Why Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a city of contradictions: ultra-modern, commercial and westernised, yet conservative and Chinese to the core. I was born here and have lived in this city most of my life. Yet, even now, this island metropolis never ceases to amaze. Crowds weave through glitzy shopping malls, neon signs scroll down mirror-slabbed skyscrapers and women clutching Louis Vuitton bags flag down crimson cabs.
But there is another side of Hong Kong - you catch glimpses of it in the Western District of Sheung Wan with its old temples, heritage buildings and family-run apothecaries displaying glass jars filled with dried roots, pickled snakes and ginseng. In Victoria Park, elderly Chinese gather at dawn to practice t'ai chi, while the superstitious flock to Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island to pray for good health and fortune.
A comfortable bed
Hong Kong is in no short supply of luxury hotels. The Mandarin Oriental may have recently undergone refurbishment and the InterContinental houses an array of celeb restaurants, including Nobu and Alain Ducasse's Spoon, but neither can quite compete with the historical elegance of the Peninsula (Salisbury Road; www.peninsula.com; 00 852 2315 3262). Located in the heart of Kowloon, the hotel has 300 rooms and suites, a Roman-style swimming pool, a neatly parked fleet of Rolls-Royce Phantoms, and a helipad for sightseeing trips. Double rooms cost from HK$4,480 (Dh2,111) per night.
The Upper House in Pacific Place is a stylish alternative for those looking to stay on Hong Kong Island (88 Queensway; www.upperhouse.com; 00 852 3968 1111). Starting at 68 sq m (generous in space-starved Hong Kong), each of the 117 studios have king-size platform beds, limestone baths and excellent views of the harbour and mountains. Double rooms cost from $4,500 (Dh2,123) per night.
Find your feet
Start at Victoria Peak, home to some of the city's most luxurious properties and the ideal spot for admiring the cityscape, so long as the smog and weather are in your favour. Next, ride the century-old funicular rail down to Central and wander down Hollywood Road with its galleries, thrift shops and antique stores. Stop off at Man Mo temple to breathe in the scent of incense and have your palm read by a fortune teller.
Farther down the road is a public park, bordered on one side by Possession Street, the one-time seaside site where the British first planted their flag when they claimed sovereignty. Follow the bend in the road until you hit Western Market, a 1906 red-brick building that used to house the neighbourhood market but is now home to souvenir shops, fabric stores and restaurants.
Meet the locals
For many Hong Kongers, Wednesday is synonymous with a night at the races, which run from September through to July. This local passion takes place right in the centre of town at the 55,000-person capacity Happy Valley Racecourse (www.hkjc.com; 00 852 2895 1523). Reservations can be made for buffet meals and viewing from the upper boxes.
Book a table
Hong Kongers customarily greet each other with the Cantonese phrase "Sik jo fan, mei ah?" (Have you eaten yet?). With one restaurant for every 650 people, the city boasts one of the highest per-capita concentrations of eateries in the world. Last year, the Mira Hotel's Cantonese restaurant, Cuisine Cuisine (00 852 2315 5222), scored two Michelin stars under Ken Yu, known for his use of fresh ingredients and homemade sauces. Traditional Chinese favourites such as Peking duck (served with three kinds of pancakes, pan-fried cod with pomelo sauce, and braised bird's nest) are presented under giant glass orbs. Abalone is also a strong feature on the menu, with a page dedicated to Yoshihama abalone, regarded as the best in the world.
Hop on the Star Ferry and round off the evening with drinks at Sevva on Chater Road. Perched at the penthouse level of the Prince's Building, the 360-degree balcony offers million-dollar views over the city's financial district, harbour and the Kowloon skyline (www.sevva.hk; 00 852 2537 1388).
The Landmark, IFC and Pacific Place are among the best upscale malls in town. For local designers, try Olivia Couture for custom-made cheongsam on Yiu Wa Street (www.oliviacouture.com; 00 852 2838 6636) and niin on Wyndham Street for jewellery featuring freshwater pearls and inlaid wood (www.niinstyle.com; 00 852 2878 8811).
For Asian art and antiques, head to Hollywood Road. Visit the Schoeni Art Gallery on Old Bailey Street for the latest in Chinese contemporary art (www.schoeniartgallery.com; 00 852 2869 8802) or wander on down to the Gagosian Gallery, housed in the recently revamped Pedder Building, for insanely priced modern art (www.gagosian.com; 00 852 2151 0555).
What to avoid
Disneyland. And, if you're particularly squeamish, chicken feet. A popular dim sum dish, chicken feet are marinated in soya sauce, then fried, boiled and, finally, steamed just before being served. The result is a crunchy exterior and a gelatinous but bony interior. Some find it delicious.
Book yourself a massage at the Grand Hyatt's Plateau Spa (00 852 2588 1234). Choose from a long menu, including a 90-minute, anti-stress pre-flight massage and the "Hong Kong massage", which combines Swedish massage techniques with acupressure. For a more traditional experience, head to Fun Feet Reflexology Centre on Sing Woo Road, where the armchairs are comfortable and the therapists are experts in kneading pressure points (www.funfeet.com.hk/en).