I SUSPECT most of us have a specific image of Hong Kong as a tourist destination…good for shopping, eating and taking the Peak Tram up to the lookout over the harbour. And maybe a foray into the stalls at the Stanley Markets or the lanes in Central. These are accurate images… but not the whole story, by any means.
On a recent trip we were simply amazed at the "other side" of Hong Kong unknown to the majority of visitors to Asia's World City.
For a start, there are hundreds of kms of walking tracks around the hills of Hong Kong Island and the New Territories… places far from the madding crowd where you can feel peace and solitude. There are short walks, for example around the Peak or across the Dragon's Back; or longer trails such as the MacLehose, over 100kms of punishing terrain advisable for only the very fit and well-equipped. It's an epic endurance test which takes a minimum of eight hours, or split over days into manageable sections for us more mature walkers.
But it's the islands of Hong Kong that captured our attention not only for healthy walking but exploring quaint fishing villages such as Tai O at the extremity of Lantau Island…about as far as you can go from Central Hong Kong. The excursion takes about 90 minutes each way by ferry and bus, and gives an insight into local customs including the practice of drying fish and other sea creatures to make potent, aromatic fish sauces and pastes. An acquired taste!
The best idea is however to spend a night or two at Tai O and soak up the local culture and cuisine. Fortunately there's the new boutique Heritage Hotel that's been created from the bones of the old Colonial Marine Police station, with nine beautiful rooms and a fine restaurant catering to Chinese and Western tastes. As far as possible, Tai O-sourced products are used to add a spicy flavour to old favourites such as fried rice and noodles, and even a pork burger!
Our brief sojourn at the Heritage Hotel over, we found ourselves back in Kowloon for some final retail therapy around the Tsim Sha Tsui area, where we discovered one of Hong Kong's accommodation treasures… The Luxe Manor. This is an eclectic small hotel with design nods to Dadaism and early 20th century art, plus a cool restaurant called FINDS using the initial letter of each Scandinavian country… the signature dish is a delicious collage called Salmon Six Ways. It's very hard to find affordable luxury like this in Hong Kong, dominated as it is by large business-type properties.
Adding it all up, maybe it's time for a re-think of Hong Kong's real attractions away from the bustle… lovely walks and island experiences… followed by some final days in a veritable art gallery of a hotel in downtown Kowloon
And on the way home, the absolute pleasure of Cathay Pacific Business Class… top of its class.