Few aircraft descents offer as spectacular a view as the one into Hong Kong. Sandwiched between sea and mountains, Hong Kong is in many ways an ‘in-between’ city juxtaposing its Colonial past with its Chinese future; its Eastern traditions with its Western exuberance. Wealth—the making and spending of it— is a national pursuit. Naturally, luxury travelers have many pickings.
Where to Stay
The Four Seasons has, hands-down, the best location in town. Being within the IFC (International Finance Center) complex means that you potentially can conduct all business without stepping outdoors. Ask the concierge for a local SIM card (everyone does), bespoke tailors or Chinese translators. Rooms have two décor options: western or the more distinctive Chinese. Choose Chinese. The chef’s table at Caprice is the place to see and be seen. Doubles from $480
If you like the buzz, bars and bistros of trendy Lan Kwai Fong, several boutique hotels have sprung up there. The new LKF has 95 rooms, spare modern décor and abundant perks— free cocktails for one—making it a favorite among young Turks. Doubles from $320. Slightly easier on the wallet are the nearby Lan Kwai Fong hotel and its sister property, Central Park (don’t get put off by the name). Self-consciously hip, these boutique hotels benefit from their subdued Chinese décor and well-chosen Eastern artifacts. Doubles from $250. Philippe Starck’s Jia hotel is the older original on which the others are modeled. The décor is a tad frilly for Starck but the service “with a touch of sass” is a refreshing change from Eastern obsequiousness. Opia serves the best oyster shots in town.
The flagship Mandarin Oriental reopened last year after a $410 million renovation. Removing the balconies has made the rooms larger but thankfully the traditional wood décor is preserved. Irish linen, iPod docking stations and Hermes toiletries swaddle even the most jaded. Man Wah serves refined Cantonese and Pierre Gagnaire’s outpost dazzles. Doubles from $415.
The Landmark Mandarin Oriental (“Landmark” to locals) trumpets its large rooms by marking them by size– L400 or L900– cutesy but mildly annoying. The rooms themselves with rainforest showers and ylang-ylang toiletries are quite wonderful. Adam Tihany’s usual whimsy is absent from Amber’s decor but the African-accented European cuisine titillates. Doubles from $500.
Where to Eat
Perhaps natural for an island crammed with people, Hong Kong thrives on the words ‘private’ and ‘exclusive.’ Restaurants are so last-generation. Even private kitchens are so yesterday. The latest craze is private drinking bars. M1nt is the newest members-only drinking club, modeled along the London original. Blue light, sleek furniture and great drinks make this a worthy inheritor of the China Club mantle of exclusivity. If you can’t get into M1nt, walk next door to the brand-new Cheese Room where you can sniff out a Stinking Bishop or Ticklemore Goat to enjoy with your tipple. Annexed is the older Press Room which serves great seafood platters and steaks. The health-conscious can try Life for organic all-natural food in a bistro environment with a bohemian pace. Also in Soho is chef-architect Frank Sun’s massively popular Tribute which serves fresh Californian cuisine. Private kitchens or “sifangcai” abound in Central. These unlicensed eateries without signs serve a set menu within a home. Hong Kongers like them because they offer unique family recipes or seasonal dishes at a lower cost. Yellow Door and Southbank on Pottinger Street are popular but check with local friends for their choices. Always book in advance and take cash.
Hong Kong serves possibly the best spectrum of Chinese food on the planet so it would be a shame to leave the island without trying an egg tart, roast pork or for the more adventurous, stinky tofu, sautéed frogs or braised snake. They can usually be had at the hawker stalls or the floating restaurants off Aberdeen. For refined Cantonese in exquisite surroundings, try Yan Toh Heen. Wyndham Street is home to a number of funky restaurants like Pickled Pelican, Frog Face Fish, Wagyu and Zest as well as Yun Fu which serves contemporary Mongolian in a dreamy lantern-filled setting. If you can handle fiery Szechwan food, taste the chili chicken at Shu Hu Ju on Peel Street.
For contemporary Chinese with a twist, try Bo Innovation where sunglass-wearing Chef Alvin Leung makes such unusual dishes as scrambled pigeon eggs with truffles and Iberian ham in his open kitchen. Baci serves tasty Italian in informal surroundings. The hottest new restaurant in town however is Harlan Goldstein’s H One, just a couple of floors above his original Harlan’s within the IFC. Reserve in advance and be prepared to spend for giant steaks and fresh seafood. Wine-lovers should head to Gaddi’s at the Peninsula, Petrus at the Shangri-la or Galera a Robuchon much farther a field at the Hotel Lisboa in Macau for their extensive wine lists.
Where to Shop
To sample a flavor of shopping in Hong Kong, skip the department stores and head instead to the night markets in Kowloon. Jade Market has some 500 stalls selling jade of different colors, vintage and authenticity. Make sure you take along a knowledgeable local friend if you are planning to buy anything big even if the vendor offers so-called Certificates of Authenticity. The Ladies Market with its hanging brassieres, lingerie, wigs and shoes is fun to wander to and satisfy fetishes if you have any. The flower and goldfish markets in Mong Kok are a good way to understand the Chinese preoccupation with feng shui, aquariums and exotic fish.
Those in the know take the train across the border to Lo Wu station in Shenzen. Right after immigration (visa-on-arrival) is Luo Hu Commercial City: six floors of computers, electronics, fake handbags, chess sets and souvenirs. There are tailors on the top floor who can stitch an Armani suit that you point at in their catalog for a few hundred dollars. The latest American DVDs are available for a dollar and fake brand names galore. Stop for a foot reflexology massage if the going gets tough. And hang tight to your purse.
Hong Kong used to carry some funky T-shirts (“I came, I saw, I took Valium”). The most interesting ones are at the upscale districts of Tsim sha tsui, Causeway Bay and Wan Chai that cater to savvy foreign tourists. For standard “Hong Kong” T-shirts at cheap, cheap prices head to Sai Yeung Choi street.
Local expats end up at Lane Crawford for a wide selection of menswear from around the world. This is the place to get your favorite Australian and Asian brands. Break off for a salad and cappuccino at Café Costa within the store. Seibu offer a more boutique selection like Nuddie jeans and cool T-shirts. Get a bespoke suit tailored in 24 hours or less with Sam’s Tailor, where everyone from Clinton to Kate Moss has had their measurements taken.
And finally, don’t leave Hong Kong without seeing hometown-boy Wong Kar-Hai’s action movie