Talking Travel: Hong Kong, The Ultimate Weekend Getaway
Christmas is just about upon us, so anyone who is going anywhere has already left. But for those who have always dreamed of someday just showing up at the airport, looking at the big board of departures and buying a ticket to somewhere, there's finally a search engine for that. Skyscanner is designed to show the user where the lowest fares are, based on one's gateway city. Give it a try and start dreaming.
The Wall Street Journal interviewed American Chamber of Commerce President Greg Gilligan this week, and he gave the best tip for flying in this country: always take the first flight of the day to any domestic China destination.
Download the January issue of the Beijinger for a guide to Japan's winter paradise, Hokkaido in our Get Out column. Since the place gets 15 meters of snow per year, and winter having just started officially three days ago, there's still a full three months to make a plan to go.
For Beijingers, there's still no better weekend getaway than Hong Kong. Sure, it's expensive, but so is every other city break that's within a reasonable air distance: Seoul, Shanghai, and Tokyo will set you back about the same. Hong Kong is the best of the worlds that we straddle. Although Hong Kong isn't always toasty during the winter, it's still warmer than here.
Hong Kong has two great advantages over Beijing: efficiency and size. Hong Kong is about money. Unlike Beijing, in Hong Kong, time is money. Therefore, the time required to handle most transactions is reduced as much as possible. A to-do list that would take all day in Beijing can be completed in a morning in Hong Kong, with time left before lunch: bank, post office, whatever it is, in Hong Kong, it's done quickly and efficiently. Although the level of English has declined since 1997, in that way Hong Kong is much easier to navigate for the non-Chinese speaker than Beijing.
The Hotel Indigo Hong Kong is a mix between the true boutique or design hotel and a five-star chain. Owned by the InterContinental Hotel Group, Hotel Indigo is heavy on design but without sacrificing comfort. Located in Wanchai, it's away from the nightlife part of that district, closer to shopping and to Central than the World of Suzie Wong (which was written in and about Wanchai, at the Luk Kwok Hotel). It's different from the normal hotel experience. For example, the bed is in the middle of the room. It does what the W Hotels chain succeeds in doing: it makes you feel like you're staying at your coolest friend's downtown apartment.
However, it's unlikely that your coolest friend has a pool in his or her building, and said friend's pool is most certainly not on the rooftop, and doesn't jut out over the street. Bring your swim goggles because as you swim to the edge of Hotel Indigo's pool, a glass panel make it feel like you're swimming off into the Hong Kong skyline, and before that flip turn, look down and see the cars and busses passing below. That's pretty cool.
For those using Hong Kong as a taste of the West, that's easy to do at any number of the city's restaurants. Probably the only authentic New York Italian restaurant I've ever eaten at outside of New York is Posto Pubblico. Opened by New York transplant Robert Spina, whose parents handle the catering at a prestigious private club there, Posto Pubblico on Elgin St. in the Mid-Levels is pure New York, down to the dishtowel cum napkins, the cannolis, and linguini in white clam sauce that will make you think a Mob hit is about to happen at the next table. Definitely call for a reservation in advance, you'll need it.
During the daytime, get out of town. Sixty percent of Hong Kong is green space. No, really, despite its reputation as an urban jungle, southern Hong Kong island and the New Territories are, in places, downright wild. Consider walking to the Peak from Caine or Robinson Road in the Mid-Levels, including the loop trail around Victoria Peak, for a 360-degree view of the area. Similarly, take a ferry to Discovery Bay or Mui Wo, and pick up trails near there. Take a look at the Hong Kong Hikers website for some ideas and information.
This column is being written from the road for the next two weeks, so the act of travel itself may provide some additional inspiration. Until our New Year's Eve, Year in Travel 2013 review next week, Merry Christmas, and one road flat safe.
Photo: Hotel Indigo Hong Kong