Getting around Hong Kong can be overwhelming. For help navigating Hong Kong like a pro, here’s a guide to the various methods of public transport… 

Getting around Hong Kong

a guide to public transport

Arriving in a new city can be overwhelming. Especially a dense, sprawling metropolis like Hong Kong. Throw in a dash of jet lag and the nightmare is real. Navigating public transport is usually the last thing I want to be doing. Thankfully, Hong Kong’s public transport systems are first class, affordable and easy to use. 

~ Octopus Card ~

You’ve arrived at Hong Kong Airport. After picking up your luggage and making it through customs, your first piece of business should be to pick up an Octopus Card. Head over to the China Travel Service counter in the arrival hall of terminal 1 or any 7-Eleven shop to get one.
The Octopus Card is your key to the city. It will allow you to use most of the public transport within Hong Kong and can also be used to pay for items in convenience stores and supermarkets. 
 
A tourist Octopus Card requires a refundable HK$50 deposit. At the outset, I would recommend putting a balance of HK$150-200 plus deposit onto the card. One purpose of the deposit is that it allows you to still use the card if you stray into a negative balance (of up to HK$35). Helpful when you haven’t been keeping track of the balance!

~ Transferring from Hong Kong Airport ~

Modes of Transport

There are three ways to transfer from the airport, either by taxi, bus or train. Of the three, my personal recommendation would be by train (the Airport Express). Although, I appreciate that those arriving by night and for the first time might prefer to take a taxi, notwithstanding it being more expensive. The bus is the cheapest option. If this is your preference, here’s a link to the bus routes and timetables. I’ve never used the bus, but a friend did without any problems whatsoever. It just takes quite a bit longer with traffic etc.

My experience of the Airport Express is very positive. It is clean, comfortable and quick; whisking passengers from the Airport to Central in 24 minutes. Trains departevery 10 minutes between 05:54 – 23:28 and every 12 minutes from 23:28 – 00:48. A full timetable can be found on the Airport website.

Using the Airport Express

The Airport Express has 5 principle stops: AsiaWorld Expo, Airport, Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong. Unless you are visiting Hong Kong for business, there will be no need to head to AsiaWorld Expo. You will likely be heading in the opposite direction, towards Hong Kong.
Visitors staying in Kowloon will need to alight at the Kowloon MTR stop, which is one of the major MTR hubs on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. From here,  jump onto another train to take you to your final destination.
 
For those who are heading to Hong Kong Island / Central, you’ll be on the Airport Express for the full 24 minutes. As with Kowloon, Hong Kong MTR is a major hub and I would expect that one further MTR journey on the Island line will get you to your accomodation.

~ Riding the MTR ~

Navigating the lines

Hong Kong’s mass transit railway (MTR) is first-class. This under/overground railway network features 13 different lines. As a visitor you’ll primarily use the Tsuen Wan (red) line, the Kwun Tong (green) line, the Island (blue) line and the Tung Chung (orange) line. For a map and full layout, check out the MTR website.
The Island line is Hong Kong’s main line running from east to west. Kowloon’s main lines are the Kwun Tong and Tsuen Wan lines, which run south to north, before branching east and west respectively. The Tung Chung line will only likely be used when taking a trip to Lantau Island, either for Disneyland (alight at Sunny Bay) or the Big Buddha (alight at Tung Chung).
Another use of the MTR is that it provides rapid connections between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The Airport Express, Tsuen Wan and Kwun Tong lines all run beneath Victoria Harbour, linking the two land masses. An additional link option can be found on the West Rail Line, but it’s away from most of the popular tourist haunts.

Navigating the stations

The sheer volume of passengers and multitude of exits can make MTR stations appear confusing. For example, check out the Jordan MTR station map, below. You’ll note that it has 5 primary exits (labelled A-E) and a number of subsidiary exists (i.e. B1 and B2). Some stations, such as Tsim Sha Tsui / East Tsim Sha Tsui has 18 primary exits (A-R). I promise it isn’t as confusing as it appears. Don’t worry if you feel disoriented amongst the chaos – exits are clearly signposted, both overhead and on the walls.

Source: www.mtr.com.hk

Another useful tool is Google maps – when zoomed in it highlights the individual subsidiary exits. This is especially useful for working out the most straightforward route to an intended destination, as shown below. For example, if you’re hungry and the Jordan MTR stop is on your route, make sure you use exit C2 and take the short walk to Australia Dairy Company. Why the Australia Dairy Company, you ask? For the best damn scrambled eggs and delicious steamed milk pudding. For more food tips, check out my Tastes of Hong Kong article.

~ The Ding Dings ~

The Ding Dings derive their name because the drivers ring the bell twice when approaching a station. They make up the tram network which runs across Hong Kong Island. The Ding Dings have a long history, having been first commissioned into service in 1905. Because all trams are double deckers, a set on the top deck is a great way to check out the city’s sights. In fact, they are one of my top 10 things to do in Hong Kong.

If that isn’t enough of a reason for you, they are also the most affordable way of travelling around Hong Kong Island. Each journey is a set price (HK$2.70) regardless of how far you travel. Simply tap in and out with your Octopus card. Another benefit of the Ding Dings is that they are zero emission and great for the environment.

~ The Star Ferry ~

The Star Ferry is a Hong Kong institution. These iconic ferries are even older than the Ding Dings and have sailed between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island since 1888. Ferries depart Hong Kong Island from pier 7 (located in Central) and Kowloon from the Tsim Sha Tsui pier. A single trip on the ferry will set you back $HK2.70. The journey offers some splendid views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. 

~ Public Light Buses ~

There are thousands of Public Light Buses (PLBs) operating in Hong Kong. The Transport Department’s official definition is “minibuses with not more than 19 seats”. Observers will notice two varieties: green-topped, which follow set routes, and red-topped which offer non-scheduled services. A trip on one of the PLBs is not for the faint hearted. Whilst the ride is cheap, drivers are fast and prone to collisions. 
In all likelihood, the other methods of public transport should offer sufficient coverage. However, if you find yourself in the early hours of the morning, drunk and stumbling about Lan Kwai Fong, a PLB is a cheap way of getting home. If you are serious about taking a ride, up to date route details can be found on the 16 seats website.

Great for Photos

The PLBs are great for is photographs. There are entire roads full of them. To read up on the best place to photograph them, along with other awesome Kowloon Instagram spots, check out my Kowloon Instagram Guide. If you want to read more about the craziness of the PLBs and their previous ties to the triads, there is a great article written by Christopher DeWolf, on the bbc website. It’s well worth a read.

~ The Peak Tram ~

It’s almost inevitable that you will ride the Peak Tram to the summit of Victoria Peak, which offers some of the most spectacular views of Hong Kong. That’s why it is one of my top recommendations of things to do in Hong Kong. As a result, the Peak is popular and attracts hoards of tourists.

Best way to ride the Peak Tram

Unless you’re hitting the Peak in the early morning, you will encounter some large queues at the lower station. There’s good news, however, if you have an Octopus Card. The initial queues are for tickets, so breeze past these with a smarmy look on your face and cut the wait time for a tram by at least half. Although, make sure that you have enough credit on your card so you don’t get turned away for having insufficient funds.
Late in the day, in the lead up to sunset, the queues for the tram itself (rather than ticket) can be insane. The only true way to beat the queues is by pruchasing a combo ticket covering the tram and access to the Sky Terrace at the top. A major benefit is VIP treatment, with an escort to the front of the queue. Buy a ticket online in advance from websites such as Klook.

Now you’re all set to get around Hong Kong like a pro. Let me know how you get on…

By CHRIS BURCHILL

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