Peninsula Hong Kong a symbol of the city's past

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HONG KONG -- The essential Hong Kong amenity is a view of Victoria Harbor and the Hong Kong skyline. It is the single most indispensable component of any Hong Kong trip, and my suite at the Peninsula Hong Kong had it in full measure.

The best views of the glittering cluster of skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island are from across the harbor on the Kowloon peninsula, the part of Hong Kong where I stayed.

The Peninsula Hong Kong opened there on Dec. 11, 1928, right on the waterfront. In later years, landfill moved the city a block farther into the harbor, and now a museum stands between the hotel and the waterfront. The InterContinental (opened in 1980 as the Regent) occupies front row.

But the Peninsula reclaimed its dramatic harbor views in 1994 with the addition of a 30-story tower that doubled the hotel's inventory (now 300 rooms) while maintaining the architectural majesty of the original.

The harbor views from the tower are even more spectacular than in the past because the urban center has mushroomed with a proliferation of sparkling metallic towers that make it one of the most magnificent skylines in the world.

I stayed in a deluxe Harbor Suite at the Peninsula in April on a trip to check out preparations for the ASTA World Travel Congress, to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre Sept. 28 to Oct. 3.

The Peninsula is the only one of the 20 hotels participating in the ASTA program with a base price of more than $200 a night, and no one I spoke to questioned why.

Even representatives of competing hotels freely acknowledged the Peninsula is in a class by itself. Staying at the Peninsula is experiencing a part of history. It's become a symbol of Hong Kong's grand colonial past.

The list of celebrities and high-rollers who have stayed there is nearly endless. William Holden and his co-star, Jennifer Jones, stayed there when they were filming "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing." The hotel was featured in "Soldier of Fortune" with Susan Hayward and Clark Gable, who were guests during filming. James Clavell stayed there for a year while writing his novel "Tai Pan," and the hotel lobby appeared in the TV version of Clavell's "Noble House," starring Pierce Brosnan.

When Japan occupied Hong Kong during World War II, the imperial governor chose the Peninsula as his headquarters.

Today, without losing its old world charm, the hotel has gone high-tech. All rooms are outfitted with free broadband access to the Internet. My suite had DVD players in both the bedroom and the living room/office as well as a CD player and an FM radio. Selections from a library of 700 CDs and 500 DVDs can be ordered by phone.

A third TV was mounted over the Jacuzzi, which sat under two perpendicularly placed picture windows that look out over the city through electrically operated venetian blinds.

All three TVs access 43-channel cable. All rooms have four telephones, including a "hands-free" model in the bathroom and a fax machine with a direct line.

Besides having breathtaking harbor views from both the living room and the bedroom (with a tripod-mounted telescope for viewing), my suite was itself a many-splendored thing.

It had two entrances, one to a vestibule, one to a luggage room. The living room had wall-to-wall carpeting overlaid with a woven rug; original signed prints on the walls; plush couches; easy chairs with matching ottomans; a mantelpiece decorated with large Chinese vases; shiny black cabinets; and heavy curtains drawn back with thick braids.

The hotel has eight restaurants. The one in the lobby, just called the Lobby, enables one to soak up the ambience of that grand room with its high ceilings and pillars. Guests or nonguests take afternoon tea to a string quartet, which is replaced in the evening by a jazz combo.

The Felix restaurant on the 28th floor has towering walls of glass on both sides. Felix is trendy and arty, with lively design features, such as the face of its designer, Philippe Starck, on the chairs. Other restaurants offer French, Japanese, Mediterranean, Cantonese and Swiss menus. The hotel also has a spa, a 60-foot-long pool, a gym, a sun terrace and a helipad.

And throughout there are those views. Recently the city enhanced the evening skyline with a laser light show. It's a mesmerizing display, as dazzling from my suite on the 23rd floor as it was from a cruise ship in the harbor.

During the ASTA World Congress, the Peninsula will be offering room rates of $230 per night. Normal rack rates start at $390. The deluxe harbor suite is $1,688. The top-price Peninsula Suite is $5,065. Prices are for single or double occupancy and do not include a 10% service charge and 3% tax.

For more info, call (852) 2926-2888; e-mail [email protected] or visit www.peninsula.com.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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