Hong Kong has it all – heavenly food, high-octane nightlife, striking architecture and top shopping all laced with heaps of culture and tradition. There are plenty of ways to spend a fortune, but Lee Cobaj explains how Hong Kong doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive
Hong Kong © barbara-pictures
Compared to its SE Asian neighbours, Hong Kong is relatively expensive, though there are definitely plenty of ways of ways to stretch your dollars further. Hotels are generally pricey but day-to-day expenses such as eating out, transport and attractions are pleasingly cheap. So, although it would be easy to break the bank, it’s also possible to fully enjoy the city on a backpacker budget of £50 a day.
Hotel Prices In Hong Kong
Space equals luxury in this sky high city so accommodation is probably going to be your biggest cost when visiting Hong Kong. As a rule of thumb, you’re going to pay more to be on the island than you are on Kowloon-side, and the closer you are to Central the higher the room rates. If you’ve got the cash, you could easily blow through £500 a night soaking up sublime service, designer interiors, Michelin-starred food and harbour views at one of the city’s ludicrously luxurious five-star hotels – The Peninsula, The Mandarin Oriental, The Four Seasons and The Upper House are amongst the very best in the world.
However, there are plenty of solid mid-range hotels out there too – The Fleming, Eaton Smart, Hotel Icon, as well as those listed below – are terrific, with prices in the £75 – £150 price bracket, and a strong focus on service and design. Decent budget hotels and roach-free guesthouses are harder to come by but not impossible to find, although hostels, which often have great facilities and private rooms are a better bet. Fairly new on the scene and also worth checking out is AirBNB, which has a growing database of smart city pads at cheaper than hotel prices.
Hong Kong Dollars © refractedmoments
Affordable Hotels In Hong Kong
- Bishop Lei International House Tucked behind the Botanical Gardens in the centre of Hong Kong Island, Bishop Lei has a swimming pool, gym and brilliant on-the-ball service. Squeezy single rooms (180-square feet) average HK$425/£35 per night, doubles are a few pounds more, but it’s worth splashing out the extra £30 for one with that spectacular harbour view if you can afford it.
- Mei Ho House Youth Hostel: This 1950s public housing settlement was repurposed into a shiny new youth hostel in 2012 and, OK, it is off the beaten track but there’s an MTR station close by and the neighbourhood – Sham Shui Po – rocks a very cool retro Cantonese vibe. Double rooms come in at HK$600/£50 and have ensuite bathrooms, while dorms start at HK$200/£17 and have lockers and power sockets. All are immaculately clean – and there’s a garden café, museum and free wifi too.
Mid-range Hotels In Hong Kong
- Ovolo Southside: Wong Chuk Hang, near Aberdeen Harbour, is a little bit out of town but it’s a tradeoff worth making for a stay at this affordably stylish hotel. Sleek sunny rooms come with heaps of freebies, including breakfast, soft drinks and snacks from the mini-bar, self-laundry facilities and a comp shuttle bus to the city centre. Expect to pay around £65 per night. It’s also worth checking their website for three nights for the price of two deals.
- Cordis at Langham Place: Formerly known as Langham Place, the newly revamped Cordis offers plenty of bang for your buck. Situated in manic Mong Kok, there’s no end of great shopping and eating in the area, while bright comfortable rooms, starting from HK$1,250/£104, come with bathtubs, top tech and complimentary smartphones for use during your stay.
Luxury Hotels In Hong Kong
- The Peninsula: Humming with history, built on tradition yet unfailingly fashionable and always memorable, a stay at The Pen is the stuff that bucket list are made of. The dining, design and service are flawless but it’s the sparkling Victoria Harbour view that will stick with you forever. Doubles from HK$5,000/£418, with breakfast.
- Upper House: Design-led, voguish, and exuding cool from every clean-cut angle, the Upper House is contemporary Hong Kong at its very best. There’s no swimming pool, gym or fancy spa, but you won’t give a fig when you’re cocooned in your enormous sky suite overlooking Victoria Harbour. Doubles from HK$5,500/£460, room only.
What’s on the menu? © acme
Cost of Food In Hong Kong
You’re not going to find anywhere as cheap to eat as you would, say in Thailand, Vietnam or Laos but it is still possible to chow down on a hearty dinner for around £5 in Hong Kong. There are only 40 or so dai pai dongs (street food stalls) remaining in the city, seek them out – before they’re gone – on Stanley Street in Central and in Sham Shui Po for a steaming bowls of beef noodles, sweet and sour pork and garlic prawns.
Otherwise tuck into top Canto fare at one of Hong Kong’s (not so) excitingly named Cooked Food Centres. Good bets are the Bowrington Road Centre in Wan Chai, which is known for its delicious crunchy-on-the-outside juicy-on-the-inside roast chicken, and Gi Kee at the Wong Nei Chung Centre in Happy Valley; the food is consistently excellent here and it’s also a great place to fuel up before the Wednesday night horse races.
Further up the price scale, are classic Hong Kong restaurants such as Maxim’s Palace City Hall, where curly-permed waitresses still deliver food on old-fashioned trolleys (dishes around £4), Luk Yu Teahouse, an 80-year old establishment with Deco interiors and grumpy octogenarian waiters (dishes around £4), and Fook Lam Moon, a third-generation family outfit with award-winning dim sum and a Mad Men vibe (dishes around £7).
There are, of course, a galaxy of Michelin star restaurants in this foodie mad city too, the most-highly lauded of which would be Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons, Amber at the Landmark Mandarin Oriental – both of which will set you back around £100 a head for dinner – and Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin awarded eatery where you can scoff a dim sum meal for as little as £2 – just be prepared to queue.
Cost Of Cigarettes And Alcohol In Hong Kong
The cost of alcohol in Hong Kong is on a par with what you would pay in most of the UK; £3 – £4 pounds for a beer in a regular pub, slightly more in a fancier city centre bar, and £10 and upwards at one the island’s glamorous harbour-facing haunts. Beer and alcopops are cheap and readily available from 7/11 though – you’ll pay around HK£10 for a local brew and $18/£1.50 for an imported beer like Corona. Cigarettes can be purchased from street-side newspaper vendors, convenience stores, supermarkets and bars and cost around HK$55/£4.60 for a packet of 20.
Cost Of Activities In Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s smoky temples, rambling country parks, beaches and even Victoria Peak are all free to visit. The city also has a growing collection of excellent government-funded museums, nearly all of which charge an admission fee of just HK$10/85p – and are completely free every Wednesday. Most notable are the Hong Kong Museum of History, which offers a fascinating insight into Hong Kong’s past with a modern-day interactive twist. While if you’re even a little bit of a Bruce Lee fan, you will want to make the hour-long schlepp to Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, which currently houses a kick-ass collection of the star’s personal possessions and film memorabilia.
Money Money $$$ © 90461913@N00
Nightlife In Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a phenomenal amount of places to drink, from cheap hole-in-the-walls to Hennessey-swilling private clubs to underground dance bars. If money is no object, walk your Ferragamos over to the likes of Felix, Aqua, Sevva and Armani Privé. For a more hipster vibe, hit up the multitude of bars scattered around SoHo (south of Hollywood Road).
The action spills out onto the pavements here so one local trick is to nip to the nearest 7/11, pick up a couple of bottles of beer and then mingle into the crowd. Nearby Lan Kwai Fong is best avoided – unless you’re after an 18-30s-style scene of course – but the former red light district of Wan Chai is still a blast – hit up rooftop bar Wooloomooloo for potent cocktails and panoramic views of Happy Valley, Causeway Bay and the harbour.
Lastly, happy hours and ladies’ nights are a big thing in Hong Kong so if you have a vagina it’s possible to drink all night for free! Yay! And if you don’t, you can at least cut your drinks bill in half. Most of the action happens around Wan Chai on a Wednesday night but check the listing in local publications like Time Out, HK magazine and sassyhongkong.com for more deals around town.
Shopping In HK
People who say you can’t get a bargain in Hong Kong anymore just aren’t trying hard enough. A highly-competitive tech market and no sales tax means that most electronics are at least 20 per cent cheaper here than in the UK – just be sure to buy from well-established Hong Kong chains such as Fortress, avoiding the cowboys around Nathan Road at all costs.
Mong Kok’s Golden Computer Arcade and the Computer Centre in Wan Chai are both great bets for electronic accessories – items like hard drives, memory cards, and safety screens are a steal compared to the UK. Clothing is another area where you can save big; for everyday wear and accessories, scour the side streets and outlet stores around Hennessy Road in Wan Chai; for sports gear (including ski suits, weirdly) and Abercrombie, Guess and other American-brand samples and over-runs rummage around Stanley Market; while if you’re after luxury labels, head to Horizon Plaza in Ap Lei Chau (near Aberdeen), where you’ll find 28-storeys of outlet stores with up to 70 per cent off everything from Alexander McQueen gowns to Prada purses to Ralph Lauren bedding – tip: the ancient lift is crazy slow so start at the top and work your way down.
Toiletries And Other Essentials
Watson’s is the most recognisable pharmacists in Hong Kong, with branches on practically every street. They stock everything you could possibly need with brands that are instantly recognisable. Prices are slightly higher than in the UK or US.
HK Sim Cards And Internet Access
Free wifi is pretty easy to find in Hong Kong; most malls, coffee shops and 7/11s offer it as part of the service, and there are government hotspots dotted all over the city – these are ropey at best though. For a seamless service pick up a tourist SIM at the airport. However, I actually don’t think the tourist SIM is particularly good value. Better to just get a local one, best deal I found when I was there last was from China Mobile – HK$80 for 3G with HK$78 in credit so in reality cost just 2p! Then it just needs topped up by HK$30 every ten days for continuous use. China Mobile stores are all over the place.
Getting Around © chrisny2
Travelling Around Hong Kong
Transportation costs in Hong Kong are astonishingly cheap so this is where you can save big. The MTR underground rail system covers large parts of the city, with double-deckers and mini-buses filling in the gaps, making it easy to reach the likes of Big Buddha, Stanley Market and Victoria Peak for just a few pounds. Then there’s the tram system, which idles east to west across Hong Kong Island and makes for the perfect sightseeing trip, costing just HK$0.23/20p a ride, wherever you get on and off.
A harbour crossing on the iconic Star Ferry is the same price. Cover all these bases and save time fumbling for change by picking up a Tourist Octopus Card at the airport. A more comprehensive version of London’s Oyster card, it can be used on all forms of public transport, including ferries and the Airport Express train, as well as in supermarkets, cinemas, department stores, theme parks and museums.
Lee Cobaj lives in Hong Kong and specialises in writing about Asia. She is a regular contributor to the likes of The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, National Geographic Traveller, Which? Travel magazine and more. Follow her on Twitter @Lee_Cobaj