Taste the high life in Hong Kong: Discovering new peaks of luxury in the city known for its tower-studded skyline
Few cities can have changed so much in just a few years as Hong Kong.
Kowloon – once an all-Chinese, sweaty, vibrant district of narrow streets, a wonderful corner of the Far East, and often then the only real China experience for us Brits – has developed into a skyscraper zone where very rich visitors explore the high-end luxury shops that have replaced the colourful, ramshackle stalls and restaurants.
But much of the old Hong Kong remains – if you have the money to enjoy the very best of the old colonial days,
I stayed at the legendary Peninsula hotel, surely one of the very few such institutions that has 14 Rolls-Royces, all in the hotel’s distinctive green, at the disposal of its guests, including one dedicated for free collection from the airport.
The Peninsula, near the seafront in Kowloon, is one of those colonial icons, like Raffles in Singapore, that has survived wars, revolutions and riots without even a scratch.
Brits, Japanese, Brits again, now the Chinese have run it. It bears its history with dignity and without apparent scars. Guests pay heavily for the luxury but, if you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it will be very rewarding.
It helps to be IT-literate as all functions in your room are controlled by a hand-held tablet computer; curtains are drawn, lights are dimmed, TVs switch on and off, drawers and cupboards open and close as if by magic on your fingertip command.
Tourists and residents still queue for hours each afternoon to participate in the traditional Peninsula ‘taking tea’ ceremony in the ground-floor tea rooms. Dainty china cups, wafting jasmine, are held with little finger protruding. Guests are also treated to equally delicate petits fours.
Service throughout this splendid building is discreet and impeccable, and to celebrate my stay I splashed out on the most expensive meal of my life in the top-floor Felix Experience restaurant (most events in Hong Kong have mysteriously acquired the ‘experience’ label).
The five-course gourmet dinner, served with elegance at a table overlooking the narrow waterway between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, is indeed a magnificent culinary event, although I guess the experience bit intrudes when the bill is presented.
But it was worth it for the pan-fried rock fish and duck liver alone. In the event, I left one arm and a leg as part payment.
There are some services in the former British territory that are unique, some meals worth facing bankruptcy for.
Hong Kong has 8,000 skyscrapers and the highest property prices in the world to go with them. But there is still much to enjoy for a tourist on a budget.
I took one of the high-speed lifts that shoot up and down Sky 100, at 1,600ft the tallest building in the region, in 60 seconds. There are eye-busting views from the observation deck on the 100th floor and, surprisingly, tourist shops with most affordable prices.
I took Hong Kong’s underground mass-transit railway, with its high reputation for cleanliness and efficiency, to Lantau Island for another up, up and away trip – this time in the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for the half-hour climb to Ngong Ping village – ‘a culturally themed village designed and landscaped with Chinese architectural features’.
It was fun to explore and I even found an antiques shop selling vintage jade. With seven million people packed into 425 square miles, it’s not surprising that so many feel the urge to rise well above street level.
Stay in Hong Kong now and you may feel the lure of the ‘old’ Far East has gone. Bruce Lee seems to have levelled our cultures.
He retains something close to God-like status in Hong Kong. But whatever else may change, the wonderful, ancient Star Ferries still creak and groan their way across the waterway. Watching them, it’s as if time had stopped still in the 1930s.
British Airways (ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Hong Kong from £694pp. Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) has return flights from £636pp. Room rates at the Peninsula Hotel start at about £293.