Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Le Meridien Cyberport: a futuristic hotel in Hong Kong

“Where in the world is Cyberport?” I asked the taxi driver, as we bobbed up and down hilly roads lined with narrow rickety buildings, just several minutes from the sleek skyline of Hong Kong’s Central District but already a few decades away in atmosphere.

I didn’t have to wait long for an answer, however, as we eventually navigated past the congested neighborhoods and a large cemetery and found ourselves driving along the sea at one end of Hong Kong’s Southside towards a cluster of glass buildings.

Until not too long ago, this area was literally the poor man’s end of glamorous Southside, a place associated with marina clubs, luxury seaview apartments and beachfront properties in Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay.

These days, though, the Cyberport area has grown into a bustling community of high-tech buildings and new developments, both of which enjoy more space vs. elsewhere in central areas of Hong Kong island and also boast of great views of Telegraph Bay and the South China Sea.

 The commercial area of Cyberport itself, next to the hotel, is half-deserted. It’s a digital city of office buildings with a cavernous mall filled with shops and restaurants; but only the odd shopper around. But the residential area that has sprung around it seems a luxurious example of normalcy by Hong Kong’s claustrophobic standards.

It’s still full of the massive condominium buildings so popular everywhere in this former British Colony, but it’s also a rare neighborhood of parks populated by runners, young parents with babies, and families with pets.

Finally, we reached the Le Meridien Cyberport Hotel, a simple but sleekly designed 173-room business hotel that effortlessly merges art and technology into unusual and stylish accommodations.

A consecutive Travel Weekly award winner for best high-tech hotel since 2007, it certainly looked like the business hotel of the future: simple desks with laptops replaced traditional check-in counters and black-clad staff walked around with headsets and mobile phones in the lobby.

The business center is a virtual operation that wirelessly provides scanning and printing services. Public spaces in a neutral-and-neon palette looked very cutting-edge, with built-in LCD screens flashing various information including weather conditions and local attractions.

Our top-floor Bayside Premier Suite, too, was a 945-square foot intelligent room straight out of the future. It had floor-to-ceiling glass windows, a one-touch operating panel that coordinated all the functions in the room, and a completely transparent glassed-in bathroom housing a rain shower and a marble jacuzzi bathtub, that becomes opaque at the touch of a button.

The last time I encountered such convenient technology was in a dressing room at the equally high-tech Prada boutique in Tokyo. The room’s high-tech gadgets, too, were equally diverting – so much so, that I was sorely tempted to spend the rest of the day in my room.

Of course, there were the iPod docking stations and large plasma TVs that are now requisite in all the newer luxury hotels; but what made the room more interesting were the cool Bose AV surround system with touch-screen panel, the virtual mini-bar and the on-demand music entertainment system.

Moreover, the modern leather daybeds in the airy living room that faced the Pacific ocean and the TV, gave you the feeling that you were hanging out by someone’s very posh poolside lounging area. On the softer side, the room had fine Egyptian linens, relaxing modern art, curvilinear vases and objects, and a soothing corner with a marble basin on a pedestal, constantly being infused with essential oils.

When I first arrived, I wondered why anyone would stay in such a distantly-located hotel, hip and beautiful as it was. After all, by Hong Kong tourist standards, it was in the middle of nowhere. But it soon became apparent that a new and relaxing hotel such as the Le Meridien Cyberport is a rarity in Hong Kong, and certainly a great place for international conferences and business meetings. You’ve got the convenience of Hong Kong 15 to 20 minutes away, without its steep prices and usually cramped surroundings.

To and from the airport, you can even bypass Central District entirely and head out by taxi stress-free. This hotel is so convenient and comfortable that we’d even dare recommend it to tourists who don’t mind not having Hong Kong’s famous shopping malls and food stalls at their doorstep.

It’s also a great hotel for families seeking a refuge from the hustle and bustle, and who want to explore Southside attractions like Ocean Park, Big Wave Park or Stanley Market. Our room came with an invitation for unlimited drinks at the Podium or the PSI Bar during our stay – a nice touch for the business traveler who wants to unwind after work.

We stopped by the Podium for cocktails on our way to check out the rest of Cyberport, and it was hopping with executives attending various conferences in the hotel and around Cyberport, who were networking and checking emails at the same time.

The next evening, we tried out the PSI Bar, which is a large room similar to a children’s playroom but filled with adult-sized beanbags to sit on, and confess to having enjoyed ourselves immensely squished on beanbags on the floor with other colleagues from an international conference.

Finally, an essential for a good conference hotel is an ample breakfast buffet with enough options for everyone, including those with adventurous palates and also for health-conscious corporate warriors. The Le Meridien Cyberport offers what it calls its signature breakfast: a tantalizing buffet that includes an array of colorful drinks in little shot glasses, concocted by Michelin three-star chef Jean Georges Vongerichten and designed to wake up jet-lagged guests.

The unusual combinations include cherry lemon black pepper, mango chili lime and raspberry pineapple clove. Meanwhile, under Vongerichten’s direction, traditional breakfast favorites get a new take as well. Scrambled eggs are given an espresso steam, oatmeal is served as a souffle, poached eggs are served with smoked salmon in open sandwiches, while a cheese and black olive quiche becomes an interesting breakfast pie.

There’s also Chinese congee and dimsum along with the usual American breakfast offerings, for those who dare not venture out of their comfort zone so early in the morning. Many of the novel ideas here are the brainchilds of LM100, a core group of 100 artists and creatives from around the world who have provided the Le Meridien hotel chain with inputs on everything from lobby decor to happy hour offerings.

Apart from Vongerichten, who tinkered with breakfast, American designer Nick Dine created the hotel’s cups and saucers, Pakistani musician-artist Hisham Bharoocha designed the hotel keycards, while Italian coffee innovator Andrea Illy introduced the hotel’s “Creative Hour” coffee tastings. If this is Hong Kong’s hotel of the future, it’s certainly interesting, comfortable and much more reasonably-priced.

 Le Meridien Cyberport 
100 Cyberport Road, Hong Kong 
Tel (852) 2980-7806

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