FORMER resident Andrew Hoyle returns to Hong Kong to reacquaint himself with one of the most captivating cities in the world
Does the journey matter more than the destination? Cocooned in my Club World pod, sipping my third – or possibly fourth – aperitif of Taittinger Brut Reserve on board a spanking new BA A380 bound for Hong Kong, I find myself pondering this very question. It occurs to me that there are worse ways to travel to the Fragrant Harbour than on the world’s biggest passenger plane, an entirely doubledeck behemoth, while tucking into a champagne supper of dukkah-spiced salmon and duck terrine followed by panfried beef tenderloin with bearnaise sauce, washed down with a selection of vintage wines. Then something peculiar happens: I fall soundly asleep, mid-mouthful. Instead of rounding off the repast with a platter of aged cheddar and brie as I had anticipated, the next thing I’m vaguely aware of is the captain announcing our imminent arrival at Chek Lap Kok airport. I have slept uninterrupted in the flatbed seat for the best part of nine hours.
Which probably tells you all you need to know about how the level of comfort in this luxury super jumbo.
I may have missed out on the cheeseboard, but I’m not going to go hungry in Hong Kong. With more than 11,000 restaurants in this Special Administrative Region of China, food is like a religion and in my elegant room at the Four Seasons Hotel I find three books on my bedside table: The New Testament, The Teachings Of Buddha and the Michelin Guide to Hong Kong restaurants.
Not surprisingly, I find the latter the most enlightening.
That night our party of journalists dine at the hotel’s Caprice restaurant, which features prominently in the guide and is awarded three much-coveted stars for its French cuisine, including langoustine ceviche, suckling pig’s trotters, roasted lobster and Challans duck fillet. Many of my colleagues are still in a state of wonderment the next day, pronouncing the meal the finest they have ever eaten.
The hotel occupies arguably the best location on the island, right on the north coast overlooking spectacular Victoria Harbour, along the promenade of which I take the evening air. An incredibly busy and fascinating waterway which divides Hong Kong island from the Kowloon peninsula, the harbour is crisscrossed day and night by an endless array of ferries, fishing boats, dredgers and pleasure cruisers.
Although there are tunnels for cars, buses, taxis and the fast, clean and efficient underground MTR train system, the best way to cross the harbour is on the historic Star Ferry. The five-minute crossing costs about 30p but the views are priceless and utterly unforgettable. If you only do one thing in Hong Kong a) you need a better tour guide b) make it the Star Ferry.
After soaking up the vibrant atmosphere across the water in Tsim Sha Tsui, and politely declining offers of ‘copy watches’, tailor-made suits and other less wholesome intimations, I get the Star Ferry back to Central Pier and follow the raised pedestrian walkways to the hotel. In my room I find calamansi and chocolate macaroons have been thoughtfully placed by my pillow as bedtime treat. Scrumptious – and I didn’t even know what calamansi was (it’s a citrus fruit).
I wake the next morning about 5am. Time for a dip at the hotel spa. Now, having lived in Hong Kong from 2000 to 2003 and visited several times since, I didn’t think there was much that could surprise me. I was wrong. The outdoor pools are just mindblowing. I have the place to myself, looking up at the towering skyscrapers surrounding the infinity pools, while music plays under the water and daily life on the South China Sea unfolds in front of me. I doubt there are many more spectacular aquatic experiences in the world.
I’ve worked up an appetite, so have a colossal breakfast to set me up for the trip up Victoria Peak, the 552 metre high point of Hong Kong, ascended using the vertiginous Peak Tram funicular. The breathtaking views from the top, revealing every aspect of Hong Kong and beyond are something special if you’re lucky enough to go up on a clear day.
After lunch at Mak’s Noodles in the Peak Galleria mall, I work off a few calories on a humid walk along lush pathways that wind down the mountainside, then get a taxi to hunt for tourist tat at Stanley Market on the south side of the island and the narrow lanes off the main thoroughfares of Central district, where stallholders tout pashminas, T-shirts, mobile phone accessories and more Hello Kitty memorabilia than you can shake a can of Whiskas at.
We regroup for dinner in trendy Shanghainese restaurant The Dining Room, in Causeway Bay, for a banquet of barbecued piglet, steamed garoupa and lobster, before joining Hong Kong’s beautiful people living it up in the clubs of nightlife district Lan Kwai Fong.
The next day is devoted to touring Lantau, easily the largest island of the 263 that make up Hong Kong proper, and home to the stilted village of Tai O, one of my favourite places in the world. Time has largely stood still here, and the residents who occupy the ramshackle elevated dwellings above the water go about their daily business of catching, drying and selling seafood just as their ancestors did centuries ago.
You could easily spend a day here, but time is tight so we get the coach to the Big Buddha, a 112ft, 250 ton statue at the windswept top of Ngong Ping hill, and have vegetarian lunch alongside monks and tourists at the nearby Po Lin Monastery.
Members of our party prone to (feigning?) vertigo bail out of the frankly terrifying Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride back down to terra firma at Tung Chung. Me and seven other hacks are made of sterner stuff and the sways in the dangling cabin are just about worth enduring for the jaw-dropping views. At night we feast on top-notch tapas and gin and tonics at Bocaqueri back in bustling Soho (a happening area south of Holywood Road).
On my last morning, I catch the No 9 bus to Shek O, the traditional seaside village on the far southeast corner of the island that I used to call home, and visit my 95-year-old former landlady, whose robust health seems to suggest that early morning tai chi on the beach followed by endless games of mahjong could be the key to longevity. The village is one of Hong Kong’s hidden gems, with sandy beaches and family friendly restaurants – the open air Thai Chinese at the roundabout is a wonderful Hong Kong institution (ask for the tasty “104”, Fried Chicken with Garlic, Salt and Pepper).
My last lunch is at another sublime Four Seasons eaterie – Lung King Heen, the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded three Michelin stars. Tucking into the exquisite offerings from executive chef Chan Yan Tak and his team – such as fish maw casserole with abalone, shrimp, scallops and chicken fillet, and fried puntalette with minced beef in XO chilli sauce – it’s hard to imagine a finer finale to a wonderful trip to one of the greatest cities in the world.
British Airways offer four nights at the 5* Four Seasons Hong Kong from £1,409 per person based on travel this month, including flights from Edinburgh to Hong Kong (via Heathrow) and accommodation only. Club World from £3,999 per person. For reservations tel: 0844 493 0758 or visit www.ba.com
For more on the Four Seasons Hotel visit www.fourseasons.com/hongkong. Rates start from £380 (including taxes) per room per night, based on two people sharing.