A “slow boat to China” might sound romantic, but that’s what the annoying reality of getting there from Boston used to feel like. With at least one connection necessary, several hours were added to the already painful 16-hour flight. Enter Cathay Pacific, which now offers direct service from Logan to Hong Kong, and with a premium economy option, you can feel a bit less like steerage as you wing your way to the Far East.
Among Hong Kong’s numerous five-star hotels is the Cordis in Mongkok, which not only has a rooftop pool, the Chuan spa, with sweeping views over Victoria Harbor, and the Michelin-rated Ming Court restaurant, but one of the best hotel amenities we’ve encountered: Each room is equipped with a smartphone that can dial anywhere in the world, serves as a Wi-Fi hot spot, features the latest camera technology and comes loaded with maps and itineraries that put the city at your fingertips.
Two of the best reasons to visit Hong Kong are to shop and to eat. The former is fairly self-explanatory: The Electronics Market sells electronics, the Wet Market sells fish, the Ladies Market sells household goods. At all of them, haggling is expected, and you can find inexpensive knockoffs of the designer brands that have boutiques in upscale shopping areas like the Harbour City mall and Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon peninsula. “Caveat emptor” is the phrase to keep in mind at the profusion of antique shops along Hollywood Road; if there were that many Tang Dynasty vases, they wouldn’t be so valuable.
As for eating, the ceaselessly changing culinary landscape demands a local guide. Little Adventures in Hong Kong was founded by a New York Times columnist who has lived in the city for decades, and the guides on her walking tours include a popular local food critic and a Hong Kong-bred, Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Offering a native’s expertise, they will explain how to tell good dried fish bladder from the inferior stuff, show you out-of-the-way shops where you can buy local delicacies like Mrs. So’s X.O. Sauce and take you to the restaurant where wonton soup was supposedly invented.
You can’t throw a dart without hitting a restaurant in Hong Kong. (Between the heat and the size of apartment kitchens, locals eat out even more than New Yorkers.) Two that deserve note are Pawn, a wildly popular Western eatery in a former pawn shop, and Mrs. Pound, a speakeasy restaurant with a quirky made-up backstory and superbly inventive food. Of course, no Hong Kong trip is complete without a junk ride on Victoria Harbor and a visit to the world’s largest seated Buddha on Lantau Island, but those looking to escape the city’s frenetic pace would do well to hire a taxi to Repulse Bay for a beach day.
If Hong Kong has a sister city on the mainland, it has to be Shanghai, a two-hour flight away. Centered on the waterfront of the Huangpu River, the city of 24 million people offers a mix of ancient and space-age sights. On one side are futuristic edifices like the new Shanghai Tower (China’s tallest building) and the World Financial Center (the former title-holder, often referred to as “the bottle opener”). On the other is the Bund, a promenade that harks back to Shanghai’s 1930s and ’40s heyday. A walk there reveals gems like the Fairmont Peace Hotel, an art deco treasure that contains the city’s top jazz club. Here, a full orchestra of musicians in white dinner jackets, some in their 80s, perform a mix of American and Shanghainese jazz fronted by a beautiful chanteuse wearing a cheongsam. It’s sobering to realize that for much of the musicians’ lives—during the Cultural Revolution—jazz was considered “yellow music” (essentially pornography).
A unique and adrenaline-pumping way to see the city is offered by Shanghai Insiders, which hosts motorcycle sidecar tours that visit some overlooked sights and travel through the old European concessions. If a peaceful stroll is more your speed, get a taste of old Shanghai at Yuyuan Garden, a Ming Dynasty (circa 1600) complex of ponds and pavilions that’s one of China’s greatest cultural treasures. Xintiandi, meanwhile, is a district of preserved 19th-century shikumen (“stone gate” houses), now home to upscale designer boutiques. For a more Chinese retail experience, visit the South Bund Fabric Market, where a man can have a traditional silk Mandarin jacket made for as little as $65 (haggling required).
China’s two great mercantile cities confound expectations. In putatively communist Shanghai, Bentleys and Birkins are relatively common sights, while in “westernized” Hong Kong, a subway ride will take you to a fishing village on stilts that hasn’t changed much in centuries. It’s this mix of tradition and modern exuberance that makes Hong Kong and Shanghai so fascinating. Bring your ability to be wowed, and leave your preconceptions behind.
– Upon meeting a local, it’s customary to present your card facing them, your two thumbs on top, holding it out to them with a slight bow.
– Chopsticks are for eating only. Do not gesture with them, and be sure they remain on the chopstick holder when not in use.
– Avoid crossing your legs at the ankle. Showing the sole of one’s foot is considered an affront.
Cathay Pacific cathaypacific.com
Fairmont Peace Hotel 20 Nanjing Road East, Shanghai, fairmont.com
Cordis Hong Kong, 555 Shanghai St., Mongkok, Hong Kong, cordishotels.com
Little Adventures in Hong Kong Hong Kong 510, Wayson Commercial Building, Connaught Road W., Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, littleadventuresinhongkong.com
Mrs. Pound 6 Pound Lane, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, mrspound.com
Pawn 62 Johnston Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, thepawn.com.hk
Shanghai Insiders 172 Jinxian Road, Lu Wan Qu, Shanghai, shanghaiinsiders.com
South Bund Fabric Market 399 Lujiabang Road, Huangpu, Shanghai
Xintiandi Lane 181, Taicang Road, Huangpu, Shanghai, shanghaixintiandi.com
Yuyuan Garden 218 An Ren Jie, Huangpu, Shanghai