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Visiting Hong Kong on a budget: What Metro Vancouver travellers need to know

Visit one of the world's top destinations without breaking the bank.

Metro Vancouver residents might not consider Hong Kong a budget-friendly destination. Visions of soaring skyscrapers, massive shopping centres, and high-end restaurants don't exactly scream "affordable." 

But my experience in the Asian destination proved particularly cost-effective...when I wanted it to be. 

Hong Kong is an ideal choice for sophisticated glamour. K11 Musea, a unique museum-retail space, boasts breathtaking artwork across its seven storeys and charms visitors with a subtle fragrance as they stroll past shops, eateries, and galleries. It is an architectural wonder you can visit for free, although many experiences cost a fee (see slide two).

Other posh options include Aqua, a chic Italian-Japanese restaurant, and the Ozone Bar in the Ritz Carlton, the world's highest rooftop bar, each offering spell-binding views of Victoria Harbour.

While I enjoyed cocktails at both sky-high spots, they aren't exactly budget-friendly. However, the cost of entry (a drink) affords a bird's eye view of the city skyline and harbour you'd have to pay for without a drink from lookout towers in most top world cities (think Taipei 101 in Taiwan or the Top of the Rock in New York). 

Sophisticated sips, a historic tram ride, and world-class vistas

If you plan to visit the top of the Ritz, be prepared for some gusting wind. The Aqua affords sweeping waterfront views but isn't as high up as the Ozone Bar. You can also sit outside for the price of one drink, with prices starting around $20 (see slide three). The latter sits 118 floors high at the top of the International Commerce Centre (ICC) building and features a tall glass divider between patrons and the sprawling metropolis below; it's so high that the wind would be dangerous without it. However, the outdoor area can create a bit of a wind tunnel, so maybe leave your hat at home.

You can hang out inside the Ozone Bar for the price of a cocktail and take a peek at the view but you'll need to spend around HKD 500, equivalent to roughly C$87, for a front-row seat at the world's tallest drinking spot (this price can include drinks and food).

Travellers who prefer to view Hong Kong from a traditional viewing platform can enjoy a stunning perspective at The Peak in the central business district. The Sky Terrace 428 stands a whopping 428 meters above sea level, offering sweeping views of the city, ocean, and forested areas on the local mountains. Visitors can take a historic tram ride or hike to reach the summit. 

The tram ride takes approximately 10 minutes to reach the summit and costs HKD 148 or about C$25 for a return trip. Buildings appear to pass on a slope as the tram ascends to about 396 metres above sea level. Once you reach the top, the viewing platform provides plenty of space to take in perspectives of the urban oasis and snap photos (see slide four).

I enjoyed soaking in the harbour views during a 45-minute sunset cruise on one of Aqua Luna's iconic red-sail Chinese junk boats, which included a drink. The company offers evening sailing for HKD 470 or about C$47 (see slides five and six)

Free things to do in Hong Kong 

The Victoria Harbour comes alive at night, boasting a mesmerizing panorama of the world's most impressive buildings glowing with active light displays at 8 p.m. Scores of passenger ferries and pleasure boats cruise through the popular waterway, with many people enjoying sips and eats as the sun sets. You can watch the display from the shore on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon, which features searchlights, lasers, drones, and LED screens. 

West Kowloon Cultural District is a cultural hub that offers an ideal place to sit outside by the water or stroll down the promenade. However, you can view the waterfront from several key spots, including the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, the Ocean Terminal Deck, the Golden Bauhinia Square, and many others (see slide seven).

Hong Kong's dense streets hum with shopping, dining, and cultural experiences. Some of its most popular attractions don't cost a fee, including its bustling street markets where visitors can browse vendors selling common household items, unique artworks, clothing, jewellery, and more.

Temple Street in Yau Ma Tei features rows of neon signs, illuminated lanterns,  light installations, fortune-telling stations, and hundreds of open-air food stalls. 

While it may not strike visitors as an outdoor destination, Hong Kong has a range of hikes with varying degrees of difficulty. I tried the Dragon's Back hike on Hong Kong Island, which was easily accessible via a city bus to the trailhead. Unlike most hikes, the breathtaking journey includes awe-inspiring views throughout the entire trek, with only brief interludes between exposed spots under the tree canopies. 

Temples are free for visitors to explore, including the breathtaking Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. The Taoist temple's striking ornate features and perfectly maintained garden juxtapose the city's bustling pace (see slide eight).

Eating on a budget in Hong Kong 

Hong Kong has many upscale dining options and many of them have long waitlists. But budget-conscious travellers can try a variety of eateries and food stalls at a bargain. The food stalls have low-cost items that cost less than C$10 or even $5, while many markets and bakeries sell buns, snacks and ready-made items for even less. 

I purchased two types of dim-sum from an MTR station shop on the way back from completing the Dragon's Back hike for about C$12 and they were both excellent; it was filling for a dinner for one person. 

Some restaurants sell family-style portions that are meant to be shared by several people. If you travel with a group, many options are very inexpensive when split. Solo travellers can enjoy low-cost options at restaurants and food stalls selling smaller portions.

It is possible to eat three squares for under C$40, particularly if breakfast consists of bakery items (a couple of my breakfasts cost around C$5 and consisted of a fresh bun from a nearby shop and juice from one of the many 7-Elevens).

Affordable accommodation and transportation in Hong Kong 

Some of the world's most awe-inspiring hotels are located in Hong Kong...but some surprisingly posh selections cost a fraction of what they would in Vancouver. 

Travellers looking for stunning waterfront views can stay in affordable options in Kowloon. Many travellers prefer to stay on Hong Kong Island because of its proximity to some key attractions. However, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) expedites commuters through the urban oasis and the trip from the Kowloon area takes about 20 minutes from several spots.

You can pick up an Octopus Card to ride the MTR and city buses, and to make small purchases in convenience stores. A HKD 50 deposit is required (roughly C$8.72) but you can get that back when you return it at the end of your trip (see slide nine).

I stayed at the Grand Harbour Kowloon for the second half of my 10-day trip and enjoyed nearly floor-to-ceiling windows with sweeping views of Victoria Harbour and a rooftop infinity pool for under C$150 a night. I originally booked a standard room that did not include an ocean view but I received a free upgrade on arrival. The hotel was within a short walk of seemingly endless food and retail options, including everything from upscale dining to convenience stores to The Whampoa Mall, which has over 300 shops.

The Whampoa MTR station is about a five to 10-minute walk from the hotel, providing easy access to nearly any part of Kowloon or Hong Kong Island. City buses are ideal for other places, such as some hikes or remote islands (see slide 10).

Travellers who don't need a sweeping waterfront view or infinity pool can find cheaper options, including several for under $100 on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon. Prices for a night at four-star hotels like the Iclub To Kwa Wan Hotel in Kowloon start at just C$70 a night, while The Harbourview near the Observation Wheel on Hong Kong Island costs around $71.  

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