Guest Post post by Payal Biswas and part of The Hong Kong Chapter Series

Hong Kong is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that attracts tourists from all over the world. The city boasts of an excellent and sophisticated public transport network.  Public transport is mostly air-conditioned and some of them are incredibly cheap. You can get around by taxi, buses, tram, subway (called MTR) or ferry with the use of an easy and convenient payment system known as the Octopus card. There are facilities in place for disabled people on all modes of transport. It is very easy to navigate your way to the nearest bus stop or subway station with street, bus, subway signs clearly marked in English.

So, if you are planning to visit Hong Kong (for leisure or on business), here’s an easy guide on how to move around easily on the public transport of the city:-

MTR (Mass Transit Railway)

Personally, I prefer using the Hong Kong subway, commonly known as the MTR. The MTR is the lifeline of the city. It is fast, modern with state-of-the-art technology and connects the major districts of Hong Kong.  It is a network of 9 lines including the Airport Express and Disneyland Resort line.

The trains run every few minutes and according to Lonely Planet it caters to 2.3 million people a day. The MTR station exits are located at all prominent shopping malls and commercial buildings making it the local’s first and foremost choice of public transport. There are a few convenient stores like 7-Eleven and bakeries at every station in case if you want to have a snack. There are user-friendly maps of the local area in every station with a host of exits to choose from. They are marked in English and Chinese both. The stations are trains are
immaculately clean.

There is a Hong Kong MTR application available online for free which can be easily downloaded on smart phones. It is very useful to
plan your route.

The high speed Airport Express line is the quickest and most efficient way from the airport to the city centre. It takes approximately 24 mins. Airport express station at Hong Kong Island and Kowloon provide in-town check-in service for most airlines. It costs $100 HK return trip.

The Disneyland Resort line runs from Sunny Bay and takes people to the Disney theme park. The train is distinctive with Mickey Mouse windows and Disneyland figures displayed in the carriages.

The newly extended Island line began operations from December end which brought MTR right up to my door. Earlier to get to the nearest MTR station I had to travel 30 mins by bus. Now I save time and reach the Central district in 5 mins flat. One gets seamless internet
service throughout the journey even in the tunnels. Though it costs more than bus, the MTR is the quickest way to reach your destination.

The MTR also operates a light rail system which runs in the New Territories including stoppage at the boundary of Mainland China (Lo Wu station & Lok Ma Chau Station). Here the passengers can cross the border to Shenzhen.

MTR also provides an Inter-city service between Hong Kong and Mainland China.  Presently there are 3 routes; namely Beijing line, Shanghai line and Guangzhou line. A new high-speed rail link, namely the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express, is being constructed. To facilitate this line a new train station is being built. Every day on my way to work, I can see the progress of work on this line.

Bus

Buses are another mode of transport which is extensively used by all. This is mainly because of its considerable connectivity but moreover so because it’s cheaper. There are five franchised bus companies that run the bus service in Hong Kong. One can travel from Hong Kong Island to New Territories in $11 HK (adult) approximately. On the other hand, if you use the MTR for the same route it will approximately cost $ 25 (adult) HK. But buses take double the time if it gets stuck in traffic during rush hours.

Most buses are double-decker, spotless, comfortable and air-conditioned. For a few routes, for instance a trip to Stanley, I do like to take the bus simply because of its spectacular view from the top deck. Inside the bus there is a LCD which promptly displays the upcoming stop both in Chinese and English to alert the passengers. Few buses have free wifi service too. HoweverI got feedback from a few people, who live in purely residential areas or in the villages of New Territories, is that the frequency of the buses is inadequate.

Minibuses are small buses which carry 16 people approximately. Once the bus is full it will not stop for a new passenger until someone gets off and a seat is available. The interesting feature about the minibus is that you can alight and get on anywhere along the route.  You just ask the driver to stop and he obliges. My friends and I have nick-named the minibuses as Formula 1 race cars. The drivers drive at a maddening speed and if you do not hold on to something you will fall off your seat when the bus whirls sharply. You feel like you are in a rollercoaster at a theme park. The fast and reckless driving resulted in making it mandatory for the buses to be equipped with a large speedometer display. Seat belts are provided for some seats. However there are no display boards which inform you of the next stop and the drivers usually do not speak English. So I would not advise tourists to take the minibus if you are unfamiliar with the route. You can pay the fare using Octopus Card or can tender exact change on all buses.

Trams

This historic mode of transport has been operating in the city for more than a century. It runs exclusively on Hong Kong Island and is inexpensive. No matter how far you go, it costs only $2.30 HK for adults.  Because of the sound it makes, the locals call it the Ding-Ding. The tram starts from Kennedy Town, just outside my tower and it runs through the picturesque and busiest western districts of the Hong Kong Island. It is a great way to see the island if you are not in a hurry. The trams are double-decker and you need to get in from the back and pay when you are alighting. Frankly I find the trams very slow but a lot of people like my husband love the slow paced rattle. The trams are always packed during the office hours. The roof of the trams is low, so if a tall person is standing he can bang his head. If you are truly opposed to walking short distances then the tram is your ally for such short journeys.

The Peak Tram demands a special mention here. It is a major tourist attraction which takes people to the famous Victoria Peak (exclusive article will follow shortly).

Ferry

Ferries serve as indispensable route that connect the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and outlying islands. Ferry is a major tourist attraction because of the stunning views. It is also used by many locals for daily commuting. There are many companies which are franchised to operate the ferry service among which Star Ferry and First Ferry are most popular. The cross harbour ferries are faster and cheaper than the MTR or bus. The central pier on the Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui pier on the Kowloon provide ferry services to most outlying islands such as Lamma, Peng Chau, Lantau including DB (Discovery Bay). The ferries are usually crowded on Saturdays and Sundays. If you take the ferry in the night you can see the famous glittering Hong Kong skyline. There are special ferry rides exclusively on New Year’s Eve and Chinese New year to see the glorious fireworks.

In addition, there are three piers which provide ferry services to Macau and to cities in South China.

Taxi

You will find taxis (Toyotas) whizzing all over the city. You can see them in three colours (red for HK Island & Kowloon, green for New Territories and blue for Lantau Island) distinguished by their zoned area. The area that I live in has red taxis. It is very easy to flag down a taxi on the street and there are abundant taxi-stands everywhere. There are a few restricted areas where pickup and drop off is not allowed. Taxis are comfortable and air-conditioned. They are all metered and the minimum fare is $22 HK. Additional charges such as luggage fees and tunnel tolls are charged wherever applicable. It is quite difficult to find a taxi in the Central, the bustling business district of Hong Kong. In Central, there is always a long queue and the waiting time is roughly 30 mins. It is challenging to communicate with the drivers who do not speak in English. Even the English speaking drivers sometimes do not understand our accent. I swear by an amazing application called the Hong Kong Taxi Translator. It is a paid app but it is very helpful. Just download it on your smart phone. All you need to do is type your destination in English and the app translates it into Chinese. It has a database of office buildings, residential, major attractions, hotels, hospitals, shopping malls and schools. You can also search by the name of the street.

 Octopus Card – the Lifeline of Public Transport in Hong Kong!

The octopus card is an integral part of our daily lives. It was introduced in 1997. The smart card can be used not only in public transports, but also in convenient stores, supermarkets, fast food shops, cake shops, coffee shops, vending machines, cinemas, parking and self service kiosk. You can buy a coffee a Starbucks or a beer at 7-Eleven with this card.  Simply place the smart card on a reader and the exact amount will be automatically deducted. You can recharge and add value to it at any convenience store, select coffee shops and fast food centres or MTR stations. There are three types of card- adults, child and elderly. You can buy an octopus card at the MTR stations, first ferry customer service and at the airport.

Hong Kong’s well connected, contemporary and highly developed transportation network is indisputably one of the best in the world. So when in Hong Kong, go the public (transport) way!!
TTs

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