First and foremost, if it is completely up to you which days you are going to spend in HK, go for weekdays, as even public transport fees are much more expensive at the weekend, not to mention accommodations. So timing is key.
If there is one thing in HK that is unabashedly pricey, it is accommodation. Hotel and hostel rooms for 2 are very difficult to find under $45-50. We were absolutely ready to share a room with fellow travelers but in many hostels you can only book whole hostel rooms, so even if you only need 2 beds, you need to pay for 4. Don’t let them rip you off! Of course, you can find hostels online (hostelworld.com, booking.com) where you can pay for one bed (you should count with $22-25), just don’t give up searching for them!
Our hostel room for the first night, and I am so happy we booked this place only for 1 night was interesting: As the lack of space is a huge problem is Hong Kong (the area is too tight for 7 million people), you should really count with tiny rooms and narrow beds, but as you are most probably in the city all day, you only need some place for sleeping, right? Don’t waste your time at the accommodation, HK is too exciting for that! 😉
Finally we found a very cool hostel simply called Hong Kong Hostel in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island. This area is full of hostels and affordable (for HK standards) guesthouses and is really a good place to stay as it is close to the centre and to many tourist sights as well. If you find $ 22-25 still too much for a night, you can always look for a couch on www.couchsurfing.org. There are plenty of ads and couch offers but many of them are from people living far away from the actual city centre (on the so-called backyard of HK), or they live in tiny studio apartments where they can host maximum 1 person and not for long, which is completely understandable. But it is definitely worth a shot! We tried to find a host as well, and although many people got back to us, no one was able to host us at the moment.
My ultimate tip on saving money while getting around a place is walking. It is always a free and healthy option, but in this case not so functional considering the size (huge) and the structure (islands!) of HK. But luckily HK has a very well-organized public transport system; it gives you so many options to save money on if you use it smartly. The basic concept is: you can either reach your destination quickly and you pay a higher price OR you take it easy, choose the slower options and you pay much less. Fair enough.
As a budget traveler, unless you visit the city for business purposes, you mostly have more time than money, so it is worth choosing the cheaper options, which are buses, trams and ferry, and avoiding – whenever it is possible – the MTR (train system). The oldest (since 1904 ) and most fun way of getting around HK island (no trams on the rest of the islands) the old double-decker trams; and this is the cheapest option as well. For only HK $ 2,30 flat rate fee, you can travel with it as long as you want. You get on using the back door, get off in front and pay as you leave. (You don’t get back the change, so you’d better prepare with the exact amount.)
Buses are also much cheaper than trains and their routes cover the whole city. You pay as you get on (exact change required); depending on the distance and you can always see the amount you need to pay on a screen. You can even use a bus between Kowloon and HK islands as they are connected with an underwater tunnel. On routes a bit more outside of the city centre you can find lots of minibuses with only 16 seats. Using these small vehicles is a fun ad more local experience. Speaking or at least understanding a bit of Cantonese is not a disadvantage.
Although there other ways of hopping between the islands as well, taking the ferry at least once while in HK is a must. Between the two main islands – Hong Kong island and Kowloon – the ferry trip only takes like 8 minutes and costs less then a dollar, and for this money you have an amazing view on the skyline of both islands from the water. Believe me, your time and money are both well-spent. For longer trips you can choose between regular and fast ferries. Regular ferries are always inexpensive but slower; fast ferries are still relatively affordable.
MTR (Mass Transit Railway) is the most comfortable and efficient way of getting around the city. The trains are reliable, well connected (10 lines), fast, and they have Wi-Fi as well. The prices are much higher accordingly. Using the MTR is the fastest way to downtown from the airport, but not the only way. There are several buses operating between the airport and the city. You should only ask for information.
If you plan to stay in HK for a bit longer – 1 week or more – you should consider buying an Octopus card. Using this card, you don’t need to worry about having the exact amount of cash for tickets, you can even get some concession (depending on the type of your card) on fees and pay with it in convenience stores or cafes. Every local uses it for a good reason. The good thing in HK is that English is the second official language, which means lots of people (except for the majority of the older generations) speak good English and signs are generally provided in English as well.
Regarding food you have plenty of options in Hong Kong depending on the thickness of your wallet and your taste.
One thing that you will notice very quickly no matter what places you opt for: Chinese people eat lots of meat in all different – and odd – forms. Sometimes you see a sweet-looking piece of bakery goods, you already feel the creamy chocolate melting on your tongue and it turns out to contain pork meat or some internal organs. Dried meat, fish and all kinds of seafood are also popular; you can see them at every street market or grocery shop. The cheapest option to eat is street food. For 1-2€ you can get fishballs, octopusball, or fried pork testicles if you fancy 😉
For sweets you can mostly choose between waffles and egg cupcakes. Both are really delicious.
If you are bored with the street food or simply want to try something more sophisticated, you can find loads of little places (not as posh as a real restaurant but better than a buffet) where you can eat different noodle dishes and soups for as little as 3-5€, which is a very reasonable price for a decent dish, I reckon. Our favourite little restaurant was Dim Dim Sum which is one of 100 best places to eat in the world according to Trip Advisor. It is a small restaurant chain with 4 places in HK, and the food is really delicious. (Try their pineapple and mushroom buns! Super yummy!) Although they are very proud of this title, it is still very affordable. We had dinner for less than 8€. No wonder we went back twice 🙂
Of course there are plenty of expensive restaurants and I am sure it is a great experience to have a luxurious Chinese dinner, but it was not in our budget.
Supermarkets are generally expensive and as you can easily eat for a couple of euros in the city, cooking shouldn’t be an option. (Not that hostels in Hong Kong had a proper kitchen…)
Even if you are on a tight budget, sometimes you should treat yourself with a nice pair of Chinese chopsticks as souvenirs, trendy sunnies or a fake Jimmy Choo bag, right? No matter which one are longing for, you can find it on HK’s streetmarkets, and there are plenty of them. The most famous one is the Ladies’ Market and the Temple Street Market (they are within walking distance from each other both on Kowloon island) but there are lots of random street markets everywhere. If you don’t find the price cheap enough, bargain! The sellers will not get offended, just the opposite, they enjoy the game!
Now that you learned the basic money-saving tricks, you are ready to go and enjoy this amazing city without blowing your budget.
If you want to know what cultural experiences HK has to offer you for almost free, check out this article!
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