Welcome to Hong Kong !
One of the most expensive places in the world but don’t worry, thanks to this guide you’re gonna be able to travel without breaking the bank ! I know what I’m talking about, I spent 3 months in Hong Kong and I didn’t pay for any accommodation, and almost no food or transportation.
My technique was simple, I started by volunteering in a hostel. I was changing bed sheets, cleaning the dorms and occasionally did a few nights shifts in order to sleep there free of charge. This opportunity came after spending my first 3 nights in Hong Kong sleeping on the streets though. Once I secured the accommodation, I taught French and got paid only with food. And to move I used my feet to go everywhere in Hong Kong. I reunited all my knowledge in this little guide to let you help to do the same.
Overall, transportation and food are cheaper than in most Western big cities, but more expensive than most Asian countries. You can get a bowl of rice with meat for about 2.5US$ in a market and ride the bus for about a dollar. Due to the lack of space, accommodation is very expensive and often very small. Hong Kong has a lot of free activities for you to keep busy while visiting, such as hiking or swimming !
There are several cheap neighborhoods to eat in. Usually the Hong Kong island will be more expensive than the rest of Hong Kong to eat. Places in Kowloon such as the district of Sham Shui Po are pretty cheap and offer good food quality.
Go late to the markets
Go around 5 or 6pm to the local markets, that’s when they’re about to close and you’ll find the best deals at that time. You can also just ask fruits and vegetables sellers if they have anything they’re going to throw away, so you could use it instead.
There’s a Sikh Temple on Hong Kong Island where they do give free food to anyone, regardless of your skin color or religion. You won’t be the first backpacker going there for sure. You could also sleep there and spend time to help them. This is their website, they are located in Wan Chai on the Hong Kong island.
Eat in restaurants and chain fast food shops from 2 to 5pm
Most restaurants have an afternoon tea discount from around 2 to 5pm. If you want to save a bit on your expenses you might want to eat around that time. Yoshinoya, Maxim’s, Satay King, Café de Coral are some chain restaurants which offer discounted afternoon tea. “下午茶” is the sign to look for, meaning afternoon tea discount.
It’s not easy to dumpster dive in Hong Kong because you’ll have a lot of competition from older locals who are doing it to survive. If you walk around, you’ll surely see people investigating every garbage bin. It makes your job more difficult, but nothing’s impossible with a good timing, for instance right after a supermarket closes at night. Chain bakeries either reserve their unsold items to local communities or not allow employees to give out to strangers. If you want to try your luck, try small family owned bakeries instead. If you don’t mind fast food, sitting in McDonald’s to finish people’s leftover can probably fill your belly.
Volunteering in a hostel
This is what I did the first time I was in Hong Kong, and it was such a great experience that I stayed almost 3 months in total ! Most hostels require you to commit for at least a couple of weeks, and usually a month, but feel free to try ! There’s enough to do in Hong Kong to keep you busy throughout your stay. You can find a list of hostels to volunteer in through Helpx or Workaway, but my technique is to send emails to every hostel.
Camping at the designated free campgrounds
Hong Kong has many free campgrounds scattered around the territory. Most of these campgrounds are located outside of the city near the hiking trails, and sometimes just by the beach ! We had the chance to camp at Pui O beach on Lantau Island, it was an incredible experience to be able to camp just by the beach. You even have free (cold) showers and toilets around the facility. We had to register with our passport there though, but we didn’t have to register in any other campgrounds we slept at.
Camping anywhere else
You can also camp outside of these campgrounds if you’re discrete. That was one of my favorite things to do, and I managed to sleep next to the Peak and right by Central, only a few minutes walk from the Mid-Level escalators. Use your judgment to know where you’ll be bothering someone or not, and please do not leave any trace when you leave.
That’s the roughest option, but if you end up crashing in a fast food for the night you won’t be the only one. Many shops are open 24 hours so it leaves you plenty of options. You can also crash in a park if it doesn’t close, and once again you won’t be the only one sleeping there.
You can easily take a free shower at the numerous sports centers located in Hong Kong.
The water from the tap is not drinkable, but drinkable water is often available at sports centers and occasionally in parks and shopping centers.
Things to Do
In this rubric I will show you how to have fun in Hong Kong for free or very little money !
Go to an olympic swimming pool for only 2 dollars !
Yes, for only 17HK$ during the weekdays, and 19HK$ during the weekend, you can swim in an olympic swimming pool ! This is the equivalent of only 2US$ to enter ! Those are public swimming pools owned by the government, and there are 44 of them located all around Hong Kong. They have indoor & outdoor pools. Bring a swim suit, a towel, the exact amount of cash (or your Octopus card of course) and a 2 or 5 HK$ coin to use the lockers and you are set !
Be aware that swimming pools usually close twice for one hour during the day in order to clean the pool, and they also have one day off per week, so better check it out before !
Get the full schedule for Kowloon and Hong Kong island right here. For the New Territories click here.
Or just swim in the sea for free
If the swimming pool doesn’t seem like an attractive option to you, you can just go to the beach and swim there ! Unfortunately, the Kowloon side doesn’t have much option for you, so you’d better go to the southern side of Hong Kong island or in the New Territories to swim. Lantau island is a pretty good option as well !
Hiking is free in Hong Kong, and the trails are well-maintained. There are 4 main trails around the territory :
- The Hong Kong Trail (50 kilometers)
- The Wilson Trail (78 kilometers)
- The MacLehose trail (100 kilometers)
- The Lantau trail (70 kilometers)
Trails are well-indicated and split into stages. Most stages are accessible by public transport.
Hong Kong has many public libraries with lots of books in English. Click here to learn about their opening hours. They also have computers for you to use.
Visit Museums on Wednesday
Wednesday is the free museum day in Hong Kong. You can enjoy this opportunity to deepen your knowledge of Hong Kong in the Museum of History for instance.
They love basketball and you can find some people playing at any given playground. It’s harder to find people playing football because they have to book months in advance, but I managed to join a team a couple of times.
My best advice to save money on transportation in Hong Kong is to WALK ! But public transportation in Hong Kong is pretty affordable and efficient, just avoid the rush hour. Let’s see a few tips :
Cross the Victoria Harbor on a ferry
Bus and metro fares are usually more expensive when you’re crossing the Victoria Harbor. If you want to save money you could take the ferry instead. It costs only 2HK$ one-way, which is about 0.25US$. That’s one of the best deals in Hong Kong ! You’ll need to do this at least once in your trip !
No, hitchhiking is not great in Hong Kong, we both tried and it was highly unreliable. Most times there are no spots for the car to actually stop. Before meeting me, HiuYing once did a social experiment with her friends to hitch rides from their home in different districts to their University which is located in a remote area. The 2-hour usual commute turned into a 7-hour unforgettable experience. I manage to hitchhike from Kowloon to Sai Kung once but it wasn’t easy and it involved a lot of walking. Feel free to share your experience !
Were these tips helpful to plan your trip to Hong Kong ? Anything you would like to add in order to help our readers to lower their expenses ?