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25 June 2024

Culture, customs and skyscrapers: This is Hong Kong

Models dress as deities ahead of the Chinese New Year at Ocean Park in Hong Kong. (AP)

By Rachel McArthur

Some may think of Hong Kong as a 48-hour stopover on the kangaroo route. However, with exchange rates for dollar destinations improving this year, now's your chance to explore one of the world's best cosmopolitan city states and leading international financial centres. And what better time than during Chinese New Year?

Falling on February 14 this year – Valentine's Day can be another excuse for a holiday – there is still time to book a package to the city that has been likened to Dubai thanks to its similar mix of Eastern and Western cultures.

For those who want to experience true luxury during their stay, try one of the many new, hip hotels. One recent opening, The Upper House, where we stayed, is highly recommended.

Located within Pacific Place in Admiralty, one of Hong Kong's premier integrated commercial, retail and hospitality complexes, The Upper House is a holiday within itself for those who want to feel pampered and taken care of. Rooms feature scenic harbour or island views, so go for a high floor if possible to really take advantage of the sights.

Particularly noteworthy are the complimentary add-ons and technology offered. Firstly, the mini-bar, including snacks and confectionary, are all included in the room's price, so great if you have children. There are all sorts of other little gifts too, such as an extra bag if you run out of luggage space, playing cards, and fabulous bathroom potions and lotions. Gadget lovers will thoroughly enjoy their stay as well, with gimmicks comprising television screens installed in the mirror walls of the bathroom, and the ability to order room service at the touch of an iPhone button.

Once you're rested and ready to head out for the day or night, there is plenty to see and do. Of course, being Chinese New Year, there will be a plethora of special events to choose from, and expect a parade, plenty of fireworks and more. In February, the weather tends to be dry but cold, so make sure you pack something warm.

For daytime touristy excursions, the best way is to sign up with a tour operator (your hotel's concierge would be able to advise you on deals). If it's your first time, try one of the half-day orientation tours. One of the most popular tourist activities is a ride up Victoria Peak for panoramic views of central Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour and the surrounding islands – there is plenty to see of course, considering the island is at the top of world rankings with 7,650 skyscrapers.

With about seven million visitors every year, this has led to the construction of two major leisure and shopping centres, the Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria, situated adjacent to each other, so there are some good shopping opportunities.

Another major attraction is Ngong Ping Plateau, located 500 metres up in the western hills of Lantau, which can be reached by cable car. There resides one of the world's largest statues of Buddha, the Tian Tan Buddha. The 202-tonne, 23-metre high seated representation of Lord Gautama sits at the top of the Po Lin, a large Buddhist monastery and temple complex.

Once you fancy a rest and want to grab a bite to eat, you will truly be spoilt for choice as Hong Kong is well known for the diversity of cuisines available. Whether it's Indian, Western, Shanghainese or Cantonese, everything is available. Food worth trying is traditional dim sum, which is offered in many specialist restaurants across town, as well as the variety of seafood.

If you take a boat to one of the seafood restaurants by the pier, you'll have the opportunity to try everything from fresh crab and lobster to mussels and oysters. There are also street food vendors selling local snacks, such as dumplings with fish meat and snake soup bowl, in Mong Kok and Causeway Bay. However, those are really for the most daring of eaters.

Shopping is also one of the island's big draws. Whether it is electronics, suit tailoring or accessories etc you're able to find literally everything.

Apliu Street and the Golden Shopping Center in Sham Shui Po are popular for electronic appliances, whilst there are many computer centres in Wan Chai and Mong Kok.

However, if it's bargain shopping that you're looking for, the Lady's Street and Fa Yuen Street in Mong Kok or Jardine's Crescent in Causeway Bay are good for ladies clothing and handbags. However, don't expect brands to be genuine.

If all the daytime activities were not enough to tire you out, you can head out to experience the city's well-known nightlife.

Some of the best hangouts are located in the Lan Kwai Fong district, featuring a range of venues from the down-to-earth, non-dress code types to the best clubs. Volar is worth visiting, as it attracts some of the best local and international DJs, without being too strict on dress code.

During peak weekend periods, expect this district to be packed, so as with visiting anywhere new, only take what you need with you, carry ID, but leave your passport in the hotel's safe. You don't want to be losing that in the midst of the madness.

Essential guide

- How to get there: Emirates (Emirates.com) and Cathay Pacific (Cathaypacific.com) offer direct flights from Dubai to Hong Kong International Airport.

Return flights start from Dh3,715 for Emirates or Dh3,240 for Cathay Pacific.

Where to stay: The Upper House (Upperhouse.com), 88 Queensway, Pacific Place. Rates start from HK$2,888 (Dh1,365).

- Don't miss: The Chinese New Year parade

Shopping tips: Prices in Hong Kong are more a suggestion than a fix, so always look to negotiate at least 30 per cent of the ticket price at markets and smaller shops.

Take care though; some shops have a reputation for using switch and bait tactics – showing you one product but placing an inferior item in the box. Make sure what you think you're buying is what you leave the store with.


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