When I stayed in a serviced apartment during my first month in Hong Kong, where I currently live and work, I didn’t have the chance to form any meaningful personal connections with the other guests. I only saw them in the gym when everyone was sweating and disinclined to speak to each other, in the lift when there was barely time to exchange pleasantries or comment on the weather, or in the laundry room where everyone just wanted to put in or retrieve their load and return to their rooms.
If you are planning to move to Hong Kong and are looking for a more social experience than that offered by your average serviced residence – and if ultra-luxury serviced residences that offer networking opportunities are out of your budget – new serviced residence concept Oootopia may be of interest to you.
Oootopia, which refers to its guests as “Oootopians”, promises guests “the opportunity to meet and interact with people from diverse backgrounds”. This is achieved by omitting the two main in-room features that distinguish a serviced residence from a hotel room – the kitchen and living room – and making these two features communal.
Since it wants to create a sense of community and encourage friendships between residents, it makes sense that Oootopia has a standard minimum stay of six months, though it is willing to accommodate shorter stays on an ad hoc basis.
In case you’re wondering where the name comes from, each “O” in “Oootopia” stands for a different word: Opportunity, Openness and Originality.
“We believe the world would be a better place if we respected one another, by embracing diversity and facilitating interactions as a community. It’s important for all of us to think individually yet work collectively so that we can make a positive impact on the world. Leave a mark!” Oootopia states on its website.
Oootopia has two other properties in Hong Kong besides its Kai Tak location: Oootopia Tai Kok Tsui and Oootopia West. I went on a tour of all three properties, but have decided to focus on the Kai Tak property for this article: The Tai Kok Tsui location has more of a upmarket hostel-like feel, with only a small communal area with a Japanese tatami layout clearly aimed at a young demographic – there were even students staying at the property, I was told. The Oootopia West location is still partly under construction and, while we were able to view the rooms, the lobby and communal area was very much a construction site. It is now taking pre-bookings and is expected to open on September 16, so I would rather pass judgement on the property once all the features are up and running.
What's it like?
Oootopia Kai Tak used to be a branch of the Bridal Tea House Hotel, an owner-managed boutique hotel chain that began business in 2003.
When you enter, you’ll see the residents’ – or, I guess, Oootopians’ – letter boxes to your left. These are rather similar in design to those found in your typical older Hong Kong apartment building, though perhaps a little more stylish.
Then you’ll come to the reception area.
Before entering the communal area, there is a small porch area with two paintings of Chinese calligraphy, two chairs and a potted plant.
Oootopia Kai Tak’s apartments are not big: the smallest is a mere 110-sqft (10-sqm) and the largest 208-sqft (19-sqm). Prices range from HK$9,800 a month (US$1,249) for the smallest apartment to HK$15,200 (US$1,938) for the biggest.
However, the tiny living spaces are compensated for somewhat by a generous communal area, where Oootopia hopes guests will mingle and interact – and even form long-lasting friendships. Oootopia Kai Tak’s living room is over 1,500-sqft (139-sqm). Unlike in most serviced apartments, Oootopia Kai Tak’s rooms do not have kitchens; rather, guests can use two communal kitchens to cook.
The living area, which is adorned with plants, has a series of tables and chairs…
…including these chairs with yellow cushions…
…as well as a sofa area…
…in front of which there is a television and another yellow chair…
The living are has some nice design features, such as this lampshade.
On a column near the kitchen are some tongue-in-cheek framed flashcards to teach you basic Cantonese phrases.
Guests also have access to a Nintento Switch video game console…
In case video gaming isn’t your thing, there is a selection of boards games, too.
Where is it?
In To Kwa Wan, an area on the eastern shore of the Kowloon peninsula. It is just west of the old Kai Tak airport, where many Business Traveller readers may have fond memories of flying into Hong Kong before the new airport at Chek Lap Kok opened in 1998.
The closest MTR station (Hong Kong’s metro system) to the property, Ho Man Tin, is a 25-minute walk away, but there are buses that will get you to Tsim Sha Tsui in around 20 minutes. From there you could transfer to the MTR if you need to get over to Hong Kong Island, although there are also buses to Central that take around 40 minutes.
If you have your own car, Oootopia does not offer car parking, though there is public roadside parking available.
However, the property is placing its bets on a new MTR station which is set to open in To Kwa Wan in 2021. The station was supposed to be operational by the first quarter of 2020, but was delayed until the end of 2021 due to construction issues.
For now, though, if you are staying at this property, you will need to rely on buses or taxis to get around.
The lift that goes up to the rooms is slow, this being an old building first erected in 1965. But Oootopia’s management has no intention of installing a faster lift; it wants to create opportunities for guests to chat with each other while riding the lift.
While greeting other people in a lift is expected in some countries such as France, in Hong Kong a typical elevator experience involves most people ignoring each other and scrolling through their mobile phones while the person closest to the lift buttons impatiently mashes the “close door” button the moment each passenger has departed at his desired floor. But Oootopia hopes to transcend that behaviour and make its lift a social space where friendships can blossom.
The first room I had a look at was a 145-sqft (13.5-sqm) Studio Deluxe. No one would describe this room as spacious, but I was impressed by how the designers had managed to make use of the space and create a functional apartment for a single-person occupancy.
For example, the bed lifts up to reveal a good amount of storage space, where you could keep your luggage or other items.
All new residents are provided a set of complimentary linens and towels, though they can also bring their own bedding if they prefer. It’s worth noting here also that there is a complimentary housekeeping service once a week, which includes cleaning of the bedroom and bathroom. For other cleaning services, guests can choose between two service packs.
- Service Pack 1: (Once a week full housekeeping) bedsheet, pillow cases, duvet cover, towel change, room and toilet cleaning at HK$750 (US$96) per month
- Service Pack 2: (Twice a week full housekeeping) bedsheet, pillow cases, duvet cover, towel change, room and toilet cleaning at $1100 (US$140) per month
A writing desk next to the bed comes with an alarm clock, cup and saucer. The desk comes with a soft grey chair.
Next to the bed are two three-pin sockets. There are no USB sockets.
The room also comes equipped with a safe to store your valuables.
The view from the bedside window, which is of a building site, leaves something to be desired, though you do get something of a mountain view. There may also be noise issues, depending on what type of construction they are doing, though I couldn’t hear much noise when I visited. However, the large window does mean that the room is brightly lit with natural light.
At the entrance of the room, you’ll find a tea and coffee station with water glasses, a cup and saucer and a kettle, as well as coasters. You’ll need to buy your own tea and coffee.
There is no drinking water dispenser in the room. Hong Kong’s tap water is technically safe to drink (though it’s best to boil it), but some people prefer to drink bottled water or to filter it as the taste is sometimes a bit funky. Oootopia Kai Tak’s water dispensers can be found in the common area downstairs. They told me this was a conscious decision as they want to encourage guests to interact with each other in the common area rather than always staying in their rooms.
An interesting feature of Oootopia Kai Tak’s rooms is the presence of an in-room sensor that can detect whether or not you are in the room and adjust the air conditioning accordingly. In addition, the sensor can tell when you are sleeping and when you are awake. If you have the air conditioning set low when you are falling asleep, the system will increase the temperature once you’ve fallen asleep. The idea is to save energy while not affecting your sleep (since you are already asleep, you probably won’t notice the temperature change).
Indeed, all utilities are included in the price of Oootopia Kai Tak’s rooms – except for air conditioning. The property wants to encourage guests to reduce their energy consumption.
The bathroom is small but clean and functional. The blue tiling creates a pleasant feel. Complimentary bathroom amenities are from Ashely & Co.
Given the size of the shower, you probably wouldn’t feel like lingering here for a long shower, but as with the rest of the bathroom it’s functional and looks like it would get the job done.
The next room I looked at was a Corner Suite. At around 14.5 sqm, this room is slightly bigger than the Studio Deluxe. The bed is the same as in the Studio Deluxe and features the same storage space features. Since the in-room amenities in the Corner Suite and Studio Deluxe are largely the same, I’ll just run you through what is different in the former.
The work desk comes with some upgraded features, including an hour glass, drawing pencils and notebooks. There is also a set of black sticky notes. The hotel executive giving us a tour joked that you could write on them with Tipp-Ex.
This room also comes with the same alarm clock and air conditioning remote as the other room.
The main layout difference to this room is that it has an L-shaped segment, which includes the tea and coffee making nook as well as some additional cupboard storage space and a bookshelf.
I found the view from this room to a be a little more pleasant than that from the Studio Deluxe. The area with the trees is where the new MTR station is set to open in 2021, so you can see just how close and convenient this station will be when it does finally open.
The bathroom in this room type is a little bigger than in the other room type, though has basically the same features.
While Oootopia Kai Tak’s rooms are indisputably tiny, even by Hong Kong standards, the designers have done a great job of making them comfortable, functional and attractively designed living spaces, with a price point sure to appeal to those on tighter budgets. A great deal of thought has gone into transforming this relatively old building (1965 vintage) into a trendy co-living space that is likely to appeal to a young-ish demographic.
Oootopia’s management says its average guest age is around 30, so older customers may want to think twice about whether they would feel comfortable and could fit in living in a place like this, though it of course depends on individual preferences.
Also, given the property’s co-living concept, and the rooms small sizes, I would only really recommend this for single occupancy, though the property told me there are in fact some couples living there. Children and pets are not allowed, which makes sense.
Location-wise, at the moment transport links would be a concern. If you plan to spend most of your time in Kowloon, rather than Hong Kong Island, this property would certainly be convenient. Also, if you tend to work from home it would also be suitable as you could use the communal areas as a kind of co-working space. However, if going to Hong Kong Island, you will need to budget at least 30-40 minutes to travel by bus. Once the MTR station opens in 2021, however, it will likely be more convenient.
Another factor to consider is that To Kwa Wan, where the property is located, is very much an up-and-coming area that is only just beginning to see the impact of gentrification, so if you prefer to live in an area that already has a well-established reputation you may wish to look elsewhere.
But if you’re an outgoing, sociable person keen to start building your network as soon as you arrive in Hong Kong but on too tight a budget to stay in one of the higher end serviced residences with communal facilities, I think you would enjoy your time at Oootopia Kai Tak.