Despite worrying reports of the Hong Kong protests in local media, the only peril of visiting the ‘Fragrant Harbour’ is not wanting to return. Beyond snapping pictures of the Occupy Central movement, which has become an attraction in itself, there continues to be an endless stream of new things to do and see in Hong Kong, and its charm persists. Beneath the glass and steel façade is a cultural hodgepodge. Away from the bustle of the city are green sanctuaries perfect for hiking. Beside the luxe sits the cheap.
And if you’re planning all those long weekend getaways already (as you should), City Nomads has distilled the best of Hong Kong eating, shopping and even sleeping, with one affordable but never poorly-conceived option, another high-end but never bank-breaking proposition. So, hang on tight, and here’s how we go about Hong Kong – two ways!
Self-proclaimed demon chef Alvin Leung has graced our shores multiple times (the most recent being Savour 2014), so much so that Singaporeans are more than familiar with his signature Xiao Long Bao, a mind-blowing sphere of all of the soup dumpling’s essence. Piling accolades have turned sceptics of his garish-sounding ‘X-treme’ cuisine to fans of the humble, self-trained chef.
At his flagship three Michelin-starred Bo Innovation, European fine-dining aesthetics are a mere guise for deeply Cantonese flavours. Traditional ‘jolo’ sauce, ‘mui choy’ (mustard green) and hawthorn form outrageous unions with foie gras and scallops – unimaginable but totally revelatory. ‘Cheung fun’ (rice roll) is the starch accompanying wagyu beef, and ‘har mi’ (dried shrimp) oil the slick, aromatic foil for pasta. There is hardly a chance at Bo Innovation to go, ‘Boring!’
Despite noodle shops being a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, Kau Kee is an unwavering stalwart that has ruled the beef brisket noodle fiefdom for years, with pride and sometimes contempt. Though notorious with its tyrannical service, its ultra-tender, fatty beef brisket, slow-cooked in a clear broth that’s bursting with the flavours of a myriad of Chinese spices cannot be faulted. Rice noodles soak up the rich soup as you slurp away in the cramped confines of this hole-in-the-wall. Another of its signatures is curry beef tendon – watery, powdery goo that’s passable, but tendon fans should find themselves in soft, chewy haven. Just slurp fast, before the eagle-eyed shopkeeper hurries you with a death stare.
Mainland Chinese tourists may be flooding Causeway Bay for LV and Chanel, but any city worth its retail salt will stock these big brands anyway. The more discerning shopper can be found at PMQ. Conceived as a hub for creative industries, PMQ opened in April this year to much fanfare amongst insiders in – and consumers of – the local art, fashion and design scene. More than 100 enterprises across seven floors will satisfy your desires for all things quirky, bespoke and different, from unique ready-to-wear pieces to cheeky knick-knacks, from customised jewellery to antique artefacts. This one-stop shopping destination is also home to frequent pop-ups, festivals and social events. An entire afternoon is recommended, finished by coffee and snacks at Jason Atherton’s uber-chill Aberdeen Street Social near PMQ’s entrance.
Fans of knock-offs will delight in the rickety night markets of Kowloon, where garish bras and filmsy iPhone covers are the subject of incessant haggling. Citygate Outlets, however, ensures you get a good bargain in more refined, air-conditioned surrounds. As the first building that greets you as the Airport Express train pulls away HKIA, which makes it the perfect spot for some retail therapy if you only have a brief stopover. Genuine price cuts on genuine brands are quite a pipedream in Singapore, so the 80 international brand names offering year-long discounts at Citygate will definitely put you in a happy mood. We bagged more than we asked for – we cancelled our intended visit to nearby Disneyland. Who needs Mickey when we were in credit card-swiping wonderland?
Ten seconds is all you need to fall in love with Hotel Icon. Walk into your room and discover a complimentary smart phone provided for you to navigate the city, a free-flow mini-bar to gorge yourself on Perrier and M&Ms, and a working printer to print that last minute boarding pass. Even before jumping on the fluffy bed with a view of Victoria Harbour to wake up to, you know your Hong Kong escapade is going to rock.
As TripAdvisor’s Traveller Choice for far too many categories (!), the independent hotel blends chic, minimalist modernity aptly with traditional Cantonese hospitality. We especially loved the touches of native culture, from paintings by local artists dotted around the hotel to local university students learning and working at this teaching establishment. Every corner we turned, we felt like someone has thought about what our next need was; the service is quite out-of-this-world. It would be selfish of us not to share this outstanding hotel with you. Definitely luxury at a steal – without the stench of cookie-cutter chain hotels.
Save your allowance for more shopping and eating by checking into Hop Inn on Carnarvon. Rave reviews on AirBnB led us there and it sure impressed with its spacious, air-conditioned rooms, obliging staff and of course, its good value. Right smack in the hubbub of Tsim Sha Tsui, Hop Inn is in close proximity to Kowloon’s main attractions and a variety of street-side eateries, but since it is housed on high floors, the noise is never an issue.
Hop Inn also commissioned talented local illustrators to design the inn, so each room is unique in design, from multi-coloured wall graffiti to carefully-crafted pendant decorations. Catch a cheap massage in the same building, cure your hangover with curry fishballs just a few shops down, or simply walk to Nathan Road for the bright city lights of Hong Kong’s main thoroughfare – that’s how convenient Hop Inn is!