Backpacking Hong Kong (Ultimate Budget Travel Guide)

Backpacking Hong Kong

In this article, we will discover all there is to know about backpacking Hong Kong. Having backpacked to the city on multiple occasions since 2015 and living there for two months in 2021, I have put together this comprehensive Hong Kong travel guide for those on a budget.

Hong Kong is a city, an island and a territory. The city of Hong Kong is located on Hong Kong Island, in the territory of Hong Kong. The territory includes over 250 islands, mountains, jungle, pristine beaches and many large national parks.

There is plenty to keep travellers occupied from the neon-lit, packed city streets to far off national parks with wind-swept beaches and small fishing villages.

And let’s not forget Hong Kong’s thriving food scene. From Michelin starred restaurants to cheap street food, there is something to please every taste and budget!

Although famed for its dazzling skyscrapers and hectic city life, there is so much more to Hong Kong and the territory is also a great place for backpackers given the number of hostels, cheap street food and excellent transport system with cheap ferries, buses and trams.

So, let’s dive right in and discover everything you need to know about backpacking in Hong Kong!

*Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, which means should you click and purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All photographs are the personal copyright of Stephen Anthony Rohan / thetripgoeson.com ©



Hong Kong is made up of four main areas:

  • The New Territories – the wild and mountainous northern reaches close to the border with mainland China.
  • Kowloon – narrow streets, bustling markets and world-class street food on the northern side of Victoria Harbour.
  • Hong Kong Island – the city and home to large skyscrapers, world-class restaurants and bars, shopping and The Peak!
  • Outlying Islands – secluded beaches, quiet fishing villages and lush jungle cover many of the territory’s islands.

Daily Budget for backpacking Hong Kong

The daily budget for backpacking Hong Kong is going to be considerably more than the rest of South-East Asia. However, contrary to what you may think, a stay in the city doesn’t have to break the bank! Keep reading for plenty of money-saving tips!

To get the most out of your trip to Asia’s World City, a daily budget of $600 HKD ($75 USD) should cover your basic accommodation, food and transport needs.


Hong Kong Visas

Citizens of 85 countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, the EU and the USA can enter Hong Kong visa-free for up to 90 days.

UK citizens enjoy 180 days of visa-free entry thanks to our historic ties with the city.

For those that require a visa, you must apply at your nearest Chinese embassy or consulate.


Getting to Hong Kong

Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island
Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong is reachable by plane from many cities around the globe. The city is also reachable by land from mainland China and Macau (by road and MTR).

By Air

Hong Kong International Airport is a major Asian transport hub with flights to 180 cities around the world.

The airport has moved from its iconic location in the city to Lantau Island. There are plenty of connections into the city (see below). Trip.com is one of the best places to search for flights to Hong Kong (I recently booked a ticket from Hong Kong to London for under $300)!

Getting to Central Hong Kong from the Airport

The easiest way to get from Hong Kong International Airport to the city centre is to take the Airport Express train, but this is not cheap. Opt instead for a local bus. You can find the timetable and exact prices here.

The airport Express costs $115 HKD and the buses between $30 HKD and $60 HKD.

Getting to Hong Kong from Shenzhen (and the rest of China)

For those backpacking Hong Kong from mainland China, it’s a piece of cake to get into the territory! There are direct high-speed trains from Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and other major Chinese cities.

By High-Speed Train

There is a new high-speed train that goes direct from Shenzhen North Railway Station to Kowloon Station. This is by far the quickest and easiest option (it takes just 10 minutes). There are multiple trains every hour and tickets cost ¥40 RMB/$40 HKD ($5 USD).

The customs and immigration check is done at Kowloon Station.

By MTR

You can take the MTR to Futian Checkpoint. Here you will go through customs and immigration before crossing a bridge and re-joining the MTR on the Hong Kong side.

On Foot

Shenzhen Bay Port (which is the only open crossing during the pandemic) is where you can cross on foot between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Be aware that there are no services at Shenzhen Bay Port, and nowhere to change money. If you are lucky the taxi drivers may take RMB (they did for me in July 2021).

The SBP border opens at 10 am and can get busy at this time.

There is also the recently completed bridge that connects Macau to Hong Kong.


Getting Around Hong Kong

Hong Kong MTR Map
Hong Kong MTR Map

Hong Kong is incredibly easy to navigate thanks to its fantastic public transportation systems. The city itself is easily navigable by foot, and for areas farther afield you can opt from any of these public transport options:

  • Bus – cheap, plentiful and convenient, though can be a little slow.
  • Ferry – ferries are a great way to get around and often a fraction of the cost of the MTR.
  • MTR – Quick and convenient, though not the cheapest option.
  • Tram – a great way to get around the central city areas of Hong Kong Island.

You will find plenty of taxis across the territory, however, these are best avoided as they can be pricey (and Hong Kong traffic is notoriously bad).


Where to Stay – Cheap Accommodation in Hong Kong

Cheung Chau Island
Cheung Chau Island

Hong Kong may not be one of the cheapest cities in the world. However, it is certainly possible to find budget accommodation whether it be one of the many hostels, guesthouses or ultra-budget rooms in Chunking Mansions.

I have stayed in plenty of cheap places across Hong Kong and can personally recommend the following options:

Money in Hong Kong

Hong Kong uses the Hong Kong Dollar. ATMs (cash machines) are ubiquitous as are exchange booths (with terrible rates). All major credit and debit cards are accepted across the city. When travelling off the beaten path be sure to have cash on you.

Wechat and Alipay are accepted in some places.

Sample Costs*

ItemCost in Hong Kong DollarsCost in US Dollars
Dorm bed in a hostel$100.00$13.00
Windowless room in Chunking Mansions$200.00$26.00
Room in a mid-range hotel$500.00$65.00
Steamed bun from street stall$20.00$2.50
Combo meal in McDonalds$40.00$5.00
Bowl of noodles or dim sum in Chinese restaurant$50.00$6.40
Meal in a bar/pub$150.00$20.00
Bottle of water$10.00$1.30
Pint of beer in a bar/pub$60.00$8.00
Bottle of wine from a 7-11$80.00$10.00
Star Ferry Ticket$3.00$0.40
Lantau Island Ferry Ticket (slow)$7.30$0.90
Lantau Island Ferry Ticket (fast)$14.20$1.80
MTR to Lantau Island$23.10$3.00
Airport Express Train$115.00$14.75
Bus Ticket from Airport to Central$40.00$5.00
*Prices correct as of December 2021. Subject to change.

Top Things to do for Backpackers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong Island

Kowloon

Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour
Kowloon
Kowloon
  • Victoria Harbour
  • Victoria Peak
  • Hong Kong Park
  • The Dragon’s Back
  • Soho
  • Avenue of Stars
  • Kowloon Park
  • Kowloon Peak
  • Nathan Road
  • Eye Bar (iTower)

Lantau Island

New Territories

South Lantau
South Lantau
New Territories
New Territories
  • Lantau Peak
  • Sunset Peak
  • Ngong Ping Cable Car
  • Big Buddha
  • Silvermine Bay
  • Kadoorie Farm and Botonic Gardens
  • McLehose Trail
  • Sai Kung
  • Tai Po
  • Sai Kung West Country Park

If you will be in Hong Kong for any length of time, then a day trip to Macau is also a great option!


Food and Drink in Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong has its fair share of Michelin starred restaurants, it is also one of the best places in the world to find cheap eats. Hk’s street food is world-renowned and it’s easy to pick up a bargain.

Given the city’s many parks and green spaces, grabbing supplies from a supermarket and having a picnic is the perfect way to save money.

Hong Kong has a great nightlife scene with plenty of bars and nightclubs. Whether you prefer a few pints of craft beer or something a little livelier, there is something for every taste and budget!

Food and Drink in Hong Kong
Food and Drink in Hong Kong

Some top Hong Kong Night Spots:

Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Ashley Road is packed with great bars from HK classics like Ned Kelley’s to my personal favourite the Kowloon Tap Room (excellent craft beers, but a little pricey).

Soho & the Mid-Levels

Take the escalators through the mid-levels along Shelley Street and jump off at any of the bars that take your fancy!

Wan Chai

A lot of bars/pubs with live bands. Big names include Amazonia and Dusk Till Dawn.


Best Time to Visit

Hong Kong is located in the tropics and as such benefits from year-round warm or hot weather. The monsoon season lasts from May to September with June and August being the wettest months.

Winter and spring are the perfect times to visit Hong Kong as it’s warm and sunny with little rainfall. December to March would be the optimum months.

Summers are very hot, humid and wet with constant downpours. August is probably the worst month to visit.

Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) can be a great time to visit to witness the festivities, however, accommodation prices rise and it can be harder to find a good bargain in the city.


16 Money-Saving Travel Tips for Backpacking Hong Kong

  • The Octopus Card can save money on rail/MTR/ferry fares (and makes life easier).
  • Take a bus from the airport, it’s much cheaper than the Airport Express.
  • Stay in Kowloon rather than on Hong Kong Island; everything is cheaper.
  • Stay in hostels not the city’s expensive hotels.
  • Survive on a delicious diet of street food, local restaurants and picnics.
  • Tap water is drinkable in Hong Kong so look after the environment and save money by refilling a water bottle (check my guide of the best filter bottles on the market).
  • Eat at local restaurants not western ones.
  • Use the Star Ferry to get from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island instead of the MTR.
  • Use the trams instead of the MTR.
  • Don’t use taxis (slow and expensive).
  • Take the bus (or walk) up The Peak rather than the expensive tourist tram (funicular railway).
  • Don’t pay for the viewing platform on Victoria Peak. Better views can be had for free by taking a walk around the peak trails.
  • Most bars have a Happy Hour with discounted drinks in the afternoon/early evening.
  • Instead of going to bars, do as the locals do and buy drinks from the 7-11 and drink outside “(7-11 Party”).
  • Some museums have free entry on Wednesdays. Check Time Out for more information on what’s is going on!
  • There are plenty of free outdoor activities from parks, hiking trails, swimming and much, much more!


Dangers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is an incredibly safe city; one of the safest in the world in fact. However, it is not without some dangers and annoyances.

The area around Nathan Round and Chunking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui can be a little dodgy with petty crime, prostitution and people pedalling drugs. However, even at night, it still doesn’t come across as totally unsafe compared to cities in the UK or USA.

Hiking in Hong Kong in summer is ill-advised, and I speak from experience. If you are foolish enough to tackle any of the major peaks during the hottest time of the year, bring plenty of water and sunscreen. I’ve hiked far higher mountains in far off places, but a hike up Kowloon Peak in July 2021 had me seriously considering calling mountain rescue

Hong Kong Wildlife

Hong Kong is home to a vast array of wildlife from wild boar and water buffalo to some of the most venomous snakes on earth (and that does include the city itself). Most of the wildlife will leave you alone and try and get out of your way as soon as possible, however, if you plan on spending any time hiking, it pays to know what is around.

Dogs

There are packs of wild dogs across the territory that can be something of a problem when hiking in the New Territories and up around Silver Mine Bay. They seem to be more bark than bite though and if you give them a wide berth you should be fine.

Spiders

If you spend any time on the trails anywhere in Hong Kong you will not fail to notice the enormous golden orb weaver spiders that sit in webs just above head height. They are mildly venomous but don’t present any major threat to humans apart from scaring the shit out of you!

Snakes

It does pay to know a little about Hong Kong’s snakes as up to nine of the many species found in the territory can inflict potentially lethal bites. Snakes will almost always try and get out of your way, but if surprised or cornered, can pose a hazard.

If camping or hiking at night, always wear shoes and never go out in bare feet or flip flops (most bites in HK happen on bare feet).

The nine to be aware of are:

  • Bamboo Pit Viper (very common, active at night and after rain)
  • Mountain Pit Viper (very rare, active at night)
  • Pointed Scaled Pit Viper (very rare, active at night)
  • Chinese Cobra (relatively common, active during day and night)
  • King Cobra (very rare, active during day and night, highly venomous)
  • Banded Krait ( uncommon, active at night, highly venomous)
  • Many Banded Krait (common, active at night, highly venomous)
  • Red-necked Keelback (unique in that it is both poisonous and venomous, active during the day)
  • MacClellands Coral Snake (very rare, active day and night) and highly venomous)

See the excellent Hong Kong Snake ID website to learn more about these beautiful creatures that should be respected and admired from afar.

In the Ocean

Most major beaches around the city have shark nets (there have been no fatal shark attacks since 1995). Swimming at patrolled beaches is always the safest way to enjoy the beach.

Being as Hong Kong is located within the tropics, the ocean is home to cone shells, stingrays, blue-ringed octopuses and sea snakes. Leave them alone and they will likely leave you alone! Again, swimming at patrolled/netted beaches mitigates most risks.

Ensure you have travel insurance for your backpacking Hong Kong trip! Our partners at World Nomads are experts in providing cover for backpackers. You can get a free, no-obligation quote here.



Conclusion

Hong Kong is one of my favourite places in the world and should be on the bucket list of every traveller. Backpacking Hong Kong is the best way to get the most out of this incredible island territory! Contrary to popular belief, the city can definitely be enjoyed on a budget!

If you have any questions about budget travel in Hong Kong, please feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via the contact form and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

Steve Rohan

About the author: Steve Rohan, originally from England, has lived in China for over six years. He has lived in the frozen city of Harbin, the ancient capital of Luoyang, the tropical paradise of Sanya and Hong Kong.

He has travelled extensively across Europe and Asia, mostly by train, and has written about his travels for this blog as well as self-publishing his first book, Siberian Odyssey.

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