First time to Hong Kong? Here are my suggestions on what you need to consider:
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. In fact, it ranked No. 2 in Mercer’s Cost of Living survey. So, expect hotels to be expensive. Good thing, though, if you’re on a budget, there are many options in Hong Kong. You’ll probably come across Chungking Mansions in your research. It’s along Nathan Road, a very busy road in the Kowloon side where most of the cheapest accommodations can be found (and where you probably will end up). Chungking Mansions have perhaps the cheapest accommodations in HK (Kowloon), but as with many backpacker areas, rooms are basic. Sometimes, you have to bring your own towel and toiletries. Rooms are also very small. This is nothing unique to Chungking Mansions. Rent in HK is very expensive so rooms are small, like 8sqm at least. Some tourists complain of feeling unsafe in the environment, and that’s why we chose a different area when we went to Hong Kong.
I highly recommend looking for rooms in the Jordan area, which is near Nathan Road. There are plenty of good and cheap options there. Your accommodation “necessities” should include good accessibility to public transport (our was right beside the MTR station), good reviews, and with hosts or owners preferably conversant in English, which will really make your lives easier.
Commuting in Hong Kong is very convenient. I recommend you try all modes of transport, just to experience it.
First things first, I suggest getting an Octopus Card upon arrival at the airport. It costs 150 HKD (Php 600.00) where, 50 HKD is the deposit returnable when you depart (less HKD9, so you get HKD 41 upon return of the card). With your remaining HKD 100, you can use it already to take a bus from the airport to your hostel. Your Octopus card can also be used for the ferry, the buses, the ding-ding (tram), McDonalds, and most establishments, actually. It’s very convenient to pay for transportation with the Octopus card. Otherwise, you’d have to be prepared with loose change for bus payments (They don’t give you back any change so it has to either be exact amount or a little more).
You can take the Star Ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui going to Hong Kong Island (Central Pier) for 2.50 HKD (Php 15.00). It’s surprisingly relaxing and a good way to spend around 15 minutes of your time. The view at night is also amazing.
The tram, or fondly called the ding ding by the locals, is an excellent way of exploring the HK Island side. A ride costs HKD 2.50, flat rate, and it traverses the city. However, because it has so many stops, it’s very slow. If you have the time, ride the ding-ding from one end to the other, and make sure you’re on the upper balcony so that you get to see the sights in Hong Kong Island.
Obviously, this is the most convenient means of transport. I loved commuting in Hong Kong because it’s very tourist-friendly. You might need to get a map of the train stops at first but at the same time, as long as you know where you need to get off, you’ll be fine.
3. Places to Go / Things to Do
My uncle, who lives in Hong Kong, said any first time tourist should go to Victoria Peak, arguably the best viewing spot of Hong Kong’s famous skyline. I agree. I would suggest to try and catch the sunset on the peak so you can see it in all its magical glory. Here’s a timelapse from youtube to give you an idea, and a screen grab:
(You have to still see it for yourselves, ok?)
Most tourists prefer the tram because it’s faster (around 15 minutes). It costs HKD 40 one-way. If you plan to go down by tram, you need to decide before buying the ticket because there is no option to buy from the peak. This is another HKD 40. If not, then you can take a bus back to Central, which takes around an hour I think (I slept all the way back).
There are sellers of combo tickets on-site which include Madame Tussauds Hong Kong + Peak Tram Sky Pass return for around HKD 320 (Php 1,920) but we did not avail of this. Don’t be swayed by the Skypass ticket because actually, you can still see the skyline for free! The viewing deck is inside the Peak Galleria, a mall on the peak. Of course the Sky Terrace offers a wider perspective from a higher altitude so if you’re very particular about this, then by all means get the Skypass combo.
Hong Kong is almost synonymous to shopping, and believe me, you’ll be literally overwhelmed with shopping areas, malls and stores at every corner. It’s fascinating in a way because as a tourist, you have access to buy just about everything imaginable: brands that are probably not available in the Philippines, or electronics that are cheaper (but generally, everything is more expensive in Hong Kong), etc. After 8 days, though, it was tiring for me. I didn’t go to Hong Kong to shop anyway; the shopping culture wasn’t so appealing to me. In any case, it’s still worth visiting these areas if you really plan to shop, or just want to experience their culture.
The Mong Kok area is like our Divisoria, only, cleaner and maybe safer. This is another can’t miss destination because of the variety of things you can find there.
Causeway is in Hong Kong Island and more conveniently accessible by MTR. This area is like New York’s Times Square, where shopping areas, stores, and just a sea of humans converge.
The official description says: Hong Kong’s largest mall is actually three malls in one: Ocean Terminal, Ocean Centre and Gateway Arcade. The upshot for the shopper is a choice of over 450 shops, around 50 restaurants, three hotels and two cinemas. Fortunately, this mind-boggling selection has been intelligently organised into four distinct zones for kids, sport, fashion, and cosmetics and beauty.”
So this mall is really massive, and they provide you maps so you can navigate through the entire area. Lots of walking required. If you’re on a budget, I doubt you’d want to buy anything here because everything here is so expensive. Like, really. This mall is in Kowloon side and is walkable from the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry if you’re coming from the HK Island side. On the upside, it’s a great area for window shopping and people watching. Two free, enjoyable things to do.
If you get tired of all the shopping and the skyscrapers, you may want to visit Stanley Bay, a popular destination for both locals and foreigners.
This is a refreshing change of scenery. Going here, you either have to take a cab (very expensive) or a bus (cheap and accessible). It’s quite far from the city but really worth a visit. What to see here? Well, the bay, for one. Then temples, shopping areas (but not like the ones in the city), a park, and nature!
Quarry Bay Park
This park is in the Hong Kong Island. It’s not actually a famous tourist spot but I think it is worth a visit if you’re in the area anyway. It is one of my favorite places in Hong Kong because of its peacefulness and it being beside a long stretch of harbour, giving you a good view of the skyline and other famous landmarks.
I imagine this is a good place to jog, to do a morning stroll, to meditate… The harbor even has fishing spots, if it fancies you.
4. Where to Eat
Of course, the all important question. Hong Kong is a foodie’s mecca. I knew that even before I went to Hong Kong. From Anthony Bourdain’s adventures to other foodie features on TV, I knew Hong Kong would offer me a variety of food choices. Fortunately for me, I don’t eat pork, which is a staple in Hong Kong (or Chinese cuisine, for that matter), and I’m allergic to some seafoods, so my choices were narrowed down. But there’s still a lot to taste.
I love that almost all of the restaurants we went to had vegetarian options, so if you’re vegetarian, you’re covered. Decent food starts at around 40HKD (240) up. So it is quite pricey if you’re on a budget. But there are cheap alternatives. If you’re in the Kowloon area already, you must try out the food stalls and shops at Temple Street.
They have a variety of food choices and it is where we found the cheapest (15HKD) BUT good enough food during our stay.
One thing you can’t miss is Ikea. It was my first time to visit an Ikea store (hopefully they open here in the Philippines) and in my curiousity, spent at least 2 hours exploring all of the floors. What surprised me was that they had a bistro and the food being served was really cheap. If you’re on a budget, this is the place. They have complete meals and snacks.
Here are other must try foods in Hong Kong.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope this article was helpful!