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Journey to Hong Kong – Ways to Waste Money

To me, researching an upcoming trip is almost as much fun as the real thing. It gets me all revved up. When I look at pictures, in my mind’s eye, I’m practically already there. And reading about activities others recommend gets me all antsy to get there already.

But sometimes, that sort of anticipation is better than the actual trip turns out to be. Has that ever happened to you? A friend or acquaintance recommended you do this thing or visit that site and raved about how much they enjoyed it and how it is a “must see.” And then, when you get there, it is totally overpriced for what it is, or way too touristy, or just plain dull.

Never you fear – it’s Journeys & Jaunts to the rescue! For Hong Kong – which is expensive enough as it is – I can tell you exactly which “must sees” and “must dos” you can skip entirely and what to do instead with your precious time and hard-earned cash. And if you haven’t had time to read the article about the basics to Hong Kong travel, check the article out here.

Money Waster #1 – The 3-Day Tourist Pass

The first thing you need to sort out when you arrive in a place is how to get around. And when going to Hong Kong, a lot of people (starting with the staff at the airport counter for the Hong Kong public transport system) will advise you to purchase an Airport Express Travel Pass for 2 rides.

Airport Express Travel Pass in Hong Kong

This pass will get you to Hong Kong from the airport, let you use the MRT, Light Rail, and MTR Buses and take you back to the airport afterward. At the time of writing this, the pass costs 350 HK dollars. Two single journeys between the airport and Hong Kong Central with the Airport Express currently cost 110-115 HK dollars. So it sounds like an okay deal, right? The problem with this pass, however, is that it is only beneficial if you fit a very restricted set of criteria.

IF you are a tourist (i.e., a non-resident of HK, which, since you are reading this article, I’ll assume you will be). IF you are staying in Hong Kong for no longer than 72 hours including the time needed to travel back to the airport. IF you are planning on NOT using the tram or the ferry, AND want to do everything in Hong Kong by taking public transport, then the Airport Express Travel Pass for 2 rides might be an okay option for you.

For all you other folks, I have a much better alternative: the Octopus card.

The Alternative – The Octopus Card

The last time I visited Hong Kong, which was the first time my husband went, was actually the only time I ever fell for the Airport Express Travel Pass offer thingy. And we regretted ever buying it.

First of all, we discovered that we much preferred walking around the city to explore. The MTR might be convenient, but it is also underground and thus leaves you in the dark about all the exciting stuff going on up on the surface, in the real world. Plus, we realized that a lot of the sights were actually closer together than we had initially thought.

Second of all, we ended up using a couple of other forms of public transport that were not covered by the Pass. We took the tram and the ferry, which are both out of the scope of the Pass but come highly recommended. Well, at least highly recommended by me.

Luckily, the Airport Express Travel Pass is not the only available option for public transport in Hong Kong. The – in my opinion – much more attractive alternative is to get an Octopus Card. This HK public transport travel staple is a rechargeable plastic card that lets you take the MTR, the Airport Express, the Light Rail, the bus, AND the ferry. Additionally, you can use it to pay in convenience stores and even for some of the street food. Also, you can retrieve your remaining balance from the card before leaving Hong Kong, so that none of your precious money is wasted.

the Octopus card in Hong Kong

You can get the Octopus Card at the ticket counter right at the airport. With it, your fare into town will be 110 HK dollars instead of 115. And all fares for buses, MRT, the ferry, etc. also come at a discounted price. The Hong Kong MTR site has a lot of information on how the Octopus Card works and why it is so awesome, so go check it out!

Money Waster #2 – The Peak Tram and 360 degree platform

Other than transportation, sights are always high on the list of “musts” people will recommend. The first attraction that most will tell you not to miss when in Hong Kong is to go to the Peak, and to do it by taking the quaint and funky Peak Tram.

Victoria Peak tram in Hong Kong

Yes, the Peak is iconic; yes, the view from there is fantastic; and yes, you probably don’t get to ride a funicular railway that has been in operation since the late 19th century on a regular basis. I get that. I really do. But PLEASE do not, I repeat, do NOT waste your money on the oft-touted return ticket that includes access to the 360 degree platform atop Hong Kong’s highest mountain.

Actually, stay away from the entire building that houses the 360 degree platform. That structure, a wannabe modernist eyesore that looks very odd in the midst of all the gorgeous lush greenery that is the Peak, is a veritable money-sucking machine designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash. And it does not even give you good value in return. It is filled with cheapo souvenir shops that charge you premium prices for ugly junk, over-priced restaurants that don’t even have any local food and – Madame Tussaud’s. Need I say more?

Just give the whole thing a miss, I implore you. But there are alternatives. Good ones. I promise.

The Alternative – A Different Bird’s Eye View of HK

If you are an avid hiker like me, you should walk up the Peak and explore the top on foot. It does make for a bit of a workout, but the contrast between skyscrapers and jungle-like vegetation at the bottom and older, Victorian-looking architecture and the lush green surroundings higher up make it all worth it. There is a path winding upwards that meanders around the tram track so that you will see this iconic symbol several times while walking up.

It is utterly surreal to see this weird marriage of nature and man-made structures, but to me, it is quintessentially Hong Kong. That city seems to always be good for odd contrasts like that.

A good route for hiking the Peak starts by taking the MRT to Admiralty or Central.

Then, you want to follow the signs leading you to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. They, by the way, are an enjoyable (and free) sight I totally recommend visiting while in the area, but more on that in a future installment of my series on HK.

Zoological gardens opening hours in Hong Kong

But not now. Now, we’re hiking the Peak…

Above the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, you will step onto Old Peak Road. That is the path that will take you all the way up to the Peak and end near the tourist trap building that houses the 360 degree platform.

This is as far as most Hong Kong visitors will get. You are not most tourists, though, are you? So, to get the best bird’s eye view of the city, you are going to continue up the mountain via Mount Austin Road (check out the signpost I photographed for you). After a hike of about 15-20 minutes, you will find Victoria Peak Garden and a viewpoint. Or you could go really off-track and make your way to the communications tower, which offers the very best (in my humble opinion) vista of Hong Kong.

If you feel that this might be a bit much, then you could also have bus 15 take you to the eyesore Peak Tower from Exchange Square bus terminus. Or minibus 1 from MTR Hong Kong Station public transport interchange. Either one will spare you the strenuous walk up (but also deprive you of the green wonderland I mentioned earlier) and just let you start your exploration of the Peak right from the mountaintop. For more ideas on how to explore the Peak area, check out this good hiking guide for the Peak Circle Walk put out by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. They also offer info on a ton of other exciting hikes all over Hong Kong in the sidebar of their site. I’ve done several of them and was never disappointed. The information on the starting and end points, access via public transport, etc. is invaluable. And they provide you with pdf maps of the walks you can download onto your phone to use offline as well.

Whichever option you choose, please make sure you are equipped for the climatic conditions. Take PLENTY of water with you, wear a hat and good hiking shoes and rest periodically. Because of the humidity, it often doesn’t feel like you are getting dehydrated when you are. Also, the humid air makes you sweat much more than usual, so fluids are indispensable. Choosing slightly cooler times to hike (early morning or late afternoon) helps as well. Safety first, people!

Money Waster #3 – Souvenirs from Temple Street Market

One of the things people will try to convince you are a MUST in Hong Kong is a shopping spree at Temple Street Market or one of the other tourist traps for costly souvenirs lining Hong Kong’s nightly streets. These places tend to have low-quality items that, even though vendors will want to make you believe are a steal – are actually vastly overpriced. Unless you are an expert haggler, you will most likely not make any real bargains there.

Souvenirs in Hong Kong

And while wanting to hone your negotiation skills is a worthy goal, I suggest you try your hand at haggling at an easier stomping ground than Temple Street Market. In addition to being pricey, the items on sale at the market mostly aren’t even very original or specific to Hong Kong.

The Alternative – Souvenirs That Actually Mean Something

Instead, there are much nicer alternatives that you can bring your loved ones as souvenirs. Or treat yourself to a memento of your Hong Kong trip. How about some traditional or typical Hong Kong foodstuffs that travel well? Or some stylish knickknacks that will help you remember this vibrant city? Or maybe some wearable or usable art? The list goes on and on.

Actually, there are enough cool souvenirs in this extraordinary city that they deserve their own post.

What do you think? Have I forgotten any money wasters? Or do you have other alternatives for the ones I mentioned? Let me know in the comments!

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