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Big Red’s Guide to Hong Kong – Travel and getting around

This is a no-nonsense guide to Hong Kong, written by Big Red; a Scotsman in temporary hot and sweaty exile in the far east. Big Red’s opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of Colin’s Travel Guides. Well… actually, they do, especially those relating to cheap beer. Enjoy!


Travel in Hong Kong

From the airport

Transport in Hong Kong - Trams, ferries and trains

Transport in Hong Kong - Efficient, but sometimes chaotic!

As you’d expect from one of the most advanced cities in the world, it’s very easy to get into town. Getting through customs and picking up your bags will probably take 20 minutes – Hong Kong is probably the most efficient airport I’ve travelled through (and there have been a few). Once you’ve done that you’ll pop out at either exit A or B. Either way, just go straight ahead through the arrivals hall and you’ll see a booth and some machines for tickets for the airport express train. These cost HKD100 (about 8 quid) each.There is usually a queue at the booth, so go to the machine – its a piece of piss. They are in English and always work – just choose a ticket to Hong Kong Station and put your money in the slot when asked. If you have to pay by card use the booth. If you see a train at the platform already just run and hop on – you can buy tickets at the other end too!

Trains are regular, comfortable and quick – board them by heading straight on past the machines onto the platform. It’s impossible to get the wrong train – if there is a train there it’s the right one, so get on and don’t worry. Keep your ticket – you don’t need it to board but you need it to get off.
The train takes 24 minutes (stopping at Kowloon and Tsing Yi on the way) and then drops you at Hong Kong station which is the last stop. If you didn’t get a ticket at the airport just go and ask the booth dude for one here – he’s usually pretty friendly. Beep your ticket on the sensor on the gate, and walk about 10 yards to the well marshalled taxi queue. If its not raining you’ll get a cab almost instantly, otherwise it may take a few minutes. See below for cab info…

Taxis

Taxis in Hong Kong are awesome – there are millions of them, they’re cheap as chips and they never take the piss. The only downside is that the drivers’ English is often poor (albeit infinitely better than my Cantonese). Generally repetition and shouting will get you where you want to go, but no harm in taking the address written in Chinese. You could get a cab all the way from the airport to the centre, but this will be slower, less comfortable and more expensive (maybe $400) than getting the train. The only advantage is convenience but to be honest getting the train is so bloody easy it isn’t even more convenient.

MTR

The MTR is the subway, and its very very good. Journeys cost between 30p and and a pound (example: Wanchai to Sheung Wan costs about 37 dollars), and you can get almost anywhere interesting very easily (except Island South and Happy Valley).Tickets for single journeys are easy to buy – but you should get an Octopus Card. These are prepaid smart cards which you can use to pay for trains, buses, trams, ferries, beers (in the 7 11) and much much more. You pay a deposit when you get one of 50 dollars but you claim that back when you leave and give the card back. You can buy one at the airport when you arrive if you have time, or at the booths in any MTR station. They can be recharged at the 7-11, where most assistants speak English, but if not just wave the card and a 100 dollar note about and they’ll know want you want to do.

To use in the subway, just beep on the way in and then again on the way out, and the machine will deduct the correct amount from your card. As long as you have a positive balance, you can always use your card. And, even if it doesn’t contain enough cash for the whole journey, an overdraft of up to 30 dollars is allowed. But if the card is already negative then you can’t use it, and need to charge it up.

Bus

Buses are pretty good but fairly impossible to use without the interweb to figure out what one to get. Ask us and we can help. Pay by Octopus or exact change when boarding, prices are usually between 4 and 10 dollars. They’re air conditioned and fairly comfortable. Ring the bell and get off at the back doors when you get to your stop.

Ferries

These are good for getting to Lantau and Lamma islands (maybe a coupld of quid each way). The famous Star Ferry takes you to TST and gives you cracking views on the way back. They are quite charming, very regular and very cheap – again, pay by Octopus and it costs about 20p.

Tram

These are rickety old buggers which ply the north coast of the island, connecting Kennedy Town, Sheung Wan, Central, Wanchai, Happy Valley and Causeway Bay. Buses and the subway are generally more efficient (and much more comfortable) so tram users fall into 2 categories – less well off locals who like the cheapness (usually domestic helpers and tea ladies) and tourists. They cost $2 (16p) for any length of journey. Probably worth it once during your trip.

3 Responses to “Big Red’s Guide to Hong Kong – Travel and getting around”

  1. Drew Meyer says:

    Travelling by the MTR is so easy: everything from the ticket-vending machines to the turnstiles is automated. The system uses the stored-value Octopus card, really the only way to go, and single-journey tickets with a magnetic coding strip on the back. When you pass through the turnstile, the card is encoded with the station identification and time. At the other end, the exit turnstile sucks in the ticket, reads where you came from, the time you bought the ticket and how much you paid. If everything is in order, it will let you through. If you have underpaid (by mistake or otherwise), you can make up the difference at an MTR service counter; there are no fines since no one gets out without paying. Once you’ve passed through the turnstile to begin a journey you have 90 minutes to complete it before the ticket becomes invalid.

  2. Terrell Dean says:

    Transportation is safe, clean, efficient and easy to manage in Hong Kong. The Octopus card can be used to pay for fares on almost all railways, buses and ferries. Hong Kong has several different types of public transportation. The main train line in the city is the MTR. The tramway system covers the northern parts of Hong Kong Island. Five bus companies provide bus services throughout the city. Taxis are also widely used throughout Hong Kong and are another affordable way to travel. Ferry services operate between Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and outlying islands. The oldest ferry service, the Star Ferry, operates between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

  3. You can’t exchange coins once you have left a country in which they are legal tender. Exchange them before you leave (either for local banknotes or for your home currency though the latter is may not always be possible), drop them in a charity box, or souvenir them. Becoming familiar with coins and currency for your destination country and not mixing coins from various countries in your purse or pocket can save you collecting too many coins before you depart. To avoid accumulating too many coins in the first place, use them as much as possible to pay (instead of notes) during cash transactions. Some countries have coins that are relatively large in value (such as 5 Swiss francs, 2 Canadian dollars or 5 Bosnian convertible marks), which are advisable to spend first. At the airport, where debit/credit cards are usually accepted for any amount, you may opt to split-tender your transactions where the coins will fulfil the cash part hence reducing the amount (even slightly) charged to your account.

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