Twenty years ago in July, the Union Jack was lowered in Hong Kong, ending more than 170 years of British rule – a milestone that has been marked by months of events across the city. On a personal level, 2017 also marks 35 years since I was born in the then-British colony. Since my family returned to Britain in the early 1980s, I had never been back – until last month that is, when my father and I boarded a Cathay Pacific flight for Hong Kong.
After we touched down, a swish-looking Mercedes arrived to take us to the Mandarin Oriental. The Mandarin is one of two world-famous hotels in Hong Kong, along with The Peninsula across the water in Kowloon, on the mainland.
The hotel is located in the heart of the Central financial district on Hong Kong Island, from which first-time visitors should take a short stroll down to Wan Chai for their initial taste of the city.
Situated a few blocks away to the east, this busy shopping area is ablaze with neon shop signs and red banners spanning the roads advertising just about everything. Down on street level, rows of bronze Peking ducks hang on hooks in restaurant windows.
Hong Kong still feels like a city that is very much on the make. It’s much the same story across the harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui – easily reached via a ten-minute trip on the iconic Star Ferry – where crowds gather by the water’s edge to take photos of the famous skyline.
Back at the hotel, the local business folk had gathered in the Captain’s Bar for sundowners by the time we had checked into our rooms, which were modern with an Asian twist, sleek bathrooms and fabulous views over Victoria Harbour. In the bar, the Captain’s Bar Beer, made by local craft beer start-up Young Master, is crisp and cold, and served in frothy silver tankards – just the thing when coming in from the steamy heat outside. (The lamb curry’s not bad either.)
A more elegant aperitif can be found on the top floor at the M Bar. The Hong Kong Legend, a cocktail made with lychees and cassia wine, is perfect for lingering over while admiring the shimmering lights of the city at dusk.The bar snacks come from the two-Michelin-starred Pierre restaurant next door, making them quite possibly the world’s poshest pub grub.
Speaking of grub, all three of the Mandarin’s main restaurants – Pierre, Man Wah and the Mandarin Grill + Bar – have been lauded with stars, and not simply Michelin ones. This year, Forbes bestowed no less than 30 on the hotel, which must make it more star-spangled than the planetarium at the Hong Kong Space Museum.
Down in the hotel’s cake shop, meanwhile, a giant mooncake was already on display. These sweet delicacies are traditionally given as gifts for the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which this year falls on Wednesday.
All this work takes its toll. So the next day, I took myself off to the spa – all warm woods and soft lighting inspired by 1930s Shanghai. A cornucopia of indulgent treatments inspired by traditional Chinese medicine is available, along with salons, a steam room, sauna and Jacuzzi. The swimming pool even has a live video projection on the end wall showing Victoria Harbour with its busy boats sailing up and down – just in case going out seems too much effort.
Great views from Big Buddha
Hong Kong Island is the most famous of the region’s islands, of which there are over 250. Less well known, but almost twice the size, is Lantau Island next door. There, perched on a hill – and up a 268-step slog – is the Tian Tan Buddha, also simply called the Big Buddha. It’s not hard to see why. At 34 metres tall, it is the biggest bronze statue of a sitting Buddha anywhere.
It’s also a relatively recent addition to the island, having been built in 1993 next to the Po Lin monastery. But it is an impressive sight, and an easy half-day excursion – the MTR railway runs all the way from Hong Kong station to Tung Chung, where you can pick up the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for a 25-minute ride and spectacular views.
• Cathay Pacific now offers a choice of three routes between the UK and Hong Kong, and onwards to over 190 destinations globally. These include five flights daily from London Heathrow, daily flights from Gatwick Airport and five flights per week from Manchester Airport.
From December 2017, the Manchester route will become a daily operation. Currently, the Gatwick and Manchester routes feature the new A350.
For further information, visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk or call 0800 917 8260.