Photo: My "Japanese style" bed in my tiny, but very nicely stocked room at Ovolo. I was less worried about getting into the room than I was about falling out of it.
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Our last evening in Shanghai began with a small gathering in the Jin Mao Building, complete with wine, cheese and hors d'oeuvres that included -- no kidding -- little egg rolls! And they were the real thing from the kitchens of the Grand Hyatt, not the La Choy or Chun King frozen egg rolls from the corner grocery store. Yum.
Then it was off by bus to catch our 9:30 pm China Eastern flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong, a flight of just over two hours. Given the short flight time and the US$180 fare one-way, I won't gripe too much about the spartan accommodations. I will report being served the absolute worst meal I've ever had in my life, a lukewarm hot dog (shudder) in a tasteless white bread bun of highly questionable texture, equally bland red melon with no discernible flavor and a can of warm Coke. The sheer awfulness was world-class and truly inspired. Vending machine microwave sandwiches from 7-Eleven would have been far more preferable. I consumed what I could just so I would have the story to tell.
I will never, ever again, complain about pop and little pretzels on Southwest Airlines. And I hate pretzels.
The flight ran late and we got into Hong Kong after midnight. Our hosts had arranged for minivans to take us to Central Hong Kong and our hotels. Most of our group stayed at the Hotel LKF by Rhombus on Wyndham Street, where our group rate ran around US$400 a night. I was not in the mood to fork over US$1200 dollars-plus for a three-day stay at a place where I would do nothing but sleep, so I scoured the travel sites before the trip and carefully settled on the Ovolo at 286 Queen's Road Central. At about US$170 a night, it turned out to be an excellent choice, and for reasons other than cost.
(Note: I'm told that on no account should you travel to Hong Kong without a hotel reservation. This city can be as pricey as Manhattan and a walk-in booking, should you actually find a vacancy, will probably cost you dearly.)
As our van approached the Hotel LKF just after 1 a.m., traffic slowed to a crawl and the sidewalks along Wyndham Street suddenly teemed with people. There were bars here and the neighborhood rocked with a loud, lusty commotion worthy of a former British colony. The van stopped and most of the group debarked into the middle of all of it.
$400 bucks a night, huh? One woman in the group had been a condescending snot about my budget-minded hotel arrangements. Now I smiled to myself as we drove away and the cacophony quickly retreated behind us. Idiot. I hoped some barflop would give her a good pinch on the behind.
The Queen's Road Central neighborhood was quiet and still. I checked into Ovolo and settled into my 18th-floor cubbyhole just shy of 2 a.m. Our walking tour of Hong Kong was scheduled to start at 9:00. I crawled into bed and promptly fell asleep.
You Don't Sleep In the Room As Much As You Wear It
The Ovolo was my perfect Hong Kong accommodation for two reasons. First, I wanted to experience one of those BladeRunner-looking streets lined with high-rises and open storefronts that spew fluorescent light at night. My section of Queen's Road Central (the 200 and 300 block at Ladder Street/Lok Ku Road) was the blend of convenience stores, restaurants, boutiques, food markets and junk shops I had been after.
Secondly, a lot of Hong Kong high-rises are very narrow and I was curious about them. Ovolo's building is 24 floors tall but only two or three very small hotel rooms wide. It is wedged between two older buildings of 7-8 floors on equally small lots. Consequently, my room and bath were less than 200 square feet in size. Coming from the 72nd floor of the four-star Grand Hyatt Shanghai to a veritable shoe box was a hilarious transition. Once I closed the door, I could barely squeeze around my whopper suitcase. I was less worried about getting into the room than I was about falling out of it.
But, I loved the place! The room was warm and humid when I entered -- buildings are not kept perpetually cold in Hong Kong to conserve energy -- but the lights and air conditioning came on when I slid my room key into a slot by the door. Within ten minutes, it was very comfortable. The room was barely wide enough for the bed (which was on the floor Japanese-style) and the bathroom and shower nook were closet-sized, but the accommodations were spotlessly clean and very well done. The small refrigerator was stocked with bottled water and all sorts of non-alcoholic drinks. The café on the second floor served wine, cheese and snacks in the evening and an excellent breakfast in the morning. A lot of Brits here on holiday. I was the only Yank in the place.
I didn't get to spend much time on Queen's Road Central, but my tour bus overshot the hotel one night because of traffic. I gladly walked the couple of blocks back in full obnoxious-tourist mode with my video camera rolling. The first stop was at one of the omnipresent Circle-K convenience stores to pick up a few animé comic books for an aficionado friend back home and to gawk at the colorful Asian labeling on the shelves. At one of the storefront produce markets I took special notice of the exotic, including a spiky, bright red "dragon fruit". I stopped to admire the goodies at a household items store, the same penny-items Asia ships around the world by the boatload, except I was seeing them on home turf.
I left my hotel around eight every morning and returned nightly around midnight, exhausted and ready to sleep. My other arrangements throughout the entire trip had been very posh: first-class dining, chartered buses, VIP tours. Having a snug, secluded, well-stocked and very quiet hotel room in the hive that is Hong Kong felt very good.