Nearly a decade after Hong Kong was handed back to China, the city has visibly changed – maybe not dramatically, but certainly for the better.

It has a world-class airport, its economy is booming, its nightlife is more vibrant than ever and hotels continue to upgrade, refurbish and open with gusto. The post-SARS Hong Kong is also a visibly cleaner place.

UK visitor numbers rose 11.2% year on year in 2006, exceeding half a million for the first time as the destination capitalised on Discover Hong Kong Year 2006 and direct flights from the UK on Air New Zealand and Oasis Airlines. Terminal 2 at Hong Kong International airport has just opened, with Oasis and Emirates among the first carriers to be based there.

More than 650 agents have signed up for the Hong Kong Specialist online training programme since it launched last September. Hong Kong Tourism Board director of marketing Northern Europe Richard Hume said increasing the depth of knowledge among the trade remains a priority in the coming months.

“We are focusing hard on getting agents to register – once qualified they benefit from a whole range of initiatives to help them sell Hong Kong,” he said.


Where to stay

Bathroom at Mandarin Oriental, Hong KongThe Mandarin Oriental group’s flagship property reopened late last year with larger rooms, multilingual butlers on every floor and iPod docking stations as standard. The hotel has traded in none of its legendary service and charm for modernity. A clutch of popular restaurants and bars include the Mandarin Grill, which has had a Conran makeover.

Its rooftop resort-style pool and impressive waterfront views make the Harbour Plaza (Hunghom, Kowloon), a popular choice with visiting Brits. Though slightly out on a limb there’s scores of shops and restaurants on the doorstep plus ferry and a free shuttle bus to the Tsim Sha Tsui underground.

Stylish Jia (at the heart of the Causeway Bay shopping district) was Hong Kong’s first boutique hotel. The 54 studios are small but stunning and complementary breakfast, afternoon cakes, wine and gym access make the rates value for money. The award-winning Opia restaurant is on site.


By day

With its peaks cloaked in mist, lush green valleys and often-deserted sandy beaches, Lantau Island epitomises the unhurried and undiscovered side of Hong Kong. It’s also the setting for the famous Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery and the stilted Tai O fishing village.

Head up to Victoria Peak on the gravity-defying Peak Tram for unbeatable city views. A pre-dusk visit ensures day and night-time views with time for a bit of walking or shopping in between. A recent multi-million dollar renovation of the Peak Tower has added a 360-degree observation terrace and free t’ai chi classes have just been launched at the terrace on Saturday mornings.

Board the famed Star Ferry at either Kowloon or Central and explore both sides of the harbour. Central is business-like in the day but the back streets of SoHo and Hollywood Road offer plenty in the way of nooks, crannies and restorative cafe stops. Kowloon is home to the Avenue of Stars and the Golden Mile – a long strip of electrical and other shops.


By night

Hong Kong - Temple Street Night MarketHead over to Kowloon’s promenade or set sail on the batwing sailing junk Aqualuna – for the nightly Symphony of Lights sound and light show. The light show involves 33 key buildings, doesn’t cost a penny and is a great way to appreciate Hong Kong’s famed snaggle-toothed harbour in all its hi-tech bells-and-whistles glory.

The ordered chaos of Temple Street Night Market (in Mongkok, Kowloon) is the place to go for souvenirs, cheap ‘designer’ handbags, CDs, watches, gadgets fortune tellers, authentic food stalls and bags of atmosphere. Wear comfy shoes and a head for bargaining. The smaller Ladies Market sells women’s wear and accessories.

Head to the Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong or SoHo districts (or do all three) for dinner, a drink or clubbing. Crowds spill out from bars onto the narrow streets of Lan Kwai Fong and there are more restaurants of every description (and price bracket) between here and SoHo than you can shake a chopstick at.


Sample product

Travel 2 offers a twin-centre Hong Kong and China holiday with costs from £1,189 per person twin-share including flights and three nights each at the Renaissance Harbourview Hong Kong and the Sanya Marriott Resort and Spa, with breakfast included. Book by June 30 for travel before August 31.

The Langham Hong Kong’s two-night Year of the Pig celebration package includes a Club Floor room, a pair of piggy banks, two silk pouches or two silk ties, daily breakfast for two, access to the Club Lounge and pool and £32 worth of dining credit. The price of £336 is valid until June 2, 2008. Flights on Oasis Airlines start from £75 one way.

Tropical Locations has five nights at the Grand Stanford Intercontinental from £759 per person in May and June with flights on British Airways. Children under 12 pay £380 when sharing with two adults. The rooms have integrated living areas. Five nights at the boutique Lan Kwai Fong Hotel costs £759.