Tsim Tsa Shui
Tsim Tsa Shui, on the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, is where many of Hong Kong’s hotels are clustered, and it’s where the territory is at its brashest — a place where neon signs and tailors’ touts compete to shout the loudest. But Tsim Tsa Shui is also home to many of Hong Kong’s best cultural attractions. The Hong Kong Cultural Centre, Space Museum and Museum of Art line the waterfront, while the Museum of History and Science Museum are tucked a little further back. A coast-hugging promenade includes its take on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the views of Hong Kong Island make up one of the world’s great cityscapes.
We recommend: Hotel Icon
Hotel Icon’s back story is almost as interesting as the end product. Built as a training hotel for Hong Kong’s next generation of hotel managers, this multi million-dollar project has torn up the rule book. With no chain affiliations and owned by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the Icon has been specifically designed for Hong Kong by indigenous designers and architects. More than 200 specially commissioned artworks spice up the public areas, and welcome innovations include paperless check-in, free mini-bars and the Timeless lounge with complimentary tea, coffee and snacks. All the luxuries are in place, while intelligent use of space and the noticeably youthful staff keep the hotel feeling fresh and entrepreneurial.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$1,920 (£158). 17 Science Museum Road, Tsim Tsa Shui East. T: 00 852 3400 1000. www.hotel-icon.com
■ X factor: The heated outdoor pool offers a spectacular unfolding view of the skyline.
Best for flamboyance: the Luxe Manor
The most fun hotel in Hong Kong by several light years, the Luxe Manor isn’t afraid to sprinkle the glitter. The six uniquely themed suites are superbly OTT, but the 153 standard rooms aren’t short on the wow factor either. Floors resembling fireworks displays, seductively curving furniture, picture frames painted onto walls and fairytale-like interiors make this the top spot for anyone who loves their luxury with a twist. The Dada Bar and Lounge is one of the most strikingly appealing in town, too, bedecked in velvet with bronze sculptures and soft lighting.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$1,386 (£114). 39 Kimberley Road, Tsim Tsa Shui. T: 00 852 3763 8880 www.theluxemanor.com
Best for families: Salisbury YMCA
Pretty much a perfect location, near the Star Ferry terminal and kid-friendly waterfront museums, with top-drawer views out over Victoria Harbour? Tick. Rooms at a standard far above what you’d expect in a YMCA? Tick. All manner of facilities — including a climbing wall, indoor swimming pool, gym and squash courts? Tick. Children’s corner stuffed with books, educational toys and games? Tick. It’s no wonder this place is often sold out — book well in advance.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$912 (£75); family suites from HK$1,650 (£136). 41 Salisbury Road, Tsim Tsa Shui. T: 00 852 2268 7888. www.ymcahk.org.hk
Away from Tsim Tsa Shui, the Kowloon Peninsula has a partly gritty, but mainly just plain down-to-earth feel to it. Most of the hotels and areas of interest for tourists are along three intermingled pseudo-suburbs stretching along the spine — Nathan Road, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok are hives of market stalls, electronics shops and shabby stores selling unidentified dried goods — ripe for the ‘bustling’ and ‘vibrant’ clichés often associated with Hong Kong. This is where you’ll find the city’s simmering heart. And abandon all visions of it being a Western city in Asia; it’s overwhelmingly Cantonese, with the odd concession.
We recommend: Langham Place
With a massive likability factor raising it above Hong Kong’s herd of luxury alternatives, the Langham Place is both a place to happily cocoon yourself in and one that encourages getting out and about. The free iPad loan scheme — including pre-loaded tour routes and roaming internet connection — is superb. For guests wanting to stay put, the hotel features a huge, modern-leaning art collection (with information provided on Top Trump-style cards), and there’s no need to head out for dinner — the on-site two Michelin-starred Ming Court offers top-notch Cantonese cuisine. The 665 rooms veer towards peace rather than panache — with comfy beds and bulging bathroom amenity kits.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$1,650 (£136). 555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok. T: 00 852 3552 3388. www.hongkong.langhamplacehotels.com
■ X factor: Treat after treat: surprise extras, from fresh fruit to head masseuses, tend to arrive every evening.
Best for local life: Cosmo hotel MongKok
Situated just to the east of Mongkok’s frenzied markets, the slick, 285-room Cosmo is a Westernised oasis surrounded by curious local shops and Cantonese street life. Plenty of mirrors are used to exaggerate the room sizes, but the price seems about right, with massage showers, flatscreen TVs and electronically controlled blinds among the additions giving it great value-for-money. The free shuttle bus to other areas of Kowloon is also very handy.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$660 (£54). 88 Tai Kok Tsui Road Kowloon. T: 00 852 3987 2288. www.cosmomongkok.com.hk
Best for added extras: Eaton Smart
Smart’s the right word here. And although the 465 rooms are on the small side, that’s Hong Kong for you. They are immaculately presented with a sense of tailored style and an impressive array of amenities, while umbrellas, maps and iPod docks are standard. However, the real charm is what’s thrown in — free tai chi lessons, market tours, bottled water and cocktail vouchers hidden in dim sum baskets reveal the emphasis Eaton Smart puts on providing the best guest experience possible.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$968 (£80). 380 Nathan Road. T: 00 852 2782 1818. www.hongkong.eatonhotels.com
Central is Hong Kong Island’s major hub, where the ferries come in, the major rail lines connect and much of the territory’s business is done. Office towers are surrounded by shopping palaces, with the entertainment district of Lan Kwai Fong tucked in between the commerce and the climb up to Victoria Peak. Navigating the overpasses and malls in Hong Kong’s high temple of consumption requires years of training — but a few colonial remnants and glorious multi-tiered parks take the frenetic edge off.
We recommend: The Upper House
Many words may be associated with Hong Kong, but, chances are, serenity isn’t one of them. That rare quality is something The Upper House attains. Perched high above the Pacific Place complex, this hotel suits people who prefer their service seamlessly unobtrusive as opposed to obsequious, and who measure luxury in feel rather than facilities. The lack of a pool is a glaring omission, but at over 750sq ft, the 117 rooms in this all-suite hotel are gigantic by Hong Kong standards, and the bathrooms, with their free-standing tubs, are huge. Free beers and soft drinks from the mini-bar are another bonus, as are jars full of snacks in the cupboards. Despite producing its own city guidebooks, the Upper House has created rooms you just don’t want to leave.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$4,950 (£407). Pacific Place, 88 Queensway. T: 00 852 2918 1838. www.upperhouse.com
■ X factor: Due to the building’s unusual design, every room is a corner suite offering grand views in two directions.
Best for pampering: Landmark Mandarin Oriental
The Landmark is ideally located, with Lan Kwai Fong’s bars and restaurant on the doorstep, but far enough away not to disturb, while credit card-busters are right on top of the designer label-heavy mall The Landmark. The 113 large, daringly designed and well-equipped rooms are marvellous, but the spa is the real star. Personalised treatments, plus sprawling heat and water facilities, make it the top choice in town for more indulgent individuals.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$4,730 (£389). 15 Queen’s Road Central, The Landmark. T: 00 852 2132 0188. www.mandarinoriental.com/landmark
Best for chilling on the cheap: Garden View YWCA
There’s a green-for-scene trade-off here — on the hill above the Central district, Garden View YWCA misses out on the big-city buzz. Then again, you’re right next to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens and Hong Kong Park. The 141 rooms have a bit of a Premier Inn vibe — hardly dazzling — but many have lovely views out over the gardens and city skyline. The small but well-equipped fitness suite and lap-worthy outdoor pool are added bonuses.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$792 (£65). 1 MacDonnell Road, Mid-levels. T: 00 852 2877 3737. http://hotel.ywca.org.hk
Wan Chai & Causeway Bay
East of Central, these two districts merge into one another. Despite markets spilling out over some of the smaller streets and the sort of frenzied development no part of Hong Kong seems to escape, the British era hasn’t been entirely glossed over yet. This is partly due to the presence of Victoria Park and the traditional firing of the Noon Day Gun at the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter. Happy Valley racecourse — one of Hong Kong’s best nights out — is found where the suburbs overlap at the southern end.
We recommend: J Plus
There may be more than a whiff of pretension about the 56-room J Plus — but it’s certainly not dull. The lobby feels like you’ve stumbled into a fashion shoot, with gilded Queen Anne sofas, African-print rocking chairs, wooden wheelbarrows and shimmering purple curtains. The rooms themselves are less eclectic, but have an immediately distinctive Philippe Starck look — unapologetically bright white furniture and luxury marble walk-in showers. The cleverness comes in dividing each room with sheer white curtains to keep kitchenette, living area and bedroom separate — giving a suite feel to what’s actually just a fairly large room. The tech requisites — flatscreen TV, DVD player, iPod dock, free wi-fi — are all in place, along with free soft drinks in the mini-bar. Should you wish to mingle with the beautiful people downstairs, complimentary afternoon cakes and evening glasses of wine are on offer.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$1,705 (£140). 1 Irving Street, Causeway Bay. T: 00 852 3196 9000. www.jplushongkong.com
■ X factor: This is ‘Zoolander goes to Hong Kong’ — but it’s stylish and inventive enough to get away with it.
Best for business on a budget: The Fleming
There are some trade-offs for the price — the fitness centre is at a separate club five minutes away, while rooms are hardly cat-swinging arenas — but the Fleming is an affordably stylish property on Hong Kong Island. iPod docks, DVD players and plasma screens help on the relaxation front in the 66 rooms, while the work desk, ironing board and safe are handy for those on business. Deluxe rooms with kitchenettes are more suited to long-stayers.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$1,080 (£89). 41 Fleming Road, Wan Chai. T: 00 852 3607 2288. www.thefleming.com/rooms.php
Best for budget travellers: Alisan Guest house
The word ‘guesthouse’ can evoke terror in anyone who has stayed in one of Hong Kong’s many, many bad ones — but the Alisan gets it right, and it shows in the friendly, helpful staff. Spread over multiple levels in a Causeway Bay tower block, its 30 rooms are simple but clean and comfortable, while air conditioning, a small TV and en suite bathroom come as standard, as do free local phone calls and wi-fi.
■ Rooms: Doubles from HK$440 (£36). Flat A, 5/F Hoito Court, 275 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay. T: 00 852 2838 0762. http://home.hkstar.com/~alisangh
Published in the September 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)