Hong Kong for less: money-saving travel tips

A dynamic meeting of East and West, Hong Kong’s status as an international hub for trade and commerce is often reflected in its prices. This can be a costly travel destination. But if you have the know-how, it has plenty to offer the budget-savvy traveller. Here’s how to get the most bang for your buck in Hong Kong.

  • Jetstar

Currency exchange

The worst way to exchange currency is to do it at home before you go—the rates you’ll get in Hong Kong will be better. Avoid exchanging money at the airport or at hotels; shop around and use a currency conversion website or app such as XE opens in new window to find out the mid-market rates. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of 7.8. That means that HKD $7.80 will always equal USD $1, whatever the fluctuation in the greenback. You’re likely to get the best rates by using ATMs and credit or debit card transactions. Check your bank’s international transaction fees, taking into account both the withdrawal fee (likely to be a flat fee) and the currency conversion fee (usually a percentage of the total withdrawal). Most Hong Kong ATMs charge zero withdrawal fees. When you pay by credit card you may be offered the choice of paying in your home currency or local currency. Always choose local—your credit card company will give you a better rate.

Hong Kong by Night

How to get around

Getting around Hong Kong is cheap and efficient, and some of its transport options double as iconic tourist attractions. Take the celebrated Star Ferry, which has been whisking passengers across Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong and Kowloon for around 130 years. It’s still going strong, and the HKD $3.40 fare (about AUD $0.50) is a tiny price to pay for one of city’s most spectacular skyline views.

Another transport classic are the much-loved trams, which offer, at HKD $2.30, a bargain trip from one end of the island to the other.

For sheer ease of navigation, Hong Kong’s subway system, the MTR, is hard to beat. Fares vary according to distance, but short hops (Central to Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island for instance) will only cost about HKD 5.50 for an adult single.

Taxis are plentiful and reasonably priced, especially if you’re travelling in a group. Metered taxis have a fixed starting price of HKD $24 ( AUD $4) with the fare increasing by HKD$1.70 every 200 metres. Keep in mind that passengers must pay the toll if the taxi goes through one of Hong Kong’s many harbour or mountain tunnels.

An even cheaper way of getting around is to hop on one of the many buses that ply the roads, including routes to major attractions opens in new window.

Stack of dumplings in a bamboo Steamer

Where to eat

Hong Kong is a food-lover’s paradise, where down-to-earth joints serve up some of the best Cantonese food you’ll find anywhere. Indeed, you’ll struggle to eat badly in a destination that is notable for having the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant—the wonderful dim sum joint Tim Ho Wan opens in new window.

With over 14,000 restaurants packed into its compact dimensions, the city serves up everything from tasty Thai to Indian curries. Ashley Road in Tsim Sha Tsui is a great starting point for searching out a mind-boggling variety of affordable cuisine from all over the world.

To go truly local, hunt out a cha chaan teng, or ‘tea restaurant’. These defiantly old-school venues serve an eclectic range of dishes best described as Western with a Hong Kong twist, like Hong Kong-style French toast, a calorific indulgence of moist eggy bread sandwiching a peanut butter filling. Dishes are tasty and always extremely reasonably priced at around HKD $45 ( AUD $7.50).

Just as legendary are the city’s ubiquitous dai pai dong, bustling street food stalls where a meal will rarely cost you more than HKD $35. These no-frills eateries offer the full gamut of Chinese hawker fare, serving everything from noodles and dim sum to skewered octopus. Our favourite spots for a roving street food feast are Stanley Street and Staveley Street in Central and Hau Fook Street in Kowloon.

An insider tip: make lunch your main meal of the day. Many restaurants offer special fixed-price lunch deals opens in new window that are cheaper than their evening menu—the smart way to indulge in some of Hong Kong’s best restaurants without blowing your budget.

Shopping streets of Mong Kok Market

Where to shop

A neon-lit retail pilgrimage destination, Hong Kong offers plenty of shopping options for bargain-hunters. Frugal fashionistas should head for the mini-malls of Tsim Sha Tsui, which are teeming with clothes and accessories from mainland China and Korea. Trendy low-cost garments are also the focus of stores at the eastern end of Granville Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and Cheung Sha Wan Road in Sham Shui Po.

Hong Kong’s atmospheric markets are a great opportunity to find inexpensive souvenirs, knock-off fashion and DVDs of dubious provenance. Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong’s last remaining traditional market, is a buzzing place where you can have your fortune told, browse for bargains, and chow down on cheap, delicious street food. At Cat Street Antique Market you’ll find a fascinating mix of inexpensive (and sometimes authentic) antiques and curios. If you’ve ever wanted to own a vintage snuff bottle or a mini Mao statue, then this is the place. Just remember to haggle opens in new window!