Backpacking in Hong Kong – Complete Guide
February 5, 2018
When we started booking our flights back to Australia we realized it wasn’t going to be easy. Our budget was tight and flights without a hundred layovers were expensive. So we thought to ourselves, “why not just extend our layover and go backpacking in Hong Kong!”
We had left Asia over 2 years ago and I was damn excited to go back. The busy streets, crazy food, and a huge culture shock is just what I needed. Unfortunately, after booking the flights in a hurry and without much research into the cost of backpacking in Hong Kong, we realized that it was going to be challenging keeping our budget on track!
You see, unlike Hong Kong’s neighbors to the south, the city is rather expensive. We found many challenges during our 6 day stay. However, in the end we remained on budget and had a spectacular time! So much so, that I’m more inspired than ever to write a “Backpacking in Hong Kong Guide” to help everyone remain on budget and not miss this exciting place! It is, without a doubt, possible to experience the culture, food, and sites of Hong Kong on a budget.
Getting from Hong Kong Airport to the City
The airport in Hong Kong is not conveniently located close to Hong Kong Island or Kowloon (most tourists stay in these areas) and taxis aren’t cheap. The cheapest option by far is to get a bus!
The buses in Hong Kong far exceed the standards of any buses I have seen in other countries. They are clean, have racks for your bags, air conditioning, leather seats, and appear to be brand new.
Take The Bus
To catch any of the buses mentioned below simply follow the signs in the airport to the bus terminal outside. This is very easy as everything in Hong Kong is clearly marked in English. Once outside it is necessary to either have the correct fair (bus drivers don’t give change), purchase a ticket from the ticket booth, or get an Octopus card.
To purchase a ticket just turn left once you reach the big bus timetable sign once you leave the airport. The counters will be behind you to the left and if you still don’t find it, ask someone! Almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks a little bit of English and they always seem willing to help.
Instead, if you would like to use an Octopus card you will need to visit the train station at the airport and head to the information counter. There you can obtain an Octopus card. The cost is a HK$50 refundable deposit and a minimum load of HK$100. The Octopus card is used on buses and trains. If you plan to use public transport a lot these cards area necessary.
*Please note you can get an Octopus card at any station and the bus is the same price with or without the card (unlike the metro) so saving the hassle of going to the metro and just buying a ticket or paying in cash is a great option.
Hong Kong Island (HK$40)
If you’re heading to the touristy areas of Hong Kong Island taking the A11 is the best option. This bus passes through Lantau Link, Western Harbour Crossing, Sheung Wan, Central, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Admiralty, Fortress Hill and The North Point Ferry Pier.
The bus leaves the Airport every 20 to 25 minutes between 6am to 12am and returns every 15 to 30 minutes between 5am and 10:30pm
If you’re staying in Kowloon then getting to your accommodation is easy. The A21 bus passes along Nathan road (this road runs right down the middle of Kowloon.) The bus stops in Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan, and Tsim Sha Tsui.
The buses leave the Airport every 10 to 20 minutes between 6am to midnight and return every 10 to 20 minutes between 5:30m to 11pm.
If you need more information on the bus routes visit www.hongkong.net/transportation/to-from-airport/bus
Getting Around Hong Kong
The metro (MTR) is by far the cheapest way to get around. If you’re backpacking in Hong Kong on a budget, the metro will be a life saver. I found Hong Kong’s metro really easy to use. The trains are clean, everything is clearly marked in English and the staff or other passengers were always willing to help! The metro in Hong Kong was the total opposite to what I expected and were rarely overcrowded.
To catch the metro though, you will need an Octopus card (as mentioned above). When I first arrived in Hong Kong I got a card with the minimum HK$100 on it and it lasted me the whole time I was there – and I caught the metro a lot!
Oh. and don’t worry if you have money left on the card as it is all refundable along with the HK$50 deposit at the counter you bought them from at the stations. The only fee you pay is a service fee of HK$9 for the refund.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong
While backpacking in Hong Kong I stayed in the area of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. This area is best for backpackers in Hong Kong on a budget. The area around Kowloon is filled with beautiful parks, cheap markets, and friendly locals. This area is more of a local area and a place for the working class. The authentic experience I got in this area was everything I wanted from Hong Kong.
My accommodation was in the “Chungking Mansion.” Staying in a “mansion” is the perfect way to experience how everyday people live in Hong Kong. There are many mansions, all very similar and these are the cheapest places to stay in Hong Kong (just don’t expect a large room!)
Booking rooms at these “mansions” can be done online or in person just by showing up. In person is a great way to get a cheaper room, however, be aware that during the weekends this area books up as visitors from mainland China come for the weekend.
Our room at the Chungking Mansion cost us US$30 per night for two people and came with a private bathroom. Our place was small (9m square) but clean, comfortable and quiet (the Mansions can be noisy!). The place was called Skylark Hotel and can be found on booking.com here!
*The mansions are simply apartment blocks that on a single level can include up to 5 hostels or guest houses.
Hong Kong Island
A lot of people also choose to stay on Hong Kong Island, however after spending a few days there I really found it less appealing than Kowloon. I found Hong Kong Island to be filled with office workers, parks without the same charm, and had more of a concrete jungle feel which felt less inviting. Also, being on the island, what you get for your money will be less as this area is very expensive to live!
I heard about staying in this area after I left Hong Kong from another backpacker. This area is advertised as being close to the airport and good for anyone on a short layover. What I found out in the end is that this area is actually harder to get to. All buses to this area cease at 6pm meaning that an expensive taxi is needed! Although the hostels are on the same island as the airport, another backpacker told me it takes longer to get there than Kowloon or Hong Kong Island!
What to do When Backpacking in Hong Kong
As far as prices go, Hong Kong is expensive. This means that deciding what you spend your money on is important (even more so if you’re backpacking in Hong Kong.) To be completely honest with you, I found the cheapest/free activities to be some of the best in Hong Kong and without a doubt you can experience the culture, food, and sites on a budget.
Hike or Take the Tram to Victoria Peak
This is by far the most popular thing to do in Hong Kong. Victoria Peak sits over 400m above the city and the views are amazing! Getting to Victoria Peak can be done via the century-old sky tram for HK$90 or by hiking. If you do decide to hike it will still cost you HK$45 to enter the Sky Terrace however there are trails that lead to other free lookouts.
Watch the World’s Largest Light Show
From the Kowloon foreshore you can stare out at Hong Kong Island and watch the world famous light show. Unfortunately for us, due to the extra smog created from mainland China in preparation for Chinese New Year, we didn’t get much of a show the night we went. However I still recommend checking it out as it is free! Even when the light show isn’t on the views of Hong Kong Island are still well worth checking out in the evening!
Visit the Ladies Market
The iconic Ladies Market is known as the best place to pick up some cheap souvenirs. This market is filled with stalls that sell everything from electronics to clothes! All prices at this market are negotiable and you best bring you best bartering skills because the ladies that run the shops are fierce! Overall, it’s a memorable experience and makes for a fun time. The ladies didn’t take low-ball prices to heart and I left every stall laughing over the craziness!
Take a food Tour
This is by far the most expensive thing to do on our list, however if you do have the spare HK$700, this tour is well worth it! Our tour with Eating Adventures Hong Kong took us through the local area of Mong Kok. We visited the live fish market, tried roasted goose, traditional Tofu, fish balls, amazing Dim Sums, egg tarts, snake soup and a much more. If you can afford one tour in Hong Kong, in my opinion, this should be it!
Eat Dim Sums
Of course if the food tour is out of your budget you still shouldn’t leave Hong Kong without trying a few different Dim Sums! There were many restaurants around the city however we found one that is worth a mention! “Canton’s Dim Sum Expert” is located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui and serves an amazing variety of Dim Sums at good prices. You can find their location on the app called Maps.Me.
Hike The Dragon’s Back Trail
This famous hike located only 30 minutes outside of the city is a great way to explore Hong Kong’s coastline. To my surprise, the place was beautiful! Clean beaches, pristine walking trails, and breathtaking views were just some of the highlights! This hike can be done with a tour or on your own.
Visit the Nan Lian Garden
Out of all the parks and gardens we went to the Nan Lian Garden was my favorite. This beautiful park is really fantastic. With waterfalls, traditional buildings, colorful flowers, and a Buddhist temple this is the best free activity while backpacking in Hong Kong!
Check out the amazing parks
Believe it or not, the city of Hong Kong is filled with beautiful parks, one of my favorite being Kowloon Park. This park is rather big and has many different areas to relax and unwind. It also includes an Aviary, pond filled with turtles, wetland area with flamingos, and a lake with a swan! I spent a few mornings here after breakfast and found it really relaxing. Seeing all of the older generations out and about doing Tai Chi was also fun to see! Visiting Parks while backpacking in Hong Kong is a great way to see the city for free!
Check Out the Temple Street Night Market
Although very similar to the Ladies Market, this is still an interesting area to enjoy Hong Kong’s buzzing nightlife! The market springs to life at 7pm and continues until midnight every night. With that comes a great atmosphere and place to have dinner with a few drinks – all while shopping! This area is well-known for seafood restaurants that spill out onto the street putting you right in the mix of things!
Try Roasted Goose
Once I tried roasted goose I couldn’t get enough! This dish is a real treat for locals and isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s totally worth it! If you’re after a good restaurant head to Mong Kok station, this area is where most of the goose restaurants are! Just look for the goose hanging in the window. A serving of Goose with rice costs around HK$50. Make sure you try the sweet apricot sauce they have with the Goose!
Budget Saving Tips
Drink Yanjing Beer from Circle K – If you’re after a cheap beer while backpacking in Hong Kong then head to the Circle K (convenience store). Here you can get two Yanjing Beers for only HK$10 and it’s actually a nice beer!
Use the Metro (with the Octopus card) – I didn’t take a cab once in Hong Kong and with the great metro you really don’t need too! Using the Octopus card is essential to save even more money with fares much cheaper with the card
Look for meal deals – In the mornings and late afternoons many restaurants offer budget deals that include a starter, main, and a drink usually at the price of one normal meal. Eating during these slow times saved us lots of money!
The decision to stop over in Honk Kong for 6 days ended up being unforgettable trip on its own. Although there is a lot of taboo around Hong Kong’s high prices, it is still easy to visit on a budget of around US$35 – US$40 per day. I hope our guide to Backpacking in Hong Kong has helped inspire or plan your trip to this wonderful place!
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