It’s nighttime and for the first time ever we have landed at Hong Kong International Airport. Having barely slept on our long connecting flight from DC to Doha, we drag our jet-lagged selves through the modern arrivals terminal. Our fondest hope is to somehow stumble through the airport, find a taxi, and get to our hotel (and bed) as quickly as is humanly possible.
Our bleary-eyed state of mind has been helpfully made clearer by the assistance of a myriad of official Hong Kong airport guides who efficiently direct us through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and to one of the tri-colored taxis approved by the Hong Kong municipality — green taxies for destinations in the New Territories, blue for destinations nearby on Lantau Island, and red “urban” taxies for all other destinations — to deposit us safely to our 5-star luxury hotel, the Harbor Grand Kowloon. Located directly on the waterfront at Kowloon Bay, this premium hotel is just four km from Victoria Harbor.
Suddenly we find ourselves in the heart of this bright and bustling neon-lit city. Hong Kong, we have discovered, is sparkling and vibrant; massive, soaring skyscrapers, many brightly lit with apartment lights blazing, all making an awesome impression on this pair of travel-weary first-time visitors.
Hong Kong’s deep-blue waters: Timeless and magical
The deep-blue waters of Victoria Harbor are the reason why a tiny collection of fishing villages between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula grew to become an international center of trade.
During our brief stay — less than 24 hours — we intend to experience some of the best-known features of this city: the breathtakingly beautiful harbor, world-class shopping, unique family entertainment, and China’s rich, centuries-old culture.
The opportunity to experience a few hours in this magical place – often called the “Pearl of the Orient” — is the reason why we choose it as our port of embarkation for our 15-day all-inclusive, five-star Silversea cruise that will take us southward — commencing the following night at sundown — to Vietnam, Thailand and Singapore.
At Harbor Grand Hotel Kowloon, after a refreshing snooze (be sure to book a room overlooking the harbor), we stuff ourselves at the sumptuous buffet brunch in the The Promenade, which also offers fabulous views of the Victoria Harbor waterfront.
We have chosen to stay at this stunning hotel for several excellent reasons: it offers mind-blowing views of the bustling harbor and skyscrapers across at Hong Kong Island, it caters to families traveling with children (always of interest to readers of Arab News), it is one of the few hotels in Hong Kong that offers halal-certified food in its restaurants, it is located a few blocks away from the frantic traffic of downtown Kowloon, and for a remarkably reasonable price, offers luxurious amenities.
For guests traveling with children, our one-day “home base” in Hong Kong, the Harbor Grand Hotel Kowloon, offers a unique experience: while parents relax at the spa, restaurant, or lounge, their young ones can entertain themselves by seeking out places in the hotel where they can obtain a stamp for a “passport” that each child obtains at check-in. And, when the passport is filled with a requisite numbers of stamps, the youngster earns a complimentary ice cream cone.
The Hotel’s concierge staff will arrange family excursions to a variety of crowd-pleasing local destinations, including: Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park Hong Kong with “thrill rides, giant pandas, and a world-class aquarium,” a deceptively-named “Ladies Market,” which is an eye-opening street market stretching a full kilometer chock-full of ultra-discounted electronics, clothing, crafts, toys, jewelry, sundries and souvenirs.
The best view of Victoria Harbour
With just five hours left before the SilverSea’s Silver Shadow cruise ship sets sail, we are told the best vantage point to truly appreciate the majestic splendor of Hong Kong’s glittering harbor and the surrounding green hills of China and Macau is at the highest point in Hong Kong — where else? — the 482-meter high observation deck atop The Peak Tower and Center, a multi-level restaurant and shopping complex discreetly nestled within one of the oldest and most exclusive neighborhoods in Hong Kong.
Getting to The Peak is in many ways a calming journey away from the hyperkinetic bustle of the city’s waterfront and dense shopping areas: board a ferry at the Wan Chai Pier and enjoy a pleasant 30-minute ride across Victoria Harbor, where — just a few steps away from the terminal — board the Peak Tram — a funicular railroad that winds its way up the slops of Hong Kong peak. The Peak Tram was famously featured in the 1955 movie Soldier of Fortune starring Clark Gable (Clark rendezvoused with Susan Hayward at The Peak just before the film’s closing credits).
Enjoying the view from Peak Tower
The Peak Tower’s wok-shaped roof is the whimsical design of British architect Terry Favelt. The awe-inspiring view there offers us an out-of-this-world vista of skyscrapers, harbor traffic, and the seemingly endless verdant hills of mainland China.
At short distance from The Peak is the 50,000-square-foot King Yin Lei mansion, a frequent movie location (in Soldier of Fortune, it served as Clark Gable’s ‘home’) designed and built in 1938 by British architect A.R. Fenton-Rayen. Saved from the wrecking ball in 2008, the King Yin Lei mansion has also served as filming location for the Bruce Lee film, “Enter the Dragon,” and is featured prominently in the Liza Wang TV series, “Yesterday’s Glitter.”
Casting off to an amazing display of lights
At sunset, we are finally aboard the Silver Shadow shortly before it sets sail. Standing on the private veranda of our stateroom, the ink-dark harbor waters separating us from the pier at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal grow wider.
As our ship turns southward, the skyscrapers lining the harbor front suddenly erupt in display of lights and lasers. This amazing illumination show, “Symphony of Lights,” has been organized through the Hong Kong Tourism Commission. The lights — millions of them — cover 44 skyscrapers and landmark buildings visible from the center of the harbor.
The display, synchronized through music that can be heard separately on a radio or smart phone, is intended to underscore the vibrancy and glamor of the city of Hong Kong. The “Symphony of Lights” is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s largest permanent light and sound show.” It is comprised of colored, low-energy LED lights, laser beams, and searchlights.
Words cannot describe the dazzling colors and visual explosions that greet the eye. It is as if buildings on each side of the harbor have been magically transformed into high definition TV sets that are displaying a light show devised by some of the most inventive minds in Hollywood.
Gazing at the breathtaking sights slipping past our stateroom — as passengers on the cruise, we are in an ideal position — in the middle of the harbor — to watch the astonishing spectacle. Now, we eagerly anticipate a day at sea before the next leg on Silversea’s South Asia cruise: the Vietnamese port cities of Halong Bay, Chan May, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City (Hanoi) and Danang.