Last updated on August 19th, 2023 at 12:23 am
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Although the food and shopping in Hong Kong are known globally, did you know that the public transportation in this city is just as wonderful?
In fact, you might be surprised at the number of options a person has when it comes to getting around Hong Kong.
Let’s talk about each and every one of them in detail.
How to Pay for Public Transport
The most common forms of payment are cash and the Octopus card.
When it comes to getting around Hong Kong, you need a transportation card called the Octopus card. It is loved by Hong Kongers because you can use this contactless card for hopping around the city and also for things like shopping, dining, and parking lot tickets (currently, the maximum limit to put on your Octopus card is HKD 3000).
Hong Kong is still very much a cash-based society. Other than having an Octopus card, you should have cash on you since some public transportation only accepts cash and/or coins.
I tend to use my coins instead of my Octopus card when I have a lot of change and my wallet is getting heavy.
When possible, most people use their Octopus card though because you need to have the exact change for the transportation fare. An Octopus card is easier to use and you’ll see 99% of locals having one.
Types of Octopus Cards
The Octopus card you use depends on your age and it matters because the fares are different depending on the age category.
For children, between the ages of 3 and 11, they use a child octopus. Ages 12 and above use the adult Octopus. Those who are older than 65 use the elder octopus.
How to Add Money to Your Octopus Card
You can add money to your Octopus card at subway stations (machines only accept HKD 50 or 100 so if you have HKD 500 or HKD 1000, go to the customer service counter), convenience stores, and grocery stores.
You can also download Octopus Wallet and FPS from the app store to top up your Octopus card directly from your bank account.
Octopus Cards for Tourists
There are two types of Octopus cards for tourists and no, you won’t have to give out any personal information like your passport or name to purchase one.
Bear in mind, you need to pay in cash for these. As I said earlier in the blog post, always carry cash around with you in Hong Kong. There will be places that will not accept cards.
Sold Octopus Card
There is no deposit required and the remaining value can be refunded. When you do leave the city, you can keep it as a souvenir. Go to a customer service counter at a subway stop or the Airport Express ticket counter at the Hong Kong International Airport and ask to buy one.
On Loan Octopus Card
Essentially, you’re borrowing the card. You pay a deposit and get back the money when you return the card as well as any remaining value. A $9 fee will be deducted if you return the card within 3 months of purchasing it. Again, you can purchase this card at a customer service counter at any MTR station and airport express stations.
Personally, if I was a visitor and even if my trip was only 24 hours, I would buy the sold Octopus card because I want to keep it as a souvenir. If you’re on a budget, go with the on-loan octopus card because it’s cheaper but you don’t get to keep it.
Getting Around Hong Kong – Types of Public Transportation
If you want to go from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central or Wan Chai and vice versa, the most scenic transportation route by far is the star ferry (there are also ferries from Central to outlying Islands).
These double-decker ferries allow you to take in the beautiful city view as you’re sailing through the water. It’s great for taking Instagram photos.
While you’re on the boat, you’ll feel the air on your skin. It’s a nice feeling, especially during the summer when it gets extremely hot. The feeling is also quite calming because there are no constant train or bus announcements.
It’s cute, inexpensive, unique, and a reminder of old-school life.
You also shouldn’t have to wait too long for a ferry ride as one boat can fit hundreds of people at a time.
Although the stary ferry has very limited routes, it’s still an iconic public transportation in Hong Kong. It’s something you should definitely experience at least once!
For prices and their timetable, check out their website for more information.
When it comes to getting around Hong Kong, most locals use the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). In other cities, this might be known as the subway or metro.
There are a total of 10 lines:
- Airport Express
- Disneyland Resort Line
- East Rail Line
- Island Line
- Kwun Tong Line
- South Island Line
- Tsueng Kwan O Line
- Tsuen Wan Line
- Tuen Ma Line
- Tung Chung Line
Pros of Taking the MTR
Hands down, Hong Kong’s MTR is one of the best things about living in this city. You never have to wait more than 10-15 minutes before another train arrives, although it usually comes sooner before that. During peak hours, a train can arrive every 2-3 minutes.
It gets very hectic during rush hour but for that many people squished together, it’s still organized and efficient. Partly is because Hong Kong people are generally pretty good at queues. Also, there’s staff to direct people during those times.
Most stops also have a glass protector in front of the train. It only opens when the train has arrived and the doors open for passengers to get in and off. This is a safe way to protect people from falling or being pushed onto the tracks.
You can also continue to use your mobile phone on the train. There is no need to be cut off from the outside world just because you’re on the MTR. You’ll still have access to your phone data and can continue talking on the phone.
Once you get off the train, the exits are clearly labelled. They are signs everywhere to let you know which exit you should use once you arrive at your destination. If you’re not sure where to go, look out for these signs or use their interactive map.
It’s also not a standard fare. For example, if you’re going from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central, the cost will be different than going from Jordan to Causeway Bay.
Some cities have one standard fare no matter how many stations you are taking but it’s not the case in Hong Kong. It’s fairer that way.
Most people use their Octopus card on the MTR but you can buy single journey tickets at each subway station. If you’re not sure how much money your Octopus card has left, there are machines in MTR stations for you to check the remaining value and recent transactions.
Double Decker Bus
After the MTR, the double-decker bus is probably most used by locals because it covers most routes in Hong Kong.
The buses are air-conditioned and comfortable. If you can’t get to a place with the MTR, the double-decker bus is usually the way to go.
Some bus stations have a screen that shows people approximately how much longer for the next bus to arrive. In case some don’t, you should download Citymapper. There are apps for HK buses but I use Citymapper because it mixes bus and train routes to tell you what’s the fastest way to get to a place. You can also adjust the settings if you want to only take a bus to your destination.
Lift your arm when you see your bus coming. If a passenger doesn’t press the stop button while inside the bus, the bus might just keep going (I’ve certainly learned this life lesson the hard way), and waiting for the next bus can be another 10 – 20 minutes.
Depending on the bus you take, the fares are different but what they have in common is that you need to have the exact change for all buses. That’s why your Octopus card is so useful. No need to rush and get out your wallet to count coins when there is a line behind you.
Once you’re on the bus, there will be an announcement before each stop so people know where they are. There are also screens on the bus that lets you follow the route.
For the best view, go up to the top floor and sit on the first row.
Similar to the MTR, there is no eating or drinking on the bus. It should be a habit to not eat or drink anywhere when you’re taking public transportation in Hong Kong. You might be able to get away with a drink but you could get called out for it.
There are two types of minibuses – green and red.
The green minibus follows a schedule and has the same stops each time. You wave down the bus when you see it coming for the driver to let you get on. You then tap your Octopus card or pay the exact change and get off when you need to. It’s straightforward.
With the red minibuses, there is no set route. You also don’t pay your fare in cash until you arrive at your destination. It’s suitable for those up for an adventure.
I’ve had friends that tell me they don’t like taking the minibus when they are in Hong Kong.
I understand why.
The rides can be unstable when you are on the minibus. Don’t be surprised if the driver starts driving before you even sit down. Some bus drivers feel the need to drive quickly and things shake while you’re on the bus.
A minibus is also much smaller than a double-decker bus. It only carries 16-19 passengers at a time.
Speaking of double-decker buses, when you’re on one, there is no need to communicate with the driver. You press the stop button and the driver will open the door and let you get off the bus without saying a word.
On a minibus, you have to communicate with the driver. Some mini-buses might have a stop button but most people just yell out when they want to get off at a certain stop. There are people uncomfortable doing this since you have to be loud unless you’re sitting in the front. It’s very possible that the driver can’t hear you. Plus, some people aren’t comfortable speaking Cantonese.
In addition, the minibus stop might not be as obvious so you’ll need to know where you’re going. If you’re unsure, it’s best to ask other people lining up for the minibus or the driver directly.
You might not want to get around Hong Kong via mini bus if you don’t speak much Cantonese or are not familiar with the minibus route.
Honestly, if I’m going somewhere I haven’t been before, I usually take the MTR or a double-decker bus. It gets me to the places I want to be just fine.
The tram (locals call it the ding ding) is another iconic HK public transportation method in the city.
It’s affordable, fun, and a reminder of what old Hong Kong was like. It’s refreshing compared to the surrounding skyscrapers around the city.
If you’re on the HK side, you should take the tram. Unlike the other buses or MTR, it’s a standard fare and it’s cheap too.
As a tourist though, you might have taken the peak tram already since it’s a famous tourist attraction and it’s where you can get one of the best views of the city. They’re kind of similar except the peak tram is more expensive, air-conditioned, newer, and goes uphill. A normal tram goes straight ahead.
The few downsides are that unfortunately, the tram is only available in the Hong Kong Island district. For the map routes, please check their official website.
Also, a lot of these trams don’t have air conditioning. Summers in Hong Kong are brutal so being in a small area with a lot of people can suck big time. It’s also not the fastest transportation method but the tram is a unique way of discovering the city.
Although this isn’t really a public transportation mode, taxis are still very much used by locals so it’s worth a mention in this blog post.
When it comes to taxis in Hong Kong, there are 3 colours – green, blue, and red.
The red taxi is what you’ll see most because they operate in the city. The green taxis are for New Territories and the blue taxi is for Lantau Island like at Tai O Fishing Village.
You can easily flag a taxi down the street unless it’s at a place where they can’t stop to pick up passengers. There should be a lot of them cruising around.
In general, it does not take long to find an empty cab unless it’s rush hour. You can also wait by a taxi stand or use the HKTaxi app to call a taxi.
Check whether a cab is available or not by watching the red ‘for hire’ sign that’s near the driver’s seat. Another way to see if a cab is occupied is by looking out for the ‘taxi’ sign at the top of the car. If it’s lit up, it means there are no passengers inside although this is more of a nighttime thing.
The taxi is metered so the longer you’re in the cab, the more you will be charged. There are also additional charges such as baggage fees, pet fees, and tunnel fees.
An important note to share is that both the HK Island side and the Kowloon side use red taxis but if you want a taxi driver to cross the tunnel, they might ask you for directions on how to get to your destination because they are not familiar with the area. Don’t only share the exact location with the driver but also say the district and notable places nearby so they know where to go.
Getting Around Hong Kong – Taxi Payment
In terms of payment, most taxis accept cash only. Once in a while, some taxis will accept other forms of payment such as Octopus, WeChat Pay, PayMe, and/or AliPay HK. These are extremely common apps and locals often have at least one of these apps downloaded on their phones. However, the standard is still to pay in cash.
Also, do not expect taxi drivers to have change for big bills like HKD 500 or HKD 1000. Pay with smaller bills like HKD 10, 20, 50, or 100.
Receipts are also available for those who need them.
If you’re travelling with kids (a taxi only allows 4 passengers at a time), depending on where you go, taking a cab might not be that much more expensive than everyone taking the MTR or bus together. You might also want to look for a bigger size cab if you want more space. The bigger cab still only allows 4 passengers in the car at a time but there’s more legroom in the back so it’s more comfortable.
Although this mode of transportation is the most expensive one on the list, taking a taxi in Hong Kong is still quite affordable compared to other expensive cities around the world.
Final Thoughts – Getting Around Hong Kong
Most locals have taken all types of public transportation modes. For a Hong Kong tourist, you’ll highly likely take the MTR and double-decker bus but you should also take the ferry and the tram for a full HK experience.
Most of these public transports on the list start around 5-7 am and the last ones end around 12 – 1 am. It gives you ample time to take the train, bus, tram, and/or ferry. If none of these options are available, you can always take a cab.
Hong Kong has one of the best transportation systems in the world. With a plethora of options, people can usually get by without driving in the city. The city spoils us with its reliable and extensive public transportation systems. Whenever I travel to another city that doesn’t have efficient public transportation, it makes me miss HK. It’s one of the best things about the city, that’s for sure!
Now to You – Getting Around Hong Kong
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