03 July 2014

Street Food Travels ~ how much does it cost to travel through China?

We've had the opportunity to get away on a few quick trips over the last few years thanks to cheap airfares and some prudent planning. Here's our costs and tips for travelling China, Hong Kong and Macau.

When we travelled through China in March we kept a record of everything we spent via Trail Wallet, an easy to use budgeting app. It made it easy to quickly record what we bought and how much we spent (which sometimes wasn't much!) It also converts into your own currency, so all amounts are listed here in the currency of the country we were in and in Australian dollars ($AUS). Totals are in Australian dollars as of March 2013 when the dollar was riding high.

While sometimes we think we'd love to have a major airline throw free flights at us, we paid for everything on this trip ourselves. We didn't do an organised tour (we rarely do) as we like the flexibility of making our own itineraries and seeing where the road (or river or railway) takes us.

Flights - $1700 for two
Economy Qantas flights from Sydney direct to Hong Kong. These were on special for around $850 each. I made sure we booked the A380 flights as we were eager to try out the flying hotel we see every day rising above our meager abode and dream of flying out on it. You know you live under the flight path when you see the Emirates A380 at 8.30am and know it's running late.

To and from Sydney Airport - $13.20
Usually we catch a cab as we live really close to the airport in Sydney. We have always wondered how easy it might be to go by public transport, so on this trip we jumped on the 422 bus that runs along King Street and goes along the Princes Hwy to Kogarah on weekdays for the princely sum of $3.20 for both of us. It's then a short walk across the park and over the river and you're there.

The downside would be carrying lots of luggage or rain, but for us it was easy on a sunny morning with a small backpack each. On the way back, we arrived back to Sydney on a Sunday when the 422 only runs once every few hours (which we only found out once we walked back to the highway). We cabbed it back from the highway to Alice St Newtown for only $10.

Insurance - $350 a year (about $50 a week for 5 weeks of travel)
We buy an annual insurance policy as we usually travel a few times a year. These work out at a much better rate, even if you only travel two times. We've averaged out the cost for this trip.

Visas - $98 each
One of the downsides of a quick trip to China is the expensive visa and the application process. We hear the 72 hour arrival visa has been extended to Guangzhao now. If you are in Sydney, you can apply for a visa to China and collect at the China Visa Application Service Centre.

Accommodation - $445
In our dotage we like to have somewhere a little better than a hostel to stay in on our first night. We stayed at the Ibis at Sheung Wan, a budget hotel with clean and basic rooms and a we stumped up extra for a view across the harbour ($2552 HK, $315AUS for two nights). By a small miracle we were then located smack bang next door to the Queen St Cooked Food Centre. Perfect planning. Next time I would probably wait until there was a sale, Accor Hotels offer some good discounted offers. One night in Hong Kong cost the same as all our China accommodation put together.

Once we get our travel legs we tend to stay in smaller hostels and homestays and use the usual hostel booking websites. There weren't a lot of options in China through them, and it wasn't so straightforward booking through the YHA China website. While it does have English on the site, the confirmation is not so apparent. There was always a small niggling feeling we would turn up and no one would have our booking, let alone that the place would actually be there. We had two nights booked in advance in Zhaoqing and crossed our fingers all would be well (200RMB, $31AUS for two nights)

We booked through YHA as it is an international chain and sometimes it's easier to find accommodation with some English speakers rather than use our five word grasp of Mandarin. It's also easy to do washing and if you really need to make something to eat yourself. We did a walk in at the YHA in Guangzhao and luckily they had rooms.

We took a balcony room which was worth the extra for sitting outside and having a sundowner and watching the life along the river front.(312RMB, $99AUS for three nights)

In Macau, we were lucky enough to stay with friends. Ah, the joy of friends who live overseas, you get great company and a local perspective.

Transport - $215
We bought a Lingnan card in Hong Kong that covered both Hong Kong and Guangzhou. It operates in two currencies. We paid separately for the ferry trip up the Pearl River from Hong Kong to Zhaoqing. The ferry trip was part of the reason we chose to stay there. It included an amazing for the wrong reasons bus trip from Gaoming to Zhaoqing as the ferry service no longer runs all the way.

We jumped buses and trains all over Guangzhao with the Lingnan card and paid for long distance stints between Zhaoqing, Guangzhao and Zhuhai (to go across the border into Macau). Once in Macau you can get a free bus at the Gongbei port to any of the large casinos where you can have an expensive beer while waiting for your mate to pick you up.

Food and beer- $285
We saved the best for last. Food across Hong Kong in cooked food centres is far cheaper than it should be for the taste you get. In China street food and even restaurant food is so inexpensive we wondered how people made a living. In Macau there is quality cheap food around, just don't look for it in the casinos.

For lunches at small restos or cafes we mostly spent about 20 RMB for the two of us (about $3.20) and dinners we went all out and spent 100 RMB ($16). We snacked whenever we could and these were usually extremely cheap.

Beer worked out to be about between 5 and 10 RMB a bottle. It was a lighter alcohol than in Australia so could be seen as being 'weak'. A few beers sitting outside watching the world go by usually ended up around 20 RMB. The most expensive beers we had were in Macau at a casino, then that's to be expected isn't it.

We grabbed coffees were possible from the Family Mart chain at about 6 RMB (same as the Japanese combini), sometimes Macdonalds (where we could also use the bathrooms) and once at Starbucks at 35 RMB, which was six times the price and pretty much the same quality. Our tip is to drink black coffee if you can, nearly all milk coffee is made with UHT or powdered milk.

Other stuff - $145
We paid for entry to the Seven Star Crags park in Zhaoqing (120 RMB or $19) and spent some money in Macau on a fun night out with our friends.

The bottom line
All up our trip cost $2700 for just over a week of travel for two people. Take out airfares and we spent $1160. The next biggest cost was accommodation at $445, with the biggest cost in Hong Kong. While it wasn't a super cheap holiday, we find we can travel more often if we keep some costs down.

We love China, Hong Kong and Macau!


  1. im lucky to have accomodation covered in hong kong, otherwise i wouldnt be able to go for 5-6 weeks each time!

    1. Staying with friends or family overseas is one of the great pleasures of travel, and makes it far more affordable as well!

  2. Good advice and good ideas.

    We found researching flights up to 6 months before purchase (not departure) to get a good idea of the cycles (in case no sales came up that were absolutely jump-on-this sales), staying in wimdu accommodation and eating local (of course) to be the biggest moneysavers.

    Counting in 3 expensive nights at Disney, we're thinking of HKG again. Looks like it'll be in the vicinity of $12k for 6 people (incl our 4 kids) for 3 weeks.

    I'm trying to talk the wife into Tokyo, but getting nowhere.

    Oh well, at least I get to make more blog entries about how to survive and enjoy HK with 4 kids.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).