FRAGRANT HARBOR

News and Views of the Big Lychee

by Barbara Barton Sloane

 

Hong Kong means fragrant harbor, and the narrow body of water which separates Hong Kong Island from the Kowloon Peninsula is known as Victoria Harbor – one of the deepest natural maritime ports in the world.  This harbor is Hong Kong’s most famous tourist attractions and ranks as the best skyline in the world.  Four of the 15 tallest skyscrapers in the world are here.

 

In 1983, Hong Kong was reclassified from a British crown colony to a dependent territory.  In 1984, the two countries signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreeing to transfer sovereignty to the People’s Republic of China, which transfer occurred at midnight on July 1, 1997.

 

Today Hong Kong is a cultural gem, a living museum that encompasses 5,000 years of history. Along every street, down every lane, you’re sure to find the true flavors of the city, from world-class hotels, restaurants and shopping to traditional old markets exploding with brilliant colors and unique goods that, at times, border on the outrageous and strange. Looking to buy a pet bird or snake, anyone?  On a recent visit, I tried to explore as many facets of this gem as possible.

 

Retail Therapy? Yes!

I heard the siren call of Harbour City.  Naturally, I had to answer it!  With 2 million square feet, this is the largest shopping mall in Hong Kong with over 700 shops, including Gucci. Pucci, et al, and more than 50 food and beverage outlets, 2 cinemas, 3 hotels and the Gallery by the Harbour, the only art gallery of its kind.

 

Spiritual Food

One of the finest and oldest traditional-style temples, Man Mo, built in 1848 during the early years of British rule, is a stunning architectural structure which aptly reflects its historical roots. During the 1900s, it’s said that the locals came here to solve disputes. Today, though no longer used for this purpose, believers come for a number of other reasons.  Upon entering the temple, I found the air thick with aromatic smoke and was told to look up at the ceiling.  My guide explained that the huge bell-shaped coils of incense  hanging from the ceiling are burned by devotees in hopes of attracting the attention of the gods and that the incense is food for the spirits that have gone before.  Asked if I wanted to know what my future held, my response was a quick “of course!”  I was led to one of the bamboo cylinders found throughout the temple and told to shake out a fortune stick.  The stick was then translated for me: “You will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger...”  Just kidding, nothing quite that exciting but all good, just the same.

 

A Peek at the Peak

This is one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions as it offers two thrills in one.  First, getting to The Peak was an unforgettable trip via the Peak Tram which has been in operation since 1888. There’s nothing in the world quite like it.  Pulled by steel cables, it climbs 1,224 feet on an incline so steep that the buildings we passed looked like they were leaning at a 45 degree angle. Then, reaching the top and peering down - vertigo aside - we were awe-struck by the postcard-perfect views over the entire city, the harbor and the mountains beyond.

 

Light Fantastic

Every night at 8pm, the city puts on what the Guinness Book of World Records calls the largest and most spectacular light and multimedia show. The Symphony of Lights is choreographed perfectly to music, and plays on some 40 mile-high skyscrapers on both sides of Victoria Harbour. The facades of the buildings are decked out in lights that, at the flick of a switch, glow in a myriad of colors and totally depict Hong Kong’s dynamic pulse. We saw this show from a boat bobbing in the harbor.  Another terrific vantage point: the Avenue of the Stars where, in addition to the light show, one can wander among plaques, hand prints and statues honoring celebrities from the silver screen.

 

One evening we headed to Lan Kwai Fong, the city’s most famous bar and club district. Several years ago this was an unremarkable neighborhood but today it’s emerged as the most popular entertainment area on the Island.  We found a happening scene of young movers and shakers, Chinese and foreign, spilling out of doorways and looking like they were in a fashion shoot, the gals in stilettos and minis, the metrosexual guys in tailored suits.  My friends and I squeezed into a tiny, closet-space bar and sat on one another’s laps on a small sofa while drinking creamy, brightly colored drinks that contained we know not what.  But who cares - they were good!

 

A Gourmet Paradise

Thanks to its diverse mix of cultures, Hong Kong has developed a much-deserved reputation as one of the world’s top dining cities.  Excellent Chinese restaurants are ubiquitous throughout the city but many other cultures and tastes are equally well-represented.

 

Long renowned as one of Hong Kong’s favorite dining rooms with an exciting adaptation of traditional grill specialties, the Mandarin Grill at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel offers progressive gastronomy from the talented Executive Chef Uwe Opocensky.  The room is flooded with natural light and spacious seating makes it a haven for Hong Kong power lunches and some of its boldest business deals.

 

Since its opening in 2003, Spoon by Alain Ducasse at the InterContinental Hotel is one of Hong Kong’s and Asia’s most sought-after dining experiences. This restaurant features contemporary French cuisine inspired by one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. M. Ducasse says “my inspiration comes from observing how people are living and then invent the food that corresponds.”  His cuisine comes directly from this philosophy that a restaurant should reflect society and its perpetual evolution.  In this, Spoon succeeds admirably.

 

Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons Hotel commands spectacular harbor views from its 4th floor location serving contemporary Cantonese cuisine at its best. The only Chinese restaurant in the world with 3 Michelin stars, it is hushed, exclusive and headed by the only Chinese chef to ever receive this prestigious accolade, Executive Chef Chan Yan Tak.  Suggestion: try the Australian winter black truffles – a rare and very special delicacy.

 

Lobster Bar & Grill at the Island Shangri-La Hotel pairs the perfect social ambience with an impressive and tantalizing range of appetizers, main courses and desserts.  You’ll find a vibrant social scene and a bar that features live music six nights a week.  True to its name, there are some innovative and appealing lobster dishes to sample including a lobster tartar and lobster bisque appetizer.  Indulge in a dessert of caramel and manjari chocolate Chantilly topped with Tahitian vanilla ice cream.  A happy ending.

 

Top Deck, situated on the top level of the renowned Jumbo Floating Restaurant, opened in 2005 as a restaurant and entertainment venue offering an experience that encapsulates Hong Kong lifestyle – casual, fun and internationally appealing.  The restaurant focuses on sushi and oyster bars and fresh seafood as well as Thai, Indian, Japanese and Italian dishes.

 

Rest in the Best

You’ll forgive me if I delve into a bit more detail than usual but it’s a fact: Hong Kong’s five-star hotels are really more like 50-star, in a class by themselves, with the most exceptional service, design, comfort and over-the-top luxury.

 

The InterContinental Hong Kong is prized for its spectacular views and is also home to Asia’s most spectacular suite – Presidential, of course.  It boasts the best location and best views in Hong Kong. With 5 bedrooms, and at 7,000 sq. feet, it is the largest Presidential Suite in Hong Kong.  The cost is $87,000 per night but before you cross it off your agenda, let me ease your mind. You see, that cost is in Hong Kong dollars. In US dollars it’s a mere $11,183.  Now that’s better, isn’t it? But perhaps it’s best to leave the Presidential Suite to presidents, yes?  For we mere mortals, a stay in a lovely room at this deluxe property is, indeed, affordable and something you should definitely consider.

 

The Mira Hong Kong embodies an intriguing, eclectic ambience.  The Mira Club allows for private check-in, check-out and is an inviting room to have an evening cocktail while gazing at the stunning view from floor to ceiling windows.  Rooms are meticulously styled by famed lifestyle guru Colin Cowie. The Mira’s restaurant serves fresh “a la minute” Japanese specialties. The restaurant’s name is Yamm.  I prefer to remember it as Yumm!

 

Harbour Plaza North Point.  Calling all shopaholics. Listen up: This property is conveniently located just five minutes from Cityplaza, one of the most all-encompassing shopping malls in the world.  There’s even a complimentary shuttle bus service to many tourist locations that are on your “must do” list.  The Harbour Club floors offer complimentary breakfast, pressing service, complimentary drinks from the mini bar and other neat services delivered by a highly caring and professional staff.  Their restaurant, Hoi Yat Heen serves Cantonese cuisine in a trendy and colorful atmosphere.

 

Hotel Lan Kwai Fong is located in the happening heart of the same-named district. Since its opening it has garnered many awards, including Best Business Hotel Design, Best Boutique Hotel and Best Boutique Hotel in Asia Pacific by Business Traveler magazine.  Its Azure Restaurant Slash Bar is acclaimed as “one of Hong Kong’s best restaurants” by Hong Kong Tatler.

 

Harbour Grand Hotel is a tranquil sanctuary in this bustling city.  They offer some attractive packages: the Grand Weekend Escape, including spa treatments, a deluxe Harbour View room and a choice of dining in any of the hotel’s five restaurants. The seductively-named Grand Romance package includes a 4-course dinner at the acclaimed Le 188 Restaurant and Lounge, massages a deux by the harbor and round-trip airport transfer.

 

And finally there’s the incomparable Island Shangri-La.  I was instructed to check in on the 56th Floor.  Anticipating this somewhat unusual procedure, I gasped as I stepped into The Horizon Club, the Shangri-La’s cloud-high reception area.  The atmosphere was dream-like with breathtaking views of Victoria Harbor and stunning staff in traditional Chinese dress softly floating by, welcoming with warm smiles and offering assistance.  I was inspired seeing the world’s largest Chinese silk painting, ‘The Great Motherland of China,” that spans 16 stories in the hotel’s atrium. This award-winning hotel is located in the heart of the city’s Central District.  My room had a wonderful view of the city and skyline and a pillowed bed that beckoned after my long (very long) flight from JFK.  This spectacular property houses its own fleet of limousines, including a Rolls Royce Phantom!  So when did my beguiling Shangri-La dream-state end?  Not until the very moment of departure.

 

Let there be no doubt, Hong Kong is a world-class city at the crossroads of a new Asia, embracing the past, the future, the traditional and the avant-garde, thereby creating a rich tapestry of one-of-a-kind, memorable experiences.  With its myriad diversity of offerings, the Big Lychee is beginning to look and feel an awful lot like the Big Apple.  And that, in the words of a famous lifestyle guru, is a good thing.

 

 

If You Go:

Hong Kong Hotel Finder:

 

The InterContinental Hong Kong – www.hongkong-ic.intercontinental.com

The Mira – www.themirahotel.com

Harbour Plaza North Point – www.harbour-plaza.com

Hotel Lan Kwai Fong – www.lankwaifongotel.com

Harbour Grand Hotel – www.harbourgrand.com/hongkong

Island Shangri-La – www.Shangri-La.com

 

Continental Airlines – www.continental.comAll my delightful pampering didn’t come to an abrupt end as – flying Continental Airlines – the trip was about as nice as flying for 16 hours non-stop can possibly be and the transition from high-end Hong Kong luxury was made smooth and pleasant.

 

Photos courtesy of Sloane Travel Photography