At the Opposite House, the lights follow you wherever you move. Closet, bathroom, bedroom—you’ll feel like you’re being watched, but it’s actually a good thing, and a testament to the luxury boutique hotel’s high-tech system pulsing quietly through the room, an airy oasis of blond wood (including a deep oak bathtub) and subtle, smart touches. Located in the heart of Beijing in the cosmopolitan Sanlitun village, this abode is as comfortable as a home, but everything works just a little bit better. Doors close without a sound, cables and outlets are hidden behind consoles. Oh, and the mini bar is complimentary. Nights are cool and calm, illuminated only by a single glowing blue ring next to the bed—the nightlight button—all the better to get your beauty rest before hitting Balenciaga and Alexander Wang just steps outside the hotel entrance.
This hotel is one half of Swire Hotels’ “House” collection; it also has a brand called EAST for the business traveler and recently announced plans to open its first EAST stateside in Miami in 2015. No wonder the Houses are hits with a high-end crowd running in fashion and entertainment circles. The Opposite House expertly blends the contemporary and traditional with a playful twist. In-room iPads offer details on room service and local attractions (but Google and Facebook are, of course, off limits in China). Wi-Fi is free and password-less. Downstairs the Village Café serves healthy options all day; guests can drink green smoothies and eat carrot muffins next to huge red dinosaurs playfully and pointedly stamped MADE IN CHINA by artist Jianguo Sui.
August 2013 marked the hotel’s fifth anniversary—and the opening of the sleek restaurant Jing Yaa Tang. Devoted to all things duck, the restaurant was designed by Wagamama and Hakkasan genius Alan Yau. Inside a wood-fired pit the roast duck takes center stage, and raised banquettes lining the wall hold its audience, who in turn sip an excellent whiskey-based house cocktail, the Jing Yaa Tang. The bar serves regional snacks and untraditional ones too, like delicious deep-fried pillows of condensed milk.
“The Opposite House is like staying in your artist friend’s apartment,” says hotel manager Enwei Lien over dinner one night, “And the Upper House is like staying in your rich friend’s apartment.”
He’s not kidding. The Upper House, located in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district, is Beijing’s slightly more sophisticated cousin. Maybe it’s the sweeping views of the city’s Victoria Harbor or the way guests enter their room—a muted “click” of the door unlocking, no beeping or flashing light nonsense—but clearly every detail has been carefully considered…a few hundred times. Hangers don’t make a sound when placed in the closet. Music plays throughout the 1,230-square-foot suite as you read the note next to the bathtub (situated in front of a TV, of course) suggesting guests close the drapes or beware of “sneaky peeky.” It’s enough to wonder what Kate Moss, a recent guest in the penthouse, would do.
There’s outdoor yoga on weekend mornings for the exercise-inclined; Wi-Fi in the hotel cars for the eternally connected; and, at Chef Gray Kunz’s restaurant Café Gray Deluxe, a killer truffle corn risotto for the calorically ambitious and a chilled soup of jasmine blossoms for the calorically averse. For visitors who get accustomed to this lifestyle, there’s a gift-store app on the in-room iPod Touch, where guests can buy nearly anything in the room, from emblazoned umbrellas and kimonos to a stone soap dish and the hotel’s ubiquitous Ginger Verbena fragrance. The “maxi bar” (nothing mini here) stocked with teas, coconut water, beer, jars of Milanos and M&Ms may end with you maxing out at the gym later, but no matter: this just means you’re doing it right.
Back at Café Gray Deluxe on the 49th floor, a well-heeled brunch crowd swarms for tiers of house-made croissants and homemade jams. At a neighboring table, a judicious listener can overhear a couple talking about finances before their well-behaved daughter cuts in and points to her breakfast: “Daddy, is this organic?” She’s probably five years old. His response? “I hope so!”
Back in the room, sleep is as serious an undertaking as hiking the nearby mountains. Curtains can block out the expansive view—and there’s another warning for exhibitionists: “The large window may, at times, be a two-way one.” Staying at the Upper House is like holding up a mirror to your own home; don’t be surprised if you’ll prefer this one to yours.
The Opposite House in Beijing
Studio rates begin at RMB 2,300 per night ($359 U.S.).
Go in the fall when the humidity subsides, but winters are very chilly.
The Upper House in Hong Kong
Studio rates begin at $5,000 HK per night ($645 U.S.).
Winters are mild, so year-round travel is an option.
HOW TO DO BEIJING
Getting There: Cathay Pacific Airways flies daily to Beijing via Hong Kong and beyond, from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. cathaypacific.com
Shop Here: 798 Art Market with its sprawling streets of galleries, shops, cafes. Perfect for people or pet watching (I even spotted a dog sporting a lion cut).
Eat This: Peking duck at Jing Yaa Tang, the Opposite House’s new Chinoiserie-style restaurant
Visit That: A non-touristy “wild” section of the Great Wall near Chenjiapu, an hour outside of Beijing. Not for the faint of heart. greatwallfresh.com
HOW TO DO HONG KONG
Getting There: Cathay Pacific Airways flies daily to Hong Kong from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Newark and San Francisco. Their first-class cabin boasts 500-thread-count bedding, and the Foster + Partners-designed First Class Lounge in the Hong Kong Airport features a stunning Champagne Bar and five cabanas with full showers and baths.
Shop Here: The Upper House is located above the Pacific Place shopping center; for antiques and curios, go to Cat Street and Hollywood Road. Prepare to dig.
Eat This: Under Bridge Spicy Crab in Causeway Bay. A favorite with locals and visitors alike, the crabs are, yes, very spicy, and as big as your head.
Visit That: Hop on the Peak Tram, a classic cable car that climbs 1,200 very steep feet for incredible views of the skyline. There’s no faster way to feel on top of the world.