Hong Kong, China
When to go
Hong Kong is a year-round destination, but the best time to visit climate-wise is during the cooler period between September and March. Go in late January to mid-February to catch the Chinese New Year celebrations.
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PlanesHong Kong is one of Asia’s busiest hubs. Most of the world’s top international airlines fly to Hong Kong International Airport weekly, if not daily, and it regularly tops the charts in the ‘world’s best airport’ awards (www.hongkongairport.com). Once you have landed, zoom into the city on the Airport Express train service – it takes about half an hour (www.mtr.com.hk).
TrainsArrive by train from the mainland and capture some of the romance of bygone travel. The Kowloon-Canton Railway Corporation (KCRC) runs regular trains into and out of Hong Kong, as well as around the New Territories (www.kcrc.com). Excellent in both value and efficiency, the MTR subway system is a great way to zip back and forth between Kowloon, Central and Causeway Bay (www.mtr.com.hk).
AutomobilesRenting a car is largely unnecessary thanks to efficient public transport and a glut of affordable taxis. Moreover, roads are frequently clogged with traffic and the one-way systems can be intimidatingly labyrinthine to the uninitiated.
TaxisTaxis are cheap and plentiful in Hong Kong. Be warned: while in certain neighbourhoods, such as Central, civilized folk patiently queue for their cabs, in others, you have to fight like Tyson to get through the door. Unless you have a huge life insurance policy, avoid the cute but crazy minibuses. While routes are defined, there are no regular stops except a few designated start and end points. Passengers flag down the buses, which are usually careering down roads at bewildering speeds, and yell out to the driver to stop when they want to get off.
Hong Kong International Airport is one of the busiest in the world. Its home airline is Cathay Pacific, which flies non-stop to HK from London Heathrow five times a day, and four times a week from Manchester, making Hong Kong more accessible than ever before.
Cathay Pacific flew home with the ‘World’s Best Airline’ award from air-travel quality monitor Skytrax in 2014 – the fourth time it has done so. It was likely helped by its spacious, extra recline-y Premium Economy Class seats (Smith approves, largely because we’re suckers for a champagne welcome and an in-seat ‘cocktail table’).
Style Celestial sleek
Setting Admiralty eyrie
Best for Sticklers for service
Our reviewer says ‘It feels more like staying at your best friend’s sleek-and-chic, Asian-style pad in Los Angeles, complete with jars of ‘help yourself’ cookies and sweeties, an iPod Touch, palatial (for Hong Kong) spa-style bathroom and – nice detail – complimentary drinks.’
Style Futuristic city slicker
Setting Slap-bang Central
Best for Night owls and party people
Our reviewer says ‘Ducking through an almost-secret door, we find Ovolo Central, a small but tall modern building in Central. Its stylish, sultry lobby is decked with alien chrome amoebas – otherwise known as futuristic ovoid wall art – that make us feel quite at home. The staff are friendly, young and cool and proud of their hotel, which adds to the feel-good factor.’
This may not be a city associated with getting back to nature but among Hong Kong’s best-kept secrets are its spectacular hiking trails. Set aside a whole day, pack a picnic and tackle The Dragon’s Back. This 8.5km trail runs from just outside To Tei Wan village to Tai Long Wan and takes you over some of the most gorgeous landscapes you’d never expect to see. At 284 metres above the bay and with panoramas stretching for miles, the trail’s viewpoints ensure you’ll have an envy-inducing Instagram feed. If a six-hour schlep sounds like too much legwork, you can also get your fix of jaw-dropping views via the Ngong Ping 360 – a 5.7km ride in a glass-floored cable car from Tung Chung over the water and past the Big Buddha of Tian Tan to Ngong Ping on Lantau island.
1. The world is your octopus. London may have its Oyster, but Hong Kong’s multipurpose Octopus card blows it out of the water. The contactless card doesn’t just get you around on public transport; it can also be used to pay in supermarkets, carparks, vending machines, convenience stores and cinemas.
2. It’s colder on the inside. Hong Kong loves air-con. Sometimes a bit too much. Carry an extra layer whatever the weather. No matter how cosy they look, some venues (even buses) may be almost Antarctic
3. You’ll need more than a T-shirt. Hong Kong weather is unpredictable, often starting the day with a thick fog, bringing out baking sunshine by lunch and finishing with a light afternoon storm. Packing the appropriate wardrobe will require more than cabin baggage.
4. Don’t worry; be appy. Smartphone obsession is global, but Hong Kong takes it to a new (Candy Crush) level. To ensure you fit in – and discover even more of the hidden side of Hong Kong – download My Hong Kong Guide, a nifty app that lets you plan and share your itinerary, browse suggestions from bloggers and artists and, ingeniously, discover what’s going on around you just by shaking your phone.
5. Public transport is an adventure in itself. In need of an adrenaline rush? Hop on one of those cute PLBs (Public Light Buses). Nothing perks you up quite like hurtling through the streets with no discernible sense of direction or end point. Prefer to take it sedate and scenic? Jump aboard a ‘ding ding’, one of the flat-fare double-decker trams that have been pootling their way around Hong Kong Island for the last 100 years. Needless to say, both accept Octopus.
The tradition of the street stall and the dai pai dong roadside eatery (as well as the hundreds of varieties of snacky steamed dim sum dishes that many of them sell) is an essential part of the city’s culinary heritage. The variety on offer is enormous, but there are a few staples, both sweet and savoury, to look out for…
• Egg waffles (gai daan jai) Sweet egg-based pancake batter grilled in bubbled moulds.
• Pineapple Bun (bo lo baau) Hot, sweet, melt-in-the-mouth bread with a crunchy crust (and no pineapple involved).
• Egg Tart (daan tat) A colonial-legacy relative of the Portuguese pastel de nata egg-custard pastry found on Macau, but made with lard and without the browned-off top.
• Curried fish balls (yu dan) A lightly spiced blend of fish, flour and flavourings, boiled in curry sauce and served on skewers.
• Stinky tofu (chau dau fu) Pungently scented squares of fermented tofu, deep-fried and served with chilli sauce.
• Cheong fun A dim sum dish of steamed sheets of rice noodle, rolled and served on sticks, sometimes stuffed with meat or fish, and served with sweet, sesame-laced sauce.
Each neighbourhood has its own specialities. In mall-‘n’-market haven Mong Kok, you’ll find stalls on every corner. Fish balls and crimson barbecued pork are highlights, and the air around Dundas Street is fragrant with the inimitable aroma of stinky tofu. In Yau Ma Tei, the Temple Street Night Market is the best place in the city to be hungry in the evening. Here, beside the electronics stalls and trinket sellers, street restaurants offer visitors everything from fresh steamed scallops to whole roast pigeon.
By day, make a beeline for Graham Street in Central. Roll up to the junction with Stanley Street after 11am, and enjoy some of the freshest, most authentic cuisine Hong Kong has to offer. And, should you visit Tai O on Lantau Island, seek out the egg-ball man of Market Street. You won’t regret it.
If you fancy a little help navigating your way around the street-food scene, enlist the expert guidance of Hong Kong Foodie Tours. They’ll take you on a total-immersion tasting tour of Hong Kong’s culinary heritage.
Style Home-grown Hong Kong
Setting Colourful Kowloon
Best for Serenity seekers
Our reviewer says ‘Ladies and gentlemen, if you’re going to do Hong Kong in style, this is where it’s at. Our boudoir, while not enormous, is beautiful. Sweeping views across the entire length of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island; a grandiose bathroom, decadent (and free!) minibar, and the most divine bed I have ever felt. Do I jump up and down on it giggling hysterically? Yes. I do.’
Style Sleek boutique, Starck-style
Setting Hong Kong Island shopping hub
Best for Design aficionados
Our reviewer says ‘J Plus is not your ordinary bolthole. For a start, its 54 rooms are located in a 25-storey former office block. Transcending its humble origins, it has been redesigned by French design guru Philippe Starck – hence the impeccably stylish lobby.’
Thanks to its global-melting-pot status, HK has long been luring in some of the biggest hitters of the chef world, and the refined tastes of its affluent residences have seen some of the world’s headline restaurants spring up in its skyscrapers. Read on for a few long-standing Smith favourites.
Lung King Heen
Set in the Four Seasons hotel, this restaurant’s name means ‘view of the dragon’, but the harbour views themselves, spectacular as they are, play second fiddle to exquisite Cantonese food. Helmed by the remarkable Chan Yan Tak, Lung King Heen was the world’s first Chinese restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars, and it has held them for six years.
Lording it over the harbour on the 25th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel, this Modern French restaurant is the Hong Kong outpost of flavour revolutionary Pierre Gagnaire (the chef behind London’s Sketch). His trusty number two Jean Denis mans the kitchen, fiercely guarding Pierre's two Michelin stars.
8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana
Another Hong Kong first from the tyre folk: 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana was the first Italian eatery outside the Bel Paese to earn three Michelin stars. On the second floor of Landmark Alexandra, Umberto Bombano dishes up decadent and ever-changing menu of modern Italian delights, such as burrata ravioli and Tajima short rib tenderloin. He’s a wizard with truffles, too.
Café Gray Deluxe
With a view this good (a sweeping panorama of Victoria Harbour), you might not expect the food to get much of a look-in, but at the Upper House hotel’s Café Gray Deluxe, well-travelled master chef Gray Kunz presents finely honed Modern European dishes that are as visually delightful as they are delicious.
With two Michelin stars and a host of placings on world’s best restaurant listings, the Mandarin Oriental’s chic, golden-toned Amber restaurant is a temple to modern French cuisine. Dutch-born chef Richard Ekkebus oversees a kitchen that brings classical European culinary tradition into cahoots with Hong Kong’s East-meets-West ingredient-sourcing possibilities, resulting in a wonderfully inventive seasonal menu.
Style Sleek urban retreat
Setting Central’s shopping strip
Best for Mallrats and luxury lovers
Our reviewer says ‘Poised between ultra-luxe and cutting-edge, the Landmark Mandarin Oriental is perfect for discovering Hong Kong’s inner-city charms.’