A view from Upper House hotel; Image: The Upper House
Cathay Pacific is based in Hong Kong, and I travel to the city for meetings on a regular basis. I was also born in Hong Kong (albeit I am British/Irish) and therefore, in some ways, it is like returning home. The first thing you notice about the city is its vibrancy. The other thing is, most of the times, you will see a new building or a change in the skyline. Hong Kong is built upwards and I think that adds an element of charm and excitement to the place.
Recommendations The Upper House in Pacific Place is a very special place. A fairly new boutique hotel, it mixes modern lines, spot-on but casual service, and from its bar—Café Gray—some of the best views you’ll get of Hong Kong’s iconic harbour. Having grown up in Hong Kong, I have childhood memories of Mandarin Oriental, and its impressions that will last a lifetime. With neither of those two establishments will you go wrong.
Hong Kong has an abundance of great hotels, and different areas to stay. For business travel, I’d recommend the Central and Admiralty areas, although a good business choice for a hotel is East in Taikoo Shing, a new business district a few stops from Central on the underground rail. Many companies are moving to that area as property prices in Hong Kong are a key consideration.
Kowloon, on the northern side of the harbour, is also a wonderfully vibrant place. The absolutely stunning Peninsula Hotel is a must if you chose this part of Hong Kong to stay in. And for anyone coming from India on an extended trip, and missing the food back home, this is the part of town where you will find a meal, with many from the Indian diaspora choosing this area to live and work.
If you don’t have an office in which to meet, then there are so many good cafes and hotel lobbies, that the choice really is driven by location. The Pacific Place shopping mall has good cafes, restaurants, and a choice of four top-class hotels, so I would say it is a good place.
Recommending restaurants is not an easy thing to do; Hong Kong simply has every kind of food you can imagine. And for every budget too. In the mid-range, and if you are looking for spicy fare (Chinese style), try Chili Fagara on Old Bailey Street. Their chicken with Sichuan pepper is mouth-numbingly good. Those missing good Thai food and looking for a very casual dinner should try the Chili Club in Wanchai. The minced chicken with Thai basil is a great choice. There are plenty of places there for a drink before or after dinner. If you’re closing a big deal, then what’s better than a classic—the Mandarin Grill at the Mandarin Oriental. Old school but on the money.
If you are on a slightly longer trip, I would recommend hiking or visiting one of the outlying islands of Hong Kong. The Tian Tan, or Big Buddha, statue on Lantau Island is very impressive, especially on a clear day. Don’t forget that a trip on the iconic Star Ferry is a must; it links Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. I also like to walk around the Western District of Hong Kong Island, with all its old traditional Chinese medicine shops. I guess it takes me back to my younger days. Getting around Taxis are cheap and usually quite plentiful; although it can be hit-and-miss if it rains. The very extensive MTR—Hong Kong’s underground rail—is excellent; I would say it is probably one of the best in the world. If your destination is near a station, then I urge you to use it.
If you are going from the airport to downtown Kowloon or Hong Kong, then the Airport Express Train is very reliable, and departs every 10 minutes. In my 21 years of using it, I think I have experienced one delay!
For those who have a few spare hours, I highly recommend taking a tram on Hong Kong Island. Just get on and go to the end and come back. It is very cheap, and although it won’t break any speed records, it is a great way to see the city—from the new to the old. The iconic ‘ding ding’ of the tram bell is almost as world famous as the cow bells of Appenzell in Switzerland!
After Hours One of the best kept secrets of Hong Kong is its hiking. Within 30 minutes of the city’s bustle you have world-class hiking trails in many of Hong Kong’s national parks. You can do all levels of a hike, and it is a great way to clear the mind, and see a different part of Hong Kong. If time is in short supply, why not jump onto the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak and walk around the top? It will take you about 45 minutes, depending on your pace.
Nightlife is whatever you want it to be. The Soho area of Hong Kong Island has a great array of bars and restaurants in a very relaxed setting, with new places opening up the whole time. Lan Kwai Fong in Central has a more buzzy feel to it, and is open all night. As is the Wanchai area, where there are plenty of nightclubs for the more energetic visitor.
Shopping in Hong Kong, like in many cities, has become slightly homogenised over the years. There are many of the same shops that you see in other major cities. The night market on Temple Street is a fun place to walk around, and those looking to try some street food will not be disappointed at all. On the weekend, a stroll through Stanley Market on the southern tip of Hong Kong Island is fun, and a good place to grab a bite.
Tips Try to avoid typhoons, if you can. These ferocious storms can cause havoc. You’ll be safe if you stay indoors, but your plans will go for a toss.
I think Hong Kong is a great stopover and short stay destination. Crammed into a small space you have everything – from Disneyland to old Hong Kong. For people who like food it’s a paradise and even for those who like fine wine then Hong Kong is a must go destination.
Avoiding visiting the city in high summer; travel from October through to March if you are going for a holiday. If you are visiting on work, then the city is open 24x7, so you’ll be on a different energy level and won’t care about the weather.
The writer is regional general manager, South Asia, Middle East and Africa, Cathay Pacific Coordinated by Jasodhara Banerjee