IN HONG KONG, A TALE OF TWO HOTELS
C. James Dale
HONG KONG—It only takes 52 seconds for the elevator to zip from the 9th to the 103rd floor of the new Ritz Carlton in Kowloon.
“That’s nine metres per second,” PR rep Bonnie Kwok boasted as we hurtled heavenward, ears popping furiously. It was the last Saturday in March and I was on a pre-opening tour of what’s being called the “highest hotel in the world.” I’d brought along my friend Peter, a Brit who lives in Hong Kong and works as a project manager for an international construction and consultancy firm. He has expertise and, best of all, provides good colour commentary.
The Ritz Carlton Hong Kong soars well above the competition, marrying five-star luxury with mind-blowing views of its surroundings, especially Hong Kong Island and Victoria Harbour. Its 312 guest rooms, six restaurants (Italian, Cantonese, and a chocolate-themed eatery), and a sky-high pool occupy floors 102 through 118 of Kowloon’s International Commerce Centre (ICC).
“But it’s not a true 118 floors, is it,” Peter asked Bonnie politely, referring to the fact that Chinese culture’saversion to the number four (it represents death) means all floors with a “4” have been skipped (e.g., 4, 14, 24, 34, etc.).
“No,” Bonnie admitted quickly. “But the building is 490 metres tall.”
Forgetting the stats for a minute, the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong is an impressive feat of architecture and design. It towers above the landscape and is a great perch from which to peer out at this former British colony. Fittingly, room rates aren’t just classified by size, but by view as well.
On the restaurant level, a shimmering wall of wine wraps around the floor, home to thousands of bottles from all over the world. Two chandeliers in ‘The Lounge and Bar’ are made up of 100,000 pieces of crystal. Then there’s the top-of-the-line exercise equipment, a rooftop bar ,and a 20-metre infinity pool surrounded by dozens of LED screens flashing images of whales or the Earth.
The only drawback, aside from the price perhaps, is the fact that the hotel is trapped in the middle of a concrete, steel, and glass locale, with the vibrant parts of Kowloon and Hong Kong a cab or ferry ride away. That will change in, oh, about two decades, when the West Kowloon cultural district is completed (2031), a 40-hectare site of reclaimed land on the waterfront. Until then, you’ll have to be content with everything the Ritz Carlton Hong Kong has to offer.
If you want to be a little closer to the action in Kowloon, and a lot closer to the ground, consider booking at night at Hullett House. While the Ritz is all about the future, Hullett House is a tribute to its past. It occupies the upper level of an area known as Heritage 1881, a redevelopment of Hong Kong’s former Marine Police Headquarters on Canton Road. Hullett House has five restaurants and 10 suites, which range in size from 800 to 1,100 square feet (74 to 102 square metres), andr ange in design from the lacquer-and-gold nod to Imperial China to an all-white honeymoon suite with private balconies.
The rooms are all named after one of Hong Kong’s bays. My wife and I stayed in the Cassam suite, a high-ceilinged home to bold sculptures and canvases that give guests a taste of Chinese contemporary art. A white pig does a handstand on one side of the spacious room, while a trio of Mao portraits hangs over the bed, the late leader blowing bubble gum until it splatters over his face. The bathroom, with its sharp lines and mixture of slick reds and mirrors, is the biggest at Hullett House. The terrace overlooks the rest of the 1881 Heritage complex, which includes designer stores such as Vivienne Tam, Shanghai Tang, and Swiss watch-maker Vacheron Constantin. On some nights, you can watch the fog roll across Kowloon and slip like a shroud over Victoria Bay and Hong Kong Island.
The historical touches also add to the ambience. The creaky wood floors, the concrete staircase with original metal banister, along with the vestiges of the former Marine Police Headquarters, such as the old jail cells and the time ball tower, which used to e raised manually and dropped everyday at 1 p.m. so ships could align their chronometers.
Then there’s the simple pleasure of going for a walk, which is by far a better experience at Hullett House than at the Ritz. I went out one warm morning, past the banyan trees with their multitude of twisted tendrils, past the high-end shops on Canton Road, to Kowloon Park to stroll around and watch the old folks do tai chi. On the way back to the hotel, I peeked in a shop selling Chinese herbs, marveled at the bamboo scaffolding that is typical of building sites in Hong Kong, saw a man vacuuming the sidewalk, and watched a verbal disagreement between a woman and an employee at an electronics store almost boil over into a fist fight.
JUST THE FACTS
STAYING: Ritz Carlton, Hong Kong (InternationalCommerce Centre, 1 Austin Road West, Kowloon, Hong Kong, +8522263 2263 , ritzcarlton.com/hongkong) – $1,323.30 CAD ($10,753.60 HKD) for a two-night stay, including breakfast and welcome cocktails for two ($590.68 CAD or 4,800 HKD per night).
Hullett House (2A Canton Road, TsimSha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, +8523988 0000 , hulletthouse.com) – Recent rates were $1,375.29 CAD ($11,088 HKD) for a two-night stay, including breakfast for two ($531.36 CAD or $5,040 HKD per night).