Recent events in the UK have shown that when the sun arrives in London, Londoners strip off. This weekend every patch of green land in my borough was covered in scantily clad sunbathers, wearing swimwear despite there being nowhere to swim.
This scene starkly contrasted with the situation I had found in a similarly sunny Hong Kong last week. In Hong Kong the local ladies were draped in loose chiffon layers. They walked around under umbrellas to shade their skin from the sun – I suspect partly a vestige of the ancient belief that pale skin equals beauty but also rather a sensible move in light of the damaging effects of the sun on the skin. Whatever the reason for the practise the ladies take it very seriously, on days when the sun unexpectedly popped out from behind a cloud and they were caught without shade, I watched them raise their arms over their heads and dart across roads to the safety of the next buildings shadow.
I learnt the art of staying as close to the buildings as possible, not to benefit from their shade, but rather the icy bursts of air that escaped from their open doors. Air conditioning in Hong Kong is thankfully found everywhere and often at Arctic temperatures. In malls and restaurants you will find staff smartly dressed in suits and jackets, a strange site considering the heat outside. On the streets though you must watch out for those drips from condensation on air con units, look for the puddles on the pavement and don’t stand directly in one!
The MTR system is also nicely chilled. In a reversal of the rules of London Underground food and drink are not allowed on the trains but Wi-Fi is available throughout the tunnels (its also free at stations.) On the MTR you will not hear reminders to ‘drink plenty of water in these hot conditions’ and neither during my time there did I once hear the words ‘signal failure’.
A respite from the city heat can be found on The Peak. The Peak is where many of the British resided during the rule of Hong Kong, taking advantage of the sweeping views and cool breezes and sadly depriving the Chinese residents of the same. Today it is a tourist attraction open to all and a residential area for those that can afford it. One way to ascend it is via the Peak Tram, a steep funicular railway that opened in 1888. At the end of the short journey you’ll find yourself at the Peak Tower, essentially a shopping mall with jaw-dropping views.
Another way to enjoy a view of the Hong Kong skyline whilst staying cool is on a harbour cruise. The Star Ferry is a cheap and scenic way to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, but to see the harbour in style you can take a traditional junk cruise. Cushions and wicker chairs are spread on deck under the red billowing sails of the ship and a cold drink, served by the on board waiters, is included in the ticket price. Taking the tour of an evening means you can get close hand views of the Symphony of Light show that takes place every evening at 8pm.
Hong Kong is certainly big on shopping malls and at K11 they are taking it to another level. K11 claims to be the world’s first art mall. A selection of local and international fashion and design stores are interspersed with works of art (including this Mona Lisa made of toast by Maurice Bennett) and there is also a dedicated art space on the first floor. Personally I prefer wandering around the local markets, especially in Kowloon where they are divided according to stock – Bird, Goldfish and Flower markets are all found in Mong Kok.
Street signs in Hong Kong fascinate me. Dominating the space above the road they promote businesses in the vicinity, but where exactly the premises are is not immediately obvious to the outsider. I spent 3 days trying to find the Starbucks I saw advertised via the recognisable green sign opposite our hotel. The sign was not attached to the property it advertised but rather indicated that should I enter a shopping mall several doors to the right and take the escalator to the first floor, there I should find the iced drink I so desired!
In Hong Kong I found swimming pools to make the sunbathers in London eyes water. At the Mira Hotel, where I stayed for my first few nights in Hong Kong, a 65 million dollar refurbishment has worked it’s magic on the spa area too. The basement swimming pool comes with an infinity edge and twinkly ceiling, whilst in the changing rooms you may splay yourself on a waterbed in the relaxation room (the comfiest thing I ever laid on) as well as make use of steam, sauna and Jacuzzi facilities.
My last few nights in Hong Kong I spent on the 25th floor of the exceptional Hotel Icon (more on that to come soon.) The Icon’s swimming pool pokes out the side of the building from the 9th floor and offers one of the best backdrops I’ve ever swam against, as well as the chance to tan (sensibly of course.)
This was my second visit to Hong Kong but the first time I had been in the summer. Many places tend to look better in the sunshine and the Hong Kong skyline is no exception. Experiencing a clear view of that iconic outline, whilst having air-conditioned malls and impressive swimming pools to retreat to, makes Hong Kong an exceptionally stylish city to visit in the summer.
Cathay Pacific flies five times daily to Hong Kong from London Heathrow with prices from £629 in Economy and £1159 in Premium Economy. To book your flights visit www.cathaypacific.co.uk
Thanks to Hong Kong Tourism Board who invited me to discover this stylish city. All thoughts and opinions remain, as always, my own