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A Backpackers Guide to Hong Kong

A former dependant of the UK and now under Chinese rule, the proud Honk Kong inhabitants consider themselves Hong Kongese, and you’d be a brave person to insist that wasn’t the case.

Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong skyline

Hong Kong is a place like no other. A place that clearly shows signs of their former British rule with Baker Street, St George Street and Victoria harbour to name but a few of the old colonial names still kicking around, but one that still proudly plays host to endless Chinese customs, temples and cuisine. It’s truly a city of contrast and one that if you throw your self into, you can’t fail to be captivated by all it has to offer.

Let’s have a look at what there is for backpackers to see and do in this fascinating place:

Shopping in hong kong
Shopping in hong kong

How long should you spend in Hong Kong?

When you hear the population of Hong Kong is 7,000,000 it’s forgivable to think this is a huge place… it’s not. Hong Kong is a city that grows ‘up’ and not ‘out’ – sections of HK are some of the most densely populated places in the world.

There are endless skyscrapers to accommodate everyone and the living spaces are tiny. With that being said, 3 days or so is easily enough time to tick off all the main tourist attractions while still getting a feeling of the real Hong Kong.

Working out paperwork can be tricky. Hong Kong PAR application can be managed with not too much stress.

Is Hong Kong as expensive as people say?

In a word, no. Of course, it’s not Vietnam or Cambodia but if you stay away from the booze (come on, you can do it – it’s only 3 days!) and eat wisely, you can certainly get by on $30 USD a day including cheap accommodation (Chingkat mansions – suitably disgusting and about $8 a night, bargain), public transport and entrance fees.

What language do people speak in Hong Kong?

Strictly speaking it’s Cantonese but realistically it’s Hong Kongese, their own take on Cantonese. However, due to HK being the 4 largest financial center in the world English is widespread and communication, generally, won’t be a problem.

How do I get around Hong Kong?

Public transport here is great, perhaps the best I have ever used. There are 13 subway lines, countless ferries, a comprehensive tram system, and a huge bus network – all complete with helpful information kiosks. It’s so simple to get around, you’ll feel like you’re cheating on your travels! Also, you can buy an ‘Octopus’ card for around $8 USD (you get it back when you leave) which you top-up with credit and scan with each journey you take. It’s easy, faster, and cheaper than paying in cash – you can even top up with excess cash and pay for your goods in 7/11, etc, now that’s development!

Do I need a visa for Hong Kong?

Most EU, North American and Australian and NZ passport holders get a visa on arrival so no stress there. If you fall outside this bunch, then you may need to arrange a visa prior to your arrival like my Ukrainian friend had to do – I hate bureaucracy!

Can I visit China while I’m in Hong Kong?

No is the simple answer. If you have already got your Chinese visa before you arrived in HK, then you can. But if you’re in HK, loving the Chinese vibe, and fancy a quick trip to the mainland then I’m afraid it’s not that easy. Chinese visas always require a bit of work so plan ahead or don’t even think about it.

Cost of living in Hong Kong
Cost of living in Hong Kong
hong kong junk boat
hong kong junk boat

If you guys have any more questions about Hong Kong, just ask me below or send me an email and I’ll do my best to answer you. If you wanna know what awesome things there are to see and do in Hong Kong, check out the next article – happy travels!

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26 thoughts on “A Backpackers Guide to Hong Kong

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  4. It was a nice read, great guide you created for Hong Kong. I don’t really think Hong Kong is an expensive destination to travel to – there are a lot of things you can do to make your budget. A little compromise would go a long way budget-wise, it’s all down on how you travel in general.

  5. Wow…!! Great Post,
    Thanks a lot Tommy. I’m going to Hong Kong next week and i’ll definitely visit the places mentioned in this article.
    Do you have any advice on where should I go after arriving at the airport?

  6. Hi, Just wondering. How much do you spend on transport in Hong Kong?
    I’m going there on March and I’m just wondering how much should I spare for transport. I mean including bus and MTR.
    I’ll borrow Octopus Card somewhere and will top up by myself.

  7. Thank you.
    I am 24, from India. Thinking to spend a full week in HK along with Macau. Can I get shared rooms in 40-60 HKD or even less than. Just need a place to sleep for 6 hours. During visa what and all docs I have to show them?

  8. Any chance you could recommend me the cheapest hostel i could find since im planning to stay there for like 8-10 days on a very limited budget .. how much budget you think would be enought including the food and the transportation? ill be eating in the street btw

  9. Hi! I have a stop over at HK for just 1 day, around 3pm arrival until 4pm the next day. Do you have any advice on where should I go after arriving at the airport? A friend will pick me up at Tsing Yi station at night, so I have a lot of time to kill. Many thanks in advance!

  10. Hi! Great tips! Do you know any other hotels that are not too expensive but are still acceptable? Thanks!

  11. Just to add that getting a visa for China in Hong Kong is actually very easy. I currently live in Hong Kong and have been across to China 5 times. There are hundreds of Visa agencies in Hong Kong – some of them you can get a China visa done within 48 hours. I will write about it at some point on my own blog.

      1. Yes it’s very simple – pop into an agency (there are hundreds of them) with your passport, a photo and an application form and collect it in a few days, then cross the border on the bridge at Shenzhen. No flights needed. I always go overland – going again in a few weeks!

        There’s actually a short piece on one of my trips here: , but I need to update it and put more detailed stuff for travellers, which I will do. I got a Chinese visa years ago in London and that was more hassle – they wanted hotel details and stuff. Here you just put “staying with family” on the form and they give it to you. Though two things to note:
        1. I own a Hong Kong ID card and 2. My girlfriend is Chinese.

        BUT I have other friends here in Hong Kong without those two things and they find it easy to get a Chinese Visa.

  12. Great post guys. I love Hong Kong and can’t wait to sink my teeth into the city again at the end of the year.

    I would just like to make one point though – getting short stay visas into China from Hong Kong is easy. I go for day/two-day visits to Shen Zehn on every trip and you can obtain them at the border (a short train ride away.)
    Alternatively, go into any hotel and ask for help obtaining a visa. Whilst some will say it is possible there’s always some members of staff who are willing to help you out. 🙂

    Macau, a short ferry ride away, is also well worth the line at immigration. Beautiful ex-Portugiese colony!
    Happy travelling!

    1. visas are easy really?! the last 2 times i got Chinese visas they asked me for return flights and hotel booking confirmations! i guess it’s hit and miss :s

      1. Just noticed Nicole’s post here too Johnny that states visas are easy to get too, so I would basically say that if you really want to get to China one of the best ways is clearly get your visa in Hong Kong. Plus it’s only a 20 minute train ride away…

  13. Shopping wise I would advise the womens market in Mong Kok , you get some real bargains here from silly lighters to fake rolex’s and it’s the only place in the world where I’ve found the store holders run after you and will walk with your for a good few minutes until they have at least quartered their initial price!

    Chickens feet is also a must try!

    1. Mong Kok is absolutely mental and the Hong Kongese don’t take no for an answer, you’re right!

  14. Did you stay at Chingkat Mansion? I read a very good story about that place and wanted to go inside but it was strictly off limits per our port visit policy.
    A great book to read about Hong Kong, in particular the rowdy Wan Chai area is “The World of Suzie Wong.”

    One recommendation I have is to venture out past the main side of the main island and visit the areas around Stanley Market. I was surprised to see how beautiful the coastal areas of the Southern side of the island are and the great hiking trails.

    1. didn’t stay there mate, luckily i had a friend to stay with instead! i walked around it tho, what a crazy place that is huh?!

      1. Do you guys mean Chungking Mansion? It is not dangerous during the daytime, but I have not been past the first floor because of the long elevator waits. About 20 minutes during prime time lunch hour which was when I visited.

        Fidel, if you like hiking try out Dragon’s Back hike on HK island. A photographer’s delight.

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