Hong Kong ended up being a big surprise for me. I spent 3 days in Hong Kong as a little stop on my (really long) way back home to Canada. I didn’t expect to like it; after spending so long in Southeast Asia I figured it would just be a big, modern, city. But, I was surprised by what I found and actually loved my short time in Hong Kong. Enough that I hope to go back one day. However, as much as I loved the food, sites, and attractions I didn’t love the price tag that came with this city. Hong Kong is expensive. But, as I found out, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are my top 5 tips for exploring Hong Kong on a budget.
Street Food and Small Food Vendors Are the Way to Go
Hong Kong has an incredible food scene and the best part is that a lot of the best things to eat are cheap or at least very affordable. As with many other places in Asia, I recommend you take advantage of the street food options (make sure to try egg waffles!). Also keep your eye on where the locals go. A lot of times these are tiny little vendors squished into the bottom of buildings and down alley ways. If you see a big line of locals- it’s a good sign. I found a Michelin-rated dumpling place thanks to doing this and it ended up being one of my favourite foodie spots. You can read more about that here.
It’s also worth trying Tim Ho Wan, the famous Michelin starred dim sum restaurant. It can be quite busy and crowded, but the food is good and very affordable considering. Make sure to get the pork buns- so good!
Use an Octopus Card
Hong Kong is too big to be able to just rely on your feet to get you around, but public transit is easy and affordable. You’ll need an octopus card to get around, but it works on the bus to/from the airport, the metro, and on the ferry to cross between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. You can also use it in many local shops such as convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and grocery stores which makes it even more handy. You can get a ‘bought’ octopus card which has a fun Hong Kong themed design acting like a souvenir, or an ‘on-load’ octopus card which you can return for a refund of 50 Hong Kong Dollars (though there may be a processing fee).
Haggle in the Markets
Hong Kong has lots of markets that are great both for exploring and shopping. If you do end up shopping here, make sure to haggle! Start really low, like 20-30% and work your way up from there until you settle on a price you are happy with. As a tourist, you will still pay more than the locals, but never pay asking price at a market in Hong Kong.
To ensure you get the best deal, you’ll also want to make sure you don’t look too ‘expensive’. Tuck away your fancy DSL-R camera, ditch the designer sunglasses, etc. If you look like you have money, you’ll get asked to pay more. Also, remember to only start haggling if you are actually interesting in buying the item. Bargaining and getting a low price then changing your mind is considered to be very rude.
Keep in mind haggling will only work in markets, don’t try to haggle in a mall or a proper shop. It won’t work!
For more tips on how to haggle in Asia, read this post.
Escape to Hong Kong’s Nature
Wandering Hong Kong’s streets is free but also comes with plenty of temptations in the form of food, cute boutiques, and all kinds of other things. Get away from the city and enjoy some of Hong Kong’s natural beauty without the lure of any price tags. From hiking trails to beaches, there are plenty of options in the area that are easy to get too, free, and offer some great photo ops. Favourite hikes include the Dragon’s Back Ridge, Lion’s Peak, Sunset Peak, and Lamma Island. If you’re more into beaches, then try Clearwater Bay, Ham Tim Wan, Golden Beach, or Big Wave Bay.
Book Accommodation Early for the Best Prices
Hong Kong is pricey, so it makes sense that accommodation is pricey too. Yes, even the hostels. I think I paid about $50 a night when I visited, however, a big part of that is because I left it until the last minute. So not only did I have limited options, but I also had to pay a premium price for leaving it so late. Lesson learned!
One of my top recommendations for those looking to experience Hong Kong on a budget is to book your accommodation in advance, whether it’s a hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. Personally, I book all my accommodation through booking.com because they often have ‘daily deals’ for destinations and promotional early bird type pricing discounts. Not to mention, most properties are refundable if your plans change- so when that’s the case, it really doesn’t hurt to book as early as possible. Plus, they offer a range of choices for a variety of budgets including hotels, hostels, and apartments.
You can take a look at Hong Kong hotel prices here.
Whatever you do, just don’t stay in Chungking Mansion. While it’s not quite as bad as it used to be, I still don’t recommend it. Especially for solo travellers (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, google it).
Hong Kong is a really fun city with plenty to see and do. Yes, it is one of the more expensive destinations in this part of the world, but that doesn’t mean you need to go broke to see it. Follow my tips above and you’ll be able to experience some of the best of Hong Kong on a budget.
Ps: looking for more ideas for your Hong Kong itinerary? Check out my 3 days in Hong Kong guide here.