For the last year or so, I’ve been fortunate enough to work in partnership with Cathay Pacific on a couple of different projects. As a big fan of airlines, working with Cathay has been a personal pleasure but along the way I’ve been surprised by a lot of things, both during the flights and after I’ve arrived to my destinations. I recently did something a little unusual with them, I flew to Hong Kong as part of a very special delivery flight, but from there I didn’t return immediately home. No, instead I spent a couple of days in Hong Kong before heading out to my next destination, Australia. What I learned was that not only is a Hong Kong stopover a great way to get to Australia, but it added a lot of value to my trip and so I wanted to share some of these revelations with everyone.
Stopovers are something I’ve done many times, as I’m sure many of you have also. In brief, they’re essentially longer-term layovers. In my case, my end destination was Australia. But since I flew Cathay Pacific from the U.S., that meant a stop in Hong Kong. Rather than finding the next available connecting flight, I stayed for a couple of days to enjoy the city. You can of course plan such adventures with any airline, but a few not only make stopovers easy to understand, but they actively encourage them. Icelandair is probably the one most folks are familiar with; they have a comprehensive program to encourage folks to fly to Europe via Reykjavik, enjoying some time in the country along the way. I’ve also done this before with stopovers in both Tokyo and Singapore. What I love about stopovers is that they add a lot to the overall travel experience. The cities in question are not your end goal, they are not the primary destination for you vacation. It’s because of that though that spending a couple of days exploring them feels like a bonus, an expected travel experience you wouldn’t get if you flew directly or without spending extra time in the city. So, yes, I love stopovers and if I have the time I always try to take advantage of them. In fact, I’ve been to Hong Kong twice and each time was essentially a stopover experience. Over the course of those two trips I’ve found many reasons why Hong Kong is an ideal city to explore in just a couple of days.
Convenience and plenty to do
Hong Kong is a well-located city with easy flights throughout Asia and even, as I learned, to Australia. It’s also a nice way to break up a lot of travel. I enjoyed my 14-hour flight to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, but it was also nice NOT to then hop on another long flight right away. By spending a few days exploring Hong Kong, I got used to the time change while enjoying the destination at the same time. Before I go on, let me address the counter-argument. Can you fly directly from the US to Australia or other places in Asia? Yes, of course you can. From my point of view though, it’s a 5 hour or so flight to Los Angeles and then a 15-hour flight to Australia. That’s a lot of travel and by adding only a few hours of extra flight time, I got to see and experience a whole new place. For someone who loves to explore new cities and countries, it’s worth it to me. Plus, as I just mentioned, it is really nice to recover from jet lag BEFORE you arrive to your primary destination. That way no time is wasted and you feel at the top of your game.
If Australia, Thailand, China or anywhere in these general areas are on your travel to-do list, then going through Hong Kong just makes sense. There is the added benefit of course that Hong Kong itself is a wonderful city to explore. If you arrive in the evening you can thankfully check into your hotel and go to sleep immediately. If you arrive in the morning or midday, then it’s essential you stay awake until the normal bedtime in Hong Kong. This is actually great advice to beat jet lag no matter where you go. To make the most of your limited time in Hong Kong, here are a few ideas.
Where to stay
I’ve been to Hong Kong twice and each time I have enjoyed two very luxurious but also very different hotel experiences. I recommend both, which one you choose is really a matter of preference. Perched on Victoria Harbour in Kowloon, the views from the InterContinental Hong Kong are amongst the best in the city and when coupled with outstanding quality and service, the InterContinental is a destination in its own right. It’s also very conveniently located near the metro station and some of the best sites in Kowloon. On the other side of the spectrum is the more intimate and private luxury hotel, The Upper House Hong Kong. If service defines an excellent luxury hotel, then the Upper House is clearly at the top of its game. From personalized, in-room check in to a staff that are as good as I’ve ever seen, the Upper House standard of service is shockingly high. Designed in modern Asian elegance, the clean lines and low profiles of the spacious rooms make them seem more like a home than a hotel room. Even in the smaller rooms, which aren’t small at all, space is ample and everything you need is just a push of the button away. Guests also enjoy amenity kits, an open mini-bar and other special touches that you’ll just have to experience for yourself.
What to do
I’ve devoted a few posts to this subject alone, so rather than reinvent the wheel allow me to share just a couple of the many great experiences you can enjoy in Hong Kong. One of the most iconic activities is to hop on a boat and see Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong from the water. Boarding the “Aqua Luna” boat I enjoyed a two-hour cruise around the harbor, taking in the scenery and just relaxing on the water. I think it’s important to see cities in as many different ways as possible, and from the water is my personal favorite.
One of the best places to get an idea for the size of the city is from The Peak. Standing at 552 meters above sea level, the Peak is the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island and was a natural signaling post for incoming cargo ships in the nineteenth century. It quickly became one of the hottest places in town to live thanks to the cooler temps which naturally attracted the British colonizers who called the city home. It’s still a popular place to live, more for the views than the climate though. Taking the Victoria Peak tram to the top of the mountain is an iconic tourist activity, but one that I think is worth the time and effort. The views from the top are amazing and quite honestly the best you’ll find.
Eat all the food
Hong Kong has a global reputation as a foodie city, and it’s a title well deserved. Residents take their meals very seriously and thanks to its somewhat unusual history, you’ll find a little bit of everything in this sprawling metropolis.
Classic dim sum though is still perhaps what Hong Kong is best known for, and locals all swear by the quality found at Tim Ho Wan. Known as the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world, the hour long lines are normal for the king of dim sum. It’s worth it too; the choice and quality of the food was exceptional and all served at normal dim sum prices. It’s not often you can say you got Michelin rated food for $10 or less, but Hong Kong is full of culinary surprises like this one.
For something a little different, try Ho Lee Fook. Quirky and little too hipster for its own good, the food luckily rescues this restaurant from being too cool for school. Meant to evoke old school Hong Kong hang outs with the funky vibe of 1960s Chinatown New York, rock music and dim lights set the stage for a rock-inspired meal. The food itself though is pretty traditional, just good Chinese classics served up family style so that everyone can enjoy them.
As I get older, I appreciate trips that aren’t sprints from start to finish, but well-rounded experiences that give me the time to actually enjoy the journey itself. Stopovers are a great way to do that, to add not only time to relax and go more slowly but to see new sights and experience places you might not be able to otherwise. So when you book that next long flight, look for stopover options and if you’re traveling to anywhere in Asia, be sure that stopover includes Hong Kong.
Have you ever spent a stopover somewhere? Where was it?