x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Hong Kong is a dim sum lover's dream

My kind of place For foodies, shoppers of all kinds and those who enjoy sensory overload, Jessica Au recommends her home city.

Jessica Au, born in Hong Kong, heads to the Western District to find lively markets and glimpses of the city's past.
Jessica Au, born in Hong Kong, heads to the Western District to find lively markets and glimpses of the city's past.

Hong Kong is a city of contradictions: ultra-modern, brazenly commercial and westernised, yet conservative and Chinese to the core. I was born and have lived here most of my life. Yet, even now, this island metropolis with its evocative smells and pulsating energy never ceases to amaze. Crowds weave through bustling streets, neon signs scroll down mirror-slabbed skyscrapers, and everywhere you turn the deafening noise of a pneumatic drill follows you, until one day it simply dissolves into the background.

But there is another side of Hong Kong; you catch glimpses of it in the Western District with its colonial buildings, temples and old-style pharmacies displaying glass jars filled with mysterious dried roots, pickled snakes and ginseng. In Victoria Park, elderly Chinese gather at dawn to practice t'ai chi, whilst the superstitious flock to Po Lin Monastery on Lantau island to pray for good health and fortune.

In just over a century, this tiny territory has suffered war, floods of refugees, a crippling regional financial crisis, bird flu and SARS. There were even predictions that its return to China would bring about its death. Yet, every time, the city has rebounded. It is precisely this can-do spirit that gives Hong Kong the resilience and might to weather storms whether real, financial or political - only today with a self-confidence it never possessed under its former rulers.

Nestled amongst Central's Pacific Place complex, the Upper House is the island's latest luxury boutique hotel, complete with huge rooms (starting at almost 70 square metres), limestone-clad baths, and an online check-in service (www.upperhouse.com; 00 852 2918 1838). Once night falls, take your drinks out to the secret garden and lounge in candlelight at tables or on beanbags. Take the lift upstairs to Cafe Gray Deluxe. Perched on level 49, this stylish eatery with its open kitchen, dramatic double-height ceilings and panoramic views is a fantastic place to relax over dinner with friends. Double studio rooms cost from US$437 (Dh1,600). For smaller budgets, Metropark (www.metroparkhotel.com; 00 852 2600 1000) in Causeway Bay has a fantastic rooftop pool, harbour views and is just a two-minute walk from the MTR (metro). Double rooms cost from $245 (Dh900).

Ride the century-old tram up to Victoria Peak from Central. Home to some of the city's most extravagant properties, it is also the ideal spot for admiring the glam and glitter of urban Hong Kong - smog and weather permitting.

Hail a taxi back down to Sheung Wan ($6; Dh21) and amble through the area's tangled web of lanes and side streets, past the family-run noodle shops, antique shops and printing presses, until you reach Western Market. With its redbrick exterior and louvred shutters, the building is the territory's oldest surviving market and a reminder of an era long past. Next, follow the bend in the road to Man Mo Temple, a Taoist site built in 1848. Breathe in the musky scent of incense hanging in coils from the red rafters, or make your way to the right-hand hall, where fortune tellers huddle around rickety tables, offering insight into your destiny.

Dim Sum, a variety of bite-size dishes intended for sharing, is a city staple that is most commonly enjoyed as a mid-morning meal. Dim Sum (00 852 2834 8893) on Sing Woo Road in Happy Valley, is an oak-panelled gem that breaks with tradition and serves dim sum all day and night. Eavesdrop on gossiping locals over steaming baskets of har gau (shrimp dumplings), Beijing onion cakes and abalone dumplings (meal for two $32; Dh120). Lunchtime reservations are not taken on weekends so get there early to beat the queues.

Yung Kee (www.yungkee.com.hk; 00 852 2522 1624) may not be much to look at from the outside but its signature roast goose with plum sauce has been the talk of the town ever since a penniless kitchen apprentice called Kam Shui Fai started a roadside food stall in 1942. Today, Mr Kam's restaurant is run by his sons and it was recently awarded a Michelin star. Yung Kee has set meals ($43-$71; Dh156-Dh260), "Awarded Set Meals" that require at least two days advance notice ($111-$1,006; Dh407-Dh3,695), an à la carte menu, as well as some of the island's best dim sum.

Hong Kong does shopping like cows do milk. Lane Crawford (www.lanecrawford.com; 00 852 2118 2888) is the most militantly on-trend luxury department store in the city. "Better than Barneys" is how one fashionista described it. There is a Lane Crawford in almost every major shopping centre, but locals favour the one in IFC mall. If you prefer markets, Ladies Market in Mongkok and Stanley Market, on Hong Kong Island's south side, sell everything from T-shirts and jeans to vintage Mao posters and knock-off designer handbags. For traditional Chinese crafts - jade sculptures, ceramics and silks - visit Chinese Arts and Crafts on Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui (www.crcretail.com; 00 852 2735 4061). 298 Computer Zone on Hennessy Road is where all the techies go for their gadgets. But be sure to bring along a friend who speaks the language or you will most likely be short-changed.

Disneyland has not quite become the tourist magnet that the Hong Kong government had hoped it would be. You should think of it as not so much of a Disneyland and more like a miniature theme park that is a long way from anywhere and with only one half-decent ride. For a proper amusement park head to Ocean Park in Aberdeen. Here you will find world-class rides, wild animals (including its two famous pandas Ying Ying and Le Le) and a mountain cable car that offers spectacular views of the coastline and the South China Sea.

Hike the Dragon's Back, an up-and-down mountain ridge on Hong Kong Island's southern peninsula. Magnificent mountain views and seascapes line the 6.5km-long trail, which starts by Tai Tam reservoir and finishes just above the fishing village of Shek O. Once you reach it, reward yourself with freshly cooked seafood and cold drinks by the beach. travel@thenational.ae