less than 10 minutes - but from the upper deck you'll get a series of fantastic views of Victoria Harbour and skyscrapers backed by jungle-clad hills that also make for superb photo opportunities.
Once you disembark from the ferry, walk along the promenade for more alternative views of Central; look out too for the hand imprints of Hong Kong's film stars on the Avenue of Stars, stars who have contributed to Hong Kong becoming the Hollywood of the East; there's a life-size statue of action star Bruce Lee to watch out for as well.
Central boasts a range of cultural and historical attractions as well as a lot of very good shops. Take the world's longest outdoor covered escalator to check out the boutiques and small shops here. Alternatively go antique shopping on Hollywood Road. On the far side of the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui are a further range of boutiques, department stores and other retail outlets, all handily grouped under a single roof in Harbour City.
Once night falls, hit the rowdy Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon and amble through the stalls selling weird and wonderful foodstuffs, counterfeit goods and obscure potions. Have your fortune told, listen to opera singers busking and watch games of Chinese chess played out with intense concentration.
The Symphony of Lights
If you thought that Hong Kong was spectacular by day, wait for nightfall and check out the eye-catching, ecologically dubious nightly son et lumière show that involves more than 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour.
Dubbed the World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show, it involves coloured lights, lasers and searchlights that rake the sky in a synchronised spectacle, celebrating the energy of Hong Kong. Listen to the accompanying music and English narration on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront or ascend The Peak for an aerial view.
Explore Hong Kong
Start your day by taking a stroll through the nearest park to see how Hong kong wakes up and gets going. Head to Victoria Park, Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, or Kowloon Park if you're on the Kowloon side. Enjoy the tranquil atmosphere and watch elderly people gracefully practice Tai Chi; perhaps try a few moves yourself as classes are free.
Ride the historic 120 year old Peak Tram from Central to The Peak, at 552m the highest point on Hong Kong Island, to soak up the improbable, audacious skyline views from the top; sit on the right as you go up for the best scenery. Head to the summit, which has long been the city's most exclusive neighbourhood, to enjoy cooler air and spectacular cityscape views.
The anvil-shaped Peak Tower has a viewing platform called Terrace 428 whilst he nearby Peak Galleria has a free-entry observation deck as well. For leisurely unfolding panoramas, amble along the 2 mile Peak Circle Walk. Visit in the evening to enjoy the Symphony of Lights. There are restaurants up here too if you want to dine looking down on the city.
Cruise the South China Sea on a junk
People tend to think of Hong Kong as a city but it is in fact an archipelago of 260 islands. See the place as generations of sailors, traders and pirates once did and cruise around the harbour and outlying islands on a traditional junk, a former fishing vessel now modernised and equipped with a motor to carry visitors from place to place. Drop anchor somewhere remote and take a dip for an alternative experience.
It's a 50-minute ferry ride to Lantau Island, where the world's largest seated, outdoor bronze Buddha sits at the Po Lin Monastery. There's a cable car to take on the return journey that offers a different perspective and set of views. Alternatively, head over to Macau, which is an hour away by jetfoil and provides a fascinating fusion of Chinese and Mediterranean influences; it was a Portuguese outpost until being handed back to the Chinese in 1999 and still combines Macanese cuisine, colourful architecture, temples, churches and casinos in a flamboyant mix.