Hong Kong - The Conrad
I adore Sir Norman’s stunning architecture and was therefore happy to be at the new HKG airport again. Unfortunately, the lines at immigration were pretty long, and I felt like the “odd one out”, being the only Caucasian in a sea of Asians! But this is China after all, so I really couldn’t complain. Our bags were waiting for us by the time we were through immigration, and we immediately proceeded upstairs to the Cathay ticket office where ausTXhiker wanted to get a receipt for the refund of his ticket to the one credit card he had left at home, and I wanted to assign seats for my upcoming CX flights. The staff were unable to help either one of us, which left us distinctively unimpressed. When I later called Cathay, they had no problems whatsoever assigning seats, so it seems that it is really just their airport staff that’s incompetent.
We then went back to the arrivals level to buy our Octopus cards for the stay in Hong Kong and had to learn that they only accept cash. (Note: If you just buy a ticket for the airport express, they will take your credit card.) This meant a quick stop at a currency exchange machine before we finally got our Octopussies and boarded the airport express. Although this wasn’t my first time on the train, I was still impressed by its reliability, comfort and speed. What a contrast to BKK! The train dropped us off at Hong Kong station a mere 25 minutes after it had left the airport, and a free shuttle bus was waiting to take us to the Conrad.
The Conrad, along with a Shangri-La, a JW Marriott and a large shopping mall, makes up the “Pacific Place” complex in Admiralty which is directly connected to the MRT station and the streetcar that runs along the island. Thanks to my new membership in AAA Northern New England (courtesy of ausTXhiker), I had booked us a twin “city view” room at a decent price for a 5* property. Upon check-in, and after some consultation between the agents on duty, we were upgraded to what turned out to be a slightly larger than average harbor view room. No suite, but still a nice, well appointed room on the 55th floor, commanding a fabulous view over Victoria Harbour. Here are some pictures taken from the room at night:
We were also offered lounge access and complimentary breakfast in the 2nd floor restaurant. Last, but not least, there was some bad news from the check-in agent: Due to the burst of a major pipe, the entire neighborhood was without water. The agent told us that it should be fixed by sunset and pointed out that we could always ask for more bottled water. In the end, that proved unnecessary as the issue was resolved around 4pm while we were having drinks in the lounge. There was some confusion as somebody had originally told us that there’d be WLAN in the lounge, but as it turned out there wasn’t. Oh well, Pacific Coffee Company next door had free internet terminals and even offered chop cards for frequent customers this reminds me that I should send mine to GK now. SP!, whom we had originally intended to meet for dinner, had to pass as he was sick, and so I took ausTXhiker to a nice restaurant nearby that I knew from a previous trip, and we enjoyed hearty Peking food in a down-to-earth setting before retreating to our 5* resort. We checked out the pool area and vowed to use it soon (we never did, shame!) and argued for a while if a certain building in the HKG skyline actually changes colors at night or not (it does, as ausTXhiker had to admit after witnessing a color change in real time) before returning to our room. We both fell asleep at the side of a Conrad HKG teddy bears that had been put on our beds at turndown. Unfortunately, this was not repeated the following nights.
We started the next day with a hearty breakfast (whereby the staff always made me sign the bill despite the fact that they did not charge us anything) and then took the subway over to Kowloon in search of the Hong Kong History museum which SP! had recommended. We failed to find it as we followed an apparently outdated map which identified the “Heritage Centre” in Kowloon Park as the History Museum and that center was closed for renovation. After erring through Kowloon a bit in hot and humid weather, we cooled off a bit in the area’s stores before taking the Star Ferry across the harbor (I love that ride!) and boarded the streetcar down to the Macau ferry terminal. After roaming the streets a little bit and me seriously insulting a Chinese merchant by not haggling (I was just to exhausted and paid the couple of HKD for the bag of cashews), we dropped into the Wing On department store in search of a teapot for ausTXhiker. We did not find one, but we did find Swiss “Kambly” cookies at a significantly lower price than here in Zurich (yeah, me too, I love the world economy ), bought some and snacked on’em in our hotel room. SP! felt well enough to take us out for dinner that night in Lan Kwai Fong, and he seemed to know virtually everybody we passed mind you, this is a 7 million inhabitants city after all! But according to SP!, “it’s still a little village at heart.” As it was a surprisingly clear night with the clouds hanging low, but high enough not to cover the skyscraper tips, we headed across the harbor again on the Star Ferry (did I tell you that I love that ride?) and took some nice pictures from the Kowloon waterfront before calling it a day.
We behaved the next morning at the breakfast buffet, anticipating what we both knew was going to be good: Dim Sum with SP! at the place he and GK took the Flyertalk crowd to during the HKG Do earlier this year. We met our “local” guide at the Star Ferry pier at 10:30am and were pleased to see that this being a weekday, there was only a handful of other people waiting with us for the restaurant to open at 11. When it did, we secured a table with a harbor view and for the next hour or so indulged in countless little bites of Dim Sum, all chosen by knowing SP! from the trolleys that the waiters kept pushing around. It was excellent, but ausTXhiker and I were somewhat ashamed of continuing to eat after SP! had to throw in the towel due to his still ailing health. In hindsight, it was wise not to eat more as those Dim Sum bites have the nasty habit of really hitting you once you try to rise from your seat after the meal… which turned out to be quite substantial! To “walk off lunch”, we decided to go for a little stroll in Stanley on the south side of the island. We got there (and back) via a spectacular bus ride that offered great views of the little beaches, residential areas and hills that make up most of Hong Kong island. Stanley itself is a major tourist attraction by now thanks to its market (where we bought some stuff, but no rugby shirts to SP!’s dismay). It also boasts Murray House, the oldest building in Hong Kong, which was rebuilt here after being dismantled stone by stone in Central in the 1980ies. It now houses several restaurants, among them a German-themed pub where we had drinks. ausTXhiker ordered a Swiss “Quöllfrisch” beer which to my surprise they offered, and it seemed as if they brought it from Appenzell in real time: Our order took forever to be delivered! That evening was our last together on this trip, and so ausTXhiker and I decided to go somewhere nice for some typically Cantonese food. We ended up sitting at the best table of the house in the “One Harbour Road” restaurant at the Grand Hyatt, and congratulated ourselves on our choice and on letting the Conrad concierge take care of the reservations. The table offered unobstructed views of both the Kowloon and Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour, and the food and service easily matched the quality of the view. The head waiter helped us with selecting our dishes, but I insisted on having Tea-smoked crispy duck instead of the suggested pork dish. I did not regret it as the duck was heavenly! ausTXhiker also enjoyed his Chicken dish, and we both experienced what I dubbed the “endless tea cup”: Service was so attentive that we never managed to completely empty our little tea cups. Impressive and a great finale to our joint trip!
We slept in the following day and one more time enjoyed the extensive breakfast buffet at the Conrad before returning to our room. I had requested and received a late check-out, so I could wait with packing until after ausTXhiker had left. When he was ready, we shared a cab ride to the airport express station where he checked in for this Cathay flight out. Then it was time for our goodbyes, and after I saw him off at the station, I walked across the street to the Star Ferry pier and decided to go back and forth one more time (did I tell you that… yes, I think I did ) , this time on the lower (“cheap”) deck. I liked it a lot better since it allows you to lean out and really feel the cooling breeze! I then returned to the Conrad, packed, checked out and lugged my suitcase across the street into the Wesley Hotel, an unspectacular, but cheap and clean 3* property that celbrian once recommended to me and where I’ve stayed on my first trip. For HKD430 a night, this place can’t be bet and I only had one night to spend there anyway. Check-in was quick, and I was assigned a quiet room on a high floor absolutely no complaints. That night, I took the MRT out to SP! and GK’s place and had dinner with the two of them at their local Thai place, a cozy place with good food and AsiaMiles for each dollar spent! Another reason why Flyertalk’s favorite HKG residents eat there more often than at home!