Tom and I rarely take on travelling-placements these days as we’re usually too busy running Winterwood, but there was no way I was turning down an all-expenses-paid trip to Hong Kong!
I used to pass through it every year, as Mum, Dad and I oscillated between home in Australia and holidays with my UK-based grandparents, and then of course between Nauru and the UK, but I haven’t been back for twenty years since we moved permanently to the UK (Dad and I even got British passports eventually. And no, I don’t know why they allowed two obstreperous, misanthropic Aussies into the country either, never mind let us stay – probably an admin error). The only thing I really remember about Hong Kong though was my first ever cinema experience, when my parents took me to see the first Jurassic Park film as I was into dinosaurs as a kid and they didn’t realise I was going to scream through the whole film in terror with my coat over my face.
I still hate velociraptors.
The flight over was horrendous, as I am not used to flying long-haul in Economy (the benefit of belonging to a family of pilots. You have to listen to a lot of stories about planes, model planes, drones, birds of prey, bees… anything that flies really, but you are compensated with free travel). My recently-broken ankle swelled to twice the size, and in 12hrs I slept for perhaps 2 in total. Nevertheless we survived, managed to navigate immigration, and our driver dropped us off half an hour later at the Grand Hyatt. I enjoyed this hotel, a lot.
The hotel lobby
Our room was about the size of our whole flat in London, there was 24hr room service, a gym, spa and rooftop swimming pool, seven restaurants, two bars and a cafe – all in one building with quite spectacular views over the Harbour.
We were treated to glorious sunsets over the island every evening, as a gentle apricot blush soon developed into carmine and copper streaks, enhanced I suspect by the high levels of pollution, then steadily deepened into an ocean of fire before the city’s neon took over.
The ever-changing view from our hotel window
When we sent a bag of clothes off to be laundered they returned wrapped in tissue paper and ribbons.
Oh, and there was a pillow menu. No joke.
I stuck to the gym myself, and a few tai chi workouts in the bathroom whilst Tom was fitting in evening Skype lessons with his London students (“what was that noise?” “Oh don’t worry, Jade just fell over again. She was probably practising ‘white rhino looking at the moon whilst defeating 2-3 ninjas’ or something. She struggles with that), but there was also a pretty special pool that Tom made the most of.
We ate at the hotel a couple of times, as missing a whole night’s sleep then getting up at 7.30am every day instead of our usual 10.30 ish-probably-later am knocked us back a bit, and we were there to work so didn’t have that much spare time. We particularly enjoyed One Harbour Road, which served traditional Cantonese food and apparently “emulates the elegance of a high-society, 1930s era Chinese mansion”. Anything 1930s has my vote, and the food and service were both excellent.
We did manage to have some fun though, it wasn’t all fresh fruit platters and chinese herb pillows. On our second night we got the Star Ferry over to TST (Tsim Sha Tsui) then a taxi to Kowloon’s Night Market. A jumble of wonderfully-awful tat and old opium pipes, jade figurines and porn, we enjoyed ourselves immensely.
The view of Hong Kong from the ferry, a ferry so easy to use I even managed it all on my own one day. It powers sedately across the channel between Hong Kong island and the mainland of Kowloon, skyscrapers and tree-clad hills first receding and then approaching. At night the sea turns black as bitumen, and is illuminated in streaks as if buckets of neon paint have been emptied forcefully across it. Plus it only costs $3.4 HKD, or 29 pence. Yep, pence. Public transport is practically free over here.
The entrance to Temple Street, the main night market, but there are more stalls on neighbouring streets so make sure you explore. You can pick up a lot of bargains here, especially if you’re willing to haggle, and a lot of weird paraphernalia whose value lies solely in its entertainment factor.
We then got a taxi over to the International Commerce Centre, as this ludicrously tall building hosts the highest bar on earth, Ozone. Tom doesn’t like lifts, and I really thought he was going to have an aneurism in this one as it shuddered its way towards the Ritz-Carlton hotel’s lobby on the 101st floor in less than a minute, before we had to get out, and resume our ascent to the 118th floor (420 metres above sea level) in a second lift, this one shaped like a lovely marble coffin. Tom took one look at it and muttered “I’m never coming here again”, before grimly – but bravely – stepping inside.
The view was worth it, just about, though my camera couldn’t cope at all so I had to borrow the above photo from Tom. No doubt better photos could have been taken from the outdoor patio, but this shuts when there are high winds.
There were some interesting design details and the lighting was great for taking interior photos, but Ozone doesn’t really have a sense of its own identity; it really could be anywhere. Don’t bother dressing up as the expat clientele certainly didn’t, though maybe London’s sartorial standards are simply higher. That or Londoners are just less able to escape the hamster wheel… People certainly seem more relaxed in Hong Kong, as if the permanently tropical climate enforces a steadier pace and less-manic mentality than our colder shores.
Some of the drinks were excellent, some less so, and the prices were comparable with London bars ($180 HKD or around £15 for a cocktail). As to other rooftop bars, I also heard very good things about Sugar. Apparently a hit with Hong Kong hipsters and in-the-know expats, it’s ideal if you want somewhere more laid-back than Ozone’s club-like atmosphere. Otherwise there’s Sevva, if you want to go upmarket, a penthouse bar owned by Chanel’s former Asia Pacific communications director and Hong Kong style icon, Bonnie Gokson. If you’re short of time I’d recommend trying Sugar or Sevva over Ozone, as they seem to have more character, but then again it’s not every day you get to visit the highest bar in the world.
We eventually got a taxi back to the Hyatt ($180 HKD for a 20 minute drive, including the $20 crossing toll), already looking forward to what the next day would bring. Tales of temples, flamingos and eating bird’s-nests to follow.
Has anyone else visited Hong Kong recently or, perhaps more interestingly, not so recently? I’d love to hear your stories.
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