Travel Guide: Hong Kong

by | 14. Jul 2014


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Hong Kong skyline at dusk. Photo CC/Steve Webel

By Ulf Meyer

In Hong Kong, Chinese for ‘fragrant harbor’, visitors are immediately taken: The city’s location on the water, the high mountains and the narrow urban strip in between, causing its forced drive into the sky, have led to the development of the most breathtaking skyline in the world.

Hong Kong continues to grow into the sky, while the harbor (through the ubiquitous land reclamation) is getting smaller and smaller. Hong Kong is unique – in its ambition, elegance, ruthlessness, density and cosmopolitan aura. It does not need to fear the competition from its sisters from across the border. Hong Kong is home to more skyscrapers than any other city in the world. Nearly every building here is a skyscraper. There are more than 2,300 buildings with a height of over 100 meters. This number is growing daily. The narrow towers look like high-powered, thin asparagus. The journey on the Star Ferry between Hong Kong Island and its commercial center and Central Kowloon Peninsula is like a trip through a clearing in the forest of high-rises. The “unintentional beauty” that produces the artificial stalagmite maze of towers is “a creature of chance,” as Siegfried Krakauer called it. No one has ever planned it, it just happened and tomorrow will no longer be the same.


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Bank of China Tower (BOC Tower). Photo CC/Ricky Chan

Bank of China Tower (BOC Tower)
1 Garden Road, Central and Western District
I. M. Pei, 1990

The prismatic tower of the Bank of China is one of the tallest skyscrapers in Hong Kong with great recognition value. It is the headquarters of the influential Chinese state-owned bank in Hong Kong. The tower is 307 meters tall, the two antennas on the roof even reach 360 meters into the sky. The Bank of China Tower was the tallest in the city and throughout Asia from 1989 to 1992 and the first building outside of the USA to be more than 1,000 feet tall. Today it is only the fourth tallest tower in the city.

It stands on 6,700 m2 of land that was formerly the site of the Murray House, which has been relocated to Stanley. The plans of the Chinese state-owned bank were seen as a symbol of the new rulers after the surrender of the British crown colony to Beijing. However, there were some construction delays and the deadline could not be met. The Bank of China in Hong Kong (BOCHK) itself uses only the top four and the lower 19 floors of the building, the other floors are rented out. A small observation deck on the 43rd floor is publicly accessible. The 72-storey building has access to the underground station ‘Central’ and is the first high-rise building with a composite space frame.

On a square base of 52 x 52 m the building is divided diagonally into four triangles. Each quarter of the floor plan reaches up to a different height in the sky. Only the southern block reaches to the full height. The diagonals are marked in the facade with white bands. The skyscraper has no front, but acts as a dynamic sculpture from all sides. Inside, there are no structural supports. The diagonal loads are routed to the four large corner columns. The expressive form of the structure was compared to bamboo. The tower has a blue glass curtain wall. The plot is very steep with the main entrance on the south and the side entrance several floors up in the north. A large lobby hall with escalators links both sides. The main hall has a trim of green marble. To the north there is a 15-story tall atrium. The base is clad in granite.

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PLA Hong Kong Building. Photo CC/Canadian Pacific

Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Forces Hong Kong Building
Lung Wo Road, Admiralty
How Wai Pun, 1979

This skyscraper with 28 floors is 113 meters tall and located on the grounds of the former Tamar naval base. It is used by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as their headquarters in Hong Kong. The building, formerly known as the ‘Prince of Wales Building’, was inaugurated it in 1979 by the Prince of Wales himself. Until the handover of the former British crown colony to China in 1997, the building served as headquarters of the British Army in Hong Kong. In 2000, it was decided to change the name of the building, but it took two years to effectuate the name change.

The tower has the characteristic shape of a chalice to make the building more secure. The upper floors are cantilevered from the central core. Some observers likened its shape to an inverted bottle of gin. At the east side of the base, was originally placed a Christian chapel, whose crucifix was visible from the outside. It was immediately removed after the 1997 handover of the building. The PLA currently has two barracks in Hong Kong, which are as heavily guarded as the PLA building. The architect, Pun, was chief architect of Hong Kong until 1988.

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Flagstaff House. Photo CC/
Antoine SIPOS

Flagstaff House
10 Cotton Tree Drive, Central
Bruce Murdoch, 1846

The Flagstaff House in Hong Kong Park is the oldest British colonial building in Hong Kong. Until 1932, it was the commander of the British Army’s residence, but now it features a museum of tea culture and is a popular backdrop for wedding photography. The property is situated at a steep slope above the Queen’s Road barracks, which once was the embankment before the landfills pushed the coastline further out. The Flagstaff house was designed in a neo-classical style by Murdoch Bruce and Lieutenant Bernard. The west and east wings were destroyed by the Japanese army during the Second World War. After the takeover of Hong Kong by the Japanese, Flagstaff house was repaired and served as the residence of the Japanese commander. After the Second World War it was used by the British commander again – until 1978, when he moved into a new building on Barker Road. Flagstaff house was handed over to the Government of Hong Kong and in 1989 was declared a monument. It was renovated extensively and its structure was strengthened. In 1984, the Museum of Tea Ware was opened in the Flagstaff House and a new wing was added in 1995.

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HSBC Main Building. Photo CC/
luke chan

HSBC Main Building
1 Queen’s Road Central, Central
Norman Foster, 1985

The main building of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is one of the best known high-rise buildings in Hong Kong. It is a good example of the British hi-tech architecture of the 80s. The building is located prominently on the southern edge of Statue Square. With a height of 178 meters and 44 floors, it is not one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city, but during its construction, it was the most expensive building ever to be built.

For its construction the previous bank building dating from 1935 was demolished. The new high-rise building consists of steel frames, which were prefabricated in the UK. The elevators stop only at select floors, from which there is access to the remaining floors via escalators. The offices are column-free. Large computer-controlled mirrors follow the sun, bringing daylight into the atrium. Sun shades in front of the facades reduce heat levels in summer. Sea water is used for the cooling of the building. The offices have raised floors, under which power and data cables and outlets are installed.

All parts were prefabricated in different countries: the glass, and aluminum panels came from the U.S. and the space cells from Japan for example. The facades are shaped by their structure that resembles a shelf. They are suspended from large, double-storey beams in stacks that become smaller the higher up on the building they are. There are eight groups of four steel columns clad in aluminum. From there on five levels, the diagonal tension members are suspended. This method arose from the original idea of ​​the skyscraper to be built over the old building, which would have remained in operation until completion of the new building above.

Today, 5,000 people work in the building. The HSBC building is one of the earliest masterpieces of architect Lord Norman Foster of London who was able to design all construction details including the furniture. In plan, the tower is a simple rectangle divided along its long side to three wide and four narrow strips. There is no large foyer, but a public space under the building. From there, diagonally placed escalators bring people up through a glass floor into the 14 story banking hall. The offices are open with galleries towards the atrium. In 2006 a lobby on the ground floor was added, designed by One Space.

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ICC Tower. Photo CC/

International Commerce Centre (ICC) Tower
1 Austin Road West Kowloon
Kohn Pedersen Fox, 2010

This skyscraper with 118 floors is the tallest tower in the city and was designed by the New York office of Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF). It contains a hotel, a viewing platform, offices, shops and a garage. The tower is 484 meters tall and belongs to the Union Square development above Kowloon Station. The tower is owned by the MTR Corporation and Sun Hung Kai Properties.

The International Commerce Centre (ICC) is currently the fourth tallest skyscraper in the world. It was built in phases between 2007 and 2010. The tower of the Ritz Carlton Hotel was inaugurated in 2011. Originally, the tower was intended to be even taller. The hotel is situated on the 102nd-118th  floors and contains the world’s tallest bar and the swimming pool. A 2,800 m2 suite is located in the 107th floor. From the lobby in the 9th floor express elevators takes guests to the sky lobby on the 103rd floor in only 50 seconds, 425 meters above the street. Three floors below, there is a public observation deck. The storey above is reserved for restaurants.

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International Finance Centre (IFC). Photo CC/
Chi King

International Finance Centre (IFC)
8 Finance Street, Central
Cesar Pelli with Rocco Design, 1999

The One International Finance Center belongs to a new building complex on the banks of Central, which also includes a second high-rise building, a shopping mall and the 55-storey Four Seasons Hotel. It is 210 meters tall, has 39 floors and 5,000 people working there.

The four-storey mall at the base contains 200 shops. With a height of 415 meters, the 2IFC-tower is currently the second tallest building in the city. It has 88 office floors and 22 trading floors for banks with very tall ceilings, raised floors and a very few columns. 15,000 people work in the building. Double-decker elevators transport people up and down  the tower. An in-house gallery shows Hong Kong’s history of money, the library of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority on the 55th floor is publicly accessible. The Airport Express train station Hong Kong is located directly underneath the building. On completion, the tower was briefly the tallest skyscraper in the city.

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Lippo Centre
. Photo CC/

Lippo Centre
89 Queensway, Admiralty
Paul Rudolph with Wong & Ouyang, 1988
The Lippo Centre is a double tower, whose unusual blue curtain wall facades evoke koala bears climbing a tree. There are three large bay windows on top of one another, rotating around the structure. The supporting columns are visible only at the base of the tower. The design has resulted in a total of 58 different office floor plans. Both towers have hexagonal floor plans with 36 and 40 floors and stand on a common, four-storey podium. Today, the building is owned and used by Indonesia’s Lippo Bank.  At the time of construction the building was, however, known as the Bond Center.

The towers are 186 meters tall and vertically divided into three parts. They were designed by American architect Paul Rudolph, who was very active in East Asia. The glass facades were imported from the USA. The skyscrapers are accessed both at street level as well as on the elevated skywalk level. The large foyer is planted and covered with pink-colored, Spanish granite.’

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Murray House. Photo CC/
Charlotte Powell

Murray House
Stanley Plaza, Stanley
Major Aldrich and Lieutenant Collinson, 1846
Murray House is a colonial building from the Victorian era, which originally used to stand in Central and served the officers of the Murray Barracks. It was named after Sir George Murray, the British Master-General of the Ordinance during its construction.

In 2002 it was moved to Stanley and now serves as a maritime museum. Its stone walls have flat arched openings on the ground floor and a circular porch with Doric and Ionic columns on the upper floor. In the subtropical climate the porches facilitate natural ventilation. The building was designed by Aldrich & Collinson of the Royal Engineers.

It is one of the oldest public buildings in Hong Kong from the early days of the British mandate. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, Murray House was used as the headquarters of the military police. After the World War II it was used by the Government of Hong Kong. In 1982 it was demolished to make way for the new Bank of China. More than 3,000 components have been numbered and cataloged and moved to facilitate its reconstruction in Stanley.

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Chek Lap Kok Airport. Photo CC/
Jorge Láscar

Chek Lap Kok Airport
Cheong Hong Road, Chek Lap Kok
Norman Foster, 1998
For the construction of the new airport in Hong Kong, Chek Lap Kok island, located 35 kilometers west of the city, was turned into a level area, 21 km2 in size: hills of up to 90 meters in height were removed and the size of the island increased four times using landfills in the sea.

London-based Foster & Partners had won the international design competition for the new building, which replaced the old airport, Kai Tak. Their Y-shaped terminal is 1.27 kilometer long making it the largest enclosed space ever built. The terminal building offers 516,000 m2 of space. A shuttle train runs back and forth inside the building. The terminal is made of lightweight metal shells, each spanning 36 meters, creating a continuous barrel roof in an east-west direction. They were prefabricated in Singapore and the UK. The light, bright hall facilitates orientation and offers views of the aprons.

About 5% of the roof surfaces have clear glass panels. The terminal is located centrally between the two runways and has 39 passenger boarding bridges. The new airport was connected by bridges, tunnels and viaducts to the highway and railway network of Hong Kong. Departing and arriving passengers are completely separated on different floor levels. The airport was politically a ‘parting gift’ at the end of British colonial rule in 1997. The terminal will be expanded in the future by a large X-shaped second terminal in the West.

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Repulse Bay Apartments. Photo CC/

Repulse Bay Apartments
109 Repulse Bay Road, Repulse Bay
Anthony Ng, 1989
From the beach of Repulse Bay, the Repulse Bay Complex is not to be overlooked. Eight residential towers and a shopping center with restaurants and medical center were built on the grounds of the former Repulse Bay Hotel, which stood here from 1920 to 1982. The residential tower blocks are owned by the Peninsula Hotel Company. The hotel has been reconstructed. The architecture of the residential high-rise building with their facade in white and pastel colors and curved shapes recalls the Art Deco architecture of Miami Beach. All apartments have a view of the beach and the South China Sea – and as a result, the rent is amongst the highest in the city. The stepped roof line follows the silhouette of the mountains in the background. Three cuts open the facade creating roof terraces for the residents and their guests. The largest of the holes is eight stories high and framed in pink.

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The Peak Tower. Photo CC/

The Peak Tower
128 Peak Road, The Peak
Terry Farell, 1996
In 1881, Alexander Findlay Smith, who owned a hotel on the peak, began construction of a funicular railway to the mountain top overlooking the city. In 1888 the railway was officially inaugurated with simple wooden terminals at both ends. To date, the peak tram line is owned by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Hotels Group, which also owns the famous Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.

In 1972, for the mountain station, a more elaborate building was inaugurated, which was demolished in the meantime, however, in favor of the fancy new building by British architect Terry Farrell. The new Peak Tower today is not just a train station, but also a leisure and shopping center. On seven floors there are more than 10,000 m² of space. As with the previous building the base and top of the tower are separated by a shaft. Special attention was paid to the shape of the building, which occupies a prominent place in the skyline of Hong Kong.

Situated on Victoria Gap, at an altitude of 396 meters above sea level and thus 156 meters below the Victoria Peak, the wok-shaped roof is particularly striking. From the observation deck on the third floor, visitors have stunning views over Victoria Harbour. In the building there are tourist attractions like Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, Madame Tussaud’s and a Peak Explorer Motion Simulator. After a renovation in 2006, the viewing platform was moved to the top of the building. Next to the Peak Tower stands the Peak Galleria shopping center.

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Hong Kong Club. Photo CC/Tom Mascardo

Hong Kong Club
5 Charter Road, Central
Harry Seidler, 1984
The 25-story office building that now serves the Hong Kong Club, is the third building of this influential club in the city. Its construction was accompanied by a long controversy. The previous building, built in 1897 and designed by Palmer & Turner in the style of Victorian Neo-Renaissance was demolished in 1981 despite vocal protests. The club, founded in 1846, originally had its three-story club house on the D’Aguilar Street/Queen’s Road.

However, in 1897 the club moved to a larger plot by the sea, created by the Central Praya land reclamation. In referendums in 1974, 1977 and 1978, the club members decided against the demolition and new construction and for the renovation of the existing building. The preservationists campaigned for the preservation and in 1980 the building was listed as a historical monument. Because the fire and structural safety of the old building was called into question, and to strike capital from a major new building, the club decided to accept the offer of the Hongkong Land Corp. to take over the demolition and construction costs in exchange for the rental income of the upper floors for 25 years. The club itself uses the lower four floors (7,400 m2) in the podium as dining rooms and bars for its members. The 17 upper floors are leased. Since 2009, the building is solely owned by the club again. The club now uses eight floors and the others are rented out.

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Hong Kong Cultural Center. Photo CC/Rachael Moore

Hong Kong Cultural Center
10 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
Architecural Services Department, 1980
The cultural center of Hong Kong is located at the southern tip of Tsim Sha Tsui and its sloping roofs are a distinctive landmark of Kowloon. It was built on the site of the former Kowloon Train Station. The multifunctional center offers a large hall with 2,019 seats in an oval arrangement with two tiers and fine oak paneling. The acoustics can be controlled by means of a mobile sound ceiling and fabric curtains.

The Cultural Center is home to the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Its organ, the largest in Asia, was built in Austria. The big theater next door has 1,734 seats in three tiers. The two large halls are situated at right angles to the foyer in the middle. The Studio Theatre has flexible seating (up to 496 seats). There also is a gallery and eleven rehearsal rooms. The facades are almost completely closed and clad in pink ceramic tiles. At the base there is a pedestrian arcade.

Tsuen Wan Columbarium
Lot 295, Tsuen Wan, Kowloon
Dennis Lau, 1987
The scarcity of land, that characterizes Hong Kong, is not just an issue that concerns the living: instead of burying their dead in cemeteries, most are cremated and their urns kept in multi-storey columbaria. Twice a year, for the Ching Ming and Chung Yeung Festival, relatives go there to commemorate their dead. The Columbarium that Dennis Lau built in Tsuen Wan is an extreme example of a ‘house of the dead’ on a small lot. It has ten stories and follows the topography of its hillside location with terraces and cantilevers. On the lower three floors, there are 2,000 family niches and in the seven floors above more than 26,000 other smaller niches. A six-story atrium with natural light on both sides and decorated with large murals leads to the grave sites. The building also has four underground floors.

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Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre. Photo CC/Yiu KM

Run Run Shaw Creative Media Centre
18 Tat Hong Avenue, Kowloon
Daniel Libeskind, 2011
Daniel Libeskind designed the new Run Run Shaw Media Center of the City University of Hong Kong. The nine-storey Creative Media Centre is home to media labs, a theater and classrooms for the Faculties of Engineering and Computer Technology. The center culminates in many sharp angles and offers rooms for seminars, a multipurpose theater, exhibit space, a café and a restaurant. Its crystalline body alludes to the Chinese characters for creativity, which is composed of the characters for “plow” and “blade”.

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Hong Kong Design Institute. Photo CC/Kelvin Keung

Hong Kong Design Institute
3 King Ling Road, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories
Coldefy & Associates, 2012
The new Hong Kong Design-Institute (HKDI) consists of a square platform (of 100×100 meters in size), four towers and a square cantilever. Concrete, glass and a white steel construction with a diamond pattern, the dia-grid, determine the appearance. French architects Coldefy & Associates had won the competition for the new HKDI in 2006. It is their first project in Hong Kong. Although the HKDI offers 42,000 m2 of floor space for 4,000 media, art and design students, the great building looks small in comparison to the surrounding residential towers in Tseung Kwan.

The landscaped plateau anchors an urban base with the public space and provides direct access to a nearby subway station. A 60 meter long escalator brings students into the interior and directs them over the upper level into one of the four towers. Seminar rooms, lecture halls, libraries and offices can be found in this ‘Sky City’. The mid-plane contains a gymnasium and sports grounds, a park and the cafeteria. Diagonal in plan, the escalator takes on the structure of the diamond grid. The architects thus celebrate the circulation architecturally.

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Star Ferry Pier Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo CC/Connie Ma

Star Ferry Pier Tsim Sha Tsui
Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Hung Yip Chan, 1957
The Star Ferry connects Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, with scheduled trips across Victoria Harbour. The ferry was founded in 1888. Today the twelve ferry boats on two routes (Central to Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui) carry about 70,000 passengers daily. The main route connects Central with Tsim Sha Tsui. The first pier was built in 1906 at Salisbury Road, but was destroyed in the same year by a typhoon. In 1957, the twin-pier terminal with two piers on both sides of the harbor was inaugurated. The terminals are painted green and white like the boats and are designed for 55 million passengers per year.

Until the opening of the Harbour Tunnel in 1972 the Star Ferry was the only transport link between Hong Kong and Kowloon. The Pier at Edinburgh Place with its famous clock tower was built near town hall and the main post office on reclaimed land. In 2006, the ferry service was discontinued at this pier and the pier demolished, which led to strong protests by preservationists, the Chamber of Architects and the public.

The new piers are referred to as the “third generation piers”: The first generation dated from 1890 (stations included Chater Road) and the second from 1912 the piers on Pedder Street. Since the relocation the number of passengers has decreased considerably.

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Asia Society Building. Photo © Tod William + Billie Tsien

Asia Society Building
9 Justice Drive, Admiralty
Tod William + Billie Tsien, 2012
Four former British military buildings in Admiralty were converted to become the new headquarters of the Asia Society Hong Kong (ASHK). The former explosives depot was re-designed by New York-based Tod William + Billie Tsien. Three of the buildings are listed monuments. The former military camp stood empty since the 1980s. The compound consists of the Gallery (Magazine Building A from 1868), the Miller Theater (Magazine Building B), with an auditorium with 107 seats and the Hong Kong Jockey Club Hall for conferences and lectures. The fourth building was formerly used by the military police and currently serves for the administration office of the Asia Society. The new Hong Kong center is only the second building that the Asia Society ever built for itself.

The visitor center contains a café, a roof garden and a shop. The architects contrasted the verticality of Hong Kong with a horizontal design with only two and a half storey buildings. The upper area of ​​the former military site is connected to the lower entrance pavilion with a double-deck pedestrian bridge. The Asia Center was founded in 1990 as the first center of the Asian Society outside the United States. The Asia Society was founded by John D. Rockefeller in New York in 1956 to inform Americans about Asia.

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General Post Office. Photo CC/Jonas K

General Post Office
2 Connaught Place, Central
K. M. Tseng, 1976
The main building of the Hong Kong Post Office was located directly on the sea and the ferry pier, because post usually was transported by ship. Due to the various land reclamations, the building is now no longer situated on the water. In 1967, the Hong Kong government wanted to build a tall 30-storey tower on the site with five floors reserved for the post office and the other floors used as office space. Because of demands from the owner of the neighboring building, the Jardine Building, that they have a clear view of the harbor, the main general post office building could be built no more than five storeys tall. The height is limited to a maximum of 40 meters.

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Central Government Complex. Photo CC/Chris Zielecki

Central Government Complex
1 Legislative Council Road, Central
Rocco Design, 2011
The new headquarters of the Hong Kong government was built on the Tamar Site on reclaimed territory. It houses the Office of the Chief Executive, the Parliament (Legislative Council, also called LegCo) and the central government offices. The ensemble consists of three parts: two high-rise buildings with 27 (East) and 23 floors (West), which together form a gate, a four-storey block with the Office of the Chief Executive and the Chamber of the Executive Council and the four-storey LegCo Block with the Chamber and a ten-story administration building.

The Parliament Hall was designed in deliberate contrast to its colonial predecessor. The block contains committee rooms, press room and the offices of MPs. Green roofs, double facades and a sea water cooling system help reduce the energy consumption of the buildings. A green landscape garden winds through the gate. The two wings are set at a slight angle to each other.


Noteworthy Hotels

Hong Kong has more than its fair share of luxury hotels. If you’re looking to treat yourself to a five-star hotel, you should try either the Peninsula, the Shangri-la, the Conrad in the Pacific Place or the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and Spa.