x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Here be dragons and shopping

A weekend guide to Hong Kong With its Chinese roots and distinct British influences it's impossible to resist the restless energy of this island city.

If you're looking for a bit of greenery and culture, take the Peak Tram, the 120-year-old funicular railway, up to Victoria Peak and marvel at the cluster of dazzling skyscrapers.
If you're looking for a bit of greenery and culture, take the Peak Tram, the 120-year-old funicular railway, up to Victoria Peak and marvel at the cluster of dazzling skyscrapers.

With its Chinese roots and distinct British influences it's impossible to resist the restless energy of this island city. For the unseasoned traveller, Hong Kong may seem intimidating at first - the gleaming skyscrapers, the chaotic street markets, the complicated smells of diesel, incense and fried tofu. But amid all the urban din, there are also jungly hills, beaches, temples and vintage tea houses where the only sound is the gentle clatter of old men sitting on shabby stools playing mahjong. It is this very intoxicating mix of culture and commerce, the East and the West, urban and country that makes this city so unique and beloved by so many.

Do what Hong Kongers do: shop. From high-end designer stores to roadside hawkers selling gnarled ginger root, in Hong Kong you can truly buy it all. The Landmark, Times Square and Pacific Place are amongst the best malls in town, whilst boutique stores like Buttonhole and Fang Fong, both situated on Peele Street in the Soho area, offer a mix of cutting-edge designs. Pop into Shanghai Tang, on Peder Street, for cool twists on traditional Chinese garments like smoking jackets and cheongsam dresses, and home furnishings, including cushions and candles. Next hunt for bargains around the island's many outdoor street markets.

Stanley Market on Hong Kong Island's south side, Ladies' Market in Mongkok and Temple Street Night Market boast hundreds of stalls selling T-shirts, trinkets and fake goods, including handbags, watches and DVDs. If you're looking for a bit of greenery and culture, take the Peak Tram, the 120-year-old funicular railway, up to Victoria Peak and marvel at the cluster of dazzling skyscrapers, lush mountain peaks and outlying islands sprinkled around the South China Sea. Even the most jaded locals never tire of visiting this famous vantage point. Or hop on a ferry to Lantau Island and visit the Po Lin Monastery, home to a 26m-high bronze statue of a seated Buddha, the tallest of its kind in the world. Wander through the incense-filled temple where Hong Kongers come to pray to their ancestors and have their destiny read by fortune-tellers.

Budget Situated inside the now defunct headquarters of mainland China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, the trendy Cosmo Hotel is conveniently sandwiched between the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay and the Happy Valley Racecourse. Rooms are clean, comfortable and colour-coded in orange, green or yellow. Double rooms cost from US$84 (Dh308), including taxes. Cosmo Hotel, 375-377 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai (www.cosmohotel.com.hk; 00 852 3552 8388).

Mid-range Skip Jia (Philippe Starck's first boutique hotel project in Asia has seen its heyday) and instead head down the road to Lanson Place Boutique Hotel and Residences. This intimate hotel caters to travellers looking for a home away from home with modern rooms decorated in beechwood, chrome and glass. Ranging in size from 154 to 239 square metres, each studio comes equipped with fully stocked kitchenettes, home theatre systems, iPod docking stations and WiFi. One bedroom and two bedroom flats also available. Double rooms cost from $161 (Dh591), including taxes. Lanson Place Boutique Hotel and Residences, 133 Leighton Road, Causeway Bay; www.lansonplace.com; 00852 3477 6888).

Luxury One thing Hong Kong is in no short supply of is five-star hotels. And whilst the Mandarin Oriental may have recently undergone refurbishment and the Intercontinental houses an array of eateries bearing the names of celebrity chefs, including Nobu and Alain Ducasse's Spoon, neither can quite compete with the historical elegance of The Peninsula. Opened in 1928, the Pen, as it is affectionately called, is the territory's oldest hotel, having played host to everyone from Clark Gable to Princess Diana. Located in the heart of Kowloon and overlooking the harbor, the 30-storey colonial tower boasts panoramic sea views, a fleet of Rolls Royces and a private helipad. Double rooms cost from ($542, Dh1,990), including taxes. The Peninsula Hotel, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (www.peninsula.com; 00 852 2315 3262).

Breakfast Black ceiling fans, spittoons, wooden booths and brusque waiters all add to the experience of Luk Yu Tea House, one of the city's last surviving traditional tea houses. Opened in 1933, Luk Yu on Stanley Street is a true Hong Kong institution. Famous for its dim sum, it's filled daily with regular customers. It's also one of the best places to try Chinese teas, including bo lai (a fermented black tea), jasmine and chrysanthemum. Luk Yu is not only famous but infamous: several years ago a local tycoon was killed by a hit man from the mainland. Witnesses say the assassin ate breakfast, paid the bill, walked behind his target, shot him in the head, and strolled out. Despite Luk Yu's somewhat shady past, it's hard to find an empty seat here so get there early - it opens at 7am - to avoid the mid-morning rush. Breakfast for two without drinks costs about $26 (Dh94).

Lunch The rooftop of Central's IFC mall on Finance Street is encircled with trendy bars and posh restaurants. But the patio-style sofas, tables and armchairs that sit scattered outside these establishments are for the use of the public. Stop off at CitySuper on the ground floor and pick up a box of sushi and a freshly squeezed juice and head upstairs for an afternoon of alfresco dining. Million-dollar views have never been so affordable.

Dinner In a city where old buildings are all too often knocked down or worse - revamped into kitsch, neon lit monstrosities - the Pawn in Wanchai has done well to preserve a slice of old Hong Kong. Located inside a beautifully renovated old Chinese pawnshop, the Pawn on Johnston Road is part restaurant (second floor), part lounge (first floor), with a roof garden offering more of the same. Salvaged building materials like wooden panels from a Shenzhen shipyard and replica Chinese grill gates pay homage to the building's past. The Welsh chef David Tamlyn visits the local markets daily to create an ever-changing menu of modern British cuisine; think soft-boiled duck eggs with black truffle and soldiers and fish 'n chips served with dollops of foie gras mayonnaise. Expect to pay about $129 (Dh480) for dinner for two.

Return flights on Qatar Airways (www.qatarairways.com) from Abu Dhabi to Hong Kong, with a stop over in Doha, cost from $603 (Dh3,615), including taxes. Or fly direct from Dubai on Emirates Airlines (www.emirates.com), which offers return flights costing from $976 (Dh3,585), including taxes.

Check out Jan Morris' Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire for an introduction into the history and character of the former British colony. The book paints a colourful portrait of Hong Kong - from humble beginnings as an opium port to its present day status as one of the world's largest financial centres. Originally released in 1987, and updated with a new introduction in 2000, Morris' book is an insightful take on a city in transition and remains one of the best travelogues written on the territories.