Sitting in a battered old armchair in a dated therapy area, a heated lavender-scented pillow around my neck, and my feet plunged in a barrel of warm soapy water, it’s hard to believe I’m in the heart of the thriving metropolis that is Hong Kong.
As I listen to the piped bird music and sip a rose-petal tea, the masseuse sets to work on my tired tootsies. I may only be 15 floors up Century Square, an unremarkable skyscraper in the heart of the financial district and a stone’s throw from designer shops including Prada, Armani and Louis Vuitton, but up here in Gao’s, away from the buzz of traffic, crowds and money-makers, I could be a million miles away in some backwater of rural China.
Foot massage places like Gao’s have become a haven for stressed-out businessmen and women, both on Hong Kong island and in Kowloon, across Victoria Harbour.
For around £15 you can enjoy 50 minutes of rest and relaxation, although some customers never switch off. And indeed it is hard to switch off in ‘Asia’s World City’, as the Hong Kong Tourism Board calls it, situated on the south-eastern coast of China and covering an area of 425 square miles.
Little has changed since I visited the island before the British handed it back to the Chinese in 1997. There’s a new airport which is, frankly, much less worrying for passengers than the old one, where the plane had to fly between mile-high blocks of flats to find the runway.
Cathay Pacific has also launched a new premium economy class on its Hong Kong route with more leg room, so you can get there in comfort too. There are certainly more skyscrapers than I recall, but with a population of seven million, space remains at a premium and the only way is up.
While the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong will inevitably increase, there will always be places to balance your yin and yang – and I can already feel a return visit to Gao’s on the cards.