Offbeat Hong Kong on a Budget

Heading to Hong Kong on a budget? You’ll find lots of lists telling you about the usual must-see sights. This list is not one of them. This is a list about the must experience and the offbeat. The one that gets you closer to the culture, the region and its people…all on a tiny budget. Happy Exploring!
Stay at the St. Davis Youth Hostel in Lantau: Cheap and Hong Kong don’t really go together but there is a solution to every problem. For $80 HKD a night (about $10 USD) you can stay at this hostel located in the middle of the forest surrounded by the Lantau mountains. The rooms are basic – I’m not a big fan of the smelly blankets- but the location makes it worth it. I was there because of the all the hiking in Lantau and this hostel makes a great base for a lot of the trails. You have to be a YHA member though and if you aren’t, you can buy an annual membership for $120 at the hostel. A good option if you’re planning to stay for a few nights.

St. Davis Hostel in Lantau is a good base for hikers & those looking for budget accommodation

Get the Chinese veggie meal at the Po Lin Monastery: If you’re in Hong Kong there is a pretty good chance you’ll be heading out to see the Big Buddha  It’s definitely worth a trip but what is also worth a visit is the monastery restaurant next door. They do a fixed menu vegetarian Chinese meal and it is a simple but scrumptious affair. Give it a shot, I reckon you won’t be disappointed. A side note: a lot of people won’t go to the Big Buddha on a cloudy day, I reckon that’s when it’s the most beautiful. 

Our Veggie Meal at the Po Lin Monastery, Lantau
Views on a cloudy day from the Big Buddha, Lantau
It was hard to tell where the ocean ended and where the clouds began, Lantau
More cloudy views from Big Buddha, Lantau
Someone decorated ALL the dung in the monastery area with flowers. I just had to take a photo of beautified poo.
Stay in Aberdeen on a boat: We found a boat stay via Air BnB and sleeping while bobbing up and down might not work for everyone but I slept like a baby. Part of the charm is calling out to the Sampan drivers (the local boat transport service) who take you from your boat to the pier and back. Aberdeen is a good base for exploring the south of HK Island which is where Shek O Beach, Stanley Markets and Ocean Park are. One evening after a particularly long day we went to the local supermarket Wellcome and picked up a bunch of ingredients, cook a big meal on board and ate it out on the deck under the starry skies. That is one of my favourite memories from Hong Kong.

Take the Star Ferry: So, this might not be “offbeat” but it’s definitely budget and a great way to get from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island or vice versa. If you time it right, you can be on the ferry during the light show and enjoy a dual spectacle of the buildings on either side of the river doing the jig. This is the best cruise $2 can buy you in Hong Kong.

The Star Ferry is the cheapest HK cruise. Photo Credit: Edwin.11, Flickr

Go to the IFC Roof Top: The IFC Roof Top garden is part of the most phallic looking building on the Hong Kong skyline.You’ll know it when you see it. It’s almost directly across from the ICC building which has it’s own light show every evening at 7:45 and 9:00. This light show is the new kid on the block having only started in April this year. I actually preferred it to the more popular Symphony of Lights show. The IFC Rooftop is free and the views are of the harbour, the river and the lights on the Kowloon side. To get here you need to head to IFC 2 and take the elevator up to the Rooftop. On a balmy rain-free evening, it makes a nice place for a picnic or for a few drinks. Which reminds me, you can take your own drinks up to the rooftop – how’s that for a fun night on a budget in Hong Kong?

Daytime views from the IFC Roof Gardens, Hong Kong

Go out for Ladies Night in Wan Chai or Lwan Kai Fong: Okay so you might have heard of this one before but we had such a good night out in Hong Kong that I had to make sure you do too. Ladies, it’s free drinks all night. Head out after some pre-drinks at the IFC Rooftop and then on Wednesdays indulge in free champagne at Carnegies and a selection of free mixer drinks at Mes Amis in Wan Chai. Thursdays, if you have it in you after a night out in Wan Chai, make your way to LKF. You’ll have a great time and see drunk expats galore but hey, they’re just as much a part of the HK Experience.

Clubs galore in Lwan Kai Fong
Hike the Sai Kung Peninsula: The Sai Kung area is probably one of the most beautiful areas in Hong Kong. It’s got sandy white beaches where you can set up camp, waterfalls that give massages, lagoons to kick back in, peaks to climb and cows to watch out for.  To read all the details about how unique the Sai Kung experience is, click here.

Tai Long Wan, one of the most beautiful beaches in Hong Kong
Try the Hot Pot: What a healthy and delicious idea the hot pot is. I was lucky enough to be invited to be a part of a Hot Pot Party at the St Davis hostel mentioned earlier. Basically, there is a soup base usually chicken or beef and then there is a big buffet…of well…everything. You can pick and choose from the spread and add it to the big hot pot, let it boil in there for a while and voila, you have your own bowl of goodness. So simple yet so good and such a fun dinner party idea. Eventually, the soup pot becomes really flavourful because of the deliciousness and variety that’s gone in there. At the hostel, everyone just stood around the hot pot chatted, walked around and ate whenever they felt like. The whole thing went on for 4 hours or so. All is not lost if you aren’t invited to one, lots of restaurants offer Hot Pots as well.

A Hot Pot is presented buffet style with a Soup Base and a variety of meat and veggies
My Hot Pot meal shared with others at St. Davis Hostel, Lantau

Indulge in a Hong Kong Style BBQ:  People are just very nice in HK because another time I was invited to a BBQ on the beach with some new friends I made while hiking the Sai Kung Peninsula. The Hong Kong BBQ is different. Instead of putting the coal under the mesh and the meat over it, you put the coal over the mesh and grill your meat over the open coal on skewers.

Again, the amount of variety was phenomenal. The one I went to had only four people and they had all kinds of things. There was meatballs, chicken in pepper sauce, chicken in garlic sauce, squid, salmon, two kinds of Japanese mushrooms, a kind of melon, pumpkin, sausages, lamb and a whole bird of some kind (partridge?). Phew! I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something. Sadly I’d already eaten earlier so I stared in awe more than I ate. A good place for a BBQ on the Beach is also Shek O beach, Hong Kong Island where you need to take your own supplies and then just hire a BBQ from one of the shacks. Easy Peasy.

Go to Tai O, the Fishing Village in Lantau: Tai-O (Pronounced: Ta Ao) is a fishing village on stilts in Lantau Island. You can do a boat trip for $20 HKD (which in Hong Kong is the price for two bottles of water) and try spotting some pink dolphins. The trip is basic and no frills ($20 remember?) but it’s worth it. The village itself is charming and fun to get lost in. There are a few cafes that face the river and the hills. “River views” must be entirely normal to the owners here because no one seems to advertise it. You kind of just have to peep in and see if they have outdoor seating. I also liked Tai-O so much because of a bunch of weird things I saw all around. There is some accommodation in the village and if you book early enough through the YWCA you can even rent a house on high heels.
Views of the hills and the river in Tai-O, Lantau
With crisp air and views like that, how can you not eat healthily? Tai O, Lantau
The weird and the wonderful in Tai-O village. Spotted these two with working watches on their wrists.
Sorry, the reward has been offered for Snowwhite. Your trip to Lantau was useless
Husband for $20 anyone? A local dish this one

Rainy Day? Go to the Chi Linn Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden: Hong Kong can get some torrential downpour and on such a day, the place to be with an umbrella and a cup of coffee is the Chi Linn Nunnery and  Nan Lian Gardens. Actually, it’s gorgeous on any given day but if you do meet with some rain as is quite likely in HK then I’d pick this gem over staying indoors and whining.

The nunnery with its Lotus Pond courtyard is so peaceful and a walk through the old Nan Lian Gardens that the nuns help look after is incredibly romantic and sigh-inducing. The garden looks lush as raindrops peep over the edges of the leaves, there is a soft pitter-patter of the endless but subtle rain, the bright fish in the pond look slightly hazy and ethereal in the rainy weather, the unfazed nuns dressed in orange go about their business with a calm only known to them…it feels like you’re moving around in a painting. If you still need respite, in these beautifully landscaped gardens you’ll also find a Tea Room (open only in the afternoon) as well as a local cafe and a restaurant.

The Chi Linn Nunnery and the Lotus Garden
The Chinese Pagoda at the Nan Lian Gardens
Hong Kong On A Budget, Budget Hong Kong, Hong Kong Offbeat
The Tea Room in Nan Lian Gardens, Hong Kong

I’d planned a lot of this as a surprise for my best friend who was travelling out of the country for the first time. She tells me she saw a completely different side to Hong Kong, one she didn’t realise existed. That’s exactly what I’d wanted and I hope you’ll love exploring this other side to Hong Kong too!


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