Within a nanosecond of my convoy pulling into the Upper House‘s driveway, bearing a ridiculous nine pieces of luggage bursting with tools of the showgirl trade, three friendly faces appear and effortlessly whisk away my cases. Having come from a hectic London straight to an even more frenetic Hong Kong, my heart sinks to see a shiny escalator rearing up ahead and disappearing into a very beige and cream-coloured hotel interior. The Upper House is in Admiralty, slap-bang in the heart of the financial district, and I worry that I’m about to be sucked into a corporate rat-race in some soulless, futuristic metropolis. How wrong I was.
Not only does my Studio 70 Island View room have incredible vistas of Hong Kong from its picture windows, 43 floors up, but it feels more like staying at your best friend’s sleek-and-chic, Asian-style pad in Los Angeles, complete with jars of ‘help yourself’ cookies and sweeties, an iPod Touch, palatial (for Hong Kong) spa-style bathroom and – nice detail – complimentary drinks; none of that extortion-by-minibar business. The goodies keep Mr Smith quiet while our hostess discreetly checks us in on her iPad, right there in the room.
Needing to fend off looming jetlag, I drag Mr Smith to the Temple Street Night Market. We take the Star Ferry from Central to Kowloon, a whole dollar for the best views of Hong Kong harbour, the Peak and the city’s amazing lightshow, a nightly son et lumière extravaganza played out over Hong Kong’s skyscrapers. As vintage travel methods go, it’s charming. Once at the market, things I have no need for suddenly become glittery and desirable. I manage to bypass Hello Kitty merchandise, non-waterproof Rolexes, fortune-tellers and all manner of ‘lucky chillies’ unscathed, but after spotting Hong Kong girls with pugs dressed in matching fur coats in prams, I’m determined not to be upstaged and snap up an all-in-one zip-up tiger suit for my little dog.
We grab delicious noodles in a street café with the locals before the market frenzy becomes too much for my travel-weary head. I realise as I arrive back at the hotel that the Upper House really is as its name suggests: a supremely chic but homely respite. There’s such an overwhelming sense of speed, height and scale in Hong Kong. When you’re not rushing around you spend your time looking up at the distorted reflections on angular towers of glass, with jagged slices of blue sky filling the gaps; or looking down at the metropolis from a great height. Now, lounging on the sofa and gazing out over the city at night from my cosy ivory tower is strangely therapeutic.
I soon succumb to a hot bubble bath with rose oil. As I survey the twinkling night-scape from the huge tub, Mr Smith alerts me to the following note on the marble windowsill: ‘Sneaky peaky – please remember that the view you enjoy through our large windows may, at times, be a two-way one. If you prefer that others in the buildings surrounding our hotel don’t enjoy the view too, we recommend that you close the curtains when seeking some privacy, particularly when it’s dark and your lights are on.’ But I love the thought that there might be a whole world of high-rise voyeurism between consenting skyscrapers!
The next morning, after working up a sweat in the hotel gym, I undo all my hard work with an unbelievable breakfast – for goodness sake, don’t leave without trying the fluffiest choc-chip waffles. Fancying an excursion and some more vintage transport, we take the 120-year-old tram up to Hong Kong’s highest point, the Peak. Being bad with heights, I just manage to cling to the edge of the look-out to take in the view but I’m scared witless when a dozen or so Chinese girls jump on me, all wanting their photo taken next to the tall lady with platinum blonde hair and elbow-length black leather gloves. My new fanclub amuses Mr Smith. One girl then asks if I’m a friend of Lady Gaga and I realise why I’d found it so easy to haggle at the market the night before.
That night we enjoy excellent cocktails and platters at the Upper House’s chi-chi Café Gray Deluxe Bar, which, on a Saturday night, is wall-to-wall stylish thirtysomethings. Mischievously, I test the barstaff, ordering obscure cocktails and changing my mind a few times. They’re unfazed and mix perfect martinis. In fact, all the staff at the hotel are singularly young, good-looking, friendly and exceptionally efficient – no trace of cloying insincerity, just pitch-perfect kindness and helpfulness.
The next day, with a disgustingly early flight to catch, I’m grateful for the amazing staff as they ferry my ridiculous luggage down to the waiting people carrier under the cover of darkness. I regret that it’s too early to have ordered breakfast and the prospect of rubbery scrambled eggs at the airport is making me feel queasy. As we say our goodbyes, the staff hand me and Mr Smith a paper bag. Inside? Steaming hot coffee, warm croissants and pots of jam for the journey – just the sort of thing my mum would have done. And it’s that kind of thoughtful detail that makes the Upper House worthy of its name.
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