How to Escape Hong Kong in 3 Hours
We seek out the best weekend trips away from the city.
Hong Kong: It’s fun, it’s sexy, it has banging har gao. But it’s also crowded, small, and feels oh-so-good to leave. So here’s a list of the best trips you can take at a moment’s notice. But this isn’t your grandmother’s vacation guide—this is a surgical strike, meaning:
- We’re only choosing places you can do over the weekend (sorry, Bali: a 10-hour round trip flight isn’t going to cut it).
- We’re only choosing places with semi-intelligent flight times (sorry, Hanoi: 2pm flights with a 10am Sunday return just isn’t maximizing our pho time).
- We’re only choosing places you can reach quickly from the airport (sorry, Tokyo: ain’t nobody got time for a two-hour shuttle).
So, this weekend: Buy the ticket at 5pm, hop on the Airport Express, HKID your way through immigration and bam! Three hours later you’re somewhere awesome. You just need to decide what your own kind of awesome is…
So you’re telling us that in the same time it takes to go to Macau, you can be at a place with awesome food, cheap drinks, and people who are actually nice, not Hong Kong nice (i.e. “Hi good to meet you do you have a lot of money?”). Sign us up. Taipei is a dream: It’s centrally located with great bars and restaurants. The city is easy to navigate even if your Chinese sucks worse than the old white guy they brought from New York to run your company’s office. And people are nice! If you walk up to an impossibly tall girl wearing short shorts in a club in Taipei and say “hi,” she’ll smile and say “hi” back. Couple that with cheap drinks and not running into the same people all the time and you’ll be back for more.
Stay: The Mandarin Oriental, Taipei. I’d gush so hard over this hotel that the mag would be unreadable but thankfully they don’t let me out of my writing cage. It’s got expert service (good English), a super comfy bed, and all the modern Mandarin amenities with an extra sense of privacy. Rooms from NT$11,800 ($2,780). 158 Dunhua North Rd., Taipei, Taiwan, (+886) 2-2715-6888, www.mandarinoriental.com/Taipei.
Do: We’re here to party, but we’re here to eat and drink too. Yeah, you can go to Din Tai Fung in Hong Kong, but the first ever branch in Taipei is so much better. Down 10 xiaolongbao and you’re set up for the night. Also check out Raw, chef André Chiang’s restaurant serving up modern Taiwanese cuisine. Taiwan’s in the midst of a culinary revolution, and Raw is part of the new guard.
Din Tai Fung, 194 Xinyi Rd. (Section 2), Xinyi, Taipei, Taiwan, (+866) 2-2321-8928.
Raw, 301 Lequn Third Rd., Zhongshan, Taipei, Taiwan, (+886) 2-8501-5800.
Get set up at Ounce, the first speakeasy in Taipei: It’s got a secret entrance and all that usual crap, but most importantly the drinks are magnifique.
Lane 63, 40 Dunhua South Rd. (Section 2) Da’an, Taipei, Taiwan, (+886) 2-2708-6885.
For clubbing, Taiwan has plenty of fun spots, and you can pick your poison with Elektro, Marquee, Strike or Primo. For newbies, I’d suggest Club Myst which, just like the 90s game, is a walk into something mysterious and compelling. A large dance floor, outdoor area and the occasional cheesy dance show make it quintessentially Taipei.
9/F, 12 Song Shou Rd., Xinyi, Taipei, Taiwan, (+886) 2-7737-9997.
Late night food in Taipei is the best. Go to Lin Dong Fang, an amazing beef noodle soup place that’s open all night until 6am and has a clientele split between super old people and late-night clubbers.
274 Bade Rd. (Section 2), Zhongshan, Taipei, Taiwan, (+886) 2-2752-2556.
Flights: Airlines fly almost every hour, which means flights are pretty cheap. They start at around $600: Hong Kong Airlines has decent deals.
How Long? It’s a 90-minute flight and then a 45-minute transfer.
Kota Kinabalu is an odd duck: a wonderful beach retreat in the heart of Borneo that somehow isn’t on anyone’s radar. The Balis and Phukets and Boracays get all the press but KK is an island paradise with a rainforest right next door. It takes three hours to fly there and seconds from the airport you can be on a private island.
Stay: Bunga Raya Resort, a private island just off the coast. It’s pretty cheap and there are private bungalows, your own beach, ziplines, and absolute privacy. The city of KK sucks but the outlying islands are amazing (so, the opposite of Hong Kong). For our holiday we walked on the beach, took pictures, had a private dinner one night in the wine cellar and another night on the boardwalk and felt so exquisitely peaceful. It’s the ultimate rejuvenation trip.
Rooms from MYR1,528 ($2,888). Polish Bay, Gaya Island, Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, (+60) 88-380-390, www.bungarayaresort.com.
Do: Well, nothing. Stay in and chill to the next episode. But when you’re done with that…The best thing to do is to hike Mt. Kinabalu but that will take two days. If you’re sticking to the long weekend thing, there are still a couple of awesome things to do. Go for a sunset drink at the Shangri-La Tanjung Aru. There’s a little part of the Marina that juts out and has a slow, drooping sunset that you can pair with a nice whisky (have it neat—their cocktails are like mainland China sweet). It’s beautiful and romantic and you’ll feel great.
20 Jalan Aru, Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, (+60) 88-327-888.
Then there are the orangutans at the Sanctuary. Head to the nature preserve and see actual orangutans eat fruit and do more pull-ups than your friend who talks about CrossFit. They’re freaking cute, man. The Sanctuary is located about a 30-minute drive from the airport at a nature reserve attached to the Shangri La Rasa Risa resort.
Pantai Dalit Beach, Tuaran, Malaysia, (+60) 88-792-888.
If you hate orangutans because you’re some kind of monster, you can also do the Coral Flyer, the world’s longest island-to-island zipline at 250 meters long from Gaya Island to Sapi Island. It’s only about RM64 ($120).
Flights: You’ve got two choices here—Dragonair and Air Asia. Maybe mix and match with Air Asia AK238 leaving 8pm on Friday, returning on Dragonair KA68 at 8pm on Monday. That gives you all of Saturday/Sunday/Monday in paradise by only taking one day off of work.
How Long? It’s a three-hour flight, 15 minutes to the pier and 7 minutes from the pier to the private island. That’s three and a half hours from Hong Kong to excellence. AMAZING.
Wait, no. We don’t want that kind of wild. Kids read this magazine.
Let’s try again…
If you’ve lived in Hong Kong for more than three years and you haven’t gone to Angkor Wat, there’s nothing left to say. Go there. It’s amazing.
Stay: Oddly for this one it really doesn’t matter. You’re here not for luxury or chillaxing but to explore Angkor Wat. If you want somewhere nice try Sokkhak Boutique Resort—it’s quiet with good food, an unobtrusive staff, and an infinity pool for good measure.
Kok Chork Village, Trorpeang Ses Commune, Wat Thmey, Siem Reap, Cambodia, (+855) 63-76-56-60.
Do: Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and spans over 150 hectares, comprising a number of sites of Hindu and Buddhist temples. The site itself is breathtaking and will easily take multiple days to see everything. It’s easy to hire a tuk tuk or a taxi to the site, and then you can wander around on foot. My favorite site is Ta Prohm, a temple built in the 13th century that’s collapsed with jungle growing up through it. I visited during a monsoon and wandered the old temple, waist-high in water, feeling like an explorer finding an ancient treasure. Want to do the full service? Get a tour. Happy Angkor Tour (www.happyangkortour.com) runs several itineraries all around the temple complex, including ones specially aimed at avoiding the crowds. If you tire of temples, Siem Reap Food Tours (US$75 ($585), www.siemreapfoodtours.com) runs guided morning and evening tours through the markets and street foods of the city, with loads of food to explore.
Flights: Take a day off and hit up HK Express UO706 leaving 6:35am Friday and return on UO707 leaving 10:15am Sunday. That gives you two days at the temple and an early return back—but if you miss your flight, the next one isn’t until Tuesday. Don’t miss it.
How Long? A two-and-a-half hour flight and then a 20-minute drive. It’s CLOSE.
“Kowloon?” you ask. That’s right. Staycations are amazing and just getting your butt off of Hong Kong Island is a thing of beauty. Turn off your phone (seriously, turn it off), find someone you like more than yourself and use those hours you would’ve spent traveling canoodling and watching bad TV instead. Tell everyone you’re out of town then live like the best tourist in the world!
Flights: None. Well, not necessarily….
Stay: The Peninsula. We’re staycationing, y’all: The W is too trendy and the Four Seasons is too businessey, so why not ensure the true romantic colonial experience at the Pen? Get a quiet room and maybe a drink at Felix before returning to your room. Just chill. Don’t go anywhere. If you must, order in Tsui Wah. Yes. We. Can.
From $3,880. Salisbury Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui, 2920-2888.
Do: My favorite thing: a helicopter. But first, some tea. Book the Sky Tour and Teatime ($4,226 for two) deal with Heliservices and you can cut the queue at the Peninsula’s famous high tea: Eat finger food, drink awesome teas, and chat about your life next to a gaggle of ladies who lunch. Just don’t talk about work. From there you take the elevator up to the top floor and get ready for a helicopter trip of a lifetime. Hong Kong is a beautiful city and when you get up into the air, the skyline and the view is like the Star Ferry times 30 million. Quiet time in Hong Kong, high tea and helicopters? That’s a vacation we can all get behind.
How long? Probably a maximum of 15 minutes from where you live by MTR or taxi. Here’s a tip: Book a deal with the pickup and ask them to come get you in one of the Pen’s Rolls-Royce Phantoms.