left my heart in honkers …
left my heart in honkers with alli grant
Hong Kong – a fabulous city where the old is blended with the new. With so much to do and see, how can you experience the best Honkers has to offer in just four short days? This was the challenge Alli Grant and her husband recently faced on their first visit to the oh-so-cosmopolitan city.
Four days in Hong Kong. Four. Short. Days. What to do? Where to go? And how the heck do two first-timers cram a city as fabulous as Honkers into just 96 teeny weeny hours? We decided not to write off the tourist must-sees. Instead, we embraced them. After a false start thanks to stormy weather and a missed connection in Sydney, we arrived in Hong Kong. And, heaven, we were greeted by a driver (in a Mercedes), provided by our hotel. We decided to go a little eclectic on the accommodation front, choosing JIA Hotel, a boutique offering on Hong Kong Island designed by French architect Philippe Starck.
If grand foyers and impressive chandeliers are your thing, JIA isn’t for you. But it was for us – with an edgy, hip feel, JIA was just the right fit for our escape to Hong Kong. Philippe most certainly has a unique style – the foyer alone features about 15 different styles of chair – plush velvet sits alongside stark silver, which sits alongside traditional Chinese ornamental. The service was friendly, the breakfast served from a cosy little nook in the foyer, the location was perfect and the room was just perfect for our stay, with a kitchen corner, day bed, dining area, lovely marble bathroom and separate bedroom. And a garden gnome. Yes, a garden gnome, who, strangely enough, didn’t seem at all out of place! While the rooms are predominantly white, Philippe has added touches of colour, and an expressive mix of furniture styles.
JIA is a good metaphor for Hong Kong, a city with the amazing ability to combine state-of-the-art, shiny and new with old school traditions.
My husband and I had four kid-free days to enjoy. First stop on day one was a business trip to Guangzhou in China. We took the train to Guangzhou – in less than two hours in a first-class cabin we arrived at our industrial destination for a day of meetings.
Time for fun! Our number one ‘must-see’ was Happy Valley Race Course. My husband and I love a day at the races; fascinators, flashy frocks, sunshine and corporate marquees. But there wasn’t a feather or frock in sight. Admittedly, it felt a little wrong to be at a race track at night, especially a school night (and both fascinator and frock-less), but boy, what an experience. While we were warned about the popularity of mid-week races, we were still surprised to see crowds of people teeming into the track.
In we went, setting up shop in the members’ area – all very civilised and surrounded by a gaggle of seriously serious punters. It was a little quiet for us, so we took a stroll to explore. We found ourselves trackside, surrounded by thousands of young ex-pats and locals, most in their ‘finance district’ suits, and all grooving to the tunes of a DJ (yes, as the horses ran right by). It felt like a Friday night at a pub – cool music, a tent city of global beer brands, happy people chatting (and drinking) the night away with their friends, and a McDonald’s. Yep, there’s a Maccas at the track.
We grabbed a couple of drinks, put on a few bets and enjoyed the electric atmosphere that is Happy Valley. The people-watching was A-grade and we had a fabulous night. Day two … shopping … and loads of it. It’s an overused cliché, but you really are spoiled for choice in the shopping department in Hong Kong. If you’re looking for fabulous, designer brands, you’re never too far away from a shopping centre happy to oblige. I was reacquainted with an old friend, Zara, and made a new buddy, Staccato (who further fuelled my shoe obsession) in Times Square, but this was the tip of the iceberg.
Check out WTC, Peak Galleria and City Plaza on Hong Kong Island, and China Hong Kong City and Sogo Hong Kong on Kowloon. If markets are your thing, head to the Temple Street Night Market or the Ladies Market (both on Kowloon). Market shopping is an experience we really enjoyed at night as the cafes are overflowing with chatty locals and the streets are bustling. There are markets dotted all over Hong Kong, each with its own unique feel, all flogging something you don’t need but simply have to have.
Goodies in hand after our night jaunt to the Ladies Market, it was off for a drink on the top floor of the world-renowned Peninsular Hotel (oh lychee martini, how I love you so). What a view. It was time to experience the Symphony of Lights, a spectacular multi-media show of lights using the high rise buildings around Victoria Harbour as a canvas. About 40 buildings participate in the show, which lasts for 20 minutes and features laser beams and searchlights all dancing a merry little dance around the harbour – a reflection of the diversity and spirit that is Hong Kong. Day three – a little bit more ‘business’ followed by more shopping and preparation for what was to be a night my husband and I will never forget.
With a two-and-a-half-year-old, we rarely eat out, let alone experience a culinary super city like Hong Kong, and while we definitely indulged in some fine local cuisine, we decided to treat ourselves to a night of indulgence at critically-acclaimed restaurant Bo Innovation in Wan Chai. As guests of owner and head chef Alvin Leong Junior, also known as the Demon Chef, we were wined and dined to a level never previously experienced by this food-loving couple. Alvin, an engineer by trade who is a self-taught chef, describes Bo Innovation as “x-treme Chinese cuisine”.
We ate things that look sweet but were savoury, things that looked like an animal that were a vegetable, and things we didn’t even know could be eaten.
And boy did we eat, enjoying the chef’s menu of 16 courses, each matched with the most amazing wine. Every course was an experience, with narration by exceptional wait staff and Bo Innovation’s sommelier. It was a perfect evening we won’t ever forget.
All too soon it was day four , so we decided to head to the city’s most popular tourist destination, The Peak, 396 metres above sea level. Now that is a tram ride, a tram ride in a 120-year-old tram. At times we felt almost vertical – the track is so steep that the buildings we passed look like they were leaning on one heck of an angle. But when you get to the top – boy what a view.
Breathtaking is an understatement. We could have spent hours gazing out over Hong Kong.
The Peak Sky Terrace stands at 428 metres above sea level. We decided to marvel at the view through the window of a Chinese restaurant, with a glass of bubbles in one hand and a morsel of dim sum in the other.
You could spend a day exploring The Peak Tower, famous for its avant-garde design, and all it has to offer – floor after floor of shopping, dining, nature walks and culture. All too soon it was over; time to head back to reality. It may have been a short and sweet love affair, but it certainly was love. I left my heart in Honkers and I’ll be back to collect it very soon.
FIND OUT MORE …
JIA HOTEL www.jiahongkong.com
HAPPY VALLEY RACE COURSE www.happyvalleyracecourse.com
SYMPHONY OF LIGHTS (HONG KONG TOURISM) www.discoverhongkong.com
BO INNOVATION www.boinnovation.com