I would leave out the “Sufferin’” because anything containing “Hong Kong” and “On the Cheap” in one phrase is such a ludicrous combination that it wouldn’t deserve the dignity of those extra syllables.
Hong Kong is not cheap, I’d scoff silently instead. Everybody knows that. Even make-believe, personified cats.
These presentiments hardly bode well for a budget-traveling couple whose collective salary has been seriously compromised since spawning the bright idea of leaving our grown up jobs and working around the world. But that’s another story. This story is how to have a fun, spontaneous and really affordable day in Hong Kong!
So without further ado, here’s how we did it:
1. Plan (a little) Ahead. Fine, so it might kill the spontaneity, but it definitely helps to schedule your stopover during the week when hotels tend to charge less. And as for saving on transportation? Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (“MTR”) system offers a variety of options, but the most popular way to save is by buying an Octopus Card upon arrival, which provides discounted fares on most transportation and saves all the hassle of carrying exact change.
2. Surf Websites. Many budget travelers assume hotels are out of their range and head straight for the backpackers, but we were blown away by the deal we found by giving price-guaranteed websites like Orbitz a chance. A little internet sleuthing a day before arrival produced a 4-star hotel located in the Western-Central area of Hong Kong Island, right by a trolley stop, for less than 60 USD a night. Sold!
3. Skip the Meals … at fancy restaurants, of course. Eating is half the fun in Hong Kong! Food stalls are everywhere, and that is no exaggeration. On Hong Kong Island, look for buildings and malls with signs like “cooked food market” or “food stalls.” We had an amazing lunch with hot tea, soup, rice, three different dishes each (vegetables and/or meat) and iced coffee, all for around 5 USD per person!
4. Hop on a Tram. Tour packages can be pricey – not to mention a potential drain on one’s time and good temper. But for the commitment-wary, Hong Kong’s famous trams are an amazing deal any way you slice it. The flat rate of 2.30 HKD per journey allows you to rattle through most of north Hong Kong Island and the convenient destination indicator at the front of each tram makes it easy to know which one to choose.
5. Hoof it with a Self-Guided Walking Tour. Whatever catches your fancy, Hong Kong Walks (available online and at most hotels) has got you covered. Combining a tram ride with a walking tour, we paid visits to Victoria Park (featured here), Tin Hau Temple, the Old Supreme Court Building, St. John’s Cathedral, Victoria Peak, Duddell Street Gas Lamps and the world’s longest enclosed escalator – the Central to Mid-Levels Escalator – all in a leisurely few hours.
6. Browse One-of-a-Kind Specialty Shops. Sure, Hong Kong offers pretty much every luxury brand conceivable to mankind, but it is the specialty shops that really make Hong Kong such a world-class shopping destination. Looking for a vintage snuff bottle? Hankering for some moon cakes? Jade? Dried snake skins? No? What about a pet lizard? From antique curious to edible unmentionables, herbal medicine and kung fu shoes, Hong Kong has a shop – and probably a whole street – devoted to that obscure item you may not be able to find anywhere else in the world.
7. Climb (or Trolley) up to Victoria Peak. For 40 HKD per person, you can climb up and return from “The Peak” in Asia’s first cable railway! The Victoria Peak Tram first rattled up Hong Kong’s highest mountain in 1888 and continues its service today, albeit in an updated, electric-powered version. Departing every ten to fifteen minutes and operating from seven in the morning to midnight, this is an affordable, fun experience easily slipped into even the busiest one-day-stopover.
8. Visit a Temple. Hong Kong is flush with Buddhist monasteries and Taoist temples, imbued with atmosphere and incense, just waiting to be visited. We chose pretty, petite Tin Hau Temple, located near the Mass Transit Railway (“MTR”) stop sharing the same name. Entrance is free and the cool, calm interior offers a respite from the muggy bustle outside, not to mention providing insight into the rich history and culture of Hong Kong.
9. Wind it Down at Temple Street Market. Sundries ranging from disco shoes to radiation-deflecting phone receivers (that’s right), the Temple Street Night Market is an entertaining way to spend a couple hours. Getting there is quick, cheap and easy: from Hong Kong Island Central Station take the MTR Tsuen Wan Line across Victoria Harbour to Jordan Station, then walk west four blocks. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the plethora of outdoor food stalls beckon with rock-bottom prices on victuals like roast duck, spicy seafood, vegetarian hot-pots and more. Once you’ve shopped (and eaten) ‘til you’re ready to drop, just wobble to the Kowloon Public Pier and …
10. Sail Away on the Star Ferry! A long-standing favorite in Hong Kong, the Star Ferry oozes old world charm as it chugs its way across Victoria Harbour, surrounded by twinkling, city lights and the occasional illuminated junk boat. The upper deck provides an unparalleled view of the harbor and city skyline, and if you’re lucky enough to ply those waters at eight in the evening, you’ll be treated to Hong Kong’s famous Symphony of Lights. All this for less than 4 HKD a person! Of course, if you’re not ready to wind down just yet, consider the ferry ride a mere overture to an evening of people watching and pub-crawling in Hong Kong Island’s SoHo district. The Central – Mid-levels Escalator operates until midnight, and can take you there for free!