If you want a break from the chain hotels, why not try a boutique hotel whilst in Hong Kong. Having stayed here previously, I found it a fantastic oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city, yet, as it's located in Causeway Bay, you are in the heart of the action when you step out.
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
Cheap as chips four-star hotel with excellent breakfast and immaculate rooms located in East Jerusalem near Damascus gate. Free access to the YMCA swimming pool and gym. $150 per night per room.
29 Nablus Road, Jerusalem, Israel. Tel: +972-2-6270800
If you are travelling to Asia - check out Asiarooms.com. They typically have a larger inventory of hotel rooms than a lot of the European/US-based hotel consolidators. Prices tend to be reasonable and availability is sometimes better than other providers (such as Expedia, etc).
If you have a spare day or two in Hong Kong, then you may want to pop over to Macao to experience the 'Las Vegas of Asia'. Whilst it may not be to some people's tastes, thoses who do enjoy the gambling (and smoking) will love the adventure it brings.
Jump on one of the regular ferry shuttle services from Hong Kong Island or even the airport and dart off to Macao in a quick shuttle ride. Those of you who have visited before will note that new hotels are popping up everywhere. This influx of capital means that top brand name hotels are moving in to get a slice of the pie. Before you travel, look for local adverts, websites and mailing lists and find out if any new hotels are opening. You may be able to get a room as part of a 'soft launch'. This allows you to test the hotel's facilities before the official launch date. Whilst not all things will be open and working (eg shops and restaurants), the rooms will be new and there should be a certain energy in the air. As an added bonus, you will get a deeply discounted room rate and may even be upgraded to experience and test out better rooms.
Google 'Macau hotel soft openings' for the latest information
Check out local press or contact the hotels directly
'Ley ho ma?' (That's 'How are you?' in Cantonese) and welcome to Hong Kong. You'll be arriving at Hong Kong International Airport (www.hongkongairport.com), just 25 minutes away from the Hong Kong Island and regular winner of the Best International Airport award. Hong Kong International Airport (IATA Code: HKG) serves as the gateway to this buzzing city or as a hub to further connections to the rest of Asia. Terminal 1 serves as the low-cost terminal and features a full sized cinema as well as the Hong Kong essential - shops. Yes, shopping (along with eating) is the national pastime in Hong Kong with shops staying open until late. Service is generally good (as long as you are spending money) and best of all - Hong Kong is has no sales tax.
Tip 1: Forget the 'duty-free shops' at the airport. The whole of Hong Kong is duty-free so the airport is often the most expensive places to buy your souvenirs. The Hong Kong Airport Express train offers an efficient way straight to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. Note that Kowloon station is not very well connected to the MTR (the distances are quite large - if carrying a suitcase, you may want to take a taxi from the station).
Practicalities and getting around
As a former British Colony, Hong Kong is a breeze to navigate even for the most novice business traveller. Signs and announcements are typically in three languages (Mandarin, Cantonese and English, although written Mandarin is the same as Cantonese) so as long as you can read English you shouldn't have a problem getting around. Most people in the main business areas also speak English but it's always worthwhile having the address of where you want to go to written down in Chinese, just in case your taxi driver doesn't know the English name for the destination (street names have both English and Chinese names - sometimes they don't correlate and they certainly aren't pronounced the same). The Hong Kong Dollar is pegged to the US Dollar so this is the most common currency of exchange.
Tip 2: If you have spare US Dollars on you, it may be more cost efficient to change USD into HKD as the exchange rate will be fixed. However, given the current weakness of the USD vs GBP, you might want to capture a good rate now. (www.hsbc.com.hk)
Tip 3: Get yourself an Octopus card - accepted as payment on the MTR and public transport systems - buy one with an Airport Express ticket included at the airport (www.octopuscards.com).
Where to stay
Hong Kong benefits from a strong portfolio of hotels which can cater for all tastes and budgets - ranging from the surprising and excellently located YMCA to the pinnacle of luxury - the Peninsula Hong Kong. However, one common denominator can be found across most hotels - service is generally outstanding and standards are higher than those found in North America and Europe. Hong Kong is split across three key areas - New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. New Territories is the area that borders China and is not usually frequented by business travellers and tourists alike. Given the lack of business or tourist interests in this area, I would not recommend staying here. Kowloon is connected to the mainline and features shopping (the national pastime), food (the other national pastime) and business. This area tends to be slightly older than Hong Kong Island but it does benefit from slightly more space (which is hard to come by in Hong Kong) and offers greater value for money.
Tip 4: Always ask the hotel if offers special corporate rates. Most tend to do and you may be able to benefit from a complimentary upgrade or better price.
Kowloon hotel recommendations
YMCA - USD120 per night
Located on Waterloo road right by the Peninsula hotel, this YMCA is unlike any other YMCA in the world. Despite the name, it functions more as a main stream hotel rather than a hostel, offering clean and modern rooms are at great prices. Staff are friendly and down to earth. Location is perfect for exploring all that Kowloon has to offer.
Tip 5: If you want a taste of luxury - why not upgrade to a suite at the YMCA. This could at a cost similar to that of a normal luxury hotel room.
Marco Polo Prince - USD180 per night
Located as part of the huge waterfront (Harbour Plaza) shopping complex, you will never be short of all things to do in this classic Hong Kong institution. This hotel forms part of the Marco Polo chain and you will find other Marco Polo hotels adjacent to this hotel. Well located for shopping and perfect for journeys on the star ferry. Traffic in this area can sometimes be bad which means travelling by car is not ideal.
Peninsula - USD450 per night
Look up luxury in the dictionary and you may find the Peninsula Hong Kong listed. Every whim and care is catered for in this five-star complex. Famed for its old colonial style, high tea still features strongly on the tourist trail. As a guest, you will benefit from access to the first class spa and pool facilities. Try whiling away the day and escaping the rush of the city as you sip cocktails by the pool. Rooms are luxurious as expected and even the smallest detail is catered for.
Hong Kong Island recommendation
Lang Kwai Fong Hotel - USD200 per night
Small but well formed, the Lang Kwai Fong Hotel is actually located about a 10 minute walk from its expat haven namesake but the hotel is close enough to wonder back to after a night out. It is also five minutes away from Hong Kong's Soho district which is famed for its al fresco dining and the outdoor escalator which claims to be the world's only outdoor escalator. Rooms are small but the location is excellent for anyone wanting to stay centrally without the cost.
Lanson Place - USD250 per night
This boutique hotel is the real gem of Hong Kong. Set back from the hub of Causeway Bay, shopping and dining are just moments away. Rooms are well decorated and feature small kitchenettes. Breakfast is generally included in room rates and the hotel staff are very helpful. Rooms feature flat screen TVs and DVD players. The hotel lends out DVDs and books as part of its library. The gym is well equipped and modern.
Four Seasons - USD450 per night
Perfectly located on top of Hong Kong Station (connected to the Airport Express), this bastion of luxury does not disappoint. The rooms are bright and well appointed and can overlook the harbour. Conveniently located by the International Finance Tower, the Four Seasons hotel boasts one of the most convenient locations for business meetings. As a business traveller, you may find it very convenient for your trips in and out of the airport and to meetings.
Where to eat
Hong Kong's streets are filled with places to eat. Depending on how adventurous you are, you can eat for as little as a couple of USD and be very satisfied with the fresh and delightful food. Food halls also offer a convenient and accessible way of finding a quick lunch. Recommended food halls include Pacific Place and the shopping centre attached to Kowloon Tong. Try market stalls (they have been cleaned up post-SARs) for a true experience of local Hong Kong. The one over the road from Soho, Causeway Bay, is the most accessible (although apparently the most expensive according to locals).
What to do
Top ten Hong Kong attractions that won't take too much out time out of your schedule. Estimated time for each is included so that you can squeeze it into your busy schedule.
1. Peak tram - great views of the city travelling up the Peak Tram.
Time required - 2 hours
2. Star ferry - cross the harbour with classic style on board the famous (and fantastically cheap) Star Ferry.
Time required - 20 mins
3. Shopping - shop till you drop at huge shopping malls. Try Pacific Place, Hong Kong Island and Harbour City, Kowloon
Time required - 2 hours
4. Ladies market (Tung Choi Street) - better to browse rather than buy, this market features cheap goods and 'almost authentic' goods.
Time required - 1 hour
5. Stanley market - step away from the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy this small former fishing town and its market.
Time required - 2 hours
6. Ocean Park - if family are accompanying you, then take them to Ocean Park for some marine-themed fun.
Time required - 5 hours
7. Causeway Bay - best seen at dusk - watch the hip and trendy come out to meet for movies, karaoke and of course food and shopping. Check out the Times Square shopping centre and restaurant complex.
Time required - 2 hours
8. Happy Valley racecourse - check online to see the race timetable. Get yourself a general admission ticket or arrange a box for an experience you can bet on. www.happyvalleyracecourse.com
Time required - 3.5 hours
9. Ride a tram - be taken back to Hong Kong's colonial past whilst riding on these trams that run through Hong Kong island's central district.
Time required - 20 mins
10. High team at the Peninsula - OK, not so much Hong Kong but luxury at its finest. Enjoy fresh pastries in a delightful setting. Reservations recommended.
Time required - 2 hours
For good accommodation, there’s a hotel in town called the Villa Kennedy, which is definitely worth checking out if you are in Frankfurt for more than one night. It’s just off the south bank of the Main and is an old villa that’s been converted into a five-star hotel.
It seems that anyone who’s anyone doing business in Dubai takes a room in the Jumeirah Emirates Towers on the Sheikh Zayed Road. It's a huge building in the middle of the central business district and has a business centre with full secretarial services, as well as workstations in all the rooms and free Wi-Fi. For female guests who want it, there’s even a ladies floor where all the staff are women. The advantage of this is that they put a yoga mat in your room and there’s a nice array of luxury cosmetics. Also, if you’re a woman doing business in Dubai it’s best to pack trouser suits rather than skirts; despite the large amount of foreign business here it's still a conservative place.
At Dubai Airport, it’s a real hike from arrivals to baggage reclaim, so if you can it’s best to take a wheeled case that is small enough to be taken on as hand luggage.
One reason why Emirates Towers is the hotel to be in if you are doing business with the Dubai government (or one of its agencies) is because, as well as being an excellent business hotel, it is owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
It’s worth extending this principle to other business you may be doing in the city. Most businesses based in Dubai itself, rather than one of the Free Zones, are part of large, family-owned holding companies, many of which will have hotels among their interests. It’s always worth staying in the leading hotel of the group you are doing business with. It probably won’t make the deal but such courtesies are valued highly in the Gulf.
You are likely to meet plenty of extremely well-educated, modern young Emirati women – particularly if you are dealing with the government. However, remember that traditionally Muslim women are not supposed to touch men outside their family. Therefore, however warmly they smile when they hand over their cards, don’t automatically attempt to shake their hand unless they offer it. I might also add that Arab men are normally slightly more sensitive when touching each other and no one will infer weak character from your failure to crush their hand with your firm grip.
Favourite restaurants: Gordon Ramsay’s Verre at The Hilton Dubai Creek for European cuisine. Go for the food, not the décor, and because it’s somewhere you can actually talk. Lebanese is often the fallback for mixed entertaining but Iranian is a good alternative and in many ways closer to the Emirati palate; I would recommend the Shabestan at the InterContinental. Sadly, both are on the Deira side of town - but they are well worth the effort.
Jumeirah Emirates Towers, PO Box 72127, Dubai, UAE.
Tel.: +971 4 3300000
Verre at the Hilton Dubai Creek, Beniyas Road, PO BOX 33398, Dubai, UAE.
Shabestan at the InterContinental, Dubai Bin Yas Street, PO Box 476, Dubai, UAE.
Tel.: +971 4 222 7171
My tip for a hotel is the Marriott in Deira. Away from the glitz so that you can concentrate but close enough to everything that you want, first class business facilities and a rooftop pool. The best restaurants are the Sphinx at the Pyramids and Shabestani Iranian restaurant at the Hyatt.
Hotel Bab Al Shams is top for luxury, away from all the hustle and traffic of central Dubai (50 minutes by taxi from the airport) with service levels rarely matched for twice the price and a unique location. Simply a desert oasis.
Beautiful hotel located on Sheikh Zayed Road. Stayed here on my first visit a few years back and have been there ever since. You get stunning views over the star wars part of the city from the higher rooms (and the top floors are there executive rooms complete with nice lounge and food all day). The pool is small enough to seem private yet busy enough not to seem like a loner, there are no screaming kids around and the staff seem to go out of their way to help you. They also have those curtains that open and close with a button so you can feel like James Bond.
Sheikh Zayed Road
If you need a morning swim to pep you up, then you should book into the Intercontinental, which has one of the largest swimming pools you’ll find in a hotel – it’s junior Olympic size and heated (a leftover from when this used to be an athletics club).
If you’ve got a substantial budget, this is where you should be staying. The service is impeccable and they have a team of administrative assistants in the business centre that will take dictation, research things for you, organise your diary – in fact, anything you might need while in the city can be sorted out from this hotel. You also get to use their amazing spa facilities, which cover the top two floors of the building.
The closest Chicago comes to boutique chic is the W Lakeshore hotel and The James. The acceptable face of the Sheraton Group, the uber-hip W chain has a strong following among businessmen looking for something a little wacky after a hard day’s work with fellow suits. As you enter this particular W outpost, you’ll be greeted by blaring house music, hot staff and a not-so-subtle barrage of fluorescent lighting. It might sound a touch ghastly but it’s actually a magnificent hotel centrepiece and, cleverly, the owners have complemented the insolent noise downstairs with splendid silence upstairs.
The rooms are quiet, rich in minimalist, understated luxury with fabulous views of Chicago’s ultimate attraction – Lake Michigan. The Extreme Wow Suite, all 1,100 square feet of it, is a great way of blowing your budget.
If you’re after old-world charm, I can strongly recommend The Peninsula or the Four Seasons. The Peninsula is located in the middle of Chicago’s magnificent mile of department stores and designer boutiques, has a fabulously grand lobby and is home to Shanghai Terrace – arguably Chicago’s finest Chinese restaurant. The lobby lounge is lit by twenty-foot-high windows, and the bar, in contrast, is intimate and low-lit, with a roaring fireplace and a surprisingly hip crowd. Despite its excessively grand décor, I’ve always found it very difficult to leave the Four Seasons – the CEO hotel of choice. The service is friendly, super-competent and never intrusive; the views spectacular – of the Michigans (Avenue and Lake); and the pampering genuinely top-notch.
The New American food at Seasons is delicious and you can easily lose a week at the extraordinary spa and pool. Every bit as impressive as its New York sibling, the Chicago Seasons happens to be cheaper, too.
The Peninsula Chicago 108 East Superior Street (at North Michigan Avenue), Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA Tel: (1-312) 337 2888Fax: (1-312) 751 2888 chicago.peninsula.com
Four Seasons120 East Delaware Place, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. 60611-1428 Tel: 1 (312) 280-8800 Fax: 1 (312) 280-1748
You can’t go wrong with a room at the Be Manos – a new boutique hotel next to the Eurostar terminus with a five-star rating. It’s very chic and also has an excellent conference room.
For an upmarket Chinese night out, I can recommend Centro, the bar in the Kerry Centre hotel. Don’t be put off by it being in a hotel, because it is one of the chicest venues in the city. They have an inviting cocktail list, sometimes have live jazz and there is plenty of plush, comfortable furniture.
There are two very good hotels on Financial Street in the new business district. The Ritz-Carlton is in a modern glass building and has only recently opened, it has everything you’d expect from the brand and is exceptionally clean and new. There is a pool in it with a projection screen that shows films and there are also TVs in the bathrooms. The hotel can also send a car to pick you up from the airport. The other good hotel here is the Intercontinental, which was the first hotel in this area – although still quite new. The service is impeccable and there is free internet.
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