As a budget traveller, I always make sure to plan my trip well especially if I’m travelling to expensive countries like Hong Kong. The city is often included in the list of the most expensive cities in the world to live, and understandably, it’s also an expensive place to visit. Yet, Hong Kong’s reputation as an expensive city did not hinder me from exploring this cosmopolitan city in Asia. I love that it has a great combination of Eastern and Western influences, as evident in its architecture, food, and culture.
With proper planning and research, I was able to enjoy the city in a week without spending beyond my travel budget. I even managed to do a side trip to Macau. So here are my tips for exploring Hong Kong on a budget.
Get an Octopus Card
I spent most of my time taking public transportation in Hong Kong and the Octopus card has saved me a lot of money since the fares using the card are usually cheaper than buying single journey tickets. Above all, it saved me a lot of time since I no longer have to queue up to purchase my train tickets. The card can be used in the train, public buses, ferries, and even at some convenience stores.
Thus, one of the first things I did after exiting out of the airport is to look for the Airport Express train station and got myself an Octopus card. The card comes with a HK$50 deposit that was refunded back to me after I returned my card at the end of my trip.
Book a Budget Accommodation
I spent a lot of time looking for the best accommodation in Hong Kong given my limited budget. Luckily, I was able to snag a decent accommodation in Airbnb for only HK$250 per night in a location that’s only a few minutes walk to the Mong Kok train station and the bus stop. So here are my tips for getting a good deal on your accommodation in Hong Kong:
- Book as early as possible. Hong Kong is known for its shortage of accommodation and this means that it can be difficult to find affordable decent rooms in only a short notice. I booked my accommodation 3 months prior to my trip, which I’m glad I did because I checked Airbnb a few days before my trip and the price almost doubled!
- Time your trip well. Hong Kong is a “high-occupancy” city, which means that there’s really no low and peak season. However, certain events and holidays could significantly affect accommodation rates. For instance, events like Chinese festivals and Chinese New Year could cause a massive price hike on room rates. If you want to save on accommodation, then you might as well avoid visiting Hong Kong during these festivals.
- Stay for a longer period. One of the reasons why I got a bargain on my accommodation is because I booked for a weeklong stay, which entitles me to a 10% discount. I initially planned to stay in Macau for a few days but I realized I could save more on my accommodation if I’ll stay in Hong Kong. So I ended up doing a day trip to Macau instead, which is only an hour ferry ride away and spent the rest of my days in Hong Kong.
Take Advantage of the Free Attractions
I did go to Disneyland and Ocean Park during my trip. After all, a trip to Hong Kong would not be complete without a visit to these theme parks. But these are the only two attractions where I splurged most money on. I was able to enjoy several other attractions in Hong Kong without actually paying for expensive entrance fees. Here are some of them.
- Symphony of Lights at Victoria Harbour – the Symphony of Lights is a multimedia show happening at Victoria Harbour every night at 8 PM. The music is audible at the harbourfront areas of Tsim Sha Tsui and in the Golden Bauhinia Square of Wan Chai. I’ve witnessed the spectacular show for two nights in a row and it was truly amazing!
- The Avenue of Stars – similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Avenue of the Stars is a place that pays tribute to some of Hong Kong’s most prolific film stars. The stars are scattered all throughout the boardwalk of Victoria Harbour bearing the names of some famous personalities, including Jackie Chan.
- Victoria Peak – as the highest peak in Hong Kong, Victoria Peak is the best place to enjoy a breathtaking 360-degree view of the city. Most tourists would get there by taking the tram, which costs HK$100 for a return trip. In my case, I took the bus from the Central Bus Terminus for only HK$10 (one way) and enjoyed the views from the free viewing platforms. Although the Victoria Peak is free, you’ll have to pay to get inside the Madame Tussaud’s Museum, which I opted not to go.
- Hong Kong Museum of History – I love visiting museums and was happy to know that Hong Kong’s Museum of History is free to visit. The museum offers detailed exhibits taking you to each and every aspect of the country’s culture and history. I spent less than an hour at the place checking out the many clans and ethnic groups that the museum has represented.
- Po Lin Monastery – this monastery is one of the most famous attractions in the city and is where the Big Buddha can be found. The structure measures more than 100 feet high and is made entirely of bronze. Admission to the Buddha structure is free but there is an entrance fee to pay if you’ll visit the exhibition halls.
- Tai-O Fishing village – this small fishing village is only a short bus ride away from the Big Buddha. Most tourists would hire a small boat to take them around the harbor and have a close-up view of the traditional stilt houses, but I choose to explore on my own. I walked around the village and visited the port as well as the traditional seafood market. It’s such a fun experience, totally different from the modern city life of Hong Kong.
Eat on a Budget
Hong Kong has an exciting food culture, thanks to the many different cultures that have called the city their home. While there are plenty of Michelin-starred restaurants in the city, this is not the best place to eat for budget travellers like me. Thankfully, there are plenty of street food stalls in Mong Kok, which is close to where I’m staying. There are also several budget restaurants in the area serving traditional Chinese food and some international delicacies.
Wandering through the busy alleys and streets of Mong Kok, I stumbled across a stretch of food vendors selling local treats like deep-fried tofu, fish balls, steamed buns, dumplings, noodles and some desserts, including the delicious Hong Kong egg waffles. I spent most of my nights roaming around this place looking for a delicious meal to end my day, which only costs me around HK$30 to HK$50 per meal.
Another option for eating on a budget in Hong Kong is at 7-Eleven. You’ll find these convenience stores at almost every street corner of the city. They have a wide variety of frozen meals that are surprisingly delicious costing less than HK$30 each. Some of the meals I’ve tried are the Braised Pork Chop with Rice, Fried Noodles with Seafood, and the Chicken a la King with rice.
Shop on a Budget
Shopping in Hong Kong may not be the best thing to do for budget travellers like me but I was lucky enough to find a lot of great deals at the city’s street markets, factory outlets, and wholesale malls. I’ve visited a couple of street markets in Hong Kong and my favourite is the Temple Street market. This lively night market sells everything, from cheap souvenirs, Chinese trinkets, to delicious street foods! I was able to haggle some souvenir items and t-shirts and I had so much fun browsing through the long stretch of stalls selling almost everything you can think of!