I want to start this article by saying that I don’t like Hong Kong as a travel destination. You don’t feel relaxed as a tourist – it’s a city where only money and status will get you that premium.
I got ignored when asking a supermarket staff for help, got yelled at by a random uncle on the streets, got shoved by people everywhere, got my queue cut and just generally received horrible servicee. Rude people make me rude in return, so I hated myself there.
But… I’m glad I still travelled there. It contextualises the news I get from that part of the world. Now I understand better about the housing crisis, and what people do to cope with the high cost of living.
From conversations, locals confirmed that it’s common for retirees to move to other countries, like China, Australia and Canada. Their retirement money stretches further there, plus they get a better quality of life.
This is not surprising – Hong Kong was described as a concrete jungle, and that is so true. I imagine the lush outdoors and privacy are things that retired Hongkees crave for, after a lifetime in the city.
Hong Kong Trip Overview
My trip can be considered a solo travel trip (my sister, who decided to join me, stayed at another hostel). All in all, I spent just under RM2000 for a 5 days, 4 nights trip to Hong Kong. When I went in April 2018, RM1 is around HKD2 – easy to calculate.
It’s an expensive city to live in, no joke. Here’s what I did to save money:
- Accommodation. I saved money by staying in a hostel near Kowloon area (instead of mainland Hong Kong, which is a lot more expensive). It costs HKD960 (RM480) for 4 nights. If you go as a pair, you might get a decent 2 or 3-star hotel for RM500-800 PER night in Kowloon area, which has a very Chow Kit slash Petaling Street vibe.
- Transportation. This was reasonable. We got the Octopus card, aka their version of Touch N Go and used it for the MTR (train), ferry and tram rides. We also walked a lot.
- Food. Wtf. Sit-down meals are so expensive. Budget RM25-50 per meal here, and that’s for food court and cafeteria-style meals. Street food are priced okay, but I didn’t have a lot of those (cos many are not halal). The only street food I had was herbal eggs – 4 small eggs for HKD10 (RM5). Groceries are pretty expensive too, but we shelled out for this anyway because of food restrictions. I brought snacks from home – that helped a lot with the food expenses.
If you go to Hong Kong and want a good hotel and explore the culinary side of Hong Kong, expect to pay more than RM2000 per person for the same trip.
On the surface, there are a lot of activities you can do in Hong Kong. I jotted down the following activities in my notebook (the ones in * means we did them), plus the cost:
- Disneyland* – RM258 on Klook
- Ocean World – RM202 on Klook
- Hong Kong Walking Tour (link) – technically free, but they expect tips
- Day trip to Macau – cost of ferry ride
- Day trip to Schenzen – cost of train and visa
- Museums (History; Art; Space) – small fee, around HKD10 per entry. Apparently you can get in free on Wednesdays
- Dragon’s Back hike – free
- Explore Kowloon* – free
- Explore Hong Kong Island* – free
- The Peak tram* – HKD52-99
- Ngong Ping cable car – RM67-92 on Klook
- Symphony of Lights show* – free
- Racecourse – cost of a small bet on a racehorse, just to experience the full vibe
Savings tip 1: Get promo flight tickets from AirAsia if you can. Mine was RM439 return without luggage. My sister bought later, and it costs her RM700+. I bought my flights and accommodation via Expedia from Shopback (note: referral link). So I got some cashback here, yay.
Savings tip 2: If you’re not a foodie, have food restrictions, or on a strict budget but don’t want to eat only street food, then prepare/bring your own food and snacks. Shit’s fairly expensive.
Day 1 – Arrival to Hong Kong Airport
After arrival, the first thing we did was pick up our SIM cards at the airport. Let’s just say I’m glad we got phone internet. Google Maps saved our asses while we were there, because asking people for directions was not something we felt comfortable doing.
I don’t know, most locals who I talked to made it seem like I’m wasting their time when I’m conversing with them. Don’t expect good service from people you’re buying stuff from, too (unless you go to premium places).
After internet was sorted out, we took the fast airport train to Kowloon (bought from Klook). We checked in at our hostels, got some food from the grocery shop, then explored Mong Kok area in Kowloon: the Ladies Market, the Flowers Market and the shopping streets around it.
It was Saturday, so the streets were predictably full. Some observations:
- Sasa, the beauty shop, was everywhere
- Their Guardian (the pharmacy we have here) is called Mannings, and they’re everywhere too
- Older Hong Kongers seems to have an active social life. They were out and about everywhere. We saw some street karaoke and open dancing to (what I think is) old-school Chinese romantic music
- Explore the nooks. Sometimes the unassuming escalators and stairs bring you to interesting, off-the-streets shops
Savings tip 3: Klook sells both SIM cards and portable WiFi device. The former is a bargain for RM26, as opposed to the latter’s RM21-per-day charge. Find Klook at Shopback (note: referral link). We also bought out return airport transfer train tickets from Klook.
Savings tip 3: Don’t buy the Octopus card from Klook, though. They only sell the tourist version for RM47, which comes with HKD50 in pre-loaded credit (RM25). That means you’ll lose RM22 even if you use up all your credit.
Instead, buy your Octopus card at any MTR station in Hong Kong. It’ll cost HKD150, inclusive of HKD100 in pre-loaded credit plus HKD50 deposit. You can return your card and get back your unused balance and deposit – the only charge is HKD9 (RM4.50) as service fee if you return the card before 90 days’ usage (or something like that).
Savings tip 5: Water at convenience shops are expensive! HKD12 (RM6) for a 1.5 liter-bottle was the cheapest we’ve found. Try to stay at a place where filtered water is provided FOC. If that’s not possible, then buy your water at the grocery shops, not at 7-Eleven.
Day 2 – Going to Hong Kong Island
You have two options going from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island: ferry and train/MTR. We prefer the ferry – the ride was cheap (HKD3~) and you can get a great view of Hong Kong Island.
This is a theory – I have no idea if this is true, but this is a theory anyhow – Sunday might be the designated day off for Hong Kong’s many foreign workers. Upon arrival, we saw many Indonesian and Filipino nationals camping in the public areas, including on sidewalks.
They even set up small ‘rooms’ made of cardboard, housing between 4-10 people, all eating and chatting and generally socialising. Good for them and all, but yeah, didn’t expect the smell of homemade fried noodles just outside of Louis Vuitton, you know?
In Hong Kong Island, we pretty much just walked around. If we were more into architecture, we would probably ogle and appreciate the skyscrapers a bit more. But for us, it was pretty much ‘oh, they’re tall and shiny’, that’s it.
Walking around Hong Kong Island was alright. Not that much to look at if you’re not actively shopping, if I’m honest. We went on the famous Central-Mid Levels escalators and walkways – the long one, the one that stretches more than 800 meters.
The best-value experience was the tram rides – it was just HKD2ish for any distance. Find them, the stops look like this:
For lunch, my sister took me to the Islamic Centre’s Canteen for a dim sum meal (location). The cafeteria meal costs us more than RM50 per person, but hey, I had dim sum in Hong Kong.
Mini-drama – I lost my Octopus card soon after that. Lost about HKD120 in value 🙁 We backtracked to try and find it, but in the end I had to purchase another one, sigh. Considering how the card is pretty much essential to daily life, it’s pretty surprising that you can’t get a refund on the balance if you lose it. I asked.
At night, we watched the Symphony of Lights show at 8pm.
Savings tip 6: Take the tram, get to the top deck and do your people watching from there. It’s much calmer than walking around. Outdoor cafes – my preferred and usual go-to spot to do people watching while on holidays – was a rarity.
Day 3 – Disneyland
Of course we went to Disneyland! It was a good day – we had company (Matan, an Israeli dude my sister brought along from her hostel), the weather was good, we caught all the good shows and the crowd was not horrible. We even went on some rides twice!
You know, I keep forgetting that Disney is more than Disney characters. I forgot they also own Marvel and Star Wars – as evidenced by the Iron Man Experience and Hyperspace Mountain rides. That was a pleasant surprise. Jarvis speaks in Cantonese there, fyi.
Meals in Disneyland Hong Kong was crazy expensive. HKD140 (RM70) and above is common for a set meal. To save money, I brought snacks and refilled my water bottle at water coolers – find them near toilets. I don’t think you can bring pre-packed meals, but snacks are fine. Thank God, because I was legit worried when we need to get our bags inspected (mandatory).
I bought a pair of sunglasses. Coincidentally mine broke. Totally needed it, it was glaring hot. Or so I tell myself 😛 It was HKD178.
Savings tip 7: Klook sells Disneyland tickets at cheaper rates. I also saw (but didn’t buy) discounted tickets for Ocean World, Ngong Ping cable car, ferry tickets to Macau and more from Klook. I can recommend it – no printouts required. Browse Klook from Shopback (note: referral link) for additional cashback in addition to their discounts.
Savings tip 8: Bring a water bottle (and some snacks) into Disneyland.
Day 4 –
Hiking at Dragon’s Back Museums Just wandered around…
Day 4. I’ve never been so bored on vacation on just Day 4 before.
Ok, so the original plan was to go hiking at Dragon’s Back trail.
It rained, so that was cancelled.
Then we thought, okay, let’s check out the museums.
It was Tuesday, THE ONLY DAY THE MUSEUMS ARE CLOSED.
So we kinda walked around aimlessly. Found a halal Indian/Middle Eastern restaurant with a lunch deal (HKD45/RM22.50 for roast chicken salad and a drink). Walked through a park, that was nice. They had these giant cartoon characters. Here’s one of them. I have no idea who he is, but I thought he looked the coolest.
Then we got bored again. Googled ‘things to do in Hong Kong indoors’. Everything that came up was boring: bowling, shopping, escape games, indoor trampoline.
So we decided to go to The Peak for a view of the city. We didn’t originally plan for this, or I would have bought the tickets on Klook, too.
The tram up to The Peak was alright. Charmingly colonial, if you ignore the darker side of history.
Temperature is noticeably cooler. There was a 3D gallery for picture-taking. We got the HKD99 tickets which include entry to an over-glorified rooftop (they call it Sky Terrace 428, or the ‘viewing platform’).
There were just two sorry benches there. If you sit down anywhere else, you’ll get yelled at (I got yelled at).
After a couple of hours at The Peak, after we browsed all the shops there (it’s like a micro Genting Highlands – Madam Toussands is there too), we got bored again.
The rest of the night was not memorable – we went to what was supposed to be a ‘happening’ mall called Times Square, hoping to be entertained, but soon got bored of that, too. Our malls are nicer to hang out in.
In the end, we just decided to pack some food – my sister Googled and found a halal shop at a dingy food court. She got duck rice (HKD45/RM22.50), I got mutton curry (HKD66/RM33) – can I remind you these are food court prices?
A side visit to Ladies Market in Mong Kok got my sister some key chains as souvenirs. I’m pretty sure a local man cursed my sister in Cantonese, for bumping into him while walking the narrow path between shops at Ladies Market. Tired and in low spirits, we called it a night and headed back to our respective hostels.
Savings tip 9: Skip the pricier HKD99 The Peak ticket that includes entry to Sky Terrace 428 at The Peak. Instead, buy the HKD52 tickets for just the tram ride. To get more or less the same view, sit at one of the restaurants one floor below. It’ll cost you the price of a meal or a drink, but you get to sit down and actually appreciate the view.
Savings tip 10: If you still want the entry to Sky Terrace 428, get your tickets from Klook. Cheaper than buying at the location.
Savings tip 11: If you want to buy anything at Ladies Market, be prepared to bargain hard. To give you an example, the key chains my sister wanted was HKD150 for 5 pieces. She bargained that down to HKD40, and it’s possible to go even lower than that.
The shop owners are thick-skinned when it comes to business, and can get physical. This one woman grabbed my sister as she walked away, refusing to let go until I said “No!” loudly.
Savings tip 12: I usually buy small snack packs as souvenirs, but the ones I saw were not worth the price. However, I can say that beauty products in general are okay-priced there. Face masks at Sasa make interesting souvenirs, especially the ones with animal faces on them. They’re cheaper in Hong Kong than in Malaysia – I checked.
Day 5 – Leaving Hong Kong
You can guess that by this point, I was keen to leave Hong Kong. Our flight was at 6ish pm though – plenty of time to waste.
But, if I may say so myself, we wasted it well. We got to the airport early, bought ourselves tickets to The Avengers: Infinity War, which was just released on the very day, and watched that on IMAX 3D. It was HKD120 (RM60), inclusive of the glasses, but one of the highlights of the trip.
I’m sorry to keep going back to how rude Hong Kong people are, but they were. On the flight back, a child kept kicking the back of my seat, so I told the mother to keep an eye on the child. She looked angry, replied back something in Cantonese (no idea what, but angry tone), then let her child continue kicking my seat for the remaining 2 hours.
I was so happy to be back in Malaysia. People are so much more kinder here. I won’t take that for granted anymore.
Savings tip 13: If you’re hungry at the airport and on a budget, you can buy instant noodles at 7 Eleven and eat that. There are water coolers around, too, to refill water bottles. (I probably saved at least RM50 in water costs thanks to my water bottle).
Total cost for my budget Hong Kong trip
In total, I spent RM1968.50 for this trip. Not a huge amount, I’m glad – will save my money for better places.
I welcome all Hong Kong-specific budget hacks you have, too – share in the comments section. I would also welcome cultural hacks. Is it possible to get better treatment? When I came back and shared Hong Kong stories, some people who’ve been there was like, yep, that sounds like Hong Kong.
Breakdown of expenses in the table below. But unless it’s a business trip, and unless you’re specifically looking for a Disneyland experience, I’d suggest going to other countries for a holiday, instead.
|Flight tickets KL-Hong Kong (AirAsia)||RM439||RM439|
|Accommodation (Booking.com)||HKD960 (RM480)||RM480|
|Klook pre-payments (SIM card + Disneyland + Return airport transfer)||RM500||RM26 + RM246.50 + RM65 = RM337.50|
|Food & Drinks||HKD1400 (HKD100 per meal x 14 meals) (RM700)||HKD520 (RM260; includes groceries)|
|Public transportation (bus, ferry, tram)||HKD500 (HKD100 per day x 5 days) (RM250)||HKD250 (RM125; including Octopus card replacement)|
|Entertainment/shopping/souvenirs||HKD600 (HKD150 per day x 4 days) (RM300)||HKD654 (RM327)|