Hotels aren’t cheap, and neither are the labels worn by folk who walk the fashionista-populated streets.

“Asia’s World City” is not only known for its skyscrapers, but for skyrocketing prices, too. And with chic new establishments taking luxe to a whole new level here, now is the best time to soak it up. 

Eat, drink and shop — that’s the modern Hong Kong mantra. With seven million people packed into this urban consumer mecca, the only way is up — for construction of new skyscrapers, the affluence of the city’s social climbers and, more importantly for visitors, prices.

Hotels aren’t cheap, and neither are the labels worn by the wealthier folk who walk these fashionista-populated streets. Go ultra expensive, with cocktails at rooftop bars perched atop luxury hotels, or cheap, at the local Cantonese diners. Hong Kong is money-centric, so don’t scrimp. Do as the locals do — and put off worrying about the credit card bill.

Island Life

Hong Kong Island was where it all happened — especially  the night-life. But space wasn’t in abundance here, so much of the action, and the hippest hotels and restaurants, have moved across the harbour. The expat communities still mostly reside here, near the eternally intoxicated bar area of Lan Kwai Fong, and travel lower down to work on never-ending escalators, which are an attraction in themselves. But, for the newer, sleeker places to see and be seen, head north across the water to Kowloon.

The hotels are monuments to modernity, stretching ever skyward, and usually with an open-air bar tottering, like revellers, at the peak. The Mira hotel is a chrome palace, all jet-black and mirrored surfaces. The hotel rooms, like all apartments in Hong Kong, are tiny compared to those in other cities, but the corridors’ reflective ceilings hide the incredibly low heights. The Mira is also home to one of Kowloon’s most fun outdoor bars, Vibes. But instead of the rooftop, it’s in the building’s fifth-floor central courtyard, so if a celebrity DJ is hosting a party here, guests aren’t going to get any sleep until the early hours.

The traditional view of a hotel as a place of peace is also rejected at the luxe W Hotel, a bright-neon haven somewhere between cool and tacky. The ‘Cool Corner’ rooms have great views of the harbour’s nightly light display — when the high-rises blink on and off in unison. The WooBar, meanwhile, provides views of Hong Kong’s always-mingling social butterflies, and looks like it was designed by the kinkier younger brother of Willy Wonka.

For the traveller with a penchant for OTT novelty, there’s the peculiar Luxe Manor looking, frankly, like a building from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge. Some rooms are themed — from the relatively tasteful Middle Eastern Safari room to the gaudy Mirage suite. Rather more subdued is the hotel’s Nordic-themed restaurant Finds, which offers great sushi and seafood, but — somewhat appropriately, given its Scandinavian notes — resembles an IKEA diner. Also in the hotel, The Dada, with its giant, swirling clocks, is a surreal Salvador Dalí vision turned into a bar.

A more sober and sensibly attired place to stay is the five-star Kowloon Shangri-La, cousin to its Central iteration across the harbour. Like the nearby Peninsula hotel, the Shangri-La is opulent in a Sean Connery Bond way, with its massive chandeliered lobby, hushed atmosphere and bygone-era uniformed doormen hailing cabs — a stark contrast to the cool, and often cold, aesthetic of Kowloon’s hip upstarts. Here, you’ll find a sophisticated modern twist on Cantonese cuisine at the recently renovated Shang Palace; Japanese standard Nadaman, which has been here forever; and Italian classics at The Standard.

Opulent Options

A short walk away is one of the city’s most respected Chinese dining experiences — Fook Lam Moon. Committed to simple food done well with no artificial flavours (a common theme in a city of sensory overload), FLM is near Kowloon’s main shopping thoroughfare, Nathan Road. Always full of locals and mainland Chinese visitors, it’s nothing fancy to look at, but the dishes are traditional food at its best.

For opulence, head to Spring Moon at the Peninsula hotel. Straight out of a Wong Kar-wai movie (think In the Mood for Love), this 1920s-style teahouse’s meals are as ornate as its Art Deco interiors. 

Cross the bay back to Central Hong Kong where established dining areas have upped the ante with more modern fare. A subway stop from Central, Tim’s Kitchen is run by Michelin-starred chef Lai Yau Tim. This tiny place is one for local-celebrity spotters, and it boasts a perfectly steamed crab claw served with winter melon.

The one to beat for Cantonese cooking is Danny Yip’s The Chairman. Yip, who now has three restaurants in Canberra, serves up unusual digressions from the norm, with an organic verve, amid the eatery’s minimalist interior. You won’t find the increasingly ethically frowned-upon shark fin on the menu here.

Moving continents, cuisine-wise, Hong Kong’s best French food is at Caprice at the Four Seasons. One of the few local chefs with three Michelin stars, Vincent Thierry has created a hullabaloo on the island — and so he should with his staff of 25 chefs. High up in the Mandarin Oriental hotel is another fine Gallic option, Pierre, while Zuma does a suave, inventive take on its Japanese franchise.

Eastern Promise

Hong Kong Island certainly has more buzz by the square metre than anywhere else in town, with Central a mass of consumer tower blocks and hotels housing many a bar and five-star restaurant. Notable self-consciously hip places to stay are LKF and Icon. Both are straight from the pages of Wallpaper* magazine, with the latter’s Above & Beyond bar catering for VIPs.

Slightly out of the way and eight stops east of Central is the appropriately named East, a business hotel that’s trying to bring slickness to this traditional residential area. It’s halfway to the beaches on Big Wave Bay, and is a good location for the corporate traveller who wants to take a break on the sand, or head to nearby Tai Tam Country Park.

If the outdoors isn’t your cup of tea but you still feel like touching the sky, get along to trendy Hutong, part of the omnipresent Aqua restaurant group. Cantonese for laneway, Hutong is anything but — a red lantern-lit penthouse eatery serving modern Northern Chinese tucker in private rooms. Have a cocktail and stare at Hong Kong’s tallest structure, the daunting International Commerce Centre. Sugar at East, MO Bar at the Mandarin Landmark and the Ritz-Carlton’s Ozone are also worth a visit for a nosebleed-inducing tipple.

Much closer to the ground are relaxed tiki bar Honi Honi with its cool courtyard and English-themed gastro-wine bar Alfie’s; and its private older brother, the Kee Club. Tucked away in a nondescript building, the latter is a labyrinth of hidden rooms, nooks and crannies, and plays host to famous DJs at the weekends.

Having basked in Hong Kong’s decadence without visiting even a single casino, it’s wise to now risk any leftover money at China’s gambling capital, Macau — an hour away by boat. The most overblown casino, and the world’s biggest, is the Venetian Macao with its canals, gondolas and mock Italian façade. Less extravagant, relatively speaking, is the City of Dreams, for serious gamblers as opposed to the curious.

Thanks to limited space, the Hong Kong government keeps building out onto the water. The local joke is that, one day, you will be able to walk to the mainland from the island. For now, there is plenty of footwork to be done just getting around its luxury attractions.