Amongst White Clouds at Hong Kong’s W Hotel
Anna Bastiaenen gets her feet wet on the roof tops of a monsoon soaked Hong Kong. Luckily, she has a nice roof over her head to compensate.
You catch a glimpse of it on the ascent, as you pass by the Barker Road, where China’s richest spar for the swanky condos: the famous Hong Kong skyline. City, sea and mountain locked in an intricate, vertical puzzle. One of the world’s great cityscapes and my home for the next few days.
Because of the elevation we’re braced for dizzying views of the harbour; you can usually see for miles from The Peak. It’s the crown of Hong Kong Island and the last stop on a steep but scenic tram ride, but today the wind has circled in from the Pearl River Delta and brought with it thick, white smog. No one can see a thing. Optimistic tourists, undeterred, mill aimlessly around the metal deck peering out at solid air, cameras clicking. Our guide tells us a house on the Barker Road sold for HK$1.8 billion last year. At over HK$68 thousand for every square foot, it became the most expensive location in the world. But that’s expected in Hong Kong now, defiant street protests have done nothing to ease the tense, silent grip of the city’s tycoons on the squeezed middle classes. The wealth gap widens and prices rip even higher.
Well, our view at The Peak may have been blocked but we’re not worried because the smog eventually clears and back at the W Hotel, above the Kowloon MTR, there are views, too. Each night you can watch the sun fall over Victoria Harbour, shrouded in mist; boats still and serene, scattering the water. If you’ve been to a W, you’ll know the decor: hip and trendy and a little bit kooky, with modernist furniture, electronic controls and rooms that are ‘Fabulous’, ‘Fantastic, or ‘Wow’. The lobby is at ground level but the hotel starts further up, which combined with the jet lag leads me on a few meandering journeys to the Woobar. It’s buzzy and exciting but the lighting is cool and moody so everything looks trendier. Even your oldest t-shirt with the holes gains grungy rock-star status, like it was intentional.
We look around the W’s Penthouse (‘Extreme Wow’). It’s 2,153 square feet with a 65” plasma and a bathtub that could easily fit ten. It probably does, regularly. My suite’s almost as big and has a similarly quirky mini-bar (items of interest: stuffed bear, something freeze-dried, box of Get Lucky condoms). As it happens, the beds live up to the ‘wow’ – you almost float on them. I hit the ‘down’ switch on the blackout blinds and slip into a climate-controlled coma. Only a phone call can rouse me the following morning.
Heavy rain has put paid to the boat trip, so there’s some decision-making to do. There’s a lot to look at in a city where Taoist temples and Edwardian edifices make snug among skyscrapers, where locals light incense to bodhisattvas and then march off to trade on the World markets. We (narrowly) rule out Disneyland (because we’re not ten-year-olds) and opt for the Bruce Lee exhibition at the Heritage Museum (significantly more grown-up).
Later on, we’re given a free smartphone so we don’t go astray in the city and then we go in search of dim sum. Every food lover should visit Hong Kong. There’s an overwhelming supply of gestational variety. Markets, serving fresh (read: alive) chicken, fish, turtles and frogs and unidentifiable fruit and vegetables are all a must-see (if not eat). Stalls tout fried fish balls and other street eats; everything that’s edible is put on a stick. Cantonese roast meat is outrageously good and I come to realise that if it looks ugly, it’s going to taste awesome.
A late afternoon pit-stop occurs at hip rooftop bar, Fu Lu Shou, where we sip on sweet, precisely balanced cocktails. Hong Kong packs the most skyscrapers in the world (8,000 buildings top 14 floors, almost twice that of New York); it’s a hell of a lot of rooftop. But it’s not all about the pricey panoramas, it’s also dark alleyways and secret doors. Hidden away in a grungy, cool building, see beyond Fu Lu Shou’s door code and rickety elevator and you’re surrounded by swing chairs, comfy sofas and street art.
When dusk falls the city reignites, burnishing its credentials as an international metropolis; searing it into your subconscious, if you will. Campaigns against light pollution are not welcome here, the power literally effervesces from every billboard. Sealed off from the mainland but intimately connected to it, over the years the city’s economic output may have dwindled compared with China’s spectacular expansion, but foreign investors still turn to Hong Kong and its fair, transparent courts. For Beijing, Hong Kong has proved far more financially vital than it ever was to London.
It’s now Saturday night and Duddell’s, a restaurant in the Central District, is in full swing. The space is intimate, classy and muted. It was designed by Ilse Crawford as a place for artists to mingle. An elaborate spread that runs to 7 courses showcases excellent Cantonese cooking, meticulously executed dishes of sweet chilli eel, spicy salt shrimp and crispy pork ribs. Rice is the final dish that you only eat if you’re still hungry, which is unlikely. We head to the upstairs bar for cocktails, with the lingering savour of sweet and salt on our lips.
It’s just as well we stay put, because Hong Kong Observatory issues a Black Level rain warning and the city comes to a standstill. Cars vanish from the streets. 7cm of rain falls in an hour. And because no one wants to be half-swimming, half-wading home, we drink some more champagne before catching the last MTR back to the hotel, decidedly intoxicated.
Sunshine finally breaks through the cloud on our final day, perfect timing because lunch at Sevva beckons, which on floor 25 of the Prince’s building is a restaurant that’s known for its balconies, status and setting. And CAKE. Glass counters groan under the weight of whipped cream and icing. But first, we taste the demitasse of pumpkin soup and sweet ‘n sour tiger prawns, the fire-grilled Wagyū tenderloin, all exquisitely prepared.
There’s no feeling quite like being immersed in Hong Kong’s moving metropolis. The city is on the rise, economically and culturally. Vertically too, which no doubt will only add to the views. Everything moves quickly, but you’ll find just as many moments of absolute stillness, pause and reflection. The more you discover the more you’ll realise that the city has a unique hold on us; you can leave but Hong Kong will never leave you. China’s dominance isn’t looming. In many, many ways, it’s already here.
Visit discoverhongkong.com/uk to plan your trip and find out the best things to see and do during your stay.
Fu Lu Shou Tel: (852) 2336-8812 and Facebook: Fu Lu Shou.
Duddell’s: 3-4/F, Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street. Tel: (852) 2525-9191 www.duddells.co.
Sevva: 10 Chater Rd, Hong Kong Tel: (852) 2537-1388 www.sevva.hk.
W Hotel: 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon Station Tel: (852) 3717-2222 www.w-hongkong.com.