Hong Kong is a unique place where east meets west and modernity subtly blends with tradition. Many of the city's attractions can be done for free and others cost just a few HK dollars
We arrived in Hong Kong after a long and gruelling two month tour of South East Asian countries. We were completely drained, both physically and financially! Hong Kong is always buzzing with tremendous energy and is a unique place.
I had always imagined Hong Kong as an expensive city, so was wondering how far my already drained pocket could be stretched! Soon we realized that you do not need a fortune to experience this amazing city, it can easily be enjoyed even on a very tight budget without missing the major highlights. Many of the attractions can be done for free and some others cost just a few Hong Kong dollars.
Symphony of Lights (Victoria Harbour; 0852-2810 2555; www.tourism.gov.hk/symphony): every night at 8pm a spectacular multimedia laser show is held at Victoria Harbour, celebrating the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong. This show is held from over 40 buildings on either side of the harbour and lasts for 15 minutes. The best place to catch the show is the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. This is a must see for any visitor to Hong Kong and the best part is that it is absolutely free.
Museums: Hong Kong has a number of outstanding museums which are often overlooked by the majority of visitors. If your stay in Hong Kong includes a Wednesday, dedicate this day to explore these fabulous museums for free and you stand to save at least 75 HKD. Five of the more popular ones which deserve a visit are: Hong Kong Heritage Museum; Hong Kong Museum of Art; Hong Kong Science Museum; Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defense; and Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum.
Learning Martial Arts (Tai Chi): what could be more exciting than learning this form of traditional Chinese ‘Shadow Boxing’ from Mr Ng himself, an expert in this art? Hong Kong Tourist Board organizes this class absolutely free for visitors at two venues. I attended the one at Kowloon, which is held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8am (Sculpture Court, opposite Hong Kong Museum of Arts, Tsim Sha Tsui, nearest MTR station East Tsim Sha Tsi, Exit J). The other venue is in Hong Kong Island on Saturday (Harcourt Garden, Harcourt Road, Admiralty, Hong Kong, nearest MTR station Admiralty, Exit E1). Further information can be obtained from the HK Tourism board hotline for visitors +852 2508 1234.
Hong Kong Cultural Centre: located along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, it is the city’s premier multipurpose performance facility where a wide range of cultural events are held. The centre has three major halls with a combined capacity of more than 4,000 seats. Some free tickets are also distributed at the enquiry counter (9am to 9pm) on a first-come-first-served basis. We were not that lucky, maybe some others can try their luck.
Victoria Peak offers spectacular view of the Hong Kong skyline and can be reached by the heritage Peak tram (www.thepeak.com.hk/en/home.asp). Return tickets cost HK$36, however if you are really broke, don’t be disappointed, just visit the Bank of China Tower in the same area (1, Garden Road, Central) and head straight to the 43rd floor observatory deck for an amazing view. This is absolutely free and open from 9am to 6pm from Monday to Friday and 9am to 1pm on Saturday.
Hong Kong Trams: known locally as ‘ding ding’, they have been operating in the island part of the city for well over a hundred years. These double decker trams are an integral part of the daily routine of locals. Just hop on to any tram to get excellent views of the lively street life and get a taste of real Hong Kong. The fare is fixed at HK$2 for the entire route of the tram. Get in from the rear gate, no tickets are to be bought, while exiting at any of the enroute stations, just drop HK$2 coin in the slot provided near the driver’s seat. These trams operate from 6am till midnight. Check their official website for more information (www.hktramways.com/en/home.html).
Star Ferry is one of the icons of Hong Kong and no trip to the city is complete without a ride. This ferry service has been in operation for more than a hundred years and is still the most popular and inexpensive mode of transport across Victoria Harbour. It offers spectacular view of both sides of the harbour and should be done both during the day and night. The adult fare is HK$2 for lower deck and HK$2.50 for the upper deck from Mondays to Fridays. The fare on weekends and public holidays is slightly higher at HK$2.40 and HK$3.00. Ferries usually operate between 6:30am and 11:30om (www.starferry.com.hk/index.php).
Where to eat
Macau Restaurant (G/F 25-27 Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon; www.macaurestaurant.hk) offers typical Macanese cuisine at affordable prices. The cuisine is a unique blend of Chinese and Portuguese traditions, noodles are used in plenty and meat is usually roasted.
Al Dente restaurant (G/F, 16 Staunton Street, Soho, Hong Kong Island; +852 2869 5463) is surprisingly affordable considering its strategic location in the posh Soho district. This is a typical Italian restaurant offering a wide range of pasta and pizza dishes. Many of the dishes are available at around HK$80. The food is freshly prepared and delicious though the service leaves much to be desired, especially during the rush hours.
Ireland’s Potato (Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, +852 2151 0889, http://www.motokazi.com.hk/) is a small take away kiosk and not a typical restaurant. They are quite affordable and serve yummy potatoes with toppings of cheese, sour cream and meat sauce.
Where to stay
Budget: We stayed at Dragon Hostel, a clean and comfortable hostel, located in Mong Kok, one of the most vibrant areas of the city. The majority of the famous street-side shopping markets of the city are located in this area. We paid around HK$300 for a double room (a single was available for HK$200). The room was a bit small but quite clean. There was a mini-refrigerator and complimentary tea/coffee making sachets were also provided. The subway (MTR) station of Mong Kok was just a few blocks away. The staff were friendly and cheerful and they happily stored our luggage for rest of the day without charging anything extra.
Mid-range: One of the best hotels in this range offering excellent views of the Victoria harbour is Ramada Hotel - Hong Kong, located on the island side. A free shuttle bus service is also available from the hotel to the IFC Mall/Hong Kong subway (MTR) station. Double rooms are available at around HK$ 600-700.