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HONG KONG

by Jimmy Im Hong Kong - Gay Travel

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Hong Kong wears the sash and crown for Asia's most international city and with good reason. Awash with Western influence, chock-full of alluring attractions, and fostering one of Asia's largest expat communities, this special administrative region of China proves it's one of the most progressive in the Far East. It's a city that's ever changing and constantly expanding, so it's hard to feel like you've "been here, done that" no matter how many times you visit. While Hong Kong keeps transforming, it continues to promote the unique fusion of Chinese heritage and British influence. Separated by two areas, Kowloon and Hong Kong islands, Hong Kong has a population of seven million with approximately 20 million visitors a year. The city bustles 24/7 with thriving night markets, a growing culinary scene, alluring attractions, and a unique flavor and soul that dazzles every day of the year.

A practical way to get acquainted with Hong Kong is by taking a ride with Big Bus Tours (www.bigbustours.com), a hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus that traverses the neighborhoods of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island with comprehensive audio guides to top attractions like Ladies Market, Aberdeen, and more. A tour pass also gives you complimentary access to the Star Ferry (www.starferry.com.hk), a traditional ferry that shuttles between islands and is a must when in town! (Even without the pass, it's less than 50 cents to ride).

Hong Kong has a long history for outstanding service at luxury hotels, and Langham Hotels is truly leading the pack. In fact, gay travelers have always recognized the LGBT-friendly brand for its comfortably chic rooms, back-bending service, and nod to contemporary design. Langham has two hotels in Hong Kong: Langham Place Mongkok and The Langham.

Close to the harbor is The Langham (8 Peking Road. Tel: 852-2375-1133. www.langhamhotels.com), a romantic and fashionable boutique with a packed afternoon tea scene, a relaxing, outdoor rooftop pool, and recently, the new Langham Club Lounge that opened last year. The European-inspired décor (hand-embroidered wall panels, Chanel-inspired tweed chairs) gives the club an elegant touch for guests who like a stylish sanctuary when they need to retreat from the bustling streets. In fact, the hotel is literally steps from the brand-name heavyweights like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Dior, so expect dizzying crowds of shop-a-holics.

Langham Place Mongkok (555 Shanghai Street, Mong Kok. Tel: 852-3552-3388. www.langhamhotels.com) offers 665 rooms, the flagship Chuan Spa, an outdoor pool, and a bustling lobby. Opened in 2004, it's located in central Mongkok, one of Hong Kong's oldest districts and unarguably considered the "real" Hong Kong for those who like to feel the local beat. The hotel recently opened a wine cellar to accompany its two-Michelin-star restaurant, Ming Court. The cellar is equipped with a sommelier, various tastings, and more than 400 international wines (believe it or not, Hong Kong surpassed both London and New York in wine auctions, and is currently the center for global wine trade). At Ming, the sommelier uniquely hand-selects Cantonese food to pair with the wine, one of the few restaurants in Hong Kong to do this. Langham Mongkok also spearheaded the trend of local art embellishing hotel spaces when it opened in 2005. The hotel boasts a collection of more than 1,500 pieces, and an Art in Residence series where local artists' works are exhibited in rotation. For the culture vultures, the hotel even offers iPod art tours in four languages.

Speaking of art, Hollywood Road in Hong Kong Island became a mecca for galleries when pioneer Angela Li opened her first gallery, Contemporary by Angela Li (G/F 90-92 Hollywood Road. Tel: 852-3571-8200. www.cbal.com.hk) here three years ago. Now, the area is burgeoning with almost a dozen art galleries. One of the more recent openings is Blindspot Gallery (24-26A, Aberdeen Street. Tel: 852-2517- 6238. www.blindspotgallery.com), which opened last year and is known for exhibiting the works of young, local artists and specializing in contemporary photography. The area, known as Sheung Wan—a district with back lanes, gritty low-rise heritage buildings and a youthful atmosphere—is being called the Meatpacking District of Hong Kong thanks to the influx of galleries, artists in residence, and new trendy restaurants and design shops that have set up shop, mostly by expats who came to visit and never left.

Art junkies will revel in delight with famed Gagosian Gallery (7/F Pedder Street. Tel: 852-2151-0555. www.gagosian.com) opening a new location in Hong Kong on January 18, 2012 with an exhibit by Damien Hirst. Also, make sure to check out The Space (210 Hollywood Road. Tel: 852-2361-1210. www.thespace.hk), a commercial, multi-media studio space used for events, fashion shows, and art exhibits. It's a relatively new concept that's so popular it's guaranteed to inspire copycats. Next door, 208 Duecento Otto (208 Hollywood Road. Tel: 2549-0208. www.208.com.hk), which opened in May 2010, offers a mozzarella bar and what locals are touting as the country's best pizza.

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