I RECALL my first encounter with Hong Kong clearly: the hair-raising decent between towering blocks of apartments into the old, now disused, Kai Tak airport, walking along Nathan Road in Kowloon, being mesmerised by the sound, colour and feel of my first brush with the Orient.
Later that afternoon I responded to a stranger, who had pointed to his wrist, by helpfully saying, “20-past-4” and, reacting to his incredulous look, by assuming he couldn’t speak English, I showed him the time on my watch. Then I felt like a hick-from-the-sticks when he rolled up his sleeves to display an armful of “copy watches” he was trying to sell me. Naïve, moi?
Walking through the streets of Kowloon still has that oriental feel, even after many years and a half-dozen subsequent visits, the noise, the colour and, yes, the offer of “copy watches” – I wondered if one of today’s street entrepreneurs was my original salesman. Probably not. Had he seen me approaching he would surely have run for cover.
Yes, Hong Kong is still THE place to find copy watches and you can still have a smart suit made to measure, including fittings – with time to spare on a weekend break – but you’re now as likely to see the windows of the world’s top label stores flaunting designer quality and wallet-intimidating luxury goods.
Even the car showrooms shun bog-standard entry-level models for up-market, bespoke-styled motors beloved of car magazines... and that includes the allegedly humble Mini. There is nothing humble about the Minis or the Rolls Royces gleaming in the Queen’s Road East showrooms.
Now the street clamour has a more mainland Chinese ring as China’s growing middle class flock to Hong Kong seeking out the best in luxury goods. The hotels, too, now have a wider, high-end quality on offer. The Four Seasons, overlooking iconic Victoria Harbour, is the only hotel in the world to have two 3* Michelin restaurants – Lung King Heen and Caprice. Having eaten in both, I can assure you they are richly deserved. But more of that later.
If luxury is your benchmark – and why not try British Airway’s new A380 flat-bed Club World seats to Hong Kong? – aircraft don’t have to be big to be beautiful. But this one is. With a menu which includes a stylish wine list and, on night flights, a Champagne Supper – three Champagnes served with an elegant meals including pan fried tenderloin, seared fillet of salmon or rigatoni pasta – if you are still hungry, there is Club Kitchen with small shop of snacks. Club World is the nearest you can get to hotel luxury in the sky.
You don’t have to be on the luxury trail to enjoy Hong Kong. This is the original East meets West turnpike and retains its ability to accommodate everyone with an inclusive welcome. There are lots of places to find and enjoy street food – just walk along the side streets and markets of Kowloon – and, on the Island, there’s a growing number of small wine bars and restaurants in Mid-Levels. Or if it’s a bustling night out with beer, food and people-watching you fancy, take a taxi to Lan Kwai Fong. I’d say let yourself be immersed into the atmosphere but, in truth, you won’t have any choice.
Hong Kong’s best bargain remains the iconic Star Ferry – a fleet of small ferries criss-crossing the harbour for a one way fare of 3.4HK$ [less than 30p] and, apart from linking the Island with Kowloon in minutes, it gives the best views of the skylines. Time your trip from Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side, at around 8pm and enjoy the spectacular laser light show across the skyscrapers. Another bargain is Hong Kong’s trams – known affectionately as “ding dings” – which let you soak up the atmosphere of Wan Chai and beyond for just of 2.30HK$ (around 18p).
For most visitors, the lasting image of Hong Kong is a crowded, bustling, high-rise metropolis with soaring cathedrals to finance and shopping but 40 per cent of its space is country parks, gardens and nature reserves. There are walks around The Peak and the city and a short ferry ride to Lantau which is a much larger island but with a population measured in thousands as against Hong Kong’s millions.
Also on Lantau is the remote fishing village of Tai O – Hong Kong’s tranquil corner, says Lonely Planet’s Great Escape book. And it is with fishermen’s houses on stilts, market stalls selling char-grilled abalone, dried squid and haam yue (pungent salted fish) to the clickety-clack of impromptu mah-jong games.
Explore its small temples, old Tai O Police Station – now a small luxury hotel - and, hopefully, white dolphins. Not far away is Po Lin Monastery. Enjoy a vegetarian meal overlooked by the Tian Tan Buddha – the largest seated Buddha in the world. If you enjoy heights and swinging then take a trip on the Ngong Ping cable-car for views of the Buddha, spectacular sights across the island and toward Macau - so I’m told.
If views without that thrill factor are your taste then, back on the Island, take the Peak Tram to the top and enjoy looking down on skyscrapers and the best view of the harbour. Grab hold of Hong Kong Tourism’s booklets on themed walks in the city and longer trails on nearby islands.
After all that adventure – as promised earlier – return to The Four Seasons, a 5* hotel with 6* service and some of the finest food to be found in Hong Kong. In Caprice, taste the finest French cuisine prepared under the watchful eye of manager Jeremy Evrard, whose knowledge of cheeses is encyclopaedic and, as you would expect, he knows the perfect wine to go with his choices.
In Lung King Heen enjoy hand-crafted Chinese food from legendary chef Chan Yan Tak who came out of retirement to open this restaurant and is the first Chinese chef to gain 3 Michelin stars – and still the only one to ever retain them. If he were not so modest he would be high on the celebrity chef list. He and sommelier Jina Shang they make every meal a banquet – and a delight for all the senses.
The Four Seasons is a top class hotel which never allows its status to get in the way of welcoming, friendly and efficient service and, if the “nothing is too much trouble” promise ever meant anything, it is here.
Hong Kong has always been one of Asia’s most exciting cities – it just seems to get better.
British Airways offer four nights at the 5* Four Seasons Hong Kong from £1,299 per person based on travel in February 2014. Includes flights from Manchester to Hong Kong (via Heathrow) and accommodation only. For reservations visit www.ba.com or call 0844 493 0758.
For more on the Four Seasons Hotel visit www.fourseasons.com/hongkong. Rates at start from £382 (including taxes) per room per night, based on two people sharing.
Hong Kong Tourist Board www.discoverhongkong.com
Additional information: Lonely Planet’s: “Hong Kong” and “Great Escapes” www.lonelyplanet.com
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