Thursday, 5 March 2015

On Your Bike: Hong Kong on a Budget.

As you know, What's your tale, Nightingale? is on hiatus at the moment whilst our head honcho travels South East Asia and gets a lovely tan, hard life for some. But what you might not know is that she's not just lounging on the beach, she's also blogging the whole thing as a way with keeping in touch with home and documenting all the adventures. 

Now we couldn't have her relaxing all the time, she'll get slack and we know you enjoyed the Berlin review she wrote last year so we thought it was time she did another. She's taken time out of her busy schedule (pah) to write her take on Budget Hong Kong for you to enjoy:




I'm writing this sitting on a train travelling through Thailand, being rocked from side to side and thinking that Hong Kong felt along time ago. Our trip to Hong Kong was pretty short, only 4 days but I loved (nearly) every minute of it.

Hong Kong has its own identity and is hard to compare to many other places. It does have a definite Asain feel to it, with the scrumptious smell of noodles and soy sauce that wafts through the streets to the karaoke that can be heard from the heights each night but it also has a distinct European edge to it that's hard to put my finger on. It was the second destination on adventure of 10 so we didn't have the most extravagant budget but because of that it made us search a bit harder for things to do. We made use of free museum days, cheap transport and street food and even if your budget is a little higher than £30 a day each, I would still recommend doing it all :)




One thing I would definitely recommend, even if you're only there for a day, is the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical gardens. It's near the centre of the city and the China Bank building and a bit of a hike to get there but well worth it. The hike doesn't stop once you are in, with it all being on a slope but it's really well laid out and got a nice lot of benches to rest your weary feet. It has a fabulous selection of flora including impressive trees, luscious flowers and carnivorous plants but the main attraction I think for most people, other than the facts it's free, is the animals. The park is split into two sections, the bottom is full of pretty birds, all colours and sizes. I'm quite partial to a Flamingo so was pretty chuffed to see them. The top section is where more of the monkeys and reptiles are though and seems a lot more popular, though there is a family of lemur monkeys near the children's place area in the bottom part. Up the top there is orang-utans and all manner of other monkeys and a small reptile house which has some tortoise, eager from their lunch.



If you want to get good views of the city and don't want to pay to go up the observation towers, The Peak is the perfect place to see it all. It is up the top of a hill behind all the tall 'scrapers of Hong Kong Island and gives a brilliant view (dependant on the weather) of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. You can take a very cute vintage style tram up there for about £3.50 return but being on a budget and a pair who enjoy a challenge, we walked it. Though didn't realise how epic this was until we embarked on it. Now from our starting point at the botanical and zoological gardens The Peak was only 1 mile but it took us an hour. And my god, it was the hard, hottest, most achiest walk of my life. I should have guessed it was going to be pretty steep from the walk up to the gardens and the gardens itself but I really didn't. You know it's going to be a long walk when you've already had to stop in the first 30 metres. Several stops, heavy breathing and sore legs later, we made it to the top and my, it was worth it. It's quite commercial at the top like everything is in Hong Kong with restaurants and shopping malls but it has a great, free observation deck which is perfect for pictures and also free to use telescopes. After a quick bite to each and a picture taking session on the top, we decided, in our foolishness to walk back down, which isn't without its hardships, I think my hips ached more after that than the way up.



After our up hill marathon we wander away back through Hong Kong, and experience how much one city can change from day to night. We didn't see much of the night light due to very achey limbs but even the short walk was full of the bright city lights and hustle. There is a drinking culture in Hong Kong and there are the places to do it, including Club 7/11 (literally 3 7/11 near each other). If you want to experience something a little different that drinks deals, it also has some good night markets here and a free Symphony of Lights show, where the sky scrapers of Hong Kong light to music, that you can see from a viewing point in Kowloon. It runs from 8pm daily. The blogs below break the night life down brilliantly so if you do want to experience budget HK after dark and read about it with a little more detail, these are the places to go.

If you want to see how the locals shop and eat in Hong Kong, the perfect place are the numerous markets which are dotted about the city. We saw about 5 or 6 whilst wandering and we always drawn to them. There are inside and outside ones and the smells from both seem similar with fried foods, raw fish and spices all laid out next to the New Year decorations and kids toys. Many have food stalls inside them which are really cheap to eat at if you don't mind not knowing what you are eating.

Wednesday is free museum day in the city, where several of their normal paid buildings are free to go into to. The list includes: 

  1. The Science Museum
  2. Museum of Art
  3. Hong Kong Heritage Museum
  4. Hong Kong Museum of History
  5. Hong Kong Space Museum
  6. Hong Kong Racing
We went in to the Museum of Art and the Science Museum and were impressed with both. We went cultural in the first and childlike in the second, playing with all her exhibits and games and learning all about Hong Kong health and safety rules. 



Most of the museums are on Kowloon which is over the river from Hong Kong Island but with the great, regular and cheap ferry service the city offers, it's no problem at all. Each way costs you 25p and we never had to wait more that 10 minutes for one. They also give you great views of the city so I would recommend going on one, even if you just stay on for the ride back.

Keeping on the theme of transport, the best way to get to and from the city, we found, was with the buses. The station is just outside of the airport, to the right and we got a ticket for £4 each that took us just outside our hostel. The journey was about an hour was air-conned, had wi-fi and they all have a security camera on your bags, so wherever you are on the bus you can make sure they are safe. It was also very easy to get back to the airport in it and I image any hostel or hotel, like ours did, will give you directions to the nearest stop. Have a look here for timetables. 



A perk of Hong Kong being so technologically savvy (a con is they never let their phones out of their sites) is that nearly everywhere in the city has free wi-fi. From the parks to the museums, you can jump on the government wi-fi and surf till your hearts content, which was great for us to be able to check bus times and nearby attractions at the drop of a hat.



The weather was really lovely when we were there, at about 18-20c so we made use of Hong Kong pretty parks to rest and snack in. I've already mentioned the biological and zoological gardens but we also went to Wen chai park to each pastries and watch the world go by and we also spent quite a bit of time at Victoria park which was close to our hostel and took a couple of picnics and books and had a bit of a lounge. Each park we went to had not only a great place to sit but also a free fitness park in nearly every one. We noticed that HK people are very health conscious and each park we went to was full of people working out on the machines or jogging around the outside. Some also have outdoor gyms similar to what we have in the UK which seemly anyone can use and a great way to amuse yourself. We had a go on the one in Victoria park and in the Botanical Gardens but all the parks we saw had one.

Hong Kong is famed for its foot massages, with their being several dotted around the city and I, like many others would recommend it though maybe not with the muscle ache I had after the Peak. We went to the Big Bucket, so named as you get to soak your feet in a bucket of sweet smelling jelly water before they come and massage your legs, it cost us £16 for the 45 minutes job. 



Food wise in the city the cheapest way to feed yourself, as in most places, is street food and Hong Kong has a lot to offer though sometimes you might just have to eat without actually knowing what it is. There it's also a lot of cooked food market which you will see signs for as you wander round, it's just like a giant food hall really with communal seating and food sellers on the outside. The only thing I would say to look out for is the beer girls, you won't miss them in their tight promo dress and scary make up. They are paid (unsurprisingly) to sell only their beer and will deny any knowledge of any other drinks, even soft ones. Avoid, unless you want chatty up or actually like the beer they are selling. If you fancy a western fix, many of the large shopping malls have food areas which different sections and we got to indulge in our love for FroYo (A frozen yoghurt heaven) in one of them.



Talking of malls, if you do like shopping and high end at that, Hong Kong is the place for you. It is literally full of designer shops, have a look here, especially around the Victoria park area where we were staying and the malls are actually huge. The iSquare mall we were inticed into by a group of cats outside was 31 floors high and full to the brim of every shop you fancy. I even managed to spot a couple of second hand/factory second shops that I had a good look in. It's not just fashion you can buy here, it's very easy to buy state of the art technology and all accessories for it and also all manner of beauty products in many of the brightly coloured shops that litter the town.

Finally I want to rave about our hostel, which was simple called Hong Kong Hostel. It's one in the east side of the city near Victoria Park and the location is great. We were never more than 2 minutes from places to grab food and everything we wanted to see was an easy walk away. The staff are really friendly and so helpful answering any question we asked or advice we wanted, they offer free luggage storage which was great for us on our last day and they have a cat that seems to live on the reception desk so kinda perfect really. The room was small but didn't feel cramped, well decorated, and smelt free. It also had a hot powerful shower and good wifi which is always a brilliant bonus. All in all a great hostel and at only £19 a night a real bargain. I would recommend highly. 

If you want some more info about Hong Kong, these websites are great:

http://gohongkong.about.com/od/hongkongbarsandclubs/
http://www.timeout.com.hk/
http://www.hong-kong-hotels.ws/nightlife/
http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/city-guides/free-hong-kong-traveler/

And if you want to keep up with where I am and what I'm doing, take a look at my blog here. 



This blog falls into our On Your Bike series which is all about adventures whether it's out on your bike, a vintage train day or even a themed day. It also has bike maintenance, hair styles for your adventures and more. Find out more about this series and our others at on our Overview blog or find more in the same series by pressing the "On Your Bike" tab at the top of the page.