Hong Kong has been the most expensive place we’ve visited & it’s notorious for being overpriced. Having overspent in Indonesia though we were determined to claw some of that money back & have a great time in Hong Kong! Here are our top tips if you’re on a budget…
We had booked accommodation before we left the UK because accommodation takes the biggest hit on your budget. Even the most basic accommodation will set you back a few hundred pounds.
We stayed in Kowloon Budget Hostel which is part of Chungking Mansions. It’s the cheapest accommodation you’ll find & is famous not for the best reasons. It’s true that you walk in & it looks dodgy as hell. It’s been compared to Kowloon’s walled city (demolished in 1994). Previously notorious as a refuge for petty criminals, scammers, and illegal immigrants it’s now a diverse mix of guest workers, mainlanders, locals, tourists and backpackers.
Space is at a minimum and don’t expect much for your money. We’ve had no troubles: it was a good location & base for us. If you’re on a budget then Chungking Mansions are your best option! Also you’ll get a great curry!
Hong Kong Island:
Hong Kong island in general is very cosmopolitan with banks, high end designer shops & spending time here will eat into your budget. However, you can get the MTR to the east side of the island for hiking & beaches to get away from the hustle & hiking is free!
One evening we took the MTR to South Horizons to watch the sunset with a beer. This is a residential area but there are benches on the west side of the island you can sit on to watch the sunset. We didn’t realise til we were on our way back that some of this area is residents only so just be careful not to trespass!
The Peak is the famous place to visit but the Trams are expensive so if you’re really tight for cash then walk up instead.
Hong Kong park is a great place to visit for free. Take a picnic & watch the turtles in the ponds (I could have done this for hours!). Or check out the aviary.
It’s a good idea to check forums etc for news of what’s going on in Hong Kong because we went to a beer festival which had free entry & some great craft beers. Then you can buy drinks as your budget allows.
Food is expensive in Hong Kong. We were starving one night & went to the nearest place in the Soho area. That dinner set us back £65! Whilst it was nice we’re not sure it was worth that much!
Navigating the crazy overpass routes on Hong Kong island can be a bit of an assault on your navigational skills! You should definitely ride on the longest open air series of escalators in the world though!
Kowloon is the north side of the peninsula & cheaper than Hong Kong island (although still pricey!). Whilst Hong Kong island can feel like your in London sometimes Kowloon has a much more Chinese and hectic feel to it.
Need souvenirs? You should definitely visit the night markets! Temple Street is a great place to haggle prices down for gifts.
There are free museums you can visit. As we were wanting more understanding of the history of Hong Kong (particularly the opium wars) Matt and I went to the Hong Kong museum of history. We were somewhat disappointed as it didn’t go into very much detail over the more gritty stuff (e.g. opium wars). It does give a general overview though, is free & worth a couple of hours!
Kowloon Walled City Park:
Having read Jackie Pullinger’s book Chasing the Dragon as a teenager this was somewhere I was really keen to visit.
(Aerial photo of walled city in 1989 from Wikipedia)
Originally a Chinese military outpost dating back hundreds of years it became an over populated settlement after the 2nd world war. As this was not an area ceded to Britain in 1898 under the circumspect “treaty” with China (at the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory) it continued to have dubious claims over governance for decades. It consequently became an ungoverned, densely populated area of poorly constructed high-rises. From the 1950s onwards it was controlled by local triads and had high rates of prostitution, gambling & drug addiction. By 1990, the Walled City contained 50,000 residents within its borders. After years of negotiation between the British and Chinese governments it was finally demolished in 1994.
The park put in its place is beautiful. You can find plenty of shady spots to relax. See the foundations of the original gateway. Read about the different missionaries & NGO’s (like Jackie Pullinger) who are paid homage to. The historical info does focus on the history prior to the notorious urban settlement it became, however. There are some video interviews of people who lived within the city which are fascinating though.
Check the forums:
Similar to Hong Kong it’s worth checking local forums as to what’s happening whilst you’re in Kowloon. We watched a free film at Alliance Française de Hong Kong. It was in French with English subtitles but was a really good film based on a book and we got sit in a Q&A with the author after the film!
An easy island to visit is Lamma island. You can get ferries regularly from Central Ferry Pier. We’d recommend making a day of it. Get the ferry to Yung Shue Wan. Take the short walk to Hung Shing Ye beach. Ignore the huge power station which does detract somewhat from the beauty but it’s a nice beach with clean water, showers, changing rooms, toilets & a lifeguard. There a picnic area to the far side of the beach with benches where you can BBQ in the firepits. Take your own food & drinks & have a BBQ!
You can also walk over to Pichic Bay to the fishing village. We didn’t have time because the ferries go less frequently from Pichic Bay but if you’re organised you can walk over the island & make a day of it.
Cheung Chau Island:
This is another easy island to visit as you can get the ferry from the Central Ferry Pier. There’s a main beach with lifeguards and sectioned off area to swim in. The beach overlooks Hong Kong Island so you get some lovely views. It’s a popular spot with locals so can get busy but even on a Saturday we didn’t find it was too busy and the water was not over-crowded at all.
There are plenty of places to eat and facilities (showers, toilets and lockers in some of the cafes). Cheung Chau is smaller than Lamma so it would be easy to walk to some smaller, less crowded beaches. We didn’t know about swimming at other beaches though and were keen to cool down in the water so stayed on the main beach!
There are lots of day hikes you can do around Hong Kong. We had planned a few but unfortunately found the heat too much for us! We therefore only managed to do the Dragons Back hike
Dragons Back Hike:
This is an easy hike you can do on Hong Kong Island. We were planning on doing more hiking but the humidity and heat unfortunately did not allow. You need to take plenty of water. We followed this website which gives excellent, detailed directions. We did the hike backwards starting from the MTR station.
The walk from the MTR station goes through a really interesting cemetery all tiered into the hill (be prepared for lots of steps!).
Be prepared for scary big spiders!
We hiked over the Dragons Back and then at the official start got the no. 9 bus to Shek O Beach to cool off! This beach was ok for cooling off after the hike but probably our least favourite. It was expensive for food round there and the quality of the water was poorer (rubbish in the water). There were still good facilities (showers, toilets, lifeguards) but it felt more crowded than any of the other beaches we visited. It was midweek too!
In cooler weather (i.e. not July when we did this!) you could make a day of doing the hike by hiking to the beach for lunch time, swimming and chilling for a few hours and then hiking back later in the day.
Public transport round Hong Kong is really easy to use. To and from the airport there is the Airport Express train (it’s not 24 hours so check running hours if your flight is early in the morning). You can buy an Octopus Card from the station at the airport and use this on all public transport pretty much (ferries, buses, MTR). We didn’t use taxis at all because public transport is just so easy to use and understand. It’s also the cheapest way to get around (except walking). Google maps shows you the easiest routes for buses etc. when looking up directions. We’d recommend getting a SIM card which you can get from most phone shops in Kowloon. We had unlimited data and paid approx. £10.
All in all we loved Hong Kong but did find it lived up to its reputation of being overpriced. Especially accommodation. The tiny, basic room in Hong Kong for 2 weeks was more expensive than the nice hotel room in the Maldives we stayed in for 2 weeks! Still if you do your research you can do Hong Kong on a budget! Like going up to the Peak there are often way to avoid shelling out lots of cash. The surrounding islands are also beautiful to visit with plenty of walks which are free! We’d recommend going at a time of year when it is cooler because then you can really make the most out of the outdoors!
Next stop home (UK) for 2 weeks!