Ditch the tours and the typical tourist attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park. Here are some ways you can appreciate Hong Kong while making your wallet happy.
1. Try out as many types of public transport as you can
First things first, get an Octopus card. It can be used on all types of public transport, and will save time compared to purchasing single journey tickets or finding coins.
Hong Kong’s MTR system is truly commendable. The waiting time for each train is usually 2-3 minutes, though waiting time is 5 minutes for the maroon-purple West Rail Line. Just a warning though, the red and blue lines are usually really crowded. While most of the MTR lines run underground, there are some stations that allow you to appreciate the view outside along the light blue and maroon-purple line. Each station has a sign with a list of tourist attractions for certain stations, and can give you an idea on where to go next. Remember to get a MTR map from the station, and it would be your best friend during your trip.
Public Light Buses (mini buses)
This is perhaps the best mode of transport where you can sit in peace knowing that you don’t have to be on the lookout to give up your seat to others. Public light buses can only carry around 16 passengers, and everyone gets a seat. Passengers pay a flat fare for each trip.
Trams aka ‘Ding Ding’
Only available on Hong Kong Island, trams are the cheapest mode of transport. For each ride, adult passengers pay a flat fare of HK$2.30. Note that you should enter from the back and exit from the front. While perhaps the most authentic Hong Kong style of travelling, it is quite uncomfortable in my opinion. Trams are better avoided during peak hours when it is packed with commuters on the way to work or home.
Only available near the maroon-purple West Rail Line, the Light Rail allows you to explore less crowded areas of Hong Kong. Light Rails are the most interesting to me. What’s surprising is that there aren’t normal gantries at the stations. Instead, passengers are expected to tap on the orange stands during entry, and the green stands during exit.
2. Visit tourist and not-so-tourist areas
Upon alighting at the Peak Tower, head down to take a photo with Bruce Lee’s wax figure outside Madam Tussauds. Enjoy the scenic view of Hong Kong from the footpaths at the peak or on the roof garden of Peak Galleria, rather than paying HK$400+ for the Sky Terrace. While taking the Peak Tram up and down to the peak is a great experience, the waiting time is very long. Instead, you can take the public bus down the peak, as it only costs HK$9.80, which is significantly less expensive.
Sai Kung – the fish, the boats and the dogs!
Travel to Hang Hou MTR Station and take public light bus 101M to the Sai Kung terminal. There are fishermen on their boats near the pier selling fresh fish and other seafood. Seafood restaurants line the area. There are also boat rides available to small islands nearby.
I visited Sai Kung on a Sunday and there were many locals walking their pet dogs. It was absolutely doggie paradise!
Hong Kong Wetland Park
Located in a considerably rural area, here’s a place you can dodge packs of tour groups. It’s a great place to visit if you’re a nature lover and avid photographer. I expected it to be a normal park, but it’s actually pretty well developed with Wetland Interactive World. Entry costs HK$30 for adults. Picnics are not allowed in the park, but the spacious restaurant in the Visitor Centre offers affordable meals with a beautiful view of nature. Set meals are around HK$40+ (main dish + drink). That is a good price for a set meal in a nice environment. I visited the park on a Monday, so it was not crowded. To get to Hong Kong Wetland Park, alight at Tin Shui Wai MTR Station, change to the Light Rail service 705 or 706, then alight at Tin Sau station.
Overhear people talking about Prada while you can only afford prata? Visit Ladies’ Market (Mong Kok MTR station) and Temple Street Night Market (opens at 6pm, Yau Ma Tei MTR station) for cheap bargains and shopping for souvenirs.
3. Eat at small local eateries
Won Ton noodles (shrimp dumpling noodles) are a must try in Hong Kong. The eatery I visited, 清汤腩王, is located in Temple Street (Yau Ma Tei MTR station). Both soup and dry versions are available, with the soup version priced at HK$32, while the dry one is priced at HK$40. The stall is generous in its serving portions and have low prices compared to other stalls. There is large amount of shrimp in each dumpling, unlike those I have eaten in Singapore. The large serving portions also hold true for other dishes like the Chiu Chow Fish Dumpling Noodle Soup. Part of the reason for the low prices lie in the lack of air conditioners in the eatery. However, as I went there for dinner in December, the weather is cool and the quality of the food made up for the basic environment. I liked the won ton noodles from that stall so much that I ate there for two consecutive dinners.
Hong Kong food is quite expensive and around twice the price of Singapore food (HK$5 is approximately S$1). If you realise at any point of time that you’re running out of lunch money, don’t worry. Buy some local snacks (e.g. curry fishballs ‘yu dan’, egg waffles, dim sum) and find a seat at a nearby park. Another alternative would be to buy instant food from the numerous 7-Eleven stores available in every area. It’s definitely not the most glamorous way of having a meal, but hey, food is ultimately still food.
My parents and I went to Hong Kong and Macau recently with a half day tour in both places. It’s definitely better if you travel to Hong Kong with someone who can understand and speak Cantonese, but there are signs in English and most Hong Kongers can speak English too. Honestly, a tour around Hong Kong isn’t necessary unless you’re travelling with old people or don’t mind tour groups leeching off your money. Seriously, if you ever think your tour itinerary is the actual one, there will nearly always be some ‘optional’ boat rides or unexpected souvenirs you’re forced to buy. Macau is a nice place to visit too for a day trip. Simply take a 1 hour ferry across from Hong Kong. The ferry I took was under TurboJet, and the whole ride was smooth and comfortable.
To end off, here are some arctic animals wishing you a Merry Christmas from Hong Kong Wetland Park!