By Anja Mutić
I love travel, in all shapes and forms. Still, I don’t typically get excited about boarding a 16-hour flight. No matter how you cut it, that is one long journey. As my recent trip to Hong Kong approached, I kept on comforting myself with the fact I’d be flying business class on Cathay Pacific. Up until then, I had never flown Cathay but heard rave reviews from travel-savvy friends about the airline’s amazing service and cabins. So surely that would ease the pain of having to sit on a plane for a long 16 hours. Little did I know that I would love the experience so much that I would anticipate the return flight with excitement. On the way over from New York to Hong Kong, I slept soundly, blissfully secluded in my flat-bed seat with generous legroom. Cocooned in my own private little world, I felt so pampered by the attentive staff. As it turns out, the Cathay Pacific flight was a great precursor to the luxury experience I’d have in China. I hardly noticed that more than 16 hours had gone by when we landed in Hong Kong International Airport.
After a brief break at the stylish Cathay Pacific lounge, we boarded a short Dragonair flight to Sanya on Hainan Island, dubbed as the Hawaii of China. Strangely for a place that is known for its year-round sunshine, a grey and drizzly day was our welcome to the island. Upon arrival to our first destination, InterContinental Sanya Resort, a fragrant orchid bracelet and a fresh coconut drink brought a little sunshine to our stay. When I checked into my room in the resort’s exclusive club section, I cared not for the drizzle outside. Overlooking South China Sea and the extensive gardens, the room came with a spacious outdoor space and a full spectrum of plush perks inside. Also included in the club section were complimentary drinks and snacks in the lounge. I particularly loved the afternoon tea, served daily between 3 and 5pm, with palm-fringed views of the sea.
The couple of days we spent in Sanya were ideal for unwinding after the long journey from New York and gearing up for the high-energy jaunt in Hong Kong. Two highlights stood out during my stay on the island. The first was the afternoon at the SPA of InterContinental Sanya Resort. Among its standout features are the gorgeous orchid and water gardens and the hydrotherapy dome. This incredible spa installment works with water as the vital source of life. The nine different hydro cocoons inside the dome have healing properties, each with a different function. One of the cocoons relaxes back muscles by blasting water through potent jets; another focuses on the feet. The dome uses hot and cold water pressure to revitalize and de-stress as well as to boost the nervous system and improve digestion and circulation, among its many other functions.
After the fun and invigorating hour inside the dome, next up was the signature full body massage, which kicked off with a relaxing Asian-style footbath. It was a combo of two treatments: the Celestial Aroma Indulgence, which used mandarin and ylang ylang oils for deep relaxation and Chinese Tuina, a holistic massage that uses light stretching and dry massage to stimulate acupressure points and thus increase Qi flow. This great medley of traditional Chinese massage with Western aromatherapy techniques left me so energized that I definitely felt ready to take on Hong Kong the next day.
Sanya was an easy introduction to China but it was Hong Kong that swept me off my feet. I instantly fell in love with the city’s energy, its blend of Western and Eastern influences. Hong Kong was frenetic, uplifting, slightly manic, adrenaline rush-inspiring—just the way I like my cities. From the first moment I dove into its streetscapes, it felt strangely familiar, despite the fact I have never been before. When I later heard someone refer to it as “the New York of Asia,” it all made perfect sense. Yet there was that other side to Hong Kong, remote, inaccessible and totally incomprehensible to me. Looking back, I can say it was this very duality between the familiar and the exotic that I loved the most about the city.
Among other things that most enchanted me were the views. In fact, I developed a serious problem during the three-day stay in the city. Even though it was my first time in Hong Kong and of course I wanted to explore its many secrets, I could have happily spent the entire time sitting in my junior suite at the InterContinental Hong Kong. That may sound crazy, for a self-professed adventurer. But here’s why: My suite on the 14th floor of this stunner hotel had panoramic vistas of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. The views that stretched in front of me were so mindblowing that I could have gazed over at the skyline or spent an entire afternoon landmark-spotting from my suite. Hong Kong felt literally at my feet. Throw in the fact my suite came with 24-hour private butler service, there to attend to every little whim of mine, and you’ll understand why I would have happily imprisoned myself at the InterContinental Hong Kong.
To make things better—or worse, depending on your perspective—it wasn’t just the views that made me want to stay at the hotel instead of exploring the city itself. There was also the marvelous dining, that includes—among other establishments—two celebrity restaurants: the world-famous Nobu and the 1-Michelin star Spoon by Alain Ducasse. I was lucky to dine at both. At chic Spoon, its ceiling adorned with 550 hand-blown Murano mercury glass spoons, the contemporary French feast included a steamed organic egg with potato-truffle-spring onion and Perigueux sauce as a starter. My entree was a rack of lamb from the Pyrenees and pomme boulangere cookpot. A delicious wild strawberry tart with pistaccio ice cream rounded up the meal beautifully. At marine-themed Nobu, the stunning decor by the Rockwell Group features an undulating ceiling crafted from the skins of 450,000 sea urchins and a bar with a cascade of black river stones that frames imagery of Japanese cherry blossoms. And there were—again!—those tempting views that almost distracted me from the beautifully presented food that kept on coming. The memorable meal included Botan ebi tartar with caviar and Japanese mountain peach, yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, black cod saikyo yaki, saga wagyu beef truffle teriyaki, and suntory whisky iced cappuccino.
Another fab experience at the InterContinental Hong Kong was a dim sum class that I took in the kitchen of Yan Toh Heen, a renowned Cantonese restaurant that reaped 1 Michelin star. Watched over by friendly chef Lau Yiu Fai, this fun if persnickety affair gave me new respect for dim sum—what an art to make those delicious little things! We made some local favorites like Siu Mei (minced scallop and shrimp dumplings) and Har Gau (steamed shrimp dumplings), and received a list of ingredients along with the traditional recipes. Once we were done, we enjoyed our own creations on hand-carved jade place settings at the restaurant, paired with—surprise, surprise!—stunning harbor vistas.
Something that I also love almost as much as I love travel: I love hotel breakfasts. In fact, I have a special fondness for them. So you can only imagine my joy every morning in Hong Kong when I descended to Club InterContinental, on the second floor above The Lobby Lounge, and found an elaborate spread. What made the breakfasts even more special was the lobby’s impressive wall of windows that showcases a mesmerizing panorama of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island. If you're not a person to linger over breakfast, don't miss the afternoon tea or at least the signature Nine Dragon Cocktail at sunset, as the skyline of Hong Kong changes colors during the nightly Symphony of Lights laser show.
Another experience at InterContinental Hong Kong that stands out was the treatment at I-Spa, an oasis in the midst of Hong Kong’s hustle and bustle. This Feng Shui-inspired spa is a retreat based on the principle of inner and outer harmony. I had my treatment in one of the lavish private suites, clad in polished green granite from floor-to-ceiling. I first enjoyed all the trimmings for half an hour—my own sauna, steam-shower, and Jacuzzi. Then the therapist came and sent me to heaven with the energizing herbal poultice massage. It started with a gentle rub with the poultice steamed with lemongrass and ginger, to awaken the body and the mind. What followed was an invigorating massage with mandarin and peppermint oils.
Another experience at InterContinental Hong Kong must be part of anyone’s stay: the alfresco Tai Chi class taught by well-known Master William Ng. Backed by views of Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island, guests can join these complimentary lessons held on the hotel’s third-floor pool terrace. The classes take place five early mornings a week (weather-permitting), with city skyline as the backdrop. After the class, on the last morning of my stay, I lingered on the pool terrace with its infinity spa pools overlooking the harbor, and its teak deck pavilion surrounded by lily ponds and a tranquil waterfall. Sitting there, taking in those views, I wished I had at least two more days to explore more of the city, beyond the InterContinental Hong Kong which captured my attention so.
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