The Octopus card (八達通, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese) provides instant electronic access to Hong Kong's public transport system. The world's first contactless smart debit card, it can be tapped onto a reader to transfer fare from the passenger to the carrier. Those who are familiar with Singapore's eZ-Link card, London Underground's Oyster card, Washington DC's SmarTrip card, Melbourne's myki card or Japan Railway's IC cards will quickly understand how to use the Octopus card. In addition to being used for all forms of public transport (except most of the red-top minibuses and taxis), Octopus is also accepted for payment in almost all convenience stores like 7-Eleven, restaurant chains like McDonald's, Maxim's, and Cafe de Coral, many vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. Some housing estates and schools use the card for identification at entry. The Octopus card functionality can also come in the form of personalised cards, ornaments, keychains and watches which you can pre-order at octopuscards.com if you are interested.
When travelling by MTR and some bus routes, payment by Octopus card is often cheaper than cash because carriers frequently offer discounts to Octopus users (such as the route between the airport and the city). There is no reason to get one if you are in Hong Kong for a short time and don't go there frequently, however, if your itinerary includes daily use of ferries, buses, minibuses and the MTR then you will want to have one.
Basic Octopus cards cost $150, with $100 face value plus $50 refundable deposit. A $9 service charge applies if the card is returned in less than three months for the refundable deposit. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000. The Octopus card also allows its remaining value to go negative once before topping up. For example, you may pay for a ride of $5 with a remaining value of $2 on the card (bringing the stored value to -$3) but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The negative value of an Octopus card can go as far as $35. Note that isn't really "negative", meaning you don't have to pay MTR back, since your $50 deposit secures it.
The Central to Mid-Levels escalator, at 800m long, is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The escalator runs downhill 06:00-10:00 and uphill 10:30-23:59 every day. When travelling downhill on the escalator, there is a machine where you can touch your Octopus card, and your next MTR journey will have a $2 discount (if it starts at Central/Hong Kong or Sheung Wan station and if you don't take any other transport before then). These are called "MTR Fare Saver" machines and can be found at http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/whatsnew/fare_saver.html.
Your Octopus card's balance is displayed on the reader after each use. The balance can also be checked, along with the last 9 transactions, using a small machine near regular ticket machines at MTR stations.
For travellers, there are three convenient ways to top-up a card in $50 increments (but in each case only for cash, not by credit card):
Hong Kong's Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network of underground and suburban rail is the fastest way to get around the territory, but what you gain in speed you lose in views and (at least for short distances) price. There are four underground lines (Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island, and Tseung Kwan O lines), four suburban rail lines (Tung Chung, West, East and Ma On Shan lines), the Disneyland Resort Line dedicated for the Disneyland and the Airport Express, plus a network of modern tram lines operated by the MTR in the North West New Territories.
The most important lines for many visitors are the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which tunnels from Central to Kowloon and down Nathan Road towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories, and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of the Island. The Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport when coupled with the S1 shuttle bus stationed at Tung Chung MTR station. The line also provides a link to Hong Kong Disneyland via a change at Sunny Bay station. All signs are bilingual in Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English so most tourists should not have a problem using the rail system. Should you get lost, staff in the station control room usually speak enough English to be able to help you out.
One thing that's unique to Hong Kong's suburban rail system is that it's linked to two borders with mainland China: Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, both on the East Rail Line. You pass through a short corridor before a large border gate appears (have your visa ready by then) through which you pass and enter a long one-way corridor before emerging on the mainland, with the Shenzhen Metro right next to you.
The East Rail Line offers a first class car where the seats are wider and more comfortable. The fare is twice that of the regular cars on the same route, and you need to buy a separate ticket for this at a station's ticketing office or tap your Octopus card at the designated reader before entering.
Most underground MTR stations have one Hang Seng Bank branch (except for the massive Hong Kong/Central station, which has two). Since they're a common feature, unambiguous and easy to find, they're a good place to tell people to meet you.
Note that in Hong Kong, the English name for the underground metro system is the 'MTR'. While 'subway' is understood as well, in Hong Kong it actually refers to underground walkways (due to British influence), rather than the metro system.
Fares depend on distance. Credit cards are not accepted to pay for tickets or passes except for rides on the Airport Express Line.
In addition to the Airport Express Octopus (see above), you can also (as a short-term tourist) buy a 24-hour pass for $55 at any MTR station; however, this pass is not valid on the Airport Express line, East Rail Line's first class car or available to residents. It is also generally not worth the money as a typical single-journey fare in the urban area is about $4 to $10 only.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, the narrow double-decker city trams (sometimes known in Cantonese as "ding ding") trundling along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island are a Hong Kong icon and have provided cheap transport for over a century. Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air conditioned. But the route along the length of Hong Kong Island's centre covers many places tourists would want to see. With a flat fare of only $2.3, it's the cheapest sightseeing tour around. A suggested sightseeing option lasting over an hour is to board at the Kennedy Town Terminus where you can be sure to get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram traverses eastward, you will have an elevated view of the island and see its different flavours, from bustling Hong Kong street life to its glitzy financial and shopping districts and, finally, a taste of suburban tranquility. Passengers board at the rear and the fare is paid upon alighting at the front of the tram. Exact change and Octopus cards are accepted. Trams run 06:00-23:59.
In a league of its own is the Peak Tram, Hong Kong's first mechanised mode of transport, opened back in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7 km track up from Central to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price ($28 one-way, $40 return; return tickets must be purchased in advance). The tram turnstyles do take Octopus cards, which will allow you to avoid a stop at the ticketing line at the station. During public holidays and other similar occasions the Peak Tram is likely to have very long queues of people waiting to board. Note that the tram is not the only way to get to the Peak, and there are cheaper (but slower and less scenic) alternatives such as the number 1 (green minibus) & number 15 (double-decker bus) that cost $8.4 and $9.8, respectively, from Exchange Square Bus Terminus.
There is also a tram system located at the Western side of the territory called Light Rail, operated by the MTR Corporation. It is a modern and fast tram system connecting Tuen Mun, Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai. It is also known as ding ding by local people. It has an open fare system, in which passengers are required to buy a ticket or tap an Octopus card at the entrance before boarding, and ticket inspection is randomly done to ensure it is done.
There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong, operated by a multitude of companies. While generally easy to use (especially with Octopus), signage in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Buses are pretty much your only option for travelling around the south side of the island and Lantau.
The frequency of bus services however mean that it can also be the fastest way around as long as you master them correctly. Google Maps will actually let you know the best number bus to take from your current position to destination.
Fares will depend more on where you board rather than where you get-off (except for the cross-boundary route B2 and a few overnight buses) which means it is more expensive to board at the earlier stops rather than the later stops. Hence, bus rides which cross the harbour between Kowloon and the Island exceed $9 prior to the crossing. The fare is displayed on a digital display above the farebox - exact change, Octopus Card or a ticket purchased from a bus travel centre (only applicable to a few routes found at major transit hubs such as Star Ferry or Central Bus Terminus) must be used. There are plenty of bus routes that provide a fare discount for transferring with a particular set of routes; they're often confusing for visitors, however instructions are written on bus stop timetable leaflets. There are also some bus routes (especially the routes going to Stanley) which offer discount if a passenger gets off early and taps the Octopus card again prior to alighting.
Unlike mainland China, there are announcements in Cantonese, Mandarin and English except for most buses on New Lantau Bus. Buses will only stop when requested (except at the terminus) - when your bus approaches, raise your arm to hail the bus (like you would hail a taxi), and when alighting, press the buzzer (located by the exit doors and on the grab-rails) to signal to the driver that you want to alight. Always board at the front and alight from the centre door - unless the bus has only one door, or on the routes where you need to pay when alighting, in which case keep to the left.
Note that if paying in cash, the exact fare is required and no change can be given. Paying by Octopus is much more convenient. The exception to this rule is if you use a red minibus; Octopus cards are not accepted on red minibus services, but they do give you change.
There are six independent route numbering systems, applying to: buses (i) on Hong Kong Island, (ii) in Kowloon and the New Territories, and (iii) on Lantau Island; green minibuses (iv) on Hong Kong Island, (v) in Kowloon, and (vi) in New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary bus routes. Red minibuses do not usually have a route number. This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department has been working on unification of the route numbers, they are still a little bit messy at the moment. If you are confused a bit by the numbering of routes, here is a suggestion: just remember the route number of buses in Hong Kong Island/Kowloon/New Territories only whenever it is necessary. In other special circumstances, ask the driver or the station staff for the Lantau buses and green minibuses and they can answer you.
Generally you need not mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you are asking for the route which runs in the district you are in, e.g. if you ask for bus route #2, locals will assume you are asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is by bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both buses and minibuses can have the same route number in the same area which are actually different routes. (e.g. there are both bus route #6 and minibus route #6 in Tsim Sha Tsui, which are actually different routes).
A vast fleet of ferries plies between the many islands of Hong Kong. The granddaddy of them all and an attraction in itself is the Star Ferry, whose most popular line travels between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central from early morning until late at night, and offers amazing views (especially when coming from Tsim Sha Tsui). The Star Ferry is an icon of Hong Kong heritage and has carried passengers for over 120 years. Taking its 11-minute ride across the harbour and catching some misty breeze is considered a "must do" when visiting Hong Kong. Navigation enthusiasts will also not want to miss the sight of the crew using a billhook to catch the thrown rope as it moors at the pier, a practice unchanged since the first ferry ran in 1888.
Upper deck seats cost $2.50 on weekdays and $3.40 on weekends while the lower deck cost $2.00 on weekdays and $2.80 on weekends, both payable with Octopus, cash (no change given) or by onsite vending machine. The Star Ferry also operates between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai but only offers upper-deck seating. A 4-day tourist ticket is also available for $25.
Ferries to Lamma, Lantau and other islands depart from a variety of ports, but the largest and most important terminal is at Central adjacent to the Star Ferry. Ferries are usually divided into fast ferries and slow ferries, with fast ferries charging around twice the price for half the journey time, although not all destinations offer both kinds of service. Example fares for trips from Central to Yung Shue Wan (Lamma) are $10/15 slow/fast, and to Mui Wo (Lantau) $10.50/$21. Note that all fares increase by around 50% on Sundays and public holidays.
Taxis are plentiful, clean and efficient. They are quite cheap compared to many other large cities.
There are three types of taxis in Hong Kong, easily identified by their colours: red, green and blue, all of which serve the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.
The Urban (red) taxis can travel most destinations in Hong Kong and are also the most expensive. The meter starts at $20.00 for the first 2 kilometres, and a further $1.50 for every 200m thereafter, and $1.00 each ticking when the fare goes above $72.50. Note that on Lantau island they are only permitted to go to the airport, Tung Chung and Disneyland.
NT (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are fundamentally confined to rural areas in the New Territories, the airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Lantau (blue) taxis (the cheapest of the three) operate only on Lantau Island (including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland).
The airport will have taxis with all three colours, however both signs and attendants will make it easy for you to make the right choice.
By law, Hong Kong taxis must take you to your destination however in practice they tend to ignore this rule if it isn't convenient to them. However unless it is raining extremely hard, then there will be no issue finding another taxi close by to take you.
The wearing of seat belts is required by law, the driver has the right to refuse to carry the passenger if they fail to comply. In practice this is rarely observed.
Tipping for taxi rides is usually not required or expected. Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations. If you only have a $500 or $1,000 note and are going through a tunnel, let the driver know beforehand and he will change it when paying at the toll booth. Some taxis accept credit cards and Octopus cards to avoid hassles with small change although these are still very rare.
There are no extra late-night charges nor peak-hour surcharges. However baggage carried in the boot ("trunk" in American and Canadian English) will cost you $5 per piece, except for wheelchairs. No charges are levied for travel to/from the airport or within downtown but all toll charges for tunnels are added to the bill. The driver will normally pay on your behalf at the toll booth and you just need to reimburse him before alighting.
Be aware that crossing the harbour is considered a relatively significant trip, and some taxi drivers may be reluctant to take you. To do this you can stand at a cross-harbour taxi rank (there are not many), by hailing a taxi by making an arm movement like an ocean wave (They will not stop if they don't want to go) or just asking your hotel to call a taxi firm with your destination. Harbour crossing passengers are expected to pay the tolls (add around $70 for your trip).
All taxi drivers are required to display inside the vehicle an official name card that includes the driver's photograph and the license plate number. Unless a taxi has an out of service sign displayed, they are legally required to take you to your destination. They are also required to provide you a receipt upon request. If you think you have been "toured" around the city, or if they refuse to either carry you to your destination or provide for a receipt, you may file a complain to the Transport Complaints Unit Complaint Hotline (Voice mail service after office hours) at 2889-9999.
All taxis are equipped with mobile phones and can be reserved and requested via an operator for a token fee of $5, payable to the driver. You are unlikely to need to call a taxi, though, as they are plentiful. Only during Friday night rush hour in central you might find long lines on taxi stands.
It is good practice to get a local person to write the name or address of your destination in Chinese for you to hand to the taxi driver, as many drivers speak limited English and Mandarin. For example, if you wish to take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel's business card. It also helps if you have the phone number of your destination, you can give it to the driver to call there and ask for directions. Nevertheless, even if you don't take these steps, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics. Be aware that buildings might have an English name used by foreigners and a different English name used by locals. The HSBC building in Central is called "Hong Kong Bank" by taxi drivers for example.
Renting a car is largely unheard of in densely populated Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, a complex road network, as well as rare and expensive parking spaces and well-connected public transportation, renting a car is very unappealing. If you must, expect to pay over $600/day even for a small car. Hong Kong allows foreigners to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP), and if you possess a driving licence written in English then you can also drive in Hong Kong for a limited period of time. Anyone who drives for more than 12 months is required to get a Hong Kong license issued by the Department of Transportation.
Nevertheless, although public buses do exist throughout the SAR it does tend to be less reliable in some of the more remote areas in the New Territories. Therefore, driving should certainly not be dismissed out of hand, especially if you intend to spend a significant amount of time hiking and camping in the countryside.
Hong Kong follows traffic rules and signage similar to the United Kingdom. The majority of Hongkongers will exceed the speed limit by around 10 km/h which is the tolerated threshold. Drivers will sometimes not yield to pedestrians at crossings without traffic lights, although traffic lights are always observed. Wearing a seatbelt is mandatory for every passenger who has a seatbelt provided. Rush hour traffic can be severe around the Cross Harbour Tunnel which is generally congested 08:00-11:00 and 16:00-22:00 and even sometimes up till midnight. Many drivers will often not use their indicators when changing lanes. Roads in Hong Kong are generally well maintained.
Traffic rules are enforced seriously and the penalty for breaking rules can be severe. Signs are written in both Chinese and English. Unlike mainland China, traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left, a part of its British legacy.
Hong Kong has experienced a boom on biking in recent years. While many people still don't see bicycles as a safe and feasible substitute for public transportation due to the heavy traffic, fast speed of vehicles, steep hills, narrow streets and an absence of bicycle lanes, biking is getting more popular. A network of tarmac cycle tracks sprawl across the New Territories making it relatively easy to bike for longer distances.
There are also several mountain-bike trails in the Country Parks, although a permit is necessary to bring your bicycle into the parks. Visitors should comply with the Road User's Guide which is based on the United Kingdom Highway Code. If you plan to use busy urban roads you should be fit enough to keep up with the traffic, which moves surprisingly quickly.
Bike rental is available in several locations across the territory. Popular rental spots include Cheung Chau, Mui Wo (Lantau), Sha Tin, Tai Po Market, Tuen Mun and Ma On Shan. Rental fees are typically $20–30 a day for a standard entry-level mountain bike, or around $150 per day for a higher-spec mountain or road bike.
In general, although cycling is possible, Hong Kong is not a bicycle-friendly place because of its hilly landscapes, government policies, air pollution and a general lack of consideration by many motorists. Locals sometimes cycle on the pavements if they are not crowded, although most of time, pavements are too crowded even for pushing your bike.
Basic rules to follow:
Folding bicycles are permitted on all public transport, provided that they are folded.
The world's longest outdoor escalator travels from Central through Soho to the residential developments of the Mid-levels. The escalator moves down in the morning rush hour but up the rest of the time, and using it is free — in fact, you can even get Octopus credits from machines along the way for being willing to use your feet!
The escalator cuts through some of the oldest streets found anywhere in Hong Kong, so if you are happy to take a chance and just wander and explore the back streets you are likely to find something of interest that dates back to colonial times. The immediate area to the east of the escalator was once reserved for the exclusive use of Chinese people.
Star Ferry is the classic way to get to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. There are two routes operated by The Star Ferry company.
New World First Ferry operates some other routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Fortune Ferry operates one route.
Coral Sea Ferry operates two routes between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
The Transport Department also provides an online directory on Hong Kong's ferry services.
Note that, due to an ongoing reclamation and redevelopment project in Central/Admiralty that includes a new waterfront, much of the shoreline is presently a mess and access to the ferries can be a little confusing — take heed of signs warning about the ever-shifting arrangements.
For details of cross-harbour buses, see the Hong Kong section.
Bus fares range from $8.90-11.10 for routes linking the urban areas in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Some routes heading for more remote places are charged at a higher fare.
From more distant points the three lines of the MTR crossing the harbour may offer a faster alternative.
If coming from the airport, the Airport Express's Hong Kong station is in the heart of Central.
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