Hong Kong Budget Travel Guide: How to Travel Hong Kong on the Cheap
Composed of three main islands, Hong Kong offers a myriad of sights and sensations to the adventurous traveler. The country is known to be generally expensive. As the second most expensive city in Asia, Hong Kong is not a typical backpacker stop.
So how do you travel to Hong Kong on the cheap?
Here’s a handy guide to planning your very own Hong Kong budget travel adventure.
1. Saving Money at the Airport — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Let’s start at the airport- after all, that’s how foreign tourists get into the country. Hong Kong International Airport, colloquially known as Chek Lap Kok Airport is one of the busiest and best airports in the world.
The colossal complex is home to an assortment of shops and restaurants, cushy lounges, a wellness spa, state-of-the-art IMAX Theater and an indoor sports center with a golf and aviation simulator. The whole place is impressive but its extra amenities can be costly.
Once you arrive at the airport, make sure to set yourself up for an Octopus Card. This is the Hong Kong equivalent of London’s Oyster Cards.
This contactless stored value card can be used on public transportation, vending machines, convenience stores, restaurants, cinemas, and theme parks. You can buy it at any metro station, including the one at the airport. Get yourself a Sold Tourist Octopus Card since it’s only HK$39 (cheaper than a regular card) and can easily be returned if you’re leaving Hong Kong.
Best of all, you can refund the remaining stored card value and keep the deactivated Octopus as a souvenir.
If you’re in a hurry, you could purchase a train ticket using your Octopus Card to Kowloon for HK$100. The Airport Express will get you there in just 24 minutes.
The train is the fastest route but it’s not the cheapest or the prettiest. I like to take the bus because it’s cheaper (only costs around HK$10–40) and drives through awesome sights like the Tsing Ma Bridge, the eleventh longest suspension bridge in the world. The only drawback to taking the airport bus is the long waiting time. Thankfully, this only happens occasionally and during peak seasons.
2. Transportation — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Hong Kong’s public transportation system is among the most extensive I have ever seen. As much as possible, I forgo cab rides and use my Octopus Card to ride trains and buses instead.
The Hong Kong subway uses a stage fare system, a fancy term that means the longer the journey the more you pay. Single-ticket, one-way fares cost anywhere from HK$3.50 to HK$55, depending on distance. Use your Octopus Card to get a discounted rate.
Don’t hesitate to ask for help from one of the many subway customer service centers. They’re very friendly to tourists and most of them speak English. They can help you figure out how to use and purchase a ticket from the ticket issuing machine. These service centers provide services like selling and reloading of Octopus Cards, replacing malfunctioning tickets, and providing change for passengers buying tickets from the issuing machines.
3. Hotel and Accommodation — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Kowloon has the greatest concentration of cheap accommodation in Hong Kong. Tsim Tsa Tsui and Central areas are full of guesthouses and hostels offering inexpensive rooms. I’ve been to Hong Kong numerous times and I often stay in Tsim Tsa Tsui area because the bustling district has a lot of attractions nearby and has a lively food scene.
If you Google cheapest hotel in Hong Kong, you’ll likely come across the notorious Chungking Mansions Tower. You should seriously stay away from here unless you’re desperately broke or looking to buy cocaine and smuggled Nepali gold.
The top budget hostels in Hong Kong as rated by travelers using TripAdvisor are Yessin Causeway Bay, Y Loft, Causeway Bay Inn, and Dragon Hostel. You can also browse Airbnb for more places to stay. There are a lot of cheap bunk rooms and dorm beds you can book for as low as HK$10 per night.
4. Dining Out — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Hong Kong is well-known for its street food- a budget traveler’s best food source. A myriad of wallet-friendly eats adorn these lively seven city streets- Graham Street (in Central), Fa Yuen Street (in Mong Kok), Temple Street (in Yai Mai Tei), Li King Street (Ap Lei Chau), Causeway Bay, Hapkong Street and Hau Fook Street (both in Tsim Tsa Tsui).
Some street foods to try in Hong Kong are egg tarts, curry fish balls, fried chestnuts, egg waffles, and sui mai (Chinese steamed dumplings). For more adventurous eaters, sample the squid or octopus tentacles and stinky tofu, the king of Hong Kong street food.
If you’re a picky eater or food neophobic, Hong Kong has a lot of western-style diners and fast food chains scattered around the bustling city. Of course, you can get inexpensive hamburger and fries at the nearby McDonalds but where’s the fun in that? The best part of traveling is trying new food.
The easiest way to find affordable restaurants is to browse OpenRice, the country’s most popular dining guide. It’s similar to Yelp but better because the website has a lot of dining and beverage discount coupons you can use.
5. Drinking — Hong Kong Budget Travel
If cheap beer is what you’re looking for, pack up your bags and leave now. You won’t find any of that in the second most expensive city in the world for beer drinkers.
Be prepared to shell out at least HK$47 or US$6 for a 330-milliliter bottle of beer. While Hong Kong bars are selling $10 beers, you’ll have better luck finding cheaper alcohol in 7-Eleven convenience stores.
7-Eleven is quickly becoming one of the most popular alternative pubs in the city. It’s common to see groups sitting in parks with a bag full of beer cans bought from the famous convenient store. Buying alcohol at 7-Eleven is fast, has no service tax, and most importantly it’s cheap.
Another way to save money on alcohol is to keep your eyes peeled for bars offering deals and happy hours. Sometimes you can find cocktail and happy-hour discount coupons on OpenRice.
6. Things to Do — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Are you up for a walking tour? Discover Hong Kong has a series of eleven free self-guided tours that are educational and easy to follow. HK Free Walk offers free walking tours in Tsim Tsa Tsui, Hong Kong Island, and even do a free night tour of Ya Mai Tei market.
The Hong Kong Free Tours provide unconventional city tours that showcase a side of Hong Kong that is often difficult to see as an outsider. They do a splendid job of teaching you about Hong Kong history (both the good and bad) and telling you the locals’ perspective on their home. Their free Hong Kong and Kowloon tours operate under a pay what you think system. Since a similar group tour would cost HK$100, I suggest you tip them the same amount.
You can visit one of the many museums in Hong Kong. Most museums charge a minimal fee (usually HK$10) but smaller museums are completely free. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong Science Museum, and Hong Kong Museum of Art are free on Wednesdays.
Shopping for souvenirs and gifts shouldn’t be expensive if you shop at the right place. Bargain shopping at Temple Street Night Market is thrilling and fun. This tourist shopping haven is filled with stalls selling imitation clothes, antiques, jade, electronics, trinkets, and much more. For the best bargains, you should avoid the stalls and shops fronting the street. Instead, go to the stalls and small shops at back where they sell the same or similar things and have fewer tourists browsing.
Ocean Park Hong Kong is one of the most visited theme parks in the world. This is a wonderful place to go to if you have kids. Buy your admission tickets beforehand to save time and avoid the long queue.
The park can get extremely crowded especially during weekends. Arrive early, ideally at 10 am when the park opens, to maximize the full day. You wouldn’t want to waste hours stuck in the queue for the Raging River ride so please for heaven’s sake, go there no later than 12 noon. The crowd numbers intensify after lunchtime.
Bring a thin raincoat if you’re going to ride Raging River or any ride with lots of water-splashing involved. Without it, your clothes will get wet and you might be tempted to buy a souvenir shirt to change into. Bring a raincoat so you won’t spend extra money buying an unnecessary and overpriced shirt.
Another theme park to visit is the ever-popular Hong Kong Disneyland. The tickets are more expensive than Ocean Park’s- you’re paying more to experience the “Disney Magic” after all.
One thing to remember: A lot of people have complained that Hong Kong Disneyland rides and attractions are milder in comparison to attractions in other Disney parks. Rumor has it that this was done intentionally by the Disney Corporation. It is said that the company conducted a business analysis study that revealed that the Chinese market doesn’t enjoy extreme adrenaline-pumping rides.
7. Places to See — Hong Kong Budget Travel
Did you know that Hong Kong’s top tourist destination is free? The Avenue of Stars, located at Tsim Tsa Tsui is the most visited attraction in Hong Kong. Their version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame is 400 meters long and honors celebrities of the Hong Kong film industry.
The Symphony of Lights show can be watched at the waterfront of Avenue of Stars each night at 8 pm. Dubbed by Guinness Book of Records as world’s largest permanent light and sound show, it’s a spectacle to watch the Hong Kong skyline come alive in a dazzling array of colored lights and laser beams dancing to synchronized music.
A great place to visit is the Tian Tan Buddha (aka Big Buddha) and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. The monastery is famous for erecting one of the biggest seated Buddha statues in the world. The scenery from the plateau is gorgeous and there’s a path leading up to the second highest peak if you want to do some hiking.
The best views of the city skyline and waterfront can be seen from Victoria Peak, the highest hill on Hong Kong island. The Peak is a major tourist destination attracting nearly seven million visitors per year! A ride on the famous Victoria Peak Tram is a must-do. Be prepared to shell out HK$84 for a single ticket or HK$99 for a return ticket. The only downside is there is almost always a long queue. Getting there early is just as important as the late morning and afternoon crowd can be very overwhelming.
Ready, Set, Go to Hong Kong!
Despite what other people will tell you, an excursion abroad doesn’t always have to blow your wad. Use my Hong Kong budget travel guide to experience Hong Kong on the cheap. The modern metropolis offers a lot of attractions, events, shopping and dining for budget travelers. Visit Hong Kong for an unforgettable Hong Kong budget travel adventure.