For us Hong Kong was high on our bucket list for years after growing up with stories from my parents of their first travels to Asia and their experiences there in particular. It always seemed like a world away and yet also so familiar. After spending a month travelling around mainland China we had our perfect opportunity to finally go backpacking in Hong Kong. We found a metropolis like no other, a web of cultures brought together in the mesmerising tangle of urban development. It truly was everything we hoped and dreamt it would be and for Brits having just explored China, a strange mix of Chinese and British culture that provided us with a sort of reverse culture shock! It really is a very accessible and easy introduction to travelling around China but unfortunately unlike the mainland it can be very expensive!
Backpacking in Hong Kong can be tricky compared to other areas of Asia but with some planning its quite easy to do a Hong Kong budget trip! Here’s our Backpackers guide to Hong Kong!
Backpacking in Hong Kong: Our Experience
For us visiting Hong Kong for the first time was a strange experience, made even more surreal after 4 weeks travelling around mainland China. I imagine if we had just come straight from Europe it might have been different, but as always our prior experiences filter our perspectives on a new place. In many ways our travels around Eastern Europe felt similar, how could anywhere really feel that wild after going to Russia first! The same it transpires happens with East Asia if you start with China! I mean this in every possible interpretations of the word, both good and bad, but China really is crazy and in some ways Hong Kong actually felt pretty tame in comparison, but in a good way!
What do I mean? Well, what instantly struck us was how western it felt, how accessible and how easy. No language barrier, people queing by choice (The Chinese are NOT queuers which to two Brits was hard to adjust to!!), no spitting, it all just felt, for lack of a better word, civilised! But we absolutely loved it, it felt a bit like an Asian version of New York. Familiar, easy access but gritty and full of culture without too much of a shock. China had been a whirlwind ride of ups and downs, it’s a country of extremes for sure and Hong Kong just seemed to take most of the good without too much of the bad and somehow bring them together.
But overall we had a blast in Hong Kong, it was such a fascinating place to see the merging of two cultures especially having just been to China and being from Britain. Seeing what parts of each culture has been retained or repurposed, it really was very interested. We also love cities too and even more we love cities that offer such a diverse range of things to do like Hong Kong, it was incredible to see the build up areas of the city with their super modern skyscrapers whilst at ground level there are still tiny little shop houses and temples. We were also taken aback by the amount of hiking and beaches in the Territory too!
We also enjoyed having some top quality western food after being in China for a month too and unashamedly will admit to raiding Marks & Spencers almost as soon as we arrived! You don’t realise how much cheese and unsweetened bread means to you until you travel around Asia! But it was a fun challenge to go backpacking in Hong Kong and honestly if it wasn’t for the expensive and often awful accommodation at backpacker prices it ended up being one of our all time favourite places!
Backpacking in Hong Kong: Transport:
How To Get To Hong Kong
Hong Kong Airport is one of the world major transport hubs and as such there are heaps of different airlines flying to pretty much all corners of the world from here. This also makes it a great budget destination too as plenty of competition drives prices down. It also means its an ideal layover destination too.
Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia are all well covered which is why it it such a popular layover or transit destination so wherever you’re travelling to or from it should be easy and reasonably priced. Cathay Pacific are also based here too so ideal if you are coming to backpack in Hong Kong and beyond.
Hong Kong is of course connected to mainland China so travelling into the territory overland is very possible, in fact the first time we visited we arrived on the train from China on a clean, fast and reliable service. It is also possible to travel over the border on land too.
Border crossing at the train station are relatively fast getting into Hong Kong from China. If you’re Backpacking Hong Kong you might end up leaving or entering this was as it a great way to carry on your trip! Just remember your Chinese Visa.
Shenzen is the closest Chinese City to Hong Kong and is itself well connected with the rest of the country. Trains from here take around 30 minutes and cost in the region of HK$109 (£10.90 / $14.05)
Hong Kong Train Station is well connected to not only Shenzen but to China too so it’s a great starting point for overland travel into and around mainland China which also has a really great rail network.
It is possible to travel to Beijing in 9 hours and Shanghai in 8.5 hours on the fast trains. Bear in mind the size of the country, we once did an overnight train in China that took 27 hours in the hard sleep compartment!
High speed trains connect Hong Kong to: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Fuzhou, Guilin, Guiyang, Hangzhou, Xianmen and Kunming. These run from West Kowloon Railway Station
Slower intercity trains connect Hong Kong to Guangzhou (2 hrs), Beijing (24 hrs), Shanghai (19 hrs) and Dongguan (70 mins)
There are many different private bus companies running between Hong Kong and China but many of them are spread all around the city leaving in quite random locations.
They will of course be cheaper but given the low cost of the train they are quite a bit more inconvenient especially if you are wanting to travel much further than Shenzen. But they are the cheapest form of transport which is why they’re in our Backpackers guide to Hong Kong.
Travelling To And From Macau
As you might imagine it is quite easy to get to and from Macau from Hong Kong. As always there are a few different transport methods with helicopters even being available to rent, though they’re not all that budget friendly!! If you’re Backpacking Hong Kong then it’s great to combine it with a trip to Macau.
The two we recommend are:
This takes around 1 hour and a one way fare is around HK$170 – HK$210 (£17.00 / $21.95 – £21.00/ $27.10)
The three terminals are:
Hong Kong MACAU Ferry Terminal along Connaught Road Central, Sheung Wan area in Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong CHINA Ferry Terminal along Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
Sky Pier at Hong Kong International Airport. Exclusive to tourists only.
Over the new Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge there is now a 40 minute bus connection. Prices are between HK$65 and HK$70 depending on the time of day.
Catch the bus at Prince Edward in Mong Kok or Kowloon Elements in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Backpacking in Hong Kong: How To Get Around Hong Kong
Getting From The Airport To The City
The best way to get from the Airport to the City is on the MTR Airport Express which you can buy online before you travel
Hong Kong Island HK$115 (£11.50 / $14.84) / Kowloon HK$105 (£10.50 / $13.55)
You can also instead by the Airport Express Travel Pass which allows either 1 or 2 rides to/from the airport plus 3 days of unlimited travel on the MTR/ Light railway and buses
These cost HK$250 (£25.00 / $32.26) 1 Ride / HK$350 (£35.00 / $45.15) 2 Rides
Find out more here: www.mtr.com.hk
Hong Kong Subway/ MTR
The Hong Kong subway or MTR is the ideal way to get around the city and covers most parts of the city including the airport as well as over into mainland China. There are 10 lines and it also connects to the light railway services too.
Getting an Octopus card, which is like an Oyster card in London, is great for tapping on and off and fares are slightly reduced.
However the Tourist Day Pass is a great option as it allows for unlimited travel on the MTR, Light Rail and MTR Bus for 24 hours (excluding airport), so great for a Hong Kong budget trip.
The price is HK$65 (Adult) / HK$30 (Child)
Find more info here: www.mtr.com.hk
The tramways opened in 1904 and operate a limited service on the north of Hong Kong Island. Taking one of these double decker trams isn’t just to get from A to B but for the experience too.
There are 6 routes and fares are very reasonable. You can pay using an Octopus card or in cash. The routes run pretty much along the coast of Hong Kong island. You can see the routes here: www.hktramways.com/en/interactive-map
Buses are a popular mode of transport for locals and cover all major areas apart from the outlying islands. The buses cover a much larger area than the MTR especially further outside of the main built up areas.
Most buses use the Octopus system as well as cash however there are 5 different companies which all have different fares and are not covered on tourist passes unless they are MTR buses.
Other green and red top mini buses are available across the islands, usually in more remote locations. There are easier to use if you are familiar with the territory but the drivers are usually more than willing to help.
See More Info on Buses Here: www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/hongkong/transportation/town-bus
There are many islands that make up Hong Kong so the ferries are another popular way to get around.
The most popular trip is the short hop on the star ferry across from Kowloon to Hong Kong island and we’ve included it in our guide for things to do below. It costs between HK$2.20 (£0.22 / $0.28) – HK$3.70 (£0.37 / $0.48)
The options don’t end there through and there are many different ferries for the more outlying islands which is a convenient and relaxing way to travel.
Find out more info on the ferries in Hong Kong here: www.hongkong.net/transportation/ferry
We don’t recommend using the HK taxies as they are super expensive and as a backpacker out of budget.
Uber operates in Hong Kong and they also offer ride shares too to bring the cost down even more. Though we still think public transport is a much better option.
Where To Stay In Hong Kong On A Budget
The biggest obstacle to saving money and Backpacking in Hong Kong on a tight budget is the cost of accommodation. There isn’t a whole lot you can do to save money here besides staying in Chungking Mansion (which isn’t recommended!) or getting lucky with some couchsurfing. However, we’ve picked out some of the best accommodation for the money below:
Best Bargain Backpacker Hostel: The Mahjong
Located right in the heart of Kowloon this fresh, modern and surprisingly spacious hostel has a fun Mahjong theme and offers some amazing pod style beds and proper safe style lockers. For the price here the standard is high considering the facilities including a kitchenette and terrace. It is also ideally located for public transport. If you’re coming to Hong Kong on a budget thien this is a great hostel for the price.
Best Mid Range Hostel: Wontonmeen
A smart, modern, clean and well located hostel that offers great dorms with curtains for privacy as well as awesome private rooms at an affordable rate. There’s table tennis, darts and a fully functional kitchen for guests to use too as well as a lounge, terrace and business centre. This is our top rated hostel in Hong Kong for backpackers and other budget travellers.
Best Budget Hotel: The BEACON
A modern high rise hotel in the heart of Hong Kong offering incredibly priced en-suite rooms with awesome views. There are tea and coffee making facilities in each room, flat screen TVs and even a fitness centre. if you’re looking to spend a little more and get a good quality budget hotel with good transport links then you can’t go wrong with The BEACON.
Cheap Beach Resort: Royal View Hotel
Wanting to stay outside of the city and by the beach on a budget? The Royal View Hotel offers a beach front property without breaking the bank. It offers an outdoor pool, spa and spacious rooms as well as a fitness centre and restaurant.
Search For Other Accommodation Options Here:
Taking Tours In Hong Kong
If you only have a limited amount of time in Hong Kong you might want to look into taking some tours including the hop on hop off bus. Usually we prefer to do things independently but when pushed for time tours can be a great way to fit in quite a few things and if you get a good tour also get some great information about where you’re visiting too.
We recommend doing some walking tours with locals to get to see the real Hong Kong!
Backpacking Hong Kong: Our List of Budget Things To Do In HK:
Victoria Peak (Tram or Hike)
One of the most famous landmarks in Hong Kong is Victoria Peak, it’s one of the most accessible of the Hong Kong mountains (yes, HK has lots of incredible mountains too). A trip to Hong Kong without going up there isn’t really a trip to Hong Kong is it!! Whilst many popular attractions might seem overrated, the Victoria Peak isn’t one of them.
Taking the steep funicular that has clung to the peak for 130 years is a wonderful step back in time to Victorian Era Hong Kong, the colonial influence of industry and leisure. To imagine the generations of people who have taken this very trip and how the view from the top has changed and evolved over the years is almost as awe inspiring as the view itself.
Reaching the top there is the option to pay more to enter the “official” viewing platforms, but we didn’t feel the need to do so as we were backpacking in Hong Kong so on a budget. But the views from the walkways are just as incredible and a lot less crowded. Once up here there are several paths to take to different views including some beautiful gardens.
Be sure to visit during the day and at night to see the different sides to the incredible view, it’s an ideal thing to do in Hong Kong on a budget.
The Tram is HK$52 return (£5.20 / $6.70)
It is also possible to hike up here for FREE
Take in the skyline/ Victoria Harbour/ TSS
Taking in the city from the vantage point of Victoria Harbour is also one of the most popular things to do in Hong Kong and luckily for us, its free! The Tsim Sha Tsui promenade which runs along the famous harbour offers unrivalled views across the water to the towering skyline of Hong Kong island and at night it really does come alive.
The free ‘Symphony of Light’ show every evening is a real crowd pleaser drawing in the cities visitors as lights and lasers shower the skyline in a rainbow of colours and patterns. It’s a must do when backpacking in Hong Kong.
This view is impossible not to be enchanted by if you’re city people like us, the sight is almost surreal. With red sailed junk boats gently bobbing in the harbour in the foreground whilst the ferry buzzed to and fro, it encapsulates what Hong Kong is today, a tapestry of culture, history and people that has somehow come together to create one of the worlds greatest cities.
Another interesting feature is how each skyscraper one by one bids “Good Night Hong Kong” as the lights are turned off to save energy at 11pm!
Take The Star Ferry From Kowloon To Hong Kong Island
Yet another must do when you visit Hong Kong, the Star Ferry is an institution here that has been running since 1888 just like the Peak Tram. Carrying passengers over Victoria Harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong island it is one of the most inexpensive ways to make the crossing. But more than that it offers a perfect way to mingle with the locals as well as taking in the twin skylines from sea level.
What we also love is how cheap it is to do too for such a stunning view. The only thing we could compare it to is the wonderful Manly Ferry in Sydney. Once again Hong Kong here comes up with the ultimate way to combine history with the modern. Being so cheap it’s a definitely one of the best things to do when backpacking in Hong Kong.
Mon – Fri
Upper Deck: HK$2.70 (£0.27 / $0.35) | Lower Deck HK$2.20 (£0.22 / $0.28)
Sat – Sun
Upper Deck: HK$3.70 (£0.37 / $0.48) | Lower Deck HK$3.10 (£0.31 / $0.40)
Concessions available for children and passengers with disabilities, over 65’s travel for free
Explore The Markets:
Hong Kong has some incredible, chaotic and wild markets for anyone and everyone! One of the most fun things to do whilst backpacking in Hong Kong is to hunt our a bargain on the markets. Many of the unassuming side streets of the city come alive with noise, colours, smells and crowds in the evening, here you can barter hard for pretty much any item you could ever think of, looking for electronics, knock off clothing, souvenirs, unique art or even just to sample some of the famous Hong Kong food on a budget… you’ll find it all on the markets!
Even if you’re not in the market to buy anything, the experience of wandering the wild and wacky stalls, perusing the kaleidoscope of goods on offer is entertainment in its own right and an experience you just have to have whilst in HK!
The Ladies Market, Temple Street Night Market, and the Stanley Market are the best for soaking in the atmosphere busy vibes, sights, and sounds of The Hong Kong market. It’s a must do on any Backpackers guide to Hong Kong given the experience and prices!
Free to explore, very cheap to buy!
Hong Kong Island Tram Trip
The Hong Kong double decker trams are an icon of the city in the same way the red buses of London are. A long ride winding through the heart of the busy city streets is a perfect way to get a unique perspective on Hong Kong. They offer a perfect perch from which to navigate Hong Kong island from Whitty Street all the way to Causeway Bay right through the heart of central.
You can get in and amongst the hustle and bustle of the city from the comfort of the top deck. Like many Hong Kong experiences it allows you to combine tradition with the ever expanding modern city all whilst rubbing shoulders with the locals. It’s a great budget thing to do if you’re going to backpack in Hong Kong.
An Adult Fare is HK$2.60 (£0.26 / $0.34)
Go Hiking Along The Dragon’s Back Ridge
Hong Kong might be famous for its imposing skyline, the flashing lights, beeping horns, bustling crowds and chaotic alleyways that make up the areas around Victoria Harbour. But there is another side to the region too, many people just think of Hong Kong as the city but much of the territory is made up of a mountainous rural landscape. This area is the perfect place to head to to escape the chaos of the city and get out into nature, it’s the perfect antidote to Kowloon!
There are many hikes possible to take around the territory, especially on some of the more remote islands. However one of the most accessible and spectacular is the Dragon’s Back Ridge. This 4 hour hike traverses the top of several peaks leading from a residential area across a high remote ridge that ends right on one of the territories best beaches. Despite the dramatic height you find yourself on above the ocean below, the hike itself is relatively easy after the first initial steep section.
How To Take The Hike:
Take the ferry over to Hong Kong Island
From MTR Shau Kei Wan Station Exit A, walk to the Shau Kei Wan Bus Terminus.
Take bus 9 or the red minibus with the sign “Shek O” to the To Tei Wan stop on Shek O Road.
Take the red minibus with the sign “Shau Kei Wan” or a taxi from Big Wave Bay back to Shau Kei Wan.
The Hike is FREE.
The only cost is the transportation each way which is very reasonably priced.
READ MORE: See Our Guide To Hiking Dragon’s Back Here
Hang Out At The Beach and Go Surfing
As we mentioned above, there are beaches all over the territory which might come as a surprise to many visitors to Hong Kong. It can feel quite surreal sitting on a beach knowing you’re still in Hong Kong but with many islands, inlets and bays there are numerous opportunities to chill out and laze away on a beach as a remedy for the thronging city centre. This is the chilled out Hong Kong for backpackers!
We visited the beach of Big Wave Bay which has a unique and charming surfer vibe and of course great breaks. Who ever thought you’d be surfing in Hong Kong, not the first thing that comes to mind! Visiting the many beaches has got to be one of the best things to do in Hong Kong on a budget. Other great escapes are Repulse Bay and Stanley Village, they feel a world away from the metropolis.
FREE other than transport
Visit The Temples Including Man Mo
The religious side of Hong Kong might not immediately strike you with its rampant consumerism and never ending stream of worn out workers. But Buddhism here is an important part of live and has been for generations.
The Man Mo temple in particular predates everything around it and goes back to a time before colonial Hong Kong. Offering a slice of tranquility right in a the sea of modernity the intoxicating scent of burning incense drifts dreamily within its walls.
Other incredible temples to explore are the Miu Fat Buddhist Monastery, Lo Pan Temple, Wong Sha Tin Che Kung Temple as well as the Big Buddha on Lantau Island that is quite the sight to see.
The temples are FREE. The only cost is transport
Tips For Backpacking Hong Kong: Budget Advice:
Hong Kong is expensive on two fronts: Accommodation and Food but thankfully it’s cheap to do most activities, public transport is good and food at least is something we can work on!
Eat Street Food and At The Markets
One of the best places to get budget eats in Hong Kong is the street food vendors and markets. Though good quality cheap food can be found all over the city some of the most popular ones are Kowloon Market and Sham Shui Po. Don’t forget to try some Dim Sum and also check out the many buffets.
Don’t Stay On Hong Kong Island
Kowloon might have a bit of a reputation but if you want to look for cheaper accommodation that is still right in the heart of the city then you should avoid Hong Kong Island.
If you want a REALLY cheap and “interesting” experience then you could always stay at Chungking Mansion! Ok, this places comes with a reputation and you’ll be living in less than ideal conditions alongside 4000 others, but it’s a true local HK experience! Couchsurfing is also popular in Hong Kong too and comes with the added bonus of a cultural exchange too. If you do your research there are some decent cheap hostels in Hong Kong for backpackers.
Get a transit day pass as individual journeys can mount up even if they seem initially cheap especially if you are taking longer journeys. If you’re going to backpack in Hong Kong then it’s a good idea.
Avoid using taxis at all costs, they might look cool but they are extortionate! Instead you could use Uber which is popular and even better there are carpool options to rideshare to bring the cost down even more.
Get an octopus card. They are very similar to the Oyster Cards in London or Myki in Melbourne. A prepaid card that allows contactless payment across pretty much all forms of public transport in Hong Kong. It makes it much easier than messing around with coins or exact change. You can also use it in some convenience store, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions too.
See Our Other Backpacking Guides Here:
READ MORE: See Our Guide To The Common Scams In China
READ MORE: See Our Guide To The Leshan Buddha in China
READ MORE: See Our Guide To Guilin and Yangshuo, China
READ MORE: See Our Guide To The Visiting Beijing
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