Updated August 16th, 2018.
From the many travellers we’ve met and loved so far, one of the first questions they often ask is, “Have you been travelling long and if so, where have you been?”
When we respond that we’ve recently completed a trip to Hong Kong, they’re amazed by our budget! So it’s only logical to share our story with everyone, so they can witness this interesting country on a backpacker budget too! We had just three days to see as much as we could; let’s get started…
About Hong Kong
Hong Kong has all the charm of authentic, traditional China with a Western twist. It is basically a concrete jungle inundated with high-rise illuminated billboards and scrambles of people, but with hints of Chinese architecture and decorum. It is a very expensive city to visit unless you know how to get around. We think 2-3 days is enough time to explore this fascinating city if you’re on an extremely tight budget.
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Transportation in Hong Kong
The Kowloon area of Hong Kong is rather large — not many things are within walking distance unless you are in Central, so the easiest way to get about is the Hong Kong metro. It’s cheap, efficient and delivers you pretty much anywhere.
You’re looking at around HKD$350 ($45 USD) for a 72-hour pass for the metro here, which is quite cheap by global transport standards.
By far, the handiest thing about the pass being for 72 hours versus three days is that you can actually use the pass for four full days. As an example, if you arrive on Jan. 1 and first use your metro pass at 9 a.m., your three day limit implies that your metro card will be valid until 9 a.m. on Jan. 4. However, the pass will actually still be valid until 11:59 p.m. that day, thereby extending the pass validity an extra 15 hours! Furthermore, you can return the card when you’re departing to get a HKD$50 refund.
To get to places that aren’t easily accessible via metro, you can always hop off at the last stop and grab an Uber or taxi from there. You can expect to pay around HKD$250 ($32 USD) from the airport to central for example, so as a baseline, journeys to the extremities of Hong Kong should never really exceed HKD$200 ($25 USD) via taxis.
If metros aren’t your thing, you can always opt to take the local buses, which serve the same routes as the metro, but require a few more station switches, especially between Kowloon and Hong Kong. The prices are a little cheaper than the metro.
Round Up: Put aside around HKD$500 ($65 USD) for transportation in Hong Kong for a three-day trip. This should leave you surplus money if you organise your itinerary carefully.
Accommodation in Hong Kong
As with all cities, accommodation is never something you can really get around; cities are always expensive and Hong Kong is no exception. What’s most important is sticking to hostels, as I’m sure you are already doing as a backpacker.
Booking in advance will help, but we know that’s not always possible with changing plans. AirBnB is an alternative option, but sometimes this can be just as expensive, if not more, so do your research!
Because we had the 72-hour airport express metro card, we booked a hostel that was located near a metro station. To give you a rough idea, we stayed in a private double room in a hostel in Chan Wai (one metro station away from central) — not to be confused with Wai Chan — called Check Inn HK – for HKD$700 ($90 USD). Although not big and spacious, it was adequate and clean. A dorm room in the cheapest hostel on Agoda is listed at just HKD $55 USD ($8 USD) – but that’s if you’re willing to stay in Chungking Mansions…
What’s Chunking Mansions I hear you ask?
Located in Tsim Tsa Tsui, this is the where you can find the cheapest digs in the city, but don’t celebrate just yet! This 17-story tenement apartment block is a far cry from the friendly and cheap backpacker hostels of SE Asia that you’ve been spoiled with…
The whole building is a cross between a knock-off fake goods market, housing for Hong Kong’s newest and poorest immigrants, cheap food stalls, other dodgy dealings and some very cramped, miserable backpackers hostels…
All squashed into a building with a tiny lift, limited fire exits and the tiniest rooms with laughably small bathrooms – don’t say we didn’t warn you! On the positive side though, it’s super cheap and it’ll give you a good story to tell your pals!
Round Up: Like many cities, if you stay further away from central, it is normally cheaper so opt to stay on the outskirts of Hong Kong with a nearby metro/bus station to get around. You can expect to pay around HKD$300 ($40 USD) per person night in peak seasons.
Food and Drink in Hong Kong
To our surprise, Hong Kong actually had insanely affordable food. In fact, it’s a theme that persists throughout the majority of Asia. You can expect prices for food to be around 30 to 40 percent cheaper than you would expect in the likes of say Rome or Amsterdam. As with most of the places we visited, we attempted to find some rock-bottom price cuisine, along with some other mid-tier restaurants with good food and affordable prices.
Dim Sum is a staple cuisine in Chinese territories. It consists of what can only be described as buffet experience with a twist. You order your food, and they keep bringing that same dish until you’re finished, notifying by placing your chopsticks diagonally on the bowl, placing a thumb on the dish you no longer want or simply leaving some food in one of the dishes. A good Dim Sum restaurant can cost between HKD$80 to 120 ($10-$15 USD) per person for around 4 plates of food, which is a great value.
If you’re not feeling the Dim Sum experience, a chain restaurant called Tsui Wan is perfect for backpackers and travellers alike. Dishes around HKD$60 ($7-8 USD) is the norm, and they are absolutely delicious. Perfect for a backpacker who is short on time but wants a decent, real Hong Kong meal.
Round Up: Set aside HKD$200 ($25 USD) a day for food per person. It should cover the majority of your food. However, our top tip here is to use 7/11 for snacks; its cheap and great for a quick bite when you’re in a hurry.
Backpacker Budget-Friendly Activities
Here in Hong Kong, there are many budget-friendly – sometimes even free – activities:
- Markets — FREE: There are many famous, unique markets in Hong Kong, with one of the popular ones being the goldfish market. It’s fascinating to find the many colourful goldfishes in bags, all hung up ready to sell.
- Hong Kong Park — FREE: This beautiful scenery is in amongst the urban horizon, home to an arts centre, sports centre and water fountains (some you can even run through).
- Garden of stars/Avenue of Stars — FREE: The avenue is currently under reconstruction (as of September 2017), but the garden is full of statues and concrete imprints of hands from many famous Chinese actors and notable performers. Also, an amazing viewpoint to see Hong Kong in all its beauty.
- Peak Tram — HKD$45 ($5 USD): Peak Tram takes you above Hong Kong on a short trip to witness the stunning views over the Victoria Harbour.
- Kowloon Residential Area — FREE: Once home to the highest density population of people in the world, Kowloon hosts huge amounts of residential skyscrapers rising more 50 floors in most areas. (See above photo).
Not-so budget-friendly activities
- Ngong Ping 360 — HKD$200 ($25 USD): This cable car takes you from the outskirts of Hong Kong (near the airport) up to Lantau Island. There are many cable car options, including a crystal cabin that lets you see the world underneath your feet. We went for the most basic option to minimize costs. Once on the island, you can view the Po Min Monastery, the little Chinese Village and the Tian Tian (Big Buddha) all for free.
- HK Disneyland — HKD$500 ($65 USD): We didn’t actually visit Disneyland, but we’re including it on the list as a popular destination. Also, you can access the park via the metro pass, for convenience.
- Sky Terrace — HKD$45 ($5 USD): Although not expensive, it’s a way to see the Victoria Harbour and Kowloon from the highest viewpoint in Hong Kong. With a 360-degree view. Note: this is an additional cost you can pay for when buying your peak tram ticket.
Overall, Hong Kong cost us around HKD$3,500 ($450 USD) for two people for three nights.
Solo travellers might find themselves spending a little less than this, especially if you choose to stay in Chungking Mansions… It’s a beautiful city with so much to offer, and its often overlooked by backpackers. We wholeheartedly believe that anyone who doesn’t visit here is missing the opportunity to see a different side to Asia, unlike anywhere else we’ve been!
About the writers: Luke and Abbie have been travelling around Southeast Asia now for a considerable amount of time, documenting their adventures and all the while learning how to make the most of their journey on a budget. You can view their Instagram at @wanderlustlab or visit their website Wanderlust Lab to read blogs documenting their journey.
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