My four months travelling Asia have officially begun, with five nights in the Chinese region of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is brash and overwhelming, with some beautiful areas as well as some less inviting ones just like any other city. After exploring it for the last five days I’ve seen so many different sides to it; the short ferry ride from the island to Kowloon can almost feel like crossing between countries, and some streets transform from being totally Westernised to feeling a million miles from home just by turning a corner. It’s a confusing place to make sense of in just a few days, but here are my impressions of experiencing Hong Kong on a budget…
After spending 24 hours travelling from England, Jordan and I got to our hotel in Kowloon around midnight, and were straight away faced with the grim realities of travelling! We found that our hotel was located somewhere in a sketchy looking high rise complex of other hotels, hostels, apartments and shops, with the only signs written in Chinese and no English speaking people around to help us. When we eventually found our hotel (it was literally behind a plastic curtain on the fifth floor), there was nobody there to check us in, but a sign explaining that all staff were asleep and asking visitors to come back in the morning. At this point (being in a scary building, in a strange city, in the middle of the night, with nowhere else to go) I almost had a complete meltdown. Thankfully though before I went into full cardiac arrest I saw a letter on the wall with my name on which had inside our room number and a code to get in, and we were saved! We finally got into our tiny windowless sweatbox of a room and discovered that we didn’t both fit in the bed, that we had to sit on the toilet whilst we showered, and that our running water smelled of egg. To be honest though we were just so happy to have somewhere to stay that it really didn’t matter. But I definitely felt like I’d been thrown in the deep end of slumming it like a backpacker!
I think that the only cheap options for backpackers accommodation in Hong Kong are hostels and hotels in dodgy complexes like the one we stayed in. Most of these are in Tsim Sha Tsui, and some in Jordan, which is where we stayed. Tsim Sha Tsui has a massive one called Chungking Mansions which is notorious in Hong Kong – apparently you’re totally hounded in there by people aggressively trying to sell you everything from drugs to tailored suits 24/7… even just walking past the atmosphere is horrible! I think it would be fine for the seasoned traveller but for a novice like myself I’d definitely recommend avoiding Tsim Tsa Shui and staying in the quieter Jordan area. But still, you can’t be too squeamish… Hong Kong is so expensive I honestly don’t think you can stay anywhere even slightly nice on a budget!
Unfortunately I have to say that for backpackers, Hong Kong IS NOT the place to party. I now know that Hong Kong is the second most expensive city to drink in the world… hindsight is a wonderful thing! We ONLY drank beer here because it’s the the cheapest thing, and it’s still about £8 (72 HK Dollars) a pint!! Most places do happy hour until 9 or 10pm when you can get a beer for about £6, but this still isn’t very happy if you ask me! This isn’t just in touristy areas either, we asked several locals who all told us to do as they do: drink at home, or drink on the street. We resorted to the latter a few times and saw loads of people doing the same – you can buy cans of beer from a 7/11 for about £1, and nobody bats an eye if you walk around drinking them whilst exploring the city. Another cheaper option is to buy beer from the food stalls on the night markets, where you can get a big bottle for $22, or £2.30ish. Because of our budget restrictions we pretty much had to make our own nightlife in Hong Kong, so I don’t really have any recommendations for bars or clubs. I guess if you came here on holiday and didn’t have to limit your spending so much it wouldn’t be as bad, but if you’re backpacking I’d say don’t come expecting wild nights out!
Things To Do
Victoria Peak – This is probably the most popular attraction in Hong Kong, and it’s worth queuing for! You can ride the tram up to the highest peak in Hong Kong for the most breathtaking views, you actually look down on all the skyscrapers! Typically we did it at as a tropical storm was starting, so it was really windy and foggy, but still stunning.
Star Ferry – The cheapest and most scenic way to get across the water to Kowloon at just $3 (around 30p). It’s been going for over a century, and was the first thing I got to check off my Asia bucket list!
Street Markets – Although they’re more expensive than others in Asia, browsing the bizarre selections of stuff and haggling with the vendors is still fun. Temple Street Night Market is the most famous, but I also really liked the Ladies Market in Mong Kok.
You can get all kinds of weird and wonderful food in Hong Kong (if they can make something green tea flavoured, they will) and it’s all lot healthier than the Chinese food I’m used to pigging out on at home. One thing I have been struggling with though is using chopsticks – in true ignorant Brit fashion the realisation didn’t really dawn on us until we ordered our first meal of noodle soup and were presented with chopsticks to tackle it with. Luckily though every restaurant we’ve been to has either had the patience to try and teach us, or taken pity and given us forks. Like everything else here the food is expensive, even on the markets; Jordan and I both really wanted to try the famous Temple Street spicy crabs but they were $200 each – not what I expected to be paying for street food in Asia! My favourite place we’ve eaten though is the Yokozuna Japanese Noodle Shop on Nathan Road. I had pork ramen in a soybean soup which was really spicy and delicious and Jordan had a grilled chicken bowl. Another highlight was the Tsui Wah cafe in East Tsim Sha Tsui which I wanted to try after reading about online as it’s really well known in Hong Kong… we both had prawn noodles, simple but so tasty!
When we first arrived in Hong Kong I was a little bit unsure about it, and I have to admit that I still have pretty mixed feelings. Some places, like Hong Kong Central and the island itself are gorgeous, but the area we stayed in Kowloon was really dirty and kind of smelled… there were bags of rubbish overflowing all over the paths and everything seemed a bit seedy. The fact that everything is so pricey has also put me off coming here again I think. Saying that though, there’s been plenty of things I’ve loved about Hong Kong, and I’m really grateful I got to experience it. If anyone has had a different experience of Hong Kong, it would be good to hear what you thought of it!