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48 Hours in Hong Kong

It may no longer be the précised and sanitised, cheap “Chinese shopping experience” it was two decades ago, but despite these changes – or maybe because of them – Hong Kong is a sexier and more rollicking ride than ever before.

Both reflective and independent of its progenitors, it has become an inimitable, compelling amalgam of cool sophistication, warm hospitality, and vibrant energy. For a visitor with only 48 hours to fill, there is little to beat it.

Stay

Your lodgings can make or break a trip, so ensure the former with an astute selection. You will struggle to find a better choice than the Island Shangri-La, the pre-eminent scion of a home-grown group, and the epitome of unpretentious refinement.

The typical benefits of a great hotel are superbly delivered – large rooms, lavish breakfasts, premium facilities, with the skyscraper-surrounded pool deck a splendid highlight, especially in a city known for having more of them than any other in the world.

View of Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour at  sunset.

View of Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour at sunset.

The hotel houses eight restaurants on-site, including the Michelin-starred Summer Palace, but it is Restaurant Petrus that is the star attraction.

Set on the 56th floor in elegant surroundings, the establishment offers classical fine dining and excellent wines, but with just enough of an edge to stir the imagination. Sample the green-pea tart with yoghurt, meringue and coriander for dessert.

Move

Taxis are plentiful and relatively affordable, but it is often quicker and more convenient to use Hong Kong’s outstanding public transport system, especially when crossing from island to mainland and vice versa.

Encompassing buses, trains, trams, and ferries, it is one of the most effective and user-friendly public transport systems in the world.

Buying an Octopus smartcard allows you to breeze on and off for the duration of your visit without worrying about buying individual tickets.

See

Hong Kong is intense. It is visually spectacular, with a compact frame of sea, city, and mountain, and densely constituted.

There is no shortage of things to see and do. Victoria Peak offers a spectacular panoramic view over the city, and indeed the whole of Hong Kong Island on the walks around its circumference. It is accessible by foot for the fit and energetic, or otherwise by The Peak Tram.

The Southern District is dotted with picturesque towns, ideal for day trips – notably Aberdeen, Stanley and Repulse Bay – all easily accessible via public transport.

Aberdeen is unique: historically, the channel separating its settlements was home to a floating village of fisherfolk. The area is also renowned for its cheap and cheerful fish-ball noodles – test your chopsticks technique on the rendition at Nam Kee Noodle on Main Road.

Tourist peak tram in Hong Kong

Tourist peak tram in Hong Kong

Eat

The speciality here is Cantonese, the style of Chinese cuisine most internationally prevalent: chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, and dim sum being typical dishes.

There is a gaping chasm, though, between what you get at your local Chinese, and the finer exponents available in situ. Duddell’s, an eatery-cum-art-gallery in the heart of Central on the island, gives you exactly that – the finer if not finest exponents of the style, but with a modern interpretation.

Highlights include their scallop dumplings with caviar and asparagus; double-boiled mushroom, bamboo and cabbage soup; shrimp spring rolls wrapped in rice sheets; a vegetarian ensemble of asparagus, mushrooms, lily buds and black truffles; and their signature chicken dish: marinated, air-dried and then deep-fried.

Homemade Chinese fishball soup

Homemade Chinese fishball soup

Over the bay, in Kowloon, you will find the pinnacle of an unpretentious, uniquely Hong Kongese speciality being served from a tiny, humble outlet.

Mammy Pancake serves egg waffles: a base batter of eggs, sugar, flour and evaporated milk, supplemented with ingredients like chocolate, peanut butter, and banana, according to taste.

They are prepared on a waffle iron, which moulds interconnected little pods (which you break off and eat by hand), and served in a paper bag. Simple and delicious. Try it as a breakfast snack, or at any time of the day.

Drink

A dark passage, a nondescript staircase, and an unmarked door. This is the low-key entranceway to Stockton, one of Hong Kong’s coolest bars. If you are not in the know, clearly you shouldn’t be here.

The name of the bar is derived from the middle name of the late reporter, writer and reveller Hunter S. Thompson.

The place is inspired by literary themes and influences – from its seasonal cocktail menu to its eclectic collection of vintage furniture and decorations, allusions to a private library or a reading room.

Welcome tea at the Shangri-La Hotel

Welcome tea at the Shangri-La Hotel

You get the sense that everything here has been well-thought-out and deeply considered: it is a place of substance for people of substance.

There are intimate crevices and alcoves, a packed bar, a “secret” cigar den (known as the “Rake Room”), a discerning selection of fine liquors, a toilet with a two-way mirror (!!), and a menu featuring unusual delicacies like duck scotch eggs and cauliflower fritters.

Getting There

Fly: SAA flies daily to Hong Kong from Johannesburg.

Words by Mary Holland

 

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