Alex Vallis

How to make the most of mini refresh in this visa-free region of China.

Alex Vallis
May 25, 2017

If you find yourself with a bit of time off, a desire to explore somewhere new and a dearth of travel companions as I recently did, consider Hong Kong. Despite a 14 to 15 hour flight time, the visa-free region of China actually offers a fantastic mini refresh and is easy to get around alone. It’s a direct flight on Cathay Pacific, feels quite safe and many Hong Kongers speak English. There are clear rewards for your Ambien-worthy effort: Incredible spas, excellent bar dining and a dynamic arts scene. Even when it rains—which it most likely will—take it as an excuse to do little beyond foot rubs, naps and dumpling marathons. Here, 7 tips for making the most of your trip.

1. Stay on Hong Kong Island.

Victoria Harbour divides Kowloon peninsula and this island to the south. It might be controversial to share this tip based on a single 5-night stay, but the reasoning is very simple. My restaurant list favored Hong Kong Island. After considering Upper House, a beautiful zen retreat on top of a mall, and Pottinger House, a boutique-looking property right in the business district, I settled on the original Mandarin Oriental. Not to be confused with the Landmark Mandarin Oriental (which is in fact newer), this property went up in 1963 as the area’s tallest building. It’s been renovated, and new General Manager Tony Costa–known for bringing Noma to Tokyo–is planning a second refresh this year. But I came for the spa…and the ability to walk to dinner.  

Alex Vallis

2. Mention Hong Kong to anyone and everyone before you leave.

And post on social media. As a center of business in Asia, Hong Kong is home to many expats and, you’ll probably find, friends of friends. While it’s fun to do your own thing for a few days, it’s also nice to have a sharing partner for dim sum or a banquet-style dinner. 

3. Map out your meals.

Plan your cultural explorations near must-try restaurants and destination-worthy coffee. Liang Yi is a peaceful appointment-only museum focused on antiques--conveniently located a 10-minute walk from noodle soup with brisket at Kau Kee, a farm-to-table Cantonese lunch at The Chairman, or an early dinner of candy-fried crabs and cocktails at the bar of Ronin (Japanese sister spot to Yardbird). A pastry shop called Po's Atelier is even closer, just around the corner. Asia Society currently has a contemporary art exhibit called "Breathing Space," focused on existing in the packed environs of Hong Kong, and is a 20-minute walk from Omotesando Koffee-a cult Tokyo pop-up that transported to a permanent space here. (Their square canelés pastries and shakerato coffees just may have been the impetus for this solo trip in the first place.)

4. But don’t walk too much. 

A 30-40 minute walk can be a pleasure in some countries, but not across the highways and construction sites here. Don’t be a hero; grab a cab across the harbor for pan-fried soup dumplings stuffed with pork and black truffle at Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai, or to go out of the way for an excellent egg tart at Hoover Cake Shop.

5. Plan museum and spa visits.

There’s no better way to spend a rainy day, or just a lazy day, than an over-the-top hotel spa. At the Mandarin Oriental, there’s a peaceful lap pool and treatments like the Imperial Jade Ritual, featuring two blissful hours of massage and beautification. Balance out the splurge with a bargain another day: Happy Foot operates several locations known for epic reflexology.

Alex Vallis

6. Don’t be afraid to nap.

When you’re solo, there’s no one to roll his or her eyes when you collapse into the pillows of that plush hotel bed.

7. Upgrade if you can.

Here’s a theory: flights go faster the higher you upgrade. Cathay Pacific offered me an extravagant taste of flatbed business class, which set in motion my new plan of action for trips. It’s better to stay one less night in a destination, if it means spending more on a pleasant flight. You arrive much better rested and well fed. It was nice to gear up for a food trip with a healthy meal of flavorful butternut squash and carrot curry by celeb chef Daniel Green.