The airport gleams upon arrival, and it always seems to be a seamless, quick trip through customs, with nary a question to be asked.
North American flights often arrive early in the morning, and you’ll probably see the mountains or hills of Lantau Island rising in the mist as you make your way into town by car or on the cheap (about $12) Metro express train. You then pass thousands upon thousands of
red, green and blue shipping containers that line the docks of one of the world’s greatest ports and are stencilled with names such as Hyundai and Haier. Hundreds of ships lie at anchor in the harbour and the giant cranes or lifts rise up into the sky like ghostly apparitions in the morning light.
It’s only about 6 a.m. as I make my way into Kowloon, and I smile as I think that as I glide into the train station there are hundreds of citizens stretching and
arcing their bodies and craning their necks and tracing ancient motions as they perform their morning tai chi exercises in Kowloon Park or Chater Gardens or on whatever space they can find that’s bigger than your
average Hong Kong living room.
I was heading to the Ritz Carlton hotel in Kowloon, which has been open only a couple years and is one of the tallest hotels in the world, with the lobby on the 103rd floor and then 15 floors above that. It’s in West Kowloon on some reclaimed land and is part of a huge shopping centre complex that’s connected to the Kowloon station on the Metro express line, which makes it very handy. The shopping mall is one of those impossibly pristine, gleaming centres you find in Asia, with stores I couldn’t possibly afford and, quite frankly, have zero
interest in: Zegna, Prada, Jimmy Choo, Cartier, Gucci. Where, I say to myself, is the Banana Republic outlet store?
It’s not the most convenient location in the city, as it’s a bit of a hike to Nathan Road or Canton Road in Kowloon, which isn’t quite as good a place to stay
in my book as Central Hong Kong. But cabs here are cheap; often $5 for a 10 minute ride. And most folks who stay at a Ritz Carlton probably don’t worry about
having to take a cab to dinner…
I’m usually leery of hotels within an office building. I’ve stayed in these monstrous properties in Shanghai and Tokyo and never really felt a sense that I was in a
hotel. I guess I’m old fashioned, but I like a real sense of arrival, like when you come up into the Royal York or even the Sheraton on Queen St. in Toronto and you enter a giant room with people buzzing about and a
real sense that you’ve left home and escaped your cares.
The Ritz, I think, manages to capture that feeling despite being part of a giant office tower. There’s an “arrivals” lobby on the 9th floor, and then you’re whisked your way up to the 103rd floor on an ear-popping elevator ride that takes a mere 52 seconds (take or give) to reach the main lobby. They’ve done a nice job of making it feel like a regular hotel lobby (see photo above right) as there’s a fancy jewelery shop next to the elevator doors and then a high-ceiling lobby area that looks down on a couple of restaurants on the 102nd floor. It provides a good deal of light and, yes, some pretty spectacular views out over Kowloon and Central Hong Kong.
I arrive in my room on the 108th floor and am greeted with a gobsmackingly stupendous view of what might be the world’s greatest harbour (you could make a
point for San Francisco, Vancouver or Sydney, I guess, but I’d have to vote this one as tops). There are literally hundreds of boats below my feet. There’s a giant cruise ship tied up at the old terminal (the new one is coming along pretty soon) and it looks like a toy boat in someone’s bathtub.
I look across the harbour and see that I’m virtually the same height as the radio towers of Victoria Peak in central Hong Kong. A helicopter is taking off from the roof of one of central’s tallest towers, and it buzzes off hundreds of feet below my window. Amazing.
I didn’t get a chance to sample the hotel’s restaurants, but they looked beautiful. There’s a Chinese restaurant,
of course, and also a gleaming Italian place with a top chef from Italy who was making some remarkable looking pasta swirls when I passed through. They do an afternoon chocolate tea in the main cafe, as well. The hotel also has a bar located on the 118th floor called Ozone that’s a real beauty, with remarkable views from the outside terrace area as well as a cool interior with funky lights and a fun, textured ceiling. The drinks were inventive and tasty and only about $20; not bad considering that’s what you’ll pay for no view at all
in New York and often in Toronto.
My room was fairly neutral but had nice touches of black lacquered looks for a Chinese feel, with muted gold and beige and white. There was a small seating area next to the window with comfortable cushions so you could gaze out at the wonders around you. Naturally they had
iPod docks and a huge, flat screen TV and a Nespresso coffee maker and an honour bar, which had gin and vodka and rum but surprisingly, no Scotch or Canadian whiskey
or Bourbon. I’m sure they would’ve brought some if I’d wanted it, which I didn’t. But I was surprised to see the little fridge so poorly stocked.
The marble bath had a fabulous rainshower and a big, deep bathtub with a television set built in above the faucet. Because, you know, you don’t want to miss the Manchester United match or Dancing With the Stars. I’m not sure they get Dancing With the Stars, but the gym had great workout machines with full Internet and TV sets on them. I rode the stationery bike and kept an eye on the Red Sox-Orioles game, but I could’ve gone on You Tube to check out the latest kitten video to go viral or posted something on Twitter.
The spa features 11 treatment rooms and a couple spots for couples massages. I didn’t get to try the spa (the only ESPA in Hong Kong I was told), but the pool was wonderful. It’s on the 118th floor, next to the bar, and features an infinity style edge so you can look out directly onto the harbour and central Hong Kong. They also have curvy chairs so you can soak in the view in style.
It’ s an impressively long pool for a hotel so I was able to do some real laps and just not get a little wet behind the ears. They have pretty overhead lighting and one end of the pool deck is used to beam moving images of swirling schools of bright blue and yellow fish, or to show restful beach scenes. Crazy.
There’s a warm tub in a covered area and a plunge pool with icy water for hot days, and outside (but protected by glass on the sides) is a large hot tub, which I of course had to try. I think it’s the world’s highest swimming pool, and it’s certainly the most amazing I’ve seen.
I didn’t try the restaurants but I did get access to the club lounge, where they had an awesome breakfast with omeletes made to order, bacon, sausage, luscious breads, expensive jams (hurray), croissants, fresh fruit galore, cold cuts, cereal, cheeses, nuts, yogurt, Swiss-style burchermuesli and Chinese foods. A terrific buffet, for sure. And nice looking sandwiches and other snacks at lunch and dinner, plus nice wines.
As great as the pool and the views and the decor was, I also have to mention a couple of small things I found hugely impressive. First was an old-fashioned alarm clock that lit up when you lifted it in the middle of the night; far better than a blinking clock radio. Also, in the locker at the pool there was a zip loc bag to
put your wet bathing suit in for the trip back to your room. Or for your suitcase. A little thing, but one I’d
think would be cheap and easy for other hotels to copy.
The service, of course, was tremendous; attentive without being over the top.
Okay, okay. It’s an awesome place. But what’s it going to cost you? Probably about $600 a night for their cheapest room. Yeah, that’s a lot. But it’s not even remotely outrageous by world standards and it’s comparatively a great deal considering what you get.
I’ve been lucky enough to stay in some awfully special places around the world in my day; Tahitian resorts with overwater bungalows and historic properties in Paris
with Michelin star restaurants and more. This one is up there with the best of them.