Whether it's a chef reinventing traditional Chinese cuisine in a restaurant that takes bookings three months in advance, a hot young designer creating a buzz in what has become Asia's fashion hotbed, or simply a new walking tour that takes its guests into a maze of traditional streets, markets and tea shops, a stop-over in Hong Kong is never, ever boring. Rhonda Bannister shares insights from her latest quick visit.
Breaking up a long-haul flight from Europe to Australia or vice versa is beneficial in so many ways. Jet lag and lack of sleep come to mind but also because a layover gives you the chance to add another dimension to your holiday. And if you're flying through Hong Kong, rest assured there are plenty of activities to grab your attention for a day.
Fortune favours the inquisitive
Seeing a fortune teller when you're in Asia is almost de rigueur and one of the best places to find out about your future is at one of Hong Kong's most famous temples, Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. Dedicated to "Great Immortal Wong", a healer born around 328 AD, this Taoist temple is famous with the locals for having many prayers answered, which is probably why the resident fortune tellers are said to have very high accuracy. Did they divine my future? Too soon to tell but it's worth a try if you have the time! Open 7am-5.30pm: Wong Tai Sin Station MTR Kwun Tong line.
Sense and the City
There are so many interesting areas to fossick around both on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon but unfortunately, unless you're staying for an extended time, you won't discover them. Luckily there's a company that specialises in informative local tours such as Hello Hong Kong, Good Evening Kowloon and the one we joined, Senses of Hong Kong, among many others.
This half-day tour took us to the streets of ancient Mong Kok district and the bustling wet market where the locals go shopping for meat, live seafood, herbs and spices and fruit and vegetables. Not many locals living in the over-crowded tenements have refrigerators so it's a daily chore. We also visited the flower markets where the streets overflowed with colourful petals and heady perfume before finding the goldfish and pet market a couple of blocks away. It's interesting that whatever you are looking for you will find in an area dedicated to that product - so different to the way we shop at home.
Along the way, we sampled local street food like stinky tofu that tasted like its name, curried fish balls that were amazingly tasty and a delicious light and flaky egg tart. Then we stopped off at a "cha chaan teng" restaurant where we tried the different varieties of local tea while people-watching the locals eating lunch. The walk is a good way to find out about how locals live, work and play in this pulsating city.
To market, to market
Hong Kong is famous for its atmospheric markets where you're sure to grab some fantastic bargains. Here's an easy guide to five you shouldn't miss.
1. The Ladies Market started life selling only clothing, underwear and accessories for ladies but that's all changed. It's a one-kilometre madhouse of colour and chatter where you will find shoes, T-shirts, children's and men clothing as well as anything women need. Opens around noon.Tung Choi Street, Kowloon.
2. Temple Street Night Market is a local icon and a must-visit even if just to soak up the crazy atmosphere. You can purchase just about anything here from trinkets to watches, antiques to electronics. Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon.
3. Stanley Market is situated in the old fishing village of Stanley and accessible by taxi if you don't have a lot of time or, if you have time and want to see more of the island catch the 6 or 66 bus which will take around 45 minutes from Exchange Square, Central. The market is a warren of lanes and it's easy to lose someone if you're not careful. We lost our aged aunty there once and she had to make her way back to the hotel alone! There's hundreds of stalls and the merchandise is mostly very good quality with larger sizes available. Stanley Market Road, Stanley.
4. The oldest market building surviving in Hong Kong houses the Western Market, which is not a traditional market as such but a centre for arts and crafts, boutiques and fabric shops. The reason to come here other than to shop or enjoy yum cha in the top storey restaurant is to see the building itself. A magnificent restored Edwardian-style building of red brick that is a unique sight on the island. 323 Des Voeux Road Central, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island.
5. Antique Street and Cat Street offer the shopper both ends of the spectrum, from precious antique furniture and artwork found in the shops along Antique Street (Hollywood Road) to the Mao/China knick-knacks, old coins, books, posters, videos and records found in the jumbled and jam-packed market shops opening onto Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row). This is a great place to get that unusual souvenir but be warned, you can spend hours fossicking! Best to visit during the week between 11 am and 6 pm. Hollywood Road and Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island.
Choosing a hotel in Hong Kong can be confusing because there's so many located on the island and in Kowloon and many of them are less than roomy. That's why it's good to know that the celebrated Pullman brand has taken over one of Hong Kong's best known and loved hotels, the Park Lane where we stayed, and given it a complete Pullman makeover. Situated in Causeway Bay, overlooking Victoria Park and the harbour, surrounded by high-end shops and malls and five minutes from the MTR station, we found it a great base. The rooms and suites are light, fresh and spacious, there's a marvellous gym and wellness centre, three restaurants and bars, a comfortable Executive Lounge and the ultimate spot for a pre-or-post-dinner drink on The Deck, 27 floors above the twinkling lights of the city.
If you time your visit right like we did, you will be staying here when the monthly Wine Dinner takes place in RIVA Restaurant also on the 27th floor. We enjoyed the Chateau Musar Wine Dinner with wines from Lebanon accompanying the five-course menu, an outstanding evening of gustatory delights. We especially enjoyed the explanation of the wines' complexities from Mr Hochar, the son of the winemaker, that made this an evening to be remembered. 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong.
Qantas has added four Sydney – Hong Kong flights each week on top of the daily services from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne so why not fly with our iconic airline! Their Business Class service is one of the best I have experienced and of course, travelling at the pointy end gives you access to their fabulous lounges and ensures you arrive at our destination fresh and well rested.
A new Qantas Business/First Class lounge was recently opened in Hong Kong (just in time for our visit!) and it's fantastic.The dining menu is designed by another iconic Aussie, Neil Perry, with favourites inspired by Rockpool and Spice Temple fame and the menu choices include a yum cha trolley, extensive buffet including a dish of the day, fresh vegetables, and salads and a selection from the Spice Temple BBQ Bar – all delicious!
The lounge seats up to 300 guests, has 12 showers, a family area, flexible work areas, world-class wine selection and a dedicated barista – what more could you ask for?