Monday, October 7, 2013

Hong Kong on a Budget

We had not been planning on returning to Hong Kong, but bumping up against our first 30 day visa, but still wanting more time in China, we had a decision to make. We could either extend our visa (at a cost of anywhere between $30 and $180 - the process is regional, not national) or spend that money to fly to HK and spend a few more days with our favorite Asia-habiting siblings, Christian and Megan. The promise of a weekend slumber party with my big brother was the easy winner, and we were off to Hong Kong!

Correction: we were off to Shenzhen, the mainland Chinese border town just a hop, skip, and 5 trains away from HK. On a side note, we were a bit sad to make this flight, as up to this point, we have only traveled by land since we arrived in Cambodia! On another note, its funny when you travel without planes for that long and then go through security (which in China doesn't include any of that fancy I-want-my-freedom-don't-pat-me-down-opposite-sex-man TSA stuff…it's all kinds of invasive - but you don't have to remove your shoes - go figure!), and they run your bag through and say, "we see a knife" and you say "of course you do! I'll just go ahead and find my $2 kiwi knife and you can go ahead and confiscate it" and everyone is wearing a totally non-sarcastic smile. I'd like to say for the record that I far prefer airport security in China to airport security in the US. 

Back to the main story. Flying in and out of Shenzhen often saves a boatload of money from flying in and out of HK and if you have more time than you do money, it's totally worth it! We flew in to Shenzhen, hopped on the metro for one hour to the border, went through an insanely easy border crossing, everything turned to English the second we crossed the border, and then it was a cheap and relatively easy 4 more trains to get to central HK. Alternatively, there is a bus that goes straight from Shenzhen airport to central HK, but it costs $30 as opposed to $6 for the trains.

Our first impression of HK was after visiting Tokyo, and it felt lively but a bit dingy. Since that visit, we have spent 4 months visiting Bangkok, Cambodia, Vietnam and mainland China, and our second impression of HK? It is a sparkly, international/western, world-class wonderland! Our weekend proved to be a fun reminder of perspective, and how much our perspective colors our feelings about the places we're visiting.

Our teeny room at Chungking Mansions
We enjoyed a few days bunking in with Christian and Megan, but once their work week started, we figured we would get out of their hair and finish up our last couple days in HK enjoying a truly fabulous budget traveler experience. The hotel choices for budget travel in HK are very limited, and if you want something central, safe and private (as in not a hostel bed in a big room), you're looking upwards of $100 US per night (at the bare minimum). Or, you can stay at Chongking Mansions, a crumbly, dusty building block in Kowloon, just across Victoria Harbor from central HK. The first floor is a rabbit warren of Middle-Eastern, Indian and Chinese food and "stuff" stalls, and the upper floors have an abundance of guest houses, restaurants and some churches. The upper levels are separated so that there is only one elevator that goes to each section upstairs (and depending on the time of day, you may have to wait…and wait…and wait for your elevator!). The guest house rooms likely used to be broom closets (or perhaps offices with a single desk) so when it comes to picking a hotel, you're really just looking at price and cleanliness (because every room will be TINY!). We're happy to report that Canada Hotel (not Canadian Hostel, which reviewers said was dirty) was clean, safe, well-appointed, and a steal at $45 US per night. For a room with wall-to-wall bed, where you can touch both side walls at the same time, and where only one person can be standing at a time (the other person needs to be on the bed, in the bathroom, or in the hallway!). Sure, there's a line for the elevator. And sure, there are police outside the building every night to ensure people don't come in with prostitutes. And sure, there was a hotel staff sleeping in our hallway each morning. But, we would totally stay there again and encourage it as a great budget choice in HK! 

Pork from Yuen Kee
In retrospect, our first visit to HK, I couldn't imagine how you could do it for 2 people for less than $100 per day (because we stayed with Christian and Megan the whole time, saving on hotel), but this second visit demonstrated that it is absolutely possible to do it for less than $100 (or even $75 if you're really strict). Our tricks?
- Stay at Chongking Mansions for under $50 per night
- Pizza lunch at one of the Paisano's slice shops around town
- Plate of roast pork from Yuen Kee Restaurant by the Wan Chai wet market and sitting on a curb to eat
- Happy hour beer specials around town
- Visit to the Chi Lin Nunnery, for a free taste of calm and culture!
- Super cheap transit (as long as you stay away from the taxis!), including the Star Ferry across the Harbor
- Lots of free hiking, just a bus ride up the hill
- Wednesday night at the horse races (in season)

More Photos from our adventures in Hong Kong:
View from the Peak - Hong KongBro and SisAt the Chi Lin NunneryThe Wet Market in Wan ChaiMeat MarketOn the Streets on Hong Kong
Hong Kong HarborAll the Pretty PeopleAt the Chi Lin NunneryAt the Chi Lin NunneryBeautiful Nan Lian GardenBack in Hong Kong and I couldn't be happier!
Apple!One order of Char Siu and Siu yuk please!Sidewalk lunch in Central Hong KongPro SoundCream Ale in the center of Hong Kong... Yes please!

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