In this post I will attempt to communicate everything I have learned about finding a place to stay in Hong Kong from the perspective of a cheap-o poor person. This post should help the bootstrapping entrepreneur understand the more realistic housing/hotel options in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
My first trip to Hong Kong was August 2009. I stayed at the Hotel Jen, which is now Shang-Ri La Traders Hotel. The hotel is located in an inconvenient location west of Sheung Wan, the western terminus of the MTR’s Island Line. When I stayed, a “Jen suite” went for $105 a night. That same room is now $220. The times they are a’-changin’.
During the day you can see Victoria Harbor, at least the edge of it
I had come to attend the Chinese University of Hong Kong. For 11 months I lived in the school’s international dorm on campus; it was a mix of all night Euro-parties and 10 Chinese kids illegally living in a 4 person dorm because, well I don’t really know why. Since leaving CUHK and moving to Seoul, I have traveled frequently to Hong Kong, staying in many different hostels and hotels on short trips before moving here semi-permanently last March.
Chinese University Hong Kong I-House
Overall average hotel price is around US$150 a night. At a minimum, you’ll be spending $80 for an actual hotel. There are a lot of hostels in Hong Kong, averaging around $35 a night. Most are in Kowloon between Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. The Chung King Mansion is great if you want to score some opium or hashish, buy some knock off Rolex watches, enjoy strange smells, or get harassed 24/7 by hawkers and weirdos. The most conspicuous selection of hotels is in the “premium” range, $200 a night and up. If you’re a jet setting entrepreneur, Hong Kong is your place. As another option, you can live in people’s apartments, room sharing. For a private room in a shared apartment, minimum $30 a night, for an entire apartment, $70 and up.
As for long term housing, I am no expert on that. I do know that real estate agents are somewhat reliable. They generally quote me a higher “white guy” price unless I go with a Chinese friend, but other than that the market is pretty developed. In the not so distant past the quoted floor space use to be significantly inflated, the measurement would include a percentage of common areas (like the building’s lobby, exercise areas, hallways, etc), and listing agents would just lie and inflate the apartment’s room sizes. Agents use to not allow people to bring measuring tapes into apartments to check this. As a result, an “efficiency” value was used to account for this, the term “BS percentage” would have been more accurate. If the “efficiency value” was 85% on a particular apartment, that means if they quoted the area to be 1000 square feet, the apartment was actually 850 square feet, thus they were bs’ing 15%.
Another point, “Inclusive” means you pay what you see, “exclusive” means there are other monthly charges such as utilities, management fees, etc. My estimate of the average low end rental price for “non premium” areas of Hong Kong is US$1.40 per square foot. You don’t want to know the city center prices.
Hong Kong Geography and travel times
Travel time from Yau Ma Tei to Central is 15 minutes. From Kowloon Tong to Central is 25 minutes. From Tai Wo to Kowloon Tong is 30 minutes, to Central is 55 minutes. From Lo Hu (China border crossing) to Central is 1 hour 10 minutes. Travel time on the West Rail line to the north western parts of Hong Kong takes all day. Don’t get a hotel or housing in the New Territories (unless it is directly on the East Rail Line, blue line), or Lantau Island. You’ll spend all your time traveling. I know, because that’s where I live.
From the airport, buses are by far the best option unless you don’t have a decent sense of direction and get lost easily. In the airport, just before you walk towards the large entry to the MTR, there are help desk people to your right, they will tell you what bus to take (HK’s online route planner is exceptional, no excuses to get lost), then walk towards the MTR, hang a right and walk outside to the bus terminal. Express buses will get you to the city in about 45 minutes. The buses have free Wi-Fi on them, no log in or anything, excellent connection, it just works. Amazing, really. Incheon to Seoul buses cost three times as much and don’t have internet.
If you’re visiting Hong Kong and will be traveling a lot to different areas of the whole city, the Kowloon (pronounced “cow-loon”) peninsula from Tsim Sha Tsui to Yau Ma Tei is the best area, Mong Kok to Yau Ma Tei is the cheapest. You are connected to both the red subway line that goes to Central/Hong Kong Island, and the green line that connects you to the rest of Hong Kong. It’s in the center of Hong Kong from a transportation point of view.
If you’re moving to Hong Kong long term and your primary needs are space/low rent, the Ma on Shan line might be for you. Western sized (almost) apartments along Tolo Harbour can be had for around $1000 a month with large windows overlooking the ocean. As the HK Science & Technology Park is directly across the harbour from several of these apartment complexes, I could possibly travel to work via a small rowboat if I moved there.
Kowloon – My recommended location
If you are a bootstrapping, cheap-o entrepreneur like myself, this is your #1 pick in Hong Kong:
575 Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei. Owned and operated by Wing Kong Holdings Limited; Teddy Ng; 3188-2316; email@example.com
The company has four apartment at this location, each has four rooms which are individually rented. The small rooms can be had for US$17 /day, larger rooms for $25. Inclusive of A/C, Wi-fi, utilities, etc. It is a three minute walk to Yau Ma Tei MTR, two of which you are walking down the seven or eight flights of stairs. Hey, it’s cheap. It’s Hong Kong.
There is a Park ‘n Shop grocery store just outside the entrance to this building (along with a 24/7 McDonnalds if you’re into that sort of thing), which is very convenient. Better yet, there is a 24/7 Wellcome grocery near by (walk outside the building, turn left, turn left at the corner, 1 tiny block ahead and it’s on the other side of the street).
UPDATE: I want to make this very clear, there are several (7 to 8) flights of stairs between the street and your door. The stairs are narrow and closed in, they will be painful to walk up. You will not enjoy it.
Negotiating will get you the large room at the small room price
The water goes from hot to cold faster than a bad date
When I moved in you could rent by the day, they’ve since changed it to 1 month minimum. You can always negotiate. I shared the apartment with one quiet British girl who was an English teacher. Next door the apartment was full of hipster party people. Luck of the draw. You can find their Air BNB profile here, including a review by yours truly.
Another “I have $100 in my pocket and I’m starting a company” option is what I call “Hotel Alex”. An enterprising guy named Alex took some plywood, bricks, curtains and made himself a little hotel in his apartment. Each room is very tiny, you share a bathroom with the other guests and a turtle, and Alex is very helpful with any questions you have. Plus, it’s super cheap.
149A, SAI YEE STREET, MONGKOK, firstname.lastname@example.org, or here.
Don’t move the bricks on the ground or your wall will fall over
Yes, I said a turtle
Hong Kong Island
Now if you absolutely must stay on Hong Kong island for whatever reason, say you actually have to impress someone or all of your meetings/business interactions are on the island, I recommend Wan Chai or just west of SoHo/mid-levels. You can get relatively inexpensive rooms which are near an MTR station. North Point is also an option, but a little out of the way. It will take you less time to get to Central from West SoHo vs North Point, but you’ll have to walk up and down hills in 99% humidity and 30c heat, so don’t…. choose poorly. There are rooms in Central for $50 a night, but you don’t know the meaning of tiny until you stay in one. In one room I had to open my main door so I could open and close my bathroom door, otherwise the door knobs would hit each other and block the bathroom door from opening.
Wan Chai might be the best combination of affordable and “prime location”… and hookers. But they mostly come out at night, mostly. During the day, the government offices are conveniently located in Wan Chai (for unlimited companies or corporations, immigration or other govt. issues; limited companies are at Causeway Bay). The best combination of these elements, minus the hookers, is The Wharney Guangdong Hotel. It is directly in front of an MTR exit, and can be had for less than $100 a day if you’re good. The rooms are not tiny, and are well kept.
It might even be considered an historic hotel…
SoHo is the “party/tourist” option, near LKF. Last summer I had to rent an apartment there for a few nights using airbnb.com , the apartment was a 5 minute walk west of the Mid-Levels elevator. It was a two room apartment but one room was storage for the owner, so total area was probably 400 square feet. The apartment was very neat and clean, in a very nice building with a swimming pool and clubhouse. US$2,200 per month, or $100 per day if rented short term.
Some people don’t share bathrooms with turtles
Currently, I live in Hong Kong public housing, at Tai Wo Estates. But you have to be a serious Hong Kong insider as a round eye to secure an apartment like that. Total area is around 300 square feet, $560 a month. It’s essentially a one room, but it gets the job done, is in the same building as the MTR station, has a large grocery store on the first floor and best of all, is 20 minutes from the Science Park.
The bed is directly to my left, bathroom to the right, kitchen behind me
Hey! What about lofts? We’re trendy artistic tech entrepreneurs, not hobos, we demand lofts!
I’ve always said I love Hong Kong, but hate the real estate market. It is a bubble inflated and sustained by mainland Chinese who need a way to stash their cash, and by HK government and real estate tycoons who collude to artificially limit housing supply thus keeping prices high. I have this business plan to develop abandoned industrial buildings into lofts (which is done all over the world), but it is near impossible to do it here. It would affect the real estate developer’s pockets too much. The HK government has timidly worked towards enabling this though, but I wouldn’t call it progress (PDF). Many people illegally build and live in lofts, not a bad idea, really. I’d do it.
Or if you need housing in Seoul, check out my friend’s site.
At least you won’t stay here. Dongguan, China