From Hong Kong’s underground vault restaurants to its most exclusive nightclub, Absolutely uncovers the island’s best-kept secrets
Words Stephanie King
Forget everything you thought you knew about Hong Kong. Sure, it still offers unparalleled shopping experiences and some of the world’s most incredible landmarks, but it is also fast becoming a foodie capital and an entertainment mecca where Western and traditional Eastern practices seamlessly collide. Hong Kong is purportedly one of the safest destinations and is the perfect storm of Chinese and British culture – a byproduct of its colonisation by Britain after the First Opium War in 1839-42.
Condensed into what is, really, quite a tiny land area (approximately 1,104 km²), the only way is up, so Hong Kong’s 7.2 million residents live vertically. Skyscrapers, cliff-side houses and steep inclines rivalling San Francisco’s hills are endemic to this unique cosmopolis. Surrounded by bays and the South China Sea, the slew of luxury retail centres and just-opened bars, clubs and restaurants solidify Hong Kong’s status as a burgeoning city.
So with its ever-increasing list of ‘must-sees,’ what is a first-time traveller to do? What really are Hong Kong’s must-sees?
WHERE TO STAY
Given that Hong Kong International Airport is only 45 minutes’ drive (or 25 minutes by Airport Express shuttle train) from mainland Hong Kong, getting to your hotel will be quite easy. The city centre – ‘Central’ as it’s known to natives – houses all of the large hotel group mainstays, but Kowloon, AKA Dragon City, is the northern area of Hong Kong Island that offers a truly authentic insight into local life.
Though calmer than Central, that does not mean it’s quiet. Kowloon is still buzzing during the day, and hums late into the evening. The best place to seek refuge? Hotel sáv. Conveniently located 10 minutes’ walk from Hung Hom Station, Hotel sáv’s sleek, contemporary interiors capture the city’s modern side. Meanwhile the staff’s sunny, helpful disposition certainly dispels the stereotype that Hongkongers are rude.
The rooms are equally cheery, with white walls and bed linen accented by pop bright hues. Whether you’re in the Superior Room or in the 20th to 25th floor sáv Special Collection suites, all guests have access to free wi-fi and complimentary smartphone rental per room – a godsend when out sightseeing. Refuelling at Hotel sáv’s all-day dining restaurant, Palette is essential, with its range of international cuisine that caters to all tastes. Strength regained, you’ll be ready for the night ahead, which is when the fun really begins…
WHERE TO PLAY
Kick off the festivities with a drink at Upper House’s Café Gray Bar. The views are sensational and you’ll get to sip Earl Grey Martinis as the towering Pacific Place venue woos you with its ultra cool wood, metal and glass décor. Given this high-tech paperless hotel is a favourite amongst young Hongkongers, it’s best to book to secure your place at the 14-metre limestone bar.
Things get a little rowdier as you make your way to Lan Kwai Fong, the go-to area for pubs, wine bars and hidden bolt-holes. Soak up LKF’s energy at the Mercedes me Store Hong Kong. Not only does it house a Mercedes Formula 1 racing car in the window, the relaxed atmosphere of this sophisticated lounge is brilliant for mingling with the locals. And when you really want to get your evening going, beeline to PLAY.
Mere moments up the road, it is the super exclusive, super decadent night venue that reopened in December 2015 after a massive refurbishment. PLAY is Hong Kong’s premier party destination to see, and be seen at. Its new concept, devised by Maximal Concepts founder Xuan Mu, is redefining the club scene with its Dom Pérignon champagne bar (the only one in Hong Kong), 18-metre catwalk, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, private VIP room, built-in photo booth, and Bentley chauffeur service for VVIPs. It’s no wonder why international DJs Skrillex, Paul Van Dyk, Afrojack and Kaskade have already played here.
WHAT TO DO
After properly immersing yourself in Hong Kong’s party scene, a gentle recovery day is essential. Start off slow with a bayside promenade along Tsim Sha Tsui’s Avenue of the Stars, which gives an uninterrupted view of Hong Kong while paying homage to its film icons. Then, grab a cab and head to the The Peak for a 360° panorama of the island atop Mount Austin. With or without the city’s infamous haze, this is spectacular.
Now, with an awakened appetite, lunch at the New York-style grill Blue Butcher is the only solution. Or, if you fancy trying Cantonese fare, the sumptuous subterranean surrounds of Mott 32 will do very nicely. Cool off from their hot chilli broth with a refreshing swim at the secluded and peaceful Repulse Bay.
Any trip to this fascinating island reveals a culture bursting with contrasting elements: modern with traditional, electric with serene. It is a thrilling journey, saturated with a riot of sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Hong Kong is simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating,and you won’t wait to go back.