One of Asia’s busiest and most developed metropolitan hubs, Hong Kong easily becomes a must-see place when searching for a mix of old and new. But sometimes, when you’re in a city that never seems to sleep with nightlights that blur the faces of people you meet, everything tends to pass in a flash, as if it never happened — creating an illusion there’s nothing else to see.
But if you look closely, a little closer than when you first did, Hong Kong is more than its ancient temples and skyscrapers — it’s about the neon lights, the all-day rush, hidden bars and roast goose. They’re a common sight, but once you take the time to pause, stare a bit longer, it will all make sense and you’ll see what you’re missing.
In our previous articles, we shared a list of Hong Kong’s top attractions and its timeless cinema. This time, our half Vietnamese and half Hong Konger friend who’s living in the Fragrant Harbor, Michelle Kwok takes us on a quick guided trip to her home, albeit virtually. Here’s a quick video that inspired her
Drawing inspiration from the Lam Ti Hong Kong video, Kwok shares her recommendations for the best way to experience her home. So, whether you’re a first-timer, a returning backpacker, traveling with family and kids, or going solo, you’ll be surprised by the sheer number of things to do in Hong Kong on a budget, or the opposite.
Traveling on a tight budget is not necessarily bad or sad; it could be one’s way of embracing the city they’re in without spending more than expected. These are (mostly) first-time international travelers or those traveling in groups, which could be with a friend or tour agencies.
In Hong Kong, public transportations are affordable and reliable, and you can eat a lot for less. So save some room for snacks for street food and specialties available for single-digit dollars at the city’s food markets. And be on the lookout for modern artsy hostels that will give you homey vibes.
Food: Cha Chaan Teng (Hong Kong style cafes)
Cha Chaan Teng translates to “tea restaurant,” but more than teas, this food place has a massive menu of comfort/nostalgic cuisine and authentic drinks, all at very reasonable prices, often following a meal set. Probably one of the best places to experience an honest-to-goodness Hong Kong food feast.
There are a lot of Cha Chaan Tengs throughout Hong Kong, but we recommend Lan Fong Yuen just because they have managed to keep their shop precisely the way it was since it first opened. Despite having a minimal and simple menu (compared to other Hong Kong-style cafes) they are very famous for their silk stocking milk tea. Lan Fong Yuen is very unassuming and easy to miss on the outside as it is also tiny but hides a hidden gem for those who want to get right into the feel of Hong Kong culture. Not to mention how friendly and accommodating their staff are.
Drinks: Hong Kong-style milk tea, lemon tea (hot/cold), coffee with milk tea, cream soda with milk (you can get these at any cha chaan tengs, they are a staple on many menus).
Accommodation: Hop Inn
This award-winning hostel provides modern private spaces decorated with themed artworks by local artists. There are many different room options (depending on your price point, you can even get your ensuite room). As for the location, it’s just a 3-minute walk from the breathtaking Victoria Harbour, located in Tsim Sa Tsui where you can also access the infamous K11 Musea mall, the Avenue of stars (harbor), Harbour city. You can even hop on the ferry to go from TST to Central on Hong Kong Island. A perfect location for shopping, food and getting to other places.
Explore: Art Park and waterfront promenade
After hopping from one tea restaurant to another, what better else to do than fritter the night away with unobstructed views of one of the best skylines and cityscapes in the world at Art Park and waterfront promenade in West Kowloon Cultural District. It runs along Victoria Harbor next to an open area, an excellent venue for picnic plans the next day, or a morning run just before sunrise.
Spontaneous travelers are those who have no budget limit but don’t want to splurge on travel expenses. They’re the come-what-may-but-should-be-comfy group of excursionists. They travel for the experience and are open to trying the above-average version of that “experience.”
Hong Kong’s culture is not too different to be alienating but is not too familiar to be boring.
Food: Yum Cha
If you’re in Hong Kong, having dimsum is a classic thing to do and something one shouldn’t miss. But for us, Yum Cha is like no other with its playful twist on traditional Chinese cuisine. They bring it to the next level by making adorable buns that also taste as great. They have conventional fillings for the buns and season/holiday-themed menus where they experiment with different flavors. Yum Cha is everywhere in Hong Kong.
Drinks: Mother Pearl
Bubble tea but make it healthy, vegan and aesthetic. Mother Pearl is famous for being the first and only vegan boba place in Hong Kong. The menu itself is also creative and includes pastries too.
Accommodation: The Jervois
You’ll feel like a celebrity with its private lift lobbies for all suites — one of the only hotels that provide a ‘one floor one flat’ experience. The warm tones of fine wood, leather and fabric bring a subtle feel of luxury. It’s situated in Hong Kong's eclectic Sheung Wan District, albeit slightly away from the city center, which is excellent if you are not used to the endless hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. Best for those looking for a sense of complete peace without leaving the city.
Explore: The Muse
Nothing is more spontaneous than art. Although Hong Kong is already a massive piece of artwork, a trip to The Muse is a must for a feast for the eyes. The Muse is a minimalist boutique property that lies at the heart of Hotel Stage, offering a rotating display of art installations inspired by local arts and crafts. The basement floor has three sections — a gallery space, a wine bar and an art bookstore — hosting both local and international artists and artisans as well as performing artists for a cross-discipline experience with a bookstore that stocks historical pieces and souvenirs.
If you’re in it for the unique, memorable, and ultimate experience, this part’s for you. Dubbed by travelers as Asia’s New York City, Hong Kong is a melting pot for an international elite looking for avant-garde experiences.
Food: Mak’s Noodles
The famous family-owned wonton noodle shops are a must-eat in Hong Kong, often referred to as the best wanton noodles in Hong Kong. The serving bowls are tiny, tinier than a rice bowl but cost almost $5 or less than VND 100,000. But the thing is, it needs to be a small bowl of serving to make sure the noodles don’t get over-softened or go soggy by being soaked in the piping hot soup for too long. The soup itself is also very delicious. You can see the cooks and workers at the shop who have been there for decades. At times you can also see the cooks wrap the wontons. Aside from wonton noodles, their beef brisket is also to die for.
Drink: Speakeasy bar scene in Hong Kong
One thing Hong Kong is known for is its buzzing nightlife and the best discovery we’ve come across living here has been the speakeasies. These establishments often follow a theme and the interior design of the places are always very intricate. Cocktail drinks are all unique and quite often change according to season. Overall a really good experience for chill evenings for a date or just to wind down.
We also like how they are often hidden gems — it feels more exclusive and classy. For some places, you need to know the “password” to gain entry. Perhaps our favorite one and highly recommended is an area that has two speakeasies within one. The main one is called Foxglove. To gain access to this spot, you need to pick the correct umbrella that unlocks the door. Then after you enter, you can try out Frank’s Library, where you have to select the right elevator button. Although both bars are based in the same place, they have separate menus and concepts and you pay separately (will be $$$ compared to your average bar).
Accommodation: The Peninsula
Not much to say but the ultimate luxury experience you can indulge when in Hong Kong. It is the flagship property of The Peninsula Hotels, the world's leading luxury hotel brand.
The Peninsula is a colonial-style luxury hotel located in Tsim Sha Tsui. You probably won’t get much exploring done in Hong Kong outside of the hotel walls. Still, for sure, as far as the architecture and interior design, services and facilities available, you definitely could spend a good few days just inside the hotel and end up craving for more.
Explore: Xiqu Centre
Also in Tsim Sha Tsui, Xiqu Center is Hong Kong’s premier venue for Chinese opera. With its iconic facade for world-class performing arts, Xiqu Centre holds performances and musical concerts, film screenings, and various educational activities. It goes without saying, its elaborate costumes and make-up of its versatile performers are awe-inspiring and memorable. Indeed the perfect platform to educate new generations and out-of-towners on the cultural heritage of this traditional art form. Meanwhile, its Tea House Theater Experience is designed to ease new audiences into Cantonese opera.