Hong Kong & Macau: more than just a 12hr stopover. The new sights, hotels, restaurants and spas

Hong Kong & Macau: more than just a 12hr stopover. The new sights, hotels, restaurants and spas
Hong Kong & Macau: more than just a 12hr stopover. The new sights, hotels, restaurants and spas

When your key opens your door AND the curtains, it’s clear your hotel is proud of the view. Given that the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong occupies floors 103 to 118 of the harbour-side International Commerce Centre, such an attitude is probably justified.

There are few better places to enjoy the Hong Kong skyline, and it’s a great start to my Hong Kong experience.

We continue with the five-star attractions inside the hotel: dinner at Tin Ling Heen, its two Michelin-starred restaurant. It is, predictably, exquisite.

Hong Kong at night flickr Loïc Lagarde 620
Discover the most vibrant city in the world

The following day we dip a toe into Hong Kong life at street level, with lunch at the buzzing Duddell’s, a HK hot spot and fine dim sum place that effortlessly straddles the line between art gallery and dining room, and that first hit of HK life: food smells, traffic, so many people and the sort of humidity that’s somewhat challenging to a slightly rotund English journalist.

The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong
The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong towers over the harbour

There’s more art later, with a visit to PMQ. This functional looking building – PMQ stands for Police Married Quarters – has been transformed into a hub for art, design and all-round creativity. While it’s still possible to imagine the individual units as remarkably cramped family housing, it’s now a superb mix of designer outlets, art spaces – housing a fascinating Thomas Heatherwick retrospective during our visit – and interesting food businesses.

Our second day starts with a food tour of Sham Shui Po, a district that’s home to some of the city’s more traditional eateries and food stores. With an expert guide from Hong Kong Foodie Tasting Tours, we enjoy a whistlestop trip and check out some unusual textures, flavours and ingredients, from dried sea cucumbers to hand-made noodles via pig skin congee, century eggs and ‘dau fu fa’, a sweetened tofu pudding. Trust me, most are better than they sound.

It’s a fascinating experience and one that’s dissected in detail during our 45-minute TurboJet ferry ride to Macau.

Macau: the Asian Vegas?
The Ritz-Carlton, Macau Pool 620
The pool at the Ritz Carlton Macau. The hotel also has the only ESPA spa in Macau

Macau’s reputation as the Asian Vegas is front and centre as the Turbojet arrives but you don’t need to go far to discover the city’s historic side and Portuguese roots, particularly if you divert to Taipa Village for dinner at Restaurant Antonio, where chef Antonio Coelho, a larger-than-life character, serves up dish after dish of hearty traditional Portuguese food.

Accommodation options abound, as you would expect, but the suite-only Ritz Carlton Macau is a new retreat for weary travellers.

The Ritz-Carlton Macau Carlton Suite Bedroom 620
The Ritz Carlton Macau is suite-only

In-room check-in is hassle-free, leaving us more time to explore the facilities, and do laps of the lounge, bedroom and dressing room. They’re lovely but it’s the bathroom that’s the star of the show, from the dramatic central tub to the Japanese toilet, the door to which opens, and the lid of which lifts, as you approach.

The following morning we head to the historic centre of Macau, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, taking in landmarks such as the Ruins of St Paul’s, the Macau Museum, not to mention the endlessly charming sight of elderly locals practising Tai Chi in Camoes Garden.

After a brief diversion to the Macau Tower, a CN Tower-like structure housing a viewing gallery and assorted adrenaline-heavy activities including a bungee jump from some 300m, we head to one of the highlights of the tour: Macanese cuisine.

Billed as the original fusion cuisine, Macanese blends Portuguese and Chinese ingredients and influences, plus elements from other countries along the Spice Route, such as South America, Malaysia, India and Africa. Our lunch – at Restaurant Litoral – is utterly delicious, particularly African Chicken, a dish reminiscent of groundnut stew.

The afternoon is spent around the hotel, exploring the pools (and the excellent and huge lazy river) followed by dinner at Lai Heen, where chef Bill Fu, formerly of Tin Lung Heen in Hong Kong, is surely cooking his way towards a Michelin star.

The Ritz-Carlton Macau Lai Heen 620
The Lai Heen offers high-end dining in sumptuous surroundings

On our final day, we head to the (former) islands of Taipa and Coloane to explore more of Macau’s history and tourist attractions, from the restored early 20th-century residences of the Taipa Houses Museum to the Macau Giant Panda Pavilion.

My personal highlight? A happy half hour at Lord Stow’s Bakery, launched by Andrew Stow, an English scientist turned baker and businessman, in 1989. It’s now run by Andrew’s sister, a force of nature called Eileen. The Portuguese culinary influence is felt throughout China, of course, by the popularity of the egg custard tart, an interpretation of the famous pastels de nata. Andrew thought that his recipe might see them selling 300 a day. They now produce more than 14,000. Having eaten one warm from the oven, it’s easy to see why.

Our single moment of Vegas-like activity followed as we watch the House of Dancing Water, a truly remarkable show developed by one of the men behind Cirque du Soleil’s global success. It’s a mix of high diving, stunning acrobatics, eye-popping motorcycle work and some of the most remarkable staging I’ve ever witnessed. The show veers between the ultra-modern to the historic, but somehow it works. In that respect, it’s rather like Macau.

Who will love it?
Victoria Harbour. Honk Kong. Hong Kong Tourism Board
Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong? Everyone. Probably. It’s incredibly ‘in your face’ at times, and the humidity and crowds will be offputting to some, but if you’re willing to immerse yourself in the culture, to explore the back streets and markets, it’s a remarkable place. Saying that, if you’re all about the luxury, you’re not short of options either.

Macau? To be fair, a couple of days exploring Macau is probably enough but it’s a fascinating place of extreme contrasts. Food tourists – and historians – will find much to enjoy and it makes a fun twin-centre trip.

Dining in

Hong Kong harbour, with the towering Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong hotel near the waterfront
Hong Kong harbour, with the towering Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong hotel near the waterfront

Sham Shui Po is dotted with amazing stores for all sorts of ingredients. If you have the wherewithal to cook, the hand-pulled noodles and vegetable stalls would make an incredible supper. The bakeries too are fascinating. Some of the textures and flavours are a little out there for Western tastes but there are many simple, sweet things to enjoy.

Another must? Seven Eleven. The range of snacks on offer are remarkable. The same applies to Macau – there are great markets and food shops, plus Lord Stow’s Bakery is an addictive must.

Dining out

Where do you start? While I’m not in a rush to have that tofu pudding again (that goes double for century eggs), there are thousands of incredible options around Hong Kong. Macau too has many – from the buffets in the casino hotels to, particularly, the Macanese food at Restaurant Litoral. The new Michelin list for Hong Kong and Macau has just been released too.

Need to knows

For information on Macau, visit Macau Tourism

For more information on Hong Kong, visit Discover Hong Kong

Previous articleIsland nation: an introduction to New Zealand’s stunning coast and beaches
Next articlePowder-white beaches, food festivals and amazing cities on your doorstep: Scotland’s top secrets