Hong Kong is one of the most bustling metropolises in the world. The Mongkok district has the second-highest population density in the world, and the government had to fill in much of the bay to accommodate its unconstrained population. The impressive cityscape is, of course, one of the attractions of Hong Kong, whether viewed from the top of Victoria Peak or from the Avenue of Stars at night, watching the Symphony of Lights show.
But what many don’t know about Hong Kong is that it is also the site of beautiful natural features and great for hiking and relaxing on the beach. With a land-mass of 1,104 sq. km. divided into 18 districts and over 20 islands, Hong Kong has enough territory to keep a traveler interested for weeks.
Unfortunately, Hong Kong is also one of the most expensive places in the world, and it has the most expensive rent in the world, according to consulting firm ECA International. Luckily, travel in Hong Kong can be done on a low budget if you know where to stay and where to go, keeping focused on local cultural activities and nature areas.
Sure, if you want to have afternoon tea in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel and kick it with investment bankers at the bars and clubs in Lan Kwai Fong, the costs can add up fast, but if you enjoy tea and food halls in the working class neighborhoods of Kowloon and drinking beer in street markets at outdoor karaoke bars, you can have a good time for a low price. Outside of the city, you can go hiking through jungles, exploring the beaches of Tai Po, and take in vistas from Buddhist monasteries on mountainsides on Lantau Island.
We chose the $60 per person figure based on personal experience and research. Lodging is going to be the most expensive part of the cost. At it’s cheapest, a bed in a dormitory style hostel room will cost at least $10 per night. The cheapest single rooms cost between $15 and $25. This level of accommodation is typically on the top level floors of run down mixed-tenant buildings. The Sincere House and the Chunking Mansions are some of the cheapest locations for guesthouses in the city. Getting around Hong Kong is easy on its subway system. Travelers can also use cheap buses to go to further out destinations and ferries to get to islands.
Food can be cheap if you stick to the “soy sauce Western food” of “tea and food houses” known as cha chaan tengs. This kind of food combines Chinese influences with Western food, representing the unique identity Hong Kong has created for itself, having been a colony of England for 155 years and remaining an international trade and finance capital. With an international population inhabiting Hong Kong, it is easy to find fare from many countries in the world. Indian curry, Japanese sushi buffets, and Western sandwiches are of particular notoriety in Hong Kong, as well as Chinese and local Hong Kong dishes like dim sum, sui mei barbecued meat, and many kinds of fresh fish.
For daily activities, roaming around the jungles and urban jungles is a free and fun. The streets, crowded with people and signs stretching from one building across half the street, will invoke scenes of classic Hong Kong and Chinese-based films. The Chinese art antiques on Hollywood Street are pretty expensive, but walking into stores and admiring them isn’t. Walking around on beaches, mountainous areas, and jungles doesn’t cost anything but for transport. Follow the advice in this article, and you’ll have a great time in Hong Kong for a low price.
Here’s a guide with tips, advice, and information about how to spend less than $60 a day in Hong Kong. (Note that the prices referenced in this article are quoted in USD.)
Hong Kong has a well developed transportation system with a subway, buses, taxis, ferries, and private transportation options. Subways will get you anywhere in the city, but you will need to take a bus to get to more remote places in the New Territories or on Lantau Island. Lantau Island and the New Territories are connected to the subway, but for the smaller islands, you will have to take a ferry.
For most people, you will have to fly into Hong Kong. However Hong Kong is also accessible by bus or boat from the People’s Republic of China and Macau.
- Plane: The Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) is the main airport in Hong Kong. It is connected to the city’s subway system via the Airport Express. If you are coming to Hong Kong from China, it can be cheaper to fly into the Shenzhen Airport, across the border from Hong Kong, and take a bus to Hong Kong, but that requires you to have a Chinese visa or a passport that allows entry into China.
- Land: Hong Kong is to the south of Guangdong province in China and connected by land. Buses from Guangdong and Shenzhen pick up passengers at various hotels and bus stations and drop passengers off in the city of Hong Kong. A bus from Guangdong to Hong Kong costs about $15. Passengers have to go through a checkpoint at the border between the PRC and Hong Kong and take their luggage off the bus before reboarding a bus on the Hong Kong side.
- The Shenzhen subway system is also connected to the Hong Kong subway system through the Futian Checkpoint station and Louhu station on the Shenzhen side. A ticket from the Futian Checkpoint station to downtown Hong Kong costs about $5.
- There are also high-speed trains from Shanghai and Beijing that go to Hong Kong and run through Guangdong. A hard sleeper sleeper ticket on the T99 train from Shanghai to Hong Kong costs $65. A soft sleeper costs $98, and a seat costs $37. A seat on the T99 from Guangzhou to Hong Kong costs $5. From Beijing West station to Hong Kong, a hard sleeper costs $76, and a soft sleeper costs $115 on the T97B train.
- Boat: Macau is a popular day trip destination for Hong Kong travelers accessible by boat. Ferries are run by various companies from early morning to late night, departing every 15 minutes. Boats take about an hour and arrive in Hong Kong either at the airport, Kowloon, or Hong Kong island for prices of about $20 for economy class. They are a little more expensive on weekends, holidays, and at night. “Super” class costs about $40, and “VIP” cabins cost over $200. Boats also depart from Shenzhen and Zhuhai, Guangdong to and from Hong Kong , Macau, and Shenzhen.
With its vast system of subways, buses, and ferries, Hong Kong is easily navigable for cheap prices. The subway will take you anywhere in the city and to transportation hubs outside the city where you can catch a bus.
- Subway: The MTR subway has a sharply tiered pricing system depending on how far you are going. For just a few stops, it costs $0.50, but for longer rides it can cost $3 or more.
- Bus: Hong Kong has 3 kinds of buses: franchised buses, non-franchised buses, and public minibuses. The franchised buses are operated by 5 private companies. Non-franchised buses operate between tourist attractions, hotels, and other points of interest. The public minibuses mostly operate between MTR stations and other transit stations. They have a capacity of 16 passengers.
- Ferry: For smaller islands like the carless Lamma Island, Check Lap Kok island, Tsing Yi, Po Toi, and others of the tens of islands, you will need to take a ferry. Ferries leave at regular intervals throughout the day from the piers in Hong Kong’s Central district and, lesser so, from Kowloon. Some restaurants, such as Rainbow Seafood Restaurant on Lamma Island, offer complimentary ferry service to their diners. You can also take ferries between the two main districts of the city, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but that is unnecessary for the price conscious traveler, because they are connected by subway.
- Taxi: The taxi is best avoided if you don’t need to use it. The fare is Hong Kong is relatively high. Additionally, crossing between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon adds an additional toll of between $1 and $6 to your fare. But you may need to use the taxi at night if you go out drinking and go back after the subway closes during the 11 p.m. hour.
- Hiking: In the less developed natural areas of the New Territory and Lantau Island, hiking is a great way to get around. Lantau Island has a network of hiking paths covering the islands many mountainous peaks, providing great views of the ocean and access to Buddhist monasteries. You can follow portions of the trail to the roads on the island and hail a bus.
Accommodation in Hong Kong is on the expensive side. Even a single room small enough to fit just one bed with room for luggage only underneath the bed costs about $20 per night. Dormitory-style hostels can be found for $10 and up. The buildings where these cheapest accommodations are located can be described as “dirty,” “seedy,” “run down,” and “the Ghetto at the Center of the World,” but I think that just adds to the allure. You can find better accommodation for $80 to $200 dollars a night at budget hotels around the city, and there is no shortage of luxury accommodation in Hong Kong. For over $500 a night, you can get a room at the Mandarin Oriental, and for $1,500 and up you can get a suite. There are hotels all over the price range from budget to the Mandarin Oriental.
Guesthouses at the Chunking Mansions, the aforementioned “Ghetto at the Center of the World,” typically start at 130-150 HKD per night for a single room, around $20. Some of the rooms are small enough to only fit a single bed, with the bed filling the entirety of the room, wall to wall, and luggage going underneath. Those rooms usually come with tiny personal restrooms where you can shower right in front of the toilet. Rooms that have a little bit more space usually come with a shared restroom for multiple guests of the guesthouse.
The Chunking Mansions are a tourist attraction in and of themselves. It is the home of a low budget mall, with vendors from multiple countries selling electronics, halal foods, Bollywood DVDs, luggage, accessories, and other goods. Merchants especially come in large numbers from central Asia and Africa to trade, with a large amount of the cell-phones in Subsaharan Africa being sourced through the Chunking Mansions. The mall in the Chungking Mansions is an interesting spectacle in its own right, and it is also the filming location for one of Hong Kong’s legendary films, Chunking Express. This film by Wong Kar-wai, which was ranked #23 on the list of best Chinese films put out by the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2005, portrays the troubled love stories of two Hong Kong police officers through a daily life view. It established the disjoined plot lines that became a trademark of Kar-wai’s artistic new wave style, and it even inspired Quentin Tarentino to make Pulp Fiction.
The Holiday Inn just down the street from the Chunking Mansions costs about $220 to $400 a night.
Hostel beds can be found for around $7 to $15 per night, and one of the cheapest locations for hostels is the Sincere House in Mongkok district. There are floors of hostels and guesthouses in the upper floors of another run-down “mansion.” One of the conveniences of guesthouse living in Hong Kong is that even if you don’t have a reservation, you can try multiple guesthouses in one building for vacancies, as they are often clumped together in the same place. But Hong Kong is such a crowded tourist destination that in peak season, it will be hard to find vacancies even in the Sincere House or Chunking Mansions without a reservation. Free wi-fi is provided to travelers in any of the guesthouses or hostels (though sometimes the signal can be poor).
Here is a price breakdown of what to expect:
- $10-$20: A bed in a dormitory with shared bathrooms.
- $20-$40: An independent guesthouse, often with shared bathrooms, sometimes with small personal bathrooms, and a fan and television set.
- $90-$200: A hotel room, including budget chain hotels, in a cleaner building than the guesthouses.
- $400-$800: Rooms in luxury style hotels.
- $1,500 and up: Suites at some of the most luxurious hotels in the world.
When I asked my Hong Kong friend, “What is typical Hong Kong food?” she couldn’t answer. Hong Kong is such an international city that is has a wide variety of food, and there is no one answer to the question what is Hong Kong food. Of course there is famous Hong Kong food like dim sum and fish from the surrounding ocean, but there is also food from many countries, Chinese-style Western food, and more.
- For budget travelers, the cha chaan tengs, or “tea and food halls,” are a cheap and satisfying option. These restaurants started to spring up during the 1960′s, as Hong Kongese incomes began to rise and locals became interested in Western-style food. They are kind of like Chinese diners, with a wide variety of food, including sandwiches, fried rice and noodles, curry, Chinese dishes, sometimes barbecue, and many kinds of drinks. Scrambled eggs and egg tarts are also extremely popular at cha chaan tengs.
- At the most popular cha chaan teng chain, Tsui Wah Restaurant, which has restaurants throughout the city, a single meal can cost between $5 for a sandwich and $15 for one of the curries. Other cha chaan tengs are cheaper. One cozy little cha chaan teng that is charming is Lan Ting in Mongkok district, with over 50 years of history.
- Sui mei barbecue restaurants are also a cheap option. They serve barbecued meats with rice.
- Fish is famous in Hong Kong, being that it’s on the sea, but fish restaurants can be quite expensive.
- As for bars, drinking in a fashionable district in Hong Kong is kind of expensive, with beer around $6 a bottle in some of the bars in the famous Lan Kwai Fong district, but bars in the Kowloon side are much more affordable. Around Prince Edward and the Mongkok area, beers will cost $3 or less per bottle, as well as at the karaoke clubs and theatres on Jordan Street in You Ma Tei. However, if you go into one of the theaters on Jordan Street, you will be heavily pressured to tip the singers, and those tips, at an expected 20 HKD or more per tip, can add up fast.
- Mongkok district: What once was the most densely populated area in the world is a sight to see. Walking down one of the many commercial streets or market streets, you will see what the Chinese were thinking when they thought of the idiom “people mountain, people sea.” Signs are sticking out from every available space on the sides of buildings, extending far over the road. Shanghai Street and Ladies’ Street are particularly crowded.
- Jordan Street night market: At night, this street comes alive with vendors and outdoor restaurants. Historically, aspiring Hong Kong musicians used to sing on this street, and one of them, Anita Mui, went on to amazing success, becoming known as “the Madonna of Asia.” Today, karaoke theaters are located on the northern portion of Jordan Street.
- Victoria Peak: Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island, offers a glorious view of the sprawling city’s skyscrapers extending as far as the eye can see.
- Lantau Island: The largest island in Hong Kong, Lantau Island is less developed than Hong Kong and has a network of hiking trails, Buddhist monasteries, and fishing towns. The Big Buddha at the Po Lim Monastery is the largest sitting Buddha in the world, and Tai O is a traditional fishing village.
- Plover Cove Country Park: You can hike through a nature reserve to access the beautiful and remote beaches at the north east coast of Hong Kong’s New Territory. You can stay overnight at guesthouses on the beach and visit surrounding areas.
Adding Hong Kong to your RTW trip
Below is an example of a multi-stop trip with Hong Kong in the itinerary. If you are planning a big trip and want to add Hong Kong, click on “Price this trip” below to get an immediate price. This trip not tickle your fancy? Then register for a free account on Indie to customize your trip. Get an immediate, bookable price.
For more on traveling to Hong Kong, check out the following articles and resources:
- Check out our Hong Kong Indie Travel Guide
- Learn how to add Hong Kong as a stopover on your trip
- Read about Hong Kong in Around the World in 80 Days