Hong Kong transport guide
Travel blogger Brendan Lee shows you how to explore this city on the transit system that helps keep its population of more than 7 million people moving.
Love it or hate it, there’s one thing you can’t deny about Hong Kong: the place is happening. On this tiny little island, you’ll be sure to find world-class food, shopping, nightlife, more food, more shopping, and bustling streets every hour of every day. But with so much to see and do, one of your challenges is going to be figuring out how to get yourself to all the different corners of the city. In this post we’ll cover the basics so you can navigate Hong Kong’s maze of transport options like a local as soon as you touch down.
The Octopus card
I challenge you to find somebody in Hong Kong without an Octopus card. Hint: You won’t. The Octopus card is a “tap-and-pay” card that you can use on (almost) all public transport in Hong Kong and most taxis. And that’s just the beginning. You can also use it in bakeries, convenience stores, fast food joints, vending machines, pharmacies, supermarkets, carparks, cinemas, and many other places. Getting your Starbucks in the morning? Blip blip. Octopus card. KFC after beers with the crew? Blip it again. Hong Kong is very “go-go-go,” and fiddling around with spare change at the 7-Eleven counter might have impatient locals breathing down your neck.
So, your first order of business in Hong Kong will be getting that Octopus card in your pocket. You can buy one at any Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station for a refundable HKD $50.00 deposit. Simply load your credit at the machines.
Get your hands on an Octopus card. Photo courtesy Pawel L.
The MTR will likely be your transport bread and butter in Hong Kong and will get you to most points of interest in the city. It functions like your regular subway system, and you will find stations every few blocks in the central areas. You can buy single tickets, but fares are slightly cheaper with an Octopus card. It is super easy to navigate and there are English signs in every station. Very clean, very efficient, easy to use. Just try to avoid using it during rush hour, unless of course, you like armpits in your face and being squished like a jelly donut.
Hong Kong's MTR is very efficient and easy to use. Photo courtesy Galio.
Hong Kong has a lot of buses and they can be confusing, even for some locals. But riding the bus, especially the London-style double deckers, can be a fun way to see the city and is sometimes necessary to get to the outer parts of Hong Kong. It’s also one of the cheaper ways to get to and from the airport. One thing that catches visitors off guard is the need for correct change if paying by cash. The drivers don’t give change — you’ll be expected to throw the exact fare into the fare box when you get on. Of course, if you have an Octopus card you just blip yourself on. Usually the drivers don’t speak English, or will be too busy winding through Hong Kong traffic to help you, so it’s best to ask a fellow passenger for help or directions. You’ll find most people in Hong Kong speak at least basic English. Also, make sure you wave the bus down, otherwise the driver will simply zoom right past you. Things move quickly in Hong Kong!
Take in some views while getting around. Photo courtesy Bernard S.
Ready for a bit of nostalgia? On Hong Kong Island you will find these vintage double decker trams that have been clunking along the same tracks for more than a century. In the constant modernization of Hong Kong, the trams add a welcome taste of history and heritage. Riding the tram costs next to nothing (HKD $2.30) and the fare is the same regardless of how long or far you ride. You will actually find they are super convenient, too, if you’re tired of walking up and down Hong Kong Island all day.
Rest your legs from a day of hitting the pavement by taking a tram. Photo courtesy JustShot.
For something a little different, you can jump on the Star Ferry to get between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The ferry ships people from Wan Chai and Central on Hong Kong Island to Tsim Cha Tsui in Kowloon, and leaves regularly. It’s a short eight-minute ride, which is why locals love it, but you will also see your fair share of tourists on board snapping photos of the beautiful harbour throughout the day. It’s also a chance for you to experience a bit of Hong Kong history — the ferry has been running people across the harbour since the 1800s. For only a couple of dollars, it’s one of the best value thrills in the city.
At the ferry pier at Central you will also find many ferries taking people to the outer islands, such as Cheung Chau, Lantau Island, Peng Chau, and Discovery Bay. These make for great day trips (try to avoid the weekend) and won’t cost you any more than HKD $37.00 to get there.
Taking a ferry is one of the best value thrills in the city. Photo courtesy Bernard S.
These are smaller 16-seater vans and are used mostly by locals to get into the deeper nooks and crannies of the city. There are two types. The green minibus operates like a regular bus, with a fixed route and fixed fares, while the red minibus is more like a car-share and you’ll need to know exactly where you’re going because you’ll need to tell the driver when and where to stop. It is unlikely you will need to use either during a short trip to Hong Kong, and if you do it will probably because a local friend is taking you somewhere off the grid, so get excited! In the event you do use need to use one alone, make sure you have your destination written down so you can tell people where you’re going.
The green minibus operates like a regular bus, with a fixed route and fixed fares. Photo courtesy Hans J.
Weather permitting, Hong Kong is one of the most walkable cities in the world. Every block has something interesting to eat, watch, buy, or take a photo of, and the central districts are incredibly safe at all hours of the day. If you’re a walker, you can put your comfy shoes on and simply step out your door. There are endless streets to explore, and if you get lost, just jump on the MTR and head back to your station. Before heading home, you can even Octopus card yourself a couple of beers!
Of course, one of the best ways to get to know a city is to walk.