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How to Travel and Backpack in Hong Kong on a Budget
Hong Kong can be an overwhelming place, even for a New York City gal like myself. I was particularly fascinated to find skyscrapers that seemed like they had cities within them with restaurants on some floors, shops on others, salons, and so on. But as a New Yorker going from the concrete jungle of NYC to Hong Kongcrete, the city's crowded streets, skyscrapers, and neon signs quickly grew on me. The Manhattan of Asia is a pretty spectacular place!
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) which is a legal part of China, yet the region retains its own laws, immigration system, financial system, and even has two official languages - Cantonese and English. More than 7 million people are tightly packed in an island slightly larger than Manhattan, except this island city has beautiful cloudy mountains in the landscape.
I ended up stopping in Hong Kong for a week while backpacking through Southeast Asia with my boyfriend since the city is really a major hub with global connections to other Asian cities so rather than just having a connecting flight there, we decided to spend a week. And since we were backpacking for a couple of months, we were on a really tight budget during our stay - so we carefully planned it out so that we won't go over our budget. I am happy to share with you, how you too can enjoy Hong Kong cheaply - with information and tips on where to stay, where to eat, how to get around, and what to see.
The Tian Tan Buddha
The Peak Tram in Hong KongClick thumbnail to view full-size
Walking Among the Skyscrapers in Hong KongClick thumbnail to view full-size
Top Things To Do in Hong Kong
- Ride 'The Peak'. For breathtaking vistas of the harbor and city, take 'The Peak' which rides the side of the mountain. When you reach the top, be sure to walk the Peak Circle Walk trail for some more stunning views of the skyscrapers at eye-leve.
- Check out Victoria Harbor at night from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. Victoria's harbor is one of the busiest and colorful ones in the world! Every evening at 8pm there is a laser light show called 'the Symphony of Lights' with all the skyscrapers lighting up and dancing to the music.
- Take the Star Ferry across the harbor. For more stunning views of the skyline, cross the harbor on the Star Ferry, which costs just $2.50 HKD ($0.32 USD).
- Walk amongst the skyscrapers. Hong Kong has over 7,600 skyscrapers! Walking amongst them is pretty impressive. After your stroll, take a break at Hong Kong Park, nestled amongst the skyscrapers in the financial district.
- Visit the world's tallest seated Buddha on Lantau Island. Called Tian Tan Buddha, Hong Kong's Buddha is the world's tallest and can be reached either by walking, bus, or cable-car ride (which is the most expensive but offers the best photo opportunities).
- For a fabulous contrast between modern and traditional, visit Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. The Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is a really interesting temple in Hong Kong and feels like you're in another world, contrasted with the skyscrapers of the city.
Traveling on the Hong Kong Express TrainClick thumbnail to view full-size
Transportation in Hong Kong - Tips on Getting Around Cheaply
Hong Kong is a very compact city and has a great public transportation system with metro trains, ferries, buses, and trams. On these, you can get around the city very easily and cheaply. (A bus to the airport costs just $5.)
- Get an Octopus card to get around the city. The Octopus card is an electronic public transportation card which deducts fare instantly from the stored card value. It can be used for any mode of public transportation, even including the Peak tram. It is a very useful and convenient card and will even save you between 5 - 10 percent on fares using the MTR (metro train) and some buses. To get an Octopus card, you'll need to give a deposit of $50 HKD (that's just $6.44 USD) and initially add $100 HKD ($12.88 USD) in fare value. The deposit will be returned to you when you return the card, as well as any unused fare money on the card. Tip: Buy an Octopus card at the special kiosk near the exit of the express train, where they especially cater to tourists. Also return the card here to get your refund.
- Get an Airport Express Travel Pass. To get from the airport to the city, but an Airport Express Travel Pass at the kiosk near the exit of the express train. For about $300 HKD ($38.65 USD), you get two rides to and from the airport to central Hong Kong, as well as three days of unlimited travel on the MTR. This pass is like the Octopus Card, just additionally includes the airport transport.
- The MRT closes at 1am but no worries, you won't need to hail a cab and spend extra cash because there are 24-hour bus services.
Cheap Accomodations in Hong Kong
When my boyfriend and I were backpacking through Southeast Asia, we were a bit flabbergasted with the hostel prices and conditions when we arrived in Hong Kong. Hot only are hostels super pricey, they are tiny and located in not so nice places. To start off, apparently any accommodations under $700 are considered budget.
- There are two locations where you will find hostels -
1. Chungking Mansions (aka Chungking Jungles) and
2. Mirador Mansions in Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui).
Both of places have horrible reviews but we decided to suck it up and book a room with one of the many hostels at Chungking Mansions. We chose it for a couple of reasons, including mostly because of the central location (there's an MTR across the street), that it was cheapish and the fact that it was available. When we arrived at Chungking Mansion, we were honestly worried. The building complex looked so messy, dirty, and intimidating with all the hustle and bustle with all the hagglers around. And when we finally got to our room after waiting a while for an elevator to go upstairs which wasn't completely packed, we were in for another shock - the size of the room. Oh my, we've heard that rooms in Hong Kong were tiny but this was beyond tiny, the room was the size of a bathroom! And speaking of bathrooms, the bathroom was a toilet/shower combo with just a toilet where you can spin in one place. Piece of advice: have very low expectations! You will not find anything cheaper than Chungking Mansions or Mirador Mansions.
Cheap Eats in Hong Kong
Thankfully Hong Kong's cheap and delicious places to eat compensate for the sky-high hostel prices. You'll find lots of street food stalls and cheap restaurants. Below is a list of some of them.
- Kai Kai Noodle Shop located at 14 Fuk Tsun St., Mongkok, Kowloon is opened daily and sells delicious traditional "cart noodles" for about $20 HKD ($2.50 USD).
- Lok Heung Yuen Coffee Shop located at G/F, 8-10 Gilman's Bazaar, Central sells pies with different fillings, all for under $10 HKD ($1.30).
- If you're in the mood for some sashimi, you can pick some up from a conveyor belt at Ichiban, 3 Hau Fook Street at just about $15 HKD ($1.90) a piece.
- For a tasty milkshake for just $9 HKD ($1.15 USD), go to Ada Snacks, located at 2 O’Brien Road with Lockhart Road, MTR Wan Chai, exit C.
- At Chungking Mansions there are a bunch of Indian spots that are cheap and pretty tasty. We particularly liked Butt Food Centre Shop, located at 21G/F.