It has been almost three years, and a pandemic in between, but Cathay Pacific this month finally relaunched direct flights from SA to Hong Kong, putting the ‘fragrant harbour’ just 12 hours away.
Hong Kong has long been one of my favourite Asian cities — the Goldilocks combo of radical Asian efficiency and Blade Runner-esque futurism, all blended together with a healthy dollop of authentic charm. Where else can you step off a world-class metro system, drop into a Louis Vuitton boutique or stroll through contemporary art galleries, and then bump into a traditional medicine shop with an entire dried shark hanging from the ceiling? Where Singapore often feels anodyne and sterile, and Bangkok is perhaps too gritty for some, Hong Kong is always ... just right.
And while the city endured lockdowns far longer than the rest of the world, it certainly didn’t sit on its hands. In the past three years, Hong Kong has seen a host of new openings, from chic hotels and art galleries to pan-Asian eateries.
But first, you’ll need a place to stay, and there are few more-famous addresses than Regent Hong Kong.
Set on the Avenue of Stars waterfront boardwalk in Tsim Sha Tsui, the hotel (previously an Intercontinental) has been closed for more than two years for a major refurbishment and a rebrand to the original name. The new aesthetic is courtesy of Hong Kong-born architect and designer Chi Wing Lo, who brings a contemporary Asian aesthetic to the luxe property’s 497 rooms. But it’s the Harbour View suites that you’ll want to book, with window-side daybeds offering spectacular skyline vistas. Hungry? The hotel’s two-Michelin-star Lai Ching Heen is right downstairs, for an elevated take on Cantonese cuisine.
Across the water in the business-led district of Wan Chai is another gem that opened its doors (bravely) during the lockdowns. As at the sister-hotel in London’s Belgravia you’ll find a similar boutique approach at The Hari Hong Kong, with art-filled rooms, fine linens by Mühldorfer and signature amenities from La Bottega. Whether you’re there for meetings or the district’s famous nightlife, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better address. And don’t miss the inspired Japanese plates on offer at the in-house restaurant Zoku.
The city’s hotels have long been havens for memorable dining, and Hong Kong boasts a culinary scene that is as vibrant as it is diverse. You can jostle with office workers slurping dumplings at Lan Fong Yuen, or book a table in advance at Yung Kee, home to the finest roast goose in the city.
Another new opening sees an Asian take on New Nordic cuisine at Wan Chai’s æra, while across the river in Tsim Sha Tsui the newlyopened Azure 80 dishes up Shanghai and Sichuan cuisine with a side-order of spectacular harbour views. And, if you’re in the area of Wong Tai Sin for the remarkable Taoist temple of Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, plan your day around dinner at Man Yuen Restaurant. Opened in April by respected restaurateur CK Poon, don’t be put off by the location in the shopping centre of a housing estate. Far from the moneyed glitz of the harbour front, you’ll find value-for-money plates on a menu that celebrates nostalgic Cantonese cuisine. Pack an adventurous palate for the likes of steamed eel with aged tangerine peel, pig liver siu mai and honey-glazed oysters.
It’s not just the hotels and restaurants that have a new lease on life post-pandemic. Across the city, some of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions have been revitalised over the past three years of relative isolation.
A R2bn upgrade has transformed the ever-popular Peak Tram experience, which whisks visitors from the streets of Central to the viewpoint at Victoria Peak. New tram cars, revamped stations and immersive new visitor exhibitions showcasing the 130-year history of the tram have made it about far more than just the (excellent) views.
There’s been a surge in cultural openings too. Top of the bill is the new M+ Museum in West Kowloon, which touts itself as a global museum of visual culture. That’s a suitably broad definition, with exhibits to match. It’s a vast museum — almost the size of New York’s MoMA — and on-site you’ll find everything from immersive multimedia installations to exhibits delving deep into the nexus of art and fashion. Just across from M+ in the West Kowloon Cultural District you’ll find the Hong Kong Palace Museum, with nearly a thousand Chinese artefacts and relics on loan from the Palace Museum in Beijing.
A short walk back towards the Regent Hong Kong — and past the iconic Star Ferry terminal — you’ll find the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It’s no stranger to the city — its doors opened in 1962 — but it was closed for a four-year revamp, opening just before the city entered lockdowns. So, it’s as good as new and today offers a remarkable gallery space. Best of all, admission to the permanent collection is free of charge.