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stephanie-johnson,-hong-kon

If one were to die and go to heaven it may look something like a Cathay Pacific First Class flight.  I was disappointed when I called looking for a mileage ticket in Business Class and none were available.  Alas First was available so First it was.  The only problem being that now that I’ve experienced silver caviar service with handwritten notes, my own 100% organic Cotton PJ’s to sleep in, my very own closet with which to stow my own raggedy sweatpants and hoodie, and enough personal space to accommodate a family of three, as well as a sleeper bed that would easily accommodate me and Erela nestled cozily together, champagne on demand, and service with a smile, how can I ever go back to economy on my beloved Delta?

And so that is how I kicked off another trip to one of my favorite cities, Hong Kong.  The flight was just the beginning though as everything about this city is first class.  Arrival at The Upper House is like arriving home to familiar faces. The staff is young and eager but not fussy and all over you the way some high end hotel staff can often be.  They greeted me with a smile, asked about my daughter, Erela, and presented me with  a proposed  itinerary of new restaurants that I might like based on my previous choices.

The rooms are sublime with sky high views over Victoria Harbor and Kowloon, and as agreed by my driver, simply the best bathrooms anywhere in Hong Kong.  Alana my friend, this is the hotel for you!  In addition to four perfect croissants (I promptly ate them all and there began my gluttonous journey) and coffee, was a gift of some mandarin room spray in a sexy glass and wood bottle upon arrival in my room.  Even the smallest room is a minimum of 750 square feet and has a view.  The real treat here, though, is the staff.  Kristina, who had been helping me arrange several morning and half day hikes,  presented me with my very own book of Hong Kong hikes (another gift!) and the night before departure had another Hong Kong book of collected photos as well as an Upper House duffel bag delivered to my room!  How did they know I’d be coming home with more loot than I had room for in my Rimowa?

Hong Kong is a city that is ripe with all of my favorite things in life:   afternoon tea, reflexology, wonton in noodle soup, and access to nature not too far from the urban excitement.  In addition to working the fabric markets (purpose of my trip after all!), I packed lots of these into my days.

stephanie-johnson,-fabric-m

EAT

Start the day with breakfast (and a view!) at Cafe Gray, including a ten grain cereal with stewed raspberries and a pomelo and grapefruit salad.  Afternoon tea at Le Salon de The at Joel Robuchon (twice) with my favorite jasmine tea and sweet delights that are as pretty as they are good.  Plus I love the oddity of eating in a luxe tea salon located in the middle aisle of a mall with views of the Tom Ford shop from your leather banquet.

Lunch everyday at one noodle shop or another.  I hit my old favorite in the Meekok district, sampled new fare at Tim Ho Wan, and on my last day I stumbled upon Mak’s Noodle on Wellington Street.  Tim Ho Wan has numerous locations (and a Michelin star to boot!) and in addition to wontons in noodle soup, they have a full menu including some seriously sweet BBQ pork buns (as well as accolades from folks like Anthony Bourdain).   Mak’s is straight up noodles  and wontons and might be my favorite.  They make the dishes in the window and their dumplings are extra tiny which I like.  None of these places have napkins though and if they do, expect to pay for them.

I skipped dinner most nights due to jet lag but did make it across the street to the Asia Society of the Arts which houses the intimate AMMO restaurant.  They offer mostly pasta dishes featuring seafood and urchin, and I was ready for pasta after a marathon week of dim sum and dumplings.  Although I didn’t eat there, I did pop into Duddell’s one day when I was in the neighborhood.  A mostly expat escape with a clubby feel and a charming garden amidst the skyscrapers.

stephanie-johnson,-maks,-hi

DO

This trip I took advantage of the beautiful hiking Hong Kong has available.  A half day trip to Lamma Island included a ferry ride to and fro (one has to see Hong Kong island from the water!), a nice hike and a seaside lunch at the port.  Another morning had me hiking a portion of the famed Dragon’s Back trail in Shek O Country Park.  My favorite was the hike I took the morning I left.  Peak Tram to the peak!  Nice little hike along the circle path (which would have had insane vistas if it hadn’t been so hazy), and a hike straight down again to Central.

Due to strict orders from the chiropractor (that I mostly follow), I rarely indulge in full body massages and have taken to reflexology instead.  There is no shortage of foot massage spots in Hong Kong but this time I discovered my happy place (thanks to the ladies at the Upper House).  Ten Feet Tall is a laid back oasis with a beach vibe.  White washed wood walls and floors remind you of a private beach club cabana, with privacy curtains and a personal drawer in which to charge your iPhone or Blackberry.  I dimmed my lights, hydrated with coconut water served in the coconut, and settled in for necessary relaxation.  Twice.   At $35 bucks for 50 minutes I would have treated myself daily, but alas the time!

Next time I’m bringing Erela and I really am going to go to Disneyland!

stephanie-johnson,-hong-kon

I’ve been to Hong Kong many times over the years and this last trip was full of cultural surprises and new culinary adventures.  In keeping with my theme of getting outside my comfort zone this year, I shook things up and stayed in a new hotel in a different part of town and tried everything new.

STAY

I’d gladly hop the 15 hour flight to return to The Upper House.  The place is perfection.  Of course, it didn’t hurt that they upgraded me upon arrival to a 1000+ square foot suite. (American Express platinum card, y’all.  Get on it!)  From my arrival in a Lexus RH450 Hybrid with full moon roof to view the Hong Kong skyline, to Wi-Fi so I could FaceTime with my daughter, I was hooked.

Check-in was in the room where a large tote bag full of wrapped presents waited for me (swear), and the minibar (or more rightly dubbed, maxi bar) had free treats, sodas, beer and juices for my enjoyment.  A huge glass jar of m&m’s, anyone?  And yes I said FREE.

The room was such a zen paradise that I’m not a skilled enough wordsmith to do it justice.  I’ve never slept better and that’s a statement considering the jet lag issue.

The Upper House is redefining the guest experience.  Rather than a reception and concierge desk, their staff is knowledgeable on many matters and is encouraged to walk the extra mile.  One staff number did just that.   When I asked about a dinner spot he literally walked out the front door (without telling anyone!) and escorted me down the bend, across the road, to a neighborhood restaurant.  I can promise you will feel at home here and likely won’t want to leave.  Flawless.

I’ve been to Hong Kong numerous times before and always stay at the Intercontinental  on the Kowloon side.  The views of Victoria Harbor are worth the stay alone and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those 6am Tai Chi classes by the pool.

EAT

The China Club has a dress code (love that) and some devilishly good cuisine.  Cubed filet with fried garlic chips is a house favorite and mine too.  Stay for the tea show in the main dining room where a man ‘dances’ with his teapot while pouring tea, and watch the chef toss dough sky-high and make noodles out of it . . . with his fingers.

I love Hutong as much for its food as its traditional Beijing decor.  I’m a repeat offender, you will be too.  For a more casual lunch try Zen for dim sum in a mall atmosphere.  Or go local and eat the best dumplings and noodles in the fabric market on the Kowloon side.  Sorry the name is only printed in Chinese characters (=real deal!), but find it at 192 Tai Nan Street in the Sham Shui Po district.  Formerly housed under a tarp on the street, this delicious noodle bar “got rich” and now has a restaurant environment indoors . . . good for them, but I miss a stool on the street!

I would go to Sevva for a rooftop drink before dinner and try Zuma for sushi prepared in an open kitchen setting.  After too many dumplings you may be craving something from home, so try Gaia for a green salad and a thin crust pizza.

After watching the light show from Kowloon and walking the Canton Road, I took the Star Ferry back to Central and popped into Inagiku for dinner at The Four Seasons Hotel.  An instant favorite with Harbor views, and a tempura and tappanyaki bar.  I learned how to eat tempura the Chinese way (with two varieties of salt) and the Hong Kong way (with tempura dipping sauce).

DO

Do take local transport!  I loved the trolley, trams, Star Ferry and the MTR.   A great way to see the city and easy to use.

The trip highlight for me was the awesome sight of the Big Buddha on Lantau Island and the gorgeous cable car ride to get there.  I only wish I’d known that you can hike to the Buddha . . . the hiking trail winds up green hills on wooden boardwalks, stairs and earth.  Make it a day trip and hike the peak taking in the nature and views . . . a nice respite from the city lights.

Take the junk out for a sail on Victoria Harbor and be sure to see the light show from the Kowloon side at 8pm nightly.  Back in Central I walked endlessly through the Soho and Lan Kwai Fun neighborhoods enjoying the local market stands, down the Hollywood road and up Pottinger Lane where I bought my daughter tiny bows for her hair.

I didn’t get to it this trip, but seeing Hong Kong from the Peak via tram is a must.  Go at dusk when you can see all the lights.

After a long day be sure to check out FOOT (yes that is really the name) on the Queen’s Road Central for an authentic reflexology treatment.  A fun Hong Kong experience to have your feet rubbed while lounging in a recliner in a dark room among a dozen other people.  I went twice.

SHOP

I love the local markets, and Stanley Market  is great for tourists wanting to stock up on silk pj’s, jade objects and other Chinese trinkets.  If you are a serious fashionista then by all means hit Lane Crawford, Joyce and Harvey Nichols.  All their holiday windows were gorgeous and rivaled Fifth Avenue back home.  (Loved an entire gown complete with train made of red clothes pins!)

 

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