The view from Café Gray Deluxe in The Upper House is hard to beat.
Forgive the clickbait-y title, but I just got back from my third trip to the SAR in the last couple months and there are too many things I like to coherently talk about them without some sort of list. Despite being in and out of Southeast Asia for six years (whoa), until 2017 I had never managed to make it past Hong Kong International Airport. This was due to a mixture of laziness on my part and the fact that there have just been so many other places to go. In the last few months alone, I’ve been to Trang, Yangon, Saigon, Ubud, Malacca, Pangkor Laut and the Cameron Highlands, all of which were remarkable.
But now that I’ve been to Hong Kong, I already regret not spending more time there. Almost exactly two decades after its return to Chinese rule, there’s a tremendous amount going on in this most unusual city. Here’s why I’m smitten and why, if you haven’t, you should probably book a ticket.
Me, blocking a very cool mural by Thai artist Rukkit.
Because you can see works by famous street artists.
A giant Shepard Fairey original in Sheung Wan.
Even coming from Berlin, where the level of the street murals is off the charts, Hong Kong has some pretty impressive works. A stroll through the alleys of Sheung Wan always uncovers a few surprises. It’s fitting for a city that is increasingly becoming one of the global art centers. Art Basel is here in a big way and the caliber of the galleries throughout Central is impressive. For a peek at the local creative side, be sure to check out PMQ in the former Police Married Quarters, which is full of quirky boutiques and exhibitions.
Gorgeous work by French artist Hopare in Sheung Wan.
The eye-catching steps leading up to the PMQ. If you're searching for gifts for the artistically inclined (or, you know, yourself) this is where you want to go.
Because you can go to the beach without ever leaving town.
I went down to Stanley to check out the Dragon Boat Festival and decided this was way better.
Though Central’s concrete jungle can feel a bit overwhelming at times, the ocean is never far away. Dozens of beaches line the coastlines here and most are only an hour or two from Central. I went to Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay, which are a 25-minute cab ride from downtown. The latter is a bit nicer, but much more developed, while the former is smaller but has fewer selfie sticks. The best part is there’s an oceanside trail between the two.
The scenic walk between Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay.
Because mixologists and sommeliers are thinking outside the box.
A bartender works his magic at Mezcalito.
From the seasonal produce-driven cocktail tasting menus at The Woods to all-natural canned cocktails (practically perfect for day-drinking on a junk) at KWOON to the Mole Old Fashioned, with mole-washed añejo tequila, maple syrup and bitters, at Brickhouse, to the impressive selection of its namesake libation at Mezcalito, to the smoked negroni at TokyoLima, to solid craft tipples at NEO Cocktail Club, Hong Kong turns mixology into an art form. As much as I loved all of those though, the bar that I went back to a half a dozen times isn't known for cocktails at all. La Cabane is the neighborhood bar I wish were in my neighborhood, an unpretentious natural wine bar with a fabulous selection of mostly Old World bottles, knowledgeable staff, and a terrific steak tartare with polenta fries.
Canned cocktails are a thing and they're way better than you think.
A wall of ultra-premium booze at The Woods.
Because retro Cantonese is back in a big way.
After years of embracing every other sort of aesthetic style, restaurants are turning back to waving lucky cats, golden dragons and other hallmarks of old-school Hong Kong décor. In case the name didn’t give it away, Ho Lee Fook is both irreverent and tons of fun. Chef Jowett Yu gets the classic elements of Cantonese cuisine right and adds a few modern twists, with delicious results. I was less impressed by Dragon Noodle Academy, but the kung fu-kitsch interior and the hand-pulled noodles are on-point.
Because you can go for a hike whenever you want.
A steep, sweaty hike up to the top, but worth it for this view. There's also a tram and taxis, if you're feeling lazy.
Once again, nature is right there and a morning, afternoon or even nighttime hike is a good way to take a break from Hong Kong’s high-octane pace. I embarked on a short by sweaty slog up the steep slope to Victoria Peak for an unbelievable view of the harbor.
One of many possible walks in the woods.
Because getting around town is a snap.
The Star Ferry has to be one of the most scenic ways to get around.
When you travel all the time, you start to appreciate cities that have connectivity down. Hong Kong’s Airport Express has fast Wi-Fi and will get you to Central in half an hour. An Octopus Card makes navigating the ultra-modern, efficient MTR a breeze and the Star Ferry is so scenic it’s worth taking just for its own sake. Best of all are the Ding Dings, the curiously narrow electric trams that traverse the streets of Central.
Because this city’s restaurant scene is a force to be reckoned with.
Even after eating more or less continuously over the course of a couple weeks, I’ve very seldom had even a mediocre meal here. This is, after all, a town with 61 Michelin-starred eateries and fierce competition has pushed the standards for restaurants through the roof. Whether you stop for lunch fare by the very talented Philippe Orrico at Upper Modern Bistro, contemporary Vietnamese at Le Garçon Saigon, a bit of tandoori and Thai at Spices Restaurant, Wagyu pho at Moi Moi by Luke Nguyen, gorgeously plated vegan dishes at Grassroots Pantry, or a nibble with a killer view at Café Gray Deluxe, it’s hard to go wrong. Two of my personal favorites were Rōnin, a narrow, windowless izakaya where I could happily eat oysters and drink Maple Old Fashioneds all night long, and Belon, where the pithivier, a deboned pigeon swaddled in roasted mushroom-spinach farce, liver crepe, and buttery puff pastry stopped the conversation at my table dead. Oh, and go to Yardbird, not because everyone says it’s great, but because it serves damn fine yakitori and the vibe is infectious. Be prepared to wait forever and then reward yourself with a couple orders of sansho-dusted chicken ribs and meatballs with tare and raw egg.
Chef Bao La's cooking is excellent any time of day, but the set lunch menu at Le Garçon Saigon is one of the better midday deals in town.
Because the old-school eateries are just as good.
A gorgeous gaggle of geese at Yak Lot.
Don’t get me wrong, while I love all of the above, the previous generation of dim sum and noodle shops are equally worthy of attention. Hit up Sun Hing Restaurant, a second generation family-run restaurant that’s been making dim sum by hand for more than 60 years, either early in the morning or late at night (they open at 3am) and Yak Lot for the roast goose noodles. Be sure to swing by a dai pai dong, a classic Cantonese-style eatery, while you're in town. For the latter, if you go to the location in Central, you’ll want to go before 11am before they sell out of the prized right legs (it turns out geese are seldom southpaws), eat quickly, and move on before the owner shoos you out the door. Because most places only speak Cantonese, it’s worth taking a walk with Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours. I’ve taken food tours all over the world and their walk through Tai Po Market and the surrounding area was by far one of the most interesting and informative I’ve done.
Checking out an old-school dai pai dong in Wanchai.
Because fried chicken.
Slightly brittle crust and very juicy meat at Bakudan-ya Hiroshima-men.
While you’re here, you’re going to want to get Korean fried chicken at Chicken HOF & SOJU and Japanese karaage dunked in kewpie mayonnaise at Bakudan-ya Hiroshima-men (get the cold ramen while you’re there). For the more upscale versions, Jinjuu in Lan Kwai Fong makes top-notch KFC that’ll help soak up all the booze from the surrounding bars, while TokyoLima’s naughtily named Ki-Mo-Chi karaage is straight-up addictive. Also, although I didn’t get the chance to try the sumac-sprinkled fried bird at Maison Libanaise (since I was too busy stuffing my mouth with honeyed halloumi, roasted cauliflower, and 24-hour-cooked lamb shoulder), I assume that, like the rest of the menu, it’s spot-on.
Crunchier, sturdier crust that stays good until the next morning at Chicken HOF & SOJU.
Also, because cake.
Who could say no to this rose-syrup perfumed confection?
I’m more of a savory-snacks kind of girl, but I could never turn down the pretty-in-pink, rose petal-topped cake at Maison Libanaise and the desserts at SEVVA our almost as good as the people-people watching. Their chocolate cake is classic, but for something really special, get the warm, salty-sweet apple crumble topped with Comté. Finally, to splurge on a showstopping special occasion centerpiece, pick up one of the baroque creations at Mrs. B’s Cakery.
Cake and Ruinart Champagne at SEVVA, or what I wish I were doing just about every afternoon.
If this list had a No.11, it'd be the cats standing guard on every street corner and shophouse.