bill zwecker | October 20, 2011 | Lifestyle
Statue of Deng Xiaoping in Shenzhen
A miniature replica of Beijing's Forbidden City at Splendid China
The Shenzhen skyline
The pool at the Futian Shangri-La
A deluxe king room at the Futian Shangri-La
Hong Kong alight at night
For visitors traveling to Asia for the first time, Hong Kong is the perfect destination, made all the more accessible with the recent launch of nonstop Chicago-Hong Kong flights from notoriously luxe airline Cathay Pacific. The city’s 150-plus-year history as a British colony makes this dazzling metropolis—which calls itself “Asia’s World City”—an easy initial entry point to the Far East, thanks to English being so widely spoken. Street signs are written in both Chinese and English, and virtually all Hong Kong residents are fluent in the “Queen’s tongue,” so it’s a snap to get around and be clearly comprehended.
Beyond that, Hong Kong is a unique place, especially for those desiring all things upscale. A stay at the famous Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong hotel on the former crown colony will provide any visitor with an exceptional experience, starting from the moment you are whisked away from the airport by a hotel rep in a Mercedes- Benz (a service available on request). When you enter the hotel, you’ll see the unforgettable The Great Motherland of China, a 167-foot-high Chinese landscape hanging across from the hotel’s windowed elevators. Consisting of 250 silk panels created by 40 artists, it earned a Guinness world record as the largest Chinese landscape.
A room at the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong hotel
Speaking of artwork, the cuisine in Hong Kong is unmatched. To get a supreme taste, you don’t even need to leave the hotel: For roughly $200 per person, the Island Shangri-La’s Culinary Journey satiates guests’ appetites with a “progressive dinner” comprised of one course at each of the hotel’s seven restaurants.
Beyond the hotel walls, you’ll find some of the city’s best dim sum (which means “to touch the heart”) at the Shu Zhai restaurant (80 Stanley Main Street). Don’t miss the barbecued pork buns or the shrimp dumplings. If you’re more adventurous, try congee, a thin porridge of rice or other grains featuring everything imaginable as an added ingredient, including beef, pork balls or fish. Try it at Nathan Congee and Noodle (11 Saigon Street, Jordan). And definitely make time to see one of world’s largest restaurants, the aptly named Jumbo in Aberdeen Harbour—it’s an enormous floating eatery accessible only via an antique “junk” ferry.
A typical bowl of congee, or rice pooridge
Hong Kong is also an excellent shopping city. For inexpensive and medium-quality jade, try the Jade Market on Kansu and Battery streets in Kowloon—bartering is suggested. One unusual store worth mentioning is G.O.D., which stands for “Goods of Desire.” Think of it as a cross between Ikea, Crate & Barrel and the Gap, but with a Chinese twist. You’ll find great bed linens, bath and kitchen goods, as well as clothing, handbags and accessories. Pick up a clever souvenir for friends back home at Double Happiness Art Limited, located at Peak Tower: A “chop,” a hand-carved soapstone stamp topped with an individual’s Asian zodiac animal and their name translated into Chinese characters as the imprint of the stamp, makes a great gift.
Finally, no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a stop at a custom tailor. Pick your fabric and have a suit or gown made to order—often overnight— for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home. Among the best are H. Baroman (9 Queen’s Road Central), Y William Yu (46 Mody Road, Kowloon), and A-Man Hing Cheong (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5 Connaught Road, Central). After all, you’re a long way from home—why not look your best?
A very easy sidetrip from Hong Kong is to take a 40-minute commuter train to the Chinese border town of Shenzhen. Thirty years ago, Shenzhen was a simple fishing village. Today, it is a bustling metropolis of approximately 10 million people. Seventies-to-nineties-era Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping’s “Chinese Economic Miracle” and the migration of 100 million Chinese citizens from interior to coastal cities buoyed the rapid population leap. The Futian Shangri-La—a less lavish, but still elegant cousin to the two Shangri-La hotels in Hong Kong—is a great choice for a hotel in Shenzhen.
Don’t miss a visit to the sprawling Lianhuashan Park, where one can observe great deal of activity on a weekend morning, including tai chi exercise, middle-aged ballroom and line-dancing and Chinese schoolchildren practicing their English lessons. Shenzhen’s key attraction is its Splendid China amusement park with miniature versions of all the famous Chinese monuments—Beijing’s Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the terra-cotta warriors—plus thrilling Mongolian horsemen re-enacting Mongol battles from the Middle Ages.