July, 2012


23
Jul 12

Flying Finnair

I like Finnair, they do stuff like this…

Finnair Flash Mob

and this…

Surprise dance on Finnair flight

So when they invited me to fly with them on my recent trip to Hong Kong, I jumped at the chance.

Despite the fact that I’ve clocked up millions of miles around the world, as an avid traveller and in my previous career as cabin crew, I had never actually flown on Finnair. I had heard lots of good things about them though; a modern fleet, friendly crew and a super chic lounge in Helsinki but the real clincher for me was the regional airport routes that they offer. I live in Manchester, an airport which doesn’t offer any direct flights to Hong Kong, which means the minimum twelve-hour trek is usually increased by at least three or four long, aircraft-bound hours – hours that could be better sleeping horizontally beforehand or saying hello to Hong Kong from a rooftop bar. Add on the time to check-in, plus the time hanging around during airport transfers and before you know it, you’re looking at a twenty-hour travail. Finnair’s service though operates from Manchester via Helsinki which means no annoying off-route stopovers and an air-punch inducing travelling time of only fourteen hours or so.

The Super-cool Finnair Lounge at Helsinki

From start to finish the service was smooth. Following an easy three-hour skip up to Helsinki, I was afforded an hour in the trendy Finnair Lounge before the onward sector to Hong Kong.

Finnair’s designer lounge with round-the-clock bar and buffet

Once onboard the crew were smiley and efficient, taking time to chat without being eager-beaver in your face friendly. I liked the fact that half of the flight attendants were from Hong Kong – before we had even taken off I heard of an amazing manicurist in Kowloon from one of the girls. Nice. The cabin interiors of the A330 were bright and modern, the seats were as comfy as they come in economy with a reasonable amount of legroom – I was happy, it was certainly a more comfortable choice than some other economy classes I have flown (I’m looking at you American Airlines). Food-wise, it could have been a little bit more exciting. The same goes for the in-flight entertainment movie selection but the zippy nine-hour flight time and lovely service more than made up for any of that.

On the way home, I found myself in the fortunate position of being bumped to Finnair’s award-winning business class – yay! for once the upgrade fairy answered my wish! It was star treatment all the way with sprawling lie(almost)flat beds giving 63 inches of luxurious legroom, silver service meal times brimming with delicious dishes and superb wines, and, once again, an attentive and intuitive crew.

So, would I recommend Finnair? Yes, most definitely. It’s a good solid option with many winning qualities, particularly when it comes to flying from airports outside of London. Helsinki airport is a dream to transfer through,  I slept for a record-breaking seven hours on both sectors (OK I took a sleeping tablet but still…) and my entire journey went without a single hitch (including a date change when I extended my trip). An excellent service all round and one that I look forward to experiencing again.

GO THERE: 

Finnair flies daily from Manchester and London Heathrow to Hong Kong. 

The below fares are ‘starting from’ return fares and include taxes and service fees:

Manchester-Hong Kong: Business class: £2326.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2076.00 Economy class: £667.00

London LHR-Hong Kong: Business class: £2321.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2067.00 Economy class: £658.00 

For more information call  0870 2414411 or visit www.finnair.com . For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai in China.  Finnair began flights to new destination Chongqing, China in May 2012. 

Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand.


19
Jul 12

The Magic of Macau

So I’m not going to harp on about Hong Kong this week, no, this week I’m going to chat about Macau (Hong Kong’s lovely but lesser-known neighbour).

Senado Square, Macau

I’ve always felt a bit sorry for poor little Macau, so long outshone by its glittery big sister, Hong Kong, and now rather unfairly compared to Las Vegas, it always seems to be trapped in between identities and often overlooked. And that’s a real shame as it’s such an interesting wee place and one that I have always loved to visit. Lying just forty miles or an hour away by ferry from Hong Kong, like its SAR sibling Macau also has an ancient seafaring and trading history. For over four hundred years it operated as a distant player in Portugal’s colonial empire and although it was handed back to China in 1999, the Portuguese influence remains in a land imprinted with churches and cathedrals, fortresses and fountains, peaceful gardens and grand civic squares. There’s also distinctly laid-back vibe about Macau, particularly when compared to high-octane Hong Kong and then there’s the food – oh the food, an amazing combination of East and West – Macau has been doing fusion cuisine for hundreds of years before it was fashionable.

 

 

 

 

 

The Macau of my childhood visits was a green and lazy place – a place where pedicabs where still a legitimate form of transport and whole days were spent eating Portuguese treats in seaside restaurants – but this sleepy scene is fading fast. For better or worse, Macau is now waking up and is being loudly hailed as the Las Vegas of the East. Casinos have always been part of Macau’s draw (gambling is illegal in Hong Kong and China) but when the gaming industry opened up to foreign investment in 2002 it wasn’t long before glamorous big names like The Venetian and MGM Grand set out their stalls and visitor numbers quadrupled. Now Macau is booming like never before, the mainland Chinese and their new money have arrived, Louis Vuittons are being built at an astonishing rate and big name celebrities have started coming to town – Roger Federer, Celine Dion, Beyonce and Bond Girl, Michelle Yeoh, are just a few of the names who have dropped by of late.  Eager (and a little bit anxious) to see the new developments, I popped over for a couple of days.

The shiny new side of Macau

Following two fun-filled, absolutely manic weeks in Hong Kong I couldn’t wait to take it down a notch with a trip to Macau. I wanted serenity. I wanted seclusion. I wanted some sleep. So, I chose to stay at the Mandarin Oriental, which like its Las Vegas sibling has eschewed gaming in favour of an intimate setting and seamless service.

The Mandarin Oriental Macau

As soon as I arrived at the small yet glamorous double-height lobby, I knew I had made the right hotel choice. Check-in happened in the blink of an eye and before we knew it my husband and I were happily ensconced in a golden-toned corner suite overlooking the bay. It was wonderfully spacious with a super-king size bed, deliciously deep chairs and a table overflowing with exotic fruits, and the cherry on the cake, a stunning spa bathroom stocked with super-sized Aromatherapy Associates products. It was quickly apparent that we weren’t going anywhere for the night, the room was far too luxurious to leave, the Macanese Dragon experience at The Spa too tempting and food on offer at Vida Rica sounded amazing.

 

 

 

 

 

Having taken full advantage of all that the Mandarin had to offer, we awoke the next morning refreshed and ready to explore. It had been hard for me to tell exactly where the hotel was when we checked-in (so much of the land has been reclaimed) but I quickly got my bearings when I discovered the old Casino Lisboa round the corner. This is not a building that is easy to forget; built by one of the world’s richest men, Dr. Stanley Ho, its eccentric orange-coloured circular structures make up one of the oldest- and still one of the most popular – resorts in the city. Nowadays it’s flanked by the new Grand Lisboa, an equally mad mega-structure shaped like a great big golden lotus – it’s a bit mental, and very Macau, and I have to say I quite liked this quirky new addition.

The Hotel Lisboa and the Grand Lisboa

 We carried on walking towards the old town, past a lonesome row of pedicabs (now purely a tourist thing), through bustling crowds and busy intersections. There was the odd shiny new build amongst the rather run-down 1950s architecture but it was pretty much as I remembered it – a little bit crumbly and chaotic but with charm. At the end of the road, the black and white cobblestones signalled our entry into Senado Square. Thankfully this uncannily pretty part of town has been preserved despite the new developments (and will l remained so having been granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 2005) and the pastel-coloured churches and Baroque building remain. A perfectly lovely morning ensued wandering around the narrow hilly streets that surround the Ruins of St. Paul’s with the occasional sigh-filled break in the shade of banyan tree.

After an alfresco lunch (involving Macau’s famous custard tarts) we headed over to the other side of town to check out the new casino complexes. This side of the city is definitely more fascinating that fun at this point. It’s kind of like Las Vegas meets the Twilight Zone. The casinos, malls and new Cotai Strip development are as awe-inspiring and as well set-up as anything you would find Stateside but the atmosphere is seriously subdued.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the fact the Macau pulls in four times the revenue of its American counterpart, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of people there at the moment; the restaurants appear to have more Michelin stars than patrons, the shop assistants look out forlornly for customers and the Chinese, who take their gambling very seriously indeed, prefer to game in private rooms leaving the casino floor rather lonely. I think though that it’s very much a case of “If we build it, they will come” and I have no doubt that it won’t be long before Macau’s incredible resorts are bursting at the seams. And perhaps it’s not a bad thing that Macau takes a more low-key approach – we don’t really want another Vegas do we? This tiny region’s appeal has always lain in its difference and my hope for the future is that Macau always remembers that.

Until next time meu amigo!

GO THERE: 

See the Macau Tourist Board for more information at www.macautourism.gov.mo

Mandarin Oriental, Macau, Tel: 853  8805 8888; www.mandarinoriental.com/macau; Luxury breaks from £175

Finnair flies daily from Manchester and London Heathrow to Hong Kong. 

The below fares are ‘starting from’ return fares and include taxes and service fees:

Manchester-Hong Kong: Business class: £2326.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2076.00 Economy class: £667.00

London LHR-Hong Kong: Business class: £2321.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2067.00 Economy class: £658.00 

For more information call  0870 2414411 or visit www.finnair.com . For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai in China.  Finnair began flights to new destination Chongqing, China in May 2012. Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand.


2
Jul 12

15 Reasons to Visit Hong Kong

Courtesy of the HKTB

I’m sticking with Hong Kong this week, not only because I LOVE it but also because the 1st of July 2012 sees the fifteenth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. To mark the occasion, I’m giving you 15 reasons to visit one of the world’s most exciting destinations.

ATTRACTIONS

FIREWORKS 

The Chinese invented fireworks and they still know how to do it best. Every year, tens of millions of Hong Kong dollars are spent on elaborate exhibitions, usually lasting over 20 minutes with laser lights and music thrown in for added effect. Time your trip right and you can join the half a million people oohing and “waaah-ing “on the waterfront. Four big events include  New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year, the 1st of July anniversary of the handover and 1st of October National Day celebrations.

VICTORIA PEAK

This should always be at the top of everyone’s HK visit list. Affectionately know as The Peak, it is the island’s most famous tourist attraction and one that is loved as much by the locals as it is by the millions of visitors it receives each year. Yes, the Peak Tram will be crammed, the cafes will be packed and you’ll have to politely line-up to get that postcard-perfect picture but my goodness, it’s worth it.

@Lee_Cobaj

OCEAN PARK

Hong Kong’s much-loved old theme park has recently undergone a massive refurbishment and is now firmly back where it should be as one if the island’s top visitor attractions. Cascading across the Aberdeen hillside, Ocean Park is split into two levels; the “lowland” with animal attractions like aviaries, animal enclosures, an aquarium and, the stars of the show, two pairs of adorable Pandas and the “headland” which takes in a marine show and a series of high-octane thrill rides. Both sections are connected by a cable car that bobs up and around the rocky shore and affords amazing views of the south side of the island. Don’t miss it!

The view from the Ocean Park cable cars

HARBOUR LIFE

Most visitors to Hong Kong take a trip on the Star Ferry, and that’s great, you should definitely do that, but there are some other options for a fun float about Victoria Harbour. One of my favourites is the 45 minute glide on the glamorous Chinese junk Aqua Luna. With its three traditional red sails lit up in the evening and a chic bar installed for dispensing cocktails, there can’t be many better ways to soak up that exquisite skyline.

Aqua Luna

GO GREEN

People are always surprised when I tell them that more than 70% of Hong Kong is undeveloped  and not only that, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are large areas of rolling mountains, wildlife-packed wetlands and miles of unspoiled coastline. Not to mention the gentle little outlying islands like Lamma, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau, which offer a more traditional slant on this shiny big city.

ACCOMMODATION

DESIGN HOTELS

Hong Kong has a long and strong reputation for being at the forefront of new developments in design, architecture and technology so it’s no surprise that this applies to its hotels too. In the last couple of years, new arrivals like The Upper House and it’s hip business-orientated baby sister, East, with their apparently effortlessly cool ethos, sublime service and achingly chic decor, have thoroughly shaken-up Hong Kong’s hotel scene. While Hong Kong’s latest design darling, the Hotel Icon, has shot to the top spot on TripAdvisor’s highly-competitive Hong Kong hotel listings.

There’s a dinosaur in my room! Not the kind of thing you say every day. At the East Hotel

THE WORLD’S HIGHEST HOTEL

The Ritz-Carlton, at the top of the International Commerce Centre, claimed the title of world’s highest hotel when it opened last year. As you might expect from a hotel slotted between floors 102nd – 118th floors, the views are spectacular but it’s a dazzler in every sense; the design is opulent and up-to-the-minute, the bars and restaurants are stellar and the service outstanding. If you can’t stretch to a stay, you should at least stop by for a visit to the ESPA spa or rooftop bar, Ozone.

CITY SPAS

There’s no doubt about it, some of the world’s best spas can be found in Hong Kong. The city’s denizens are quite simply obsessed with health and beauty which means the standards are incredibly high and the choice mind-boggling. The most luxurious spas, however, are generally to be found at Hong Kong’s most luxurious hotels. My most memorable experiences have included the Oriental Essence massage at the Mandarin Oriental, a Bamboo massage at the Angasana, an age-defying Carita facial at the Plateau Spa, the Chakra Balancing experience at The Peninsula and a 90-minute Thai massage in the Crystal suite at the Four Seasons which reduced me to a Nirvana-like state of bliss (My, I’m spoiled!).

The couples suite at the Spa at the Four Seasons Hong Kong is well-worth a splurge

COOL HOTEL SWIMMING POOLS

So, I’ve already mentioned the pretty amazing rooftop pool at the Ritz-Carlton but Hong Kong has plenty more cool hotel pools to choose from. Making the biggest splash in the city is the lagoon-like offering with waterfalls and split-level sun decks at the Grand Hyatt. While on the other side of the harbour, many a memory card (mine included) has been empty with shots of the Intercontinental’s trinity of infinity pools. The Hotel Icon scores major points with its space-age-y outdoor swimming space. The Peninsula boasts a supremely decadent Roman-inspired pool, the Four Seasons a chic, ultra-exclusive harbour-side swimming deck and for a Vegas-style pool party check out “WET”, the 76th floor pool at the W.

The spa infinity pools at the Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong

SUNDAY BRUNCH BUFFETS

In a city that likes to eat, and eat well,  hotel buffets are big business. As far as Hong Kongers are concerned there are few better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than ploughing through course after course of exquisitely prepared food. Most hotels offer buffets in one form or another, take a waterside seat at the Harbourside at the Intercontinental, pull up at the poolside for a barbecue buffet at The Grill at the Grand Hyatt or pop on your best frock for lunch amid the palm trees at the Verandah at The Peninsula.

PERSONAL FAVOURITES

ROOFTOP BARS

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you’ve probably cottoned on to the fact that I like the occasional rainbow-coloured cocktail (or two) and where better to kick-back and enjoy than on a rooftop terrace with some killer city views. Hong Kong stand-outs include Sevva, Armani Prive, La Terrazza at Lupa, Sugar at the East Hotel, The Lawn at the Upper House, Wooloomooloo and Ozone – one for every night of the week.

One of my all-time favourite rooftop bars: SEVVA, Hong Kong

DIM SUM

There are few things in life that make me happier than tucking into some really good dim sum. I love to try new places when I’m in town and this trip’s finds include some seriously good Har Gau (prawn dumplings) at the off-the-tourist-radar Chung’s at Cityplaza in Taikoo Shing, the tastiest, juiciest, most delicious Char Sui (barbecue pork) at Tin Lung Heen on the 102nd floor of the Ritz-Carlton, delicate turnip pastries at Man Wah and succulent Shui Mai (pork and prawn dumplings) at Yan Toh Heen. And a long-time favourite that’s always worth a visit is the aptly-named Dim Sum in Happy Valley – home of the best crispy pork belly in town.

LINGUINE FINI

I tried lots of great new restaurants while I was out in Hong Kong but one that really stood out was the bodacious little Linguini Fini.

Linguini Fini

There are so many things to like about this place it’s hard to know where to begin. First off, this New York-Italian-style eatery has got a cracking location at the top of Central – an ideal jumping off point for a night on the town. The decor is utilitarian-chic with street art covering the walls, the staff are friendly and stay on the right side of cool and, surprisingly for Hong Kong, there’s no annoying service charge added. Billed as an “authentic” Italian restaurant, it really does live up to this title (where so many else fail) with specialities that include “nose-to-tail” cuisine (using the whole of the animal) and just-like-mama-makes home-made pastas. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

TEMPLE STREET NIGHT MARKET

I never miss a trip to Temple Street when I’m in Hong Kong. Cutting its way through central Kowloon, it has the colourful, crazy, ghetto-tastic Chinatown feel so often portrayed in the movies. Under the strings of bear lightbulbs, hawkers sell everything from Mao Clocks to counterfeit handbags to oil paintings and underpants. Dai Pai Dongs (outdoor food stalls) rustle up tasty street food, off-duty Opera troupes occasionally wander by, while fortune tellers tout to tell you your future. The best bargains are to be had early in the evening when the market opens (it’s considered good luck to make that first sale) and when it raining (for obvious reasons).

SHANGHAI TANG

Every time I’m in Hong Kong I take it trip to Pedder Street for some aspirational window shopping at Shanghai Tang. However, this year I was dismayed to find that the flagship store had been ousted from its most-glamorous of locations by a (yawn) Abercrombie and Fitch. Thankfully though Shanghai Tang has found a gorgeous new three-storey home just a stone’s throw away on Duddel Street. As before, you can smell the heady scent of its signature ginger lily fragrance long before you arrive, while inside it’s a design-lovers dream brimming with beautiful ready-to-wear pieces and sino-chic homewares.

 

 

 

 

 

GO THERE: 

Finnair flies daily from Manchester and London Heathrow to Hong Kong. 

The below fares are ‘starting from’ return fares and include taxes and service fees:

Manchester-Hong Kong: Business class: £2326.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2076.00 Economy class: £667.00

London LHR-Hong Kong: Business class: £2321.00 Business class Campaign for Mid Week travel: £2067.00 Economy class: £658.00 

For more information call 0870 2414411 or visit www.finnair.com . For up to date offers and news please follow us on twitter @finnairuk. Finnair also have daily flights to Beijing and Shanghai in China.  Finnair began flights to new destination Chongqing, China in May 2012. Finnair also fly to 7 other Asian cities too in Singapore, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand.

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