Hong Kong

Octopus card

The Octopus Card (八達通, Bat Dat Toong in Cantonese,) is a prepaid debit card that can be used to pay for public transportation, as well as for items in convenience stores, supermarkets such as Wellcome and ParknShop, restaurant chains such as McDonald’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, key-chains, and watches, which can be bought online.

Paying for public transport with an Octopus Card usually results in a discounted fare. Additionally, some chain stores, such as Wellcome, offer discounts for paying with the Octopus Card.

Basic Octopus cards cost $150 for $100 in credit plus a $50 refundable deposit. A $9 service charge applies if the card is redeemed for the deposit within 3 months. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000. The credit on the card can go negative. For example, you may pay for a ride costing $5 with only $2 of remaining value on the card (bringing the stored value to -$3) but you cannot use the card again until the value is topped up. The value of an Octopus card can go as low as -$35. Note that isn’t really “negative”, meaning you don’t have to pay MTR back, since your $50 deposit secures it.

Your Octopus cards’ 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.

Octopus card cannot be shared by a family; ie. if you are a family of 4 travelling together, each (!) member must have their own Octopus Card.

For travellers, there are three convenient ways to top-up a card (in $50 increments)/ Payments must be made only for cash, not by credit card:

  • “Add Value” machines, usually located next to regular ticket machines in MTR stations.
  • Customer service centres at any MTR station.
  • Merchants that accept Octopus (e.g. 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Wellcome, etc.)

For people who have local credit cards, Octopus Cards also have an automatic add-value service, where $250 or $500 can be added automatically and charged to the credit card once the balance of the Octopus Card goes negative.

MTR Fare Saver Machines

There are several fare saver machines located in the MTR system. By tapping your Octopus Card at the reader on one of these machines, you will receive a $1-2 discount on your next MTR journey if such journey originates at the station where the machine is located.

By Mass Transit Railway

Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the fastest way to get around, but it does not offer the views of buses and trams and is more expensive. There are 5 underground lines (Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island, Tung Chung, and Tseung Kwan O lines), three suburban rail lines (West, East, and Ma On Shan lines), the Airport Express, and a network of modern tram lines in the North West New Territories.
The most important lines for many visitors are the busy Tsuen Wan Line (red), which runs from Central to Kowloon via tunnel and then down Nathan Road towards Tsuen Wan in the New Territories, and the Island Line (blue) which runs along the north coast of Hong Kong Island. The Tung Chung Line (orange) is the fastest route to Lantau and one of the cheapest ways to the airport via the S1 shuttle bus from Tung Chung MTR station. This line can also be used to change to the Disneyland Resort Line (pink) at Sunny Bay. All signs are in both Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. Staff in the station control room usually speak enough English to be able to help lost tourists.

Considerations when using the MTR:

Hong Kong’s suburban rail system is linked to two international borders with mainland China, at Lo Wu Control Point and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Point, both on the East Rail Line. You pass through a short corridor and then through a large border gate before entering a long one-way corridor and emerging in mainland China, at a station for the Shenzhen Metro.

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. Ticket inspectors conduct regular patrol in the carriage and passengers without a valid first class ticket will be fined $500.
Most underground MTR stations have at least one Hang Seng Bank branch, which can serve as a meeting point.

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, as opposed to 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.
Most ticket machines will not accept bills larger than $10. Customer service centres will provide change.

Consumption of food and drinks and smoking are strictly forbidden in stations and in trains. Offenders are liable to a fine of $2,000.
Disabled Access and Stroller Access is provided at the MTR stations, but it will likely require considerable extra walking, often from one end of an MTR station to another. For instance, the lift may be at one end of a platform at train level, whilst the lift to street level will be at the other end. Therefore, be aware that using lifts and wheelchair access will often require you to walk the length of the station 2 or 3 times, just to get from street level to your chosen train. There is usually one designated reader for wider (wheelchair/stroller) access, but often it is a long walk around the station or platform. Occasionally, there will be an MTR staff booth at a set of gates, but it depends on the individual staff member as to whether they will just tap your card on their terminal and let you through the goods entrance to the platform. If you need a stroller for getting around, it may be better to collapse your stroller, pick up your child and use the escalators and “regular” designated readers. Most Hong Kongers will use a small, lightweight, upright folding stroller (some as the Combi range, which appears to be most popular), than can be easily folded, carried and taken through the gates and escalators. You will also ensure that you aren’t fighting for lift space with others who need it, such as wheelchair-bound persons and goods trolleys.

By tram

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 have provided cheap transport for over a century.

Considerations when riding the trams:

  • Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air conditioned.
  • The fare is a flat $2.3.

Riding the tram is a great and cheap way to sightsee. For an excursion lasting 1 hour, board at the Kennedy Town Terminus and get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram travels eastward, you will have an elevated view of Hong Kong Island and 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 getting off at the front of the tram. Passing through a crowded tram can be very difficult during peak times.

Exact change and Octopus cards are accepted.
Trams run from 06:00-23:59.

Peak Tram

The Peak Tram, Hong Kong’s first mechanised mode of transport, opened in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7km track from Central up 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 the ticketing line at the station.
Also, there are a number of options, some including access to the observation deck, some don’t.

The Peak Tram is likely to be crowded at night when the view of the city’s skyline is magic, as well as on public holidays. If large numbers of Mainland Chinese are in a tour group, then it will slow proceedings down considerably and they will likely try to push in front of you or knock your children over – it may be worth trying another time if that’s the case.

Note: Around HK there are numerous booths, travel agents and information kiosks where you can purchase peak tram tickets in advance for a discounted price. Something to consider is this: If the weather turns bad during your stay, visibility at the top (Sky Terrace) could very likely be zero. It is advisable to check out the weather and purchase full-price tickets on the day, at the peak train station etc., rather than run the risk of buying tickets in advance and wasting your money due to bad weather. The peak tram ride itself is relatively short and provides no view. You will also likely have to line up for an hour at the top in order to get back down again.

The tram is not the only way to get to the Peak, and there are cheaper (but slower and still quite scenic) alternatives such as the #1 green minibus costing $10.2 & #15 double-decker bus costing $9.8 from Exchange Square Bus Terminus. These buses will often give you a view of both sides of Hong Kong Island.

Light rail

MTR operates a tram system located at the Western side of the territory called Light Rail. 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 station entrance before boarding, and ticket inspection is random.

By bus

There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong, operated by a multitude of companies. While generally easy to use (especially with Octopus), signs in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult. Timetable information for buses are heavily unreliable, especially those running in Kowloon and New Territories, buses rarely come as the timetable scheduled and you have to wait them for a long period. Buses are pretty much your only option for travelling around the south side of the island and Lantau.

The large double-decker buses cover practically all of the territory, stop frequently and charge varying fares depending on the distance. The first seats of the upper deck offer great views. The franchised bus operators in Hong Kong include Kowloon Motor Bus (KMB) (and its subsidiary Long Win Bus), Citybus, New World First Bus and New Lantao Bus. Route and fare information can be found on the companies web sites. Fares will depend more on where you board rather than where you get-off 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 (found at major transit hubs such as Star Ferry or Central Bus Terminus) must be used. Unlike mainland China, there are announcements in Cantonese, Mandarin and English except for most buses on New Lantao Bus. Buses will only stop when requested(except you are 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 only has one door, in which case keep to the left.

Van-sized public light buses carry a maximum of 16 passengers (seats only) and come in two varieties, red minibuses and green minibuses (the red buses are also called maxicabs); the colour refers to a wide stripe painted on top of the vehicle. Riding a minibus may not be easy for travellers, as it is customary to call out the name of the stop or ask the driver to stop in Cantonese. More and more red minibuses accept Octopus card, but still many do not accept Octopus but will give you change, while green minibuses do accept Octopus payment but can not give you change if you pay in cash. The Hong Kong Island green minibus #1 down from the Peak to Central is particularly exhilarating. Red minibuses tend to have a more Chinese feel than green buses. Prices on red minibuses are often displayed only in Chinese numbers. The price displayed on a red minibus can legally vary according to the market price, so expect to pay more at busy times. Some people argue that the driving standards of red minibuses is lower than green minibuses; Minibus drivers generally drive fast, especially at night. Always use minibus seatbelts where available. You will notice that they all have an extra, large, digital speedometer in the cabin for the passengers to view, this is required by the government after a few fatal accidents due to speeding. Since the introduction of these passenger speedometers mini-bus accident rates have dropped.

The MTR also maintains a fleet of feeder buses. MTR passengers can enjoy a free feeder service if the payment is made by Octopus.
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: (i)buses on Hong Kong Island
(ii)buses in Kowloon and the New Territories
(iii)buses on Lantau Island
(iv)green minibuses on Hong Kong Island
(v)green minibuses in Kowloon, and
(vi)green minibuses in the New Territories and several exceptional auxiliary buses routes.

Red minibuses usually don’t have a route number. This leads to duplication of routes in different regions. Although the Transport Department has been working on the unifying of the route numbers, it is 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 to mention which district the route belongs to when you are asking for directions (almost all people will assume you will 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 will asking for bus route #2 running in Kowloon if you are in Kowloon), but you really need to mention whether the route is bus or minibus when you ask, since in some cases both bus and minibus can have 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).

By ferry

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 eleven minute ride across the harbour and catching some misty breeze is considered a “must do” when visiting Hong Kong.

Upper deck seats cost $2.50 on weekdays and $3.40 on weekends while the lower deck cost $2.80 on weekdays and $2 on weekends, both payable with Octopus, cash (change given) or by onsite vending machine. The Star Ferry also operates between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai but only offers upper-deck seating.

Blake Pier at Stanley

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 Mui Wo (Lantau)are $14.50/$28.4 (slow/fast). Note that all fares increase by around 50% on Sundays and public holidays.
Be aware of whether typhoons and other inclement weather is around. Increased swell can make the ferry a little less comfortable, even in the harbour.

By taxi

Taxis are plentiful, clean, and efficient. They are extremely cheap compared to many other large cities.

There are three types of taxi in Hong Kong, easily identified by their colours: red, green and blue, all of which serve the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland. Be aware if you are choosing from one of the three kinds of taxis when you are finding your way out of the airport. When in doubt, just take a red taxi. Rates for each type of taxi are published online.

The Urban (red) taxis can travel anywhere within Hong Kong, and are the most expensive. The meter starts at $22.00 for the first 2 kilometres, plus $1.60 ($1 after the fare reaches $78) for every 200m or minute of wait time thereafter.
New Territories (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are confined to rural areas in the New Territories, the airport, and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Lantau (blue) taxis are the cheapest of the three but operate only on Lantau Island, including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Considerations when riding taxis:

Wearing of seat belts is required by law, the driver has the right to refuse carrying the passenger if they fail to comply.

Tipping is usually not required or expected, however the driver will usually round the fare up to the nearest dollar.

Drivers are required to provide change for $100 notes, but not for higher denominations. If you only have a $500 or $1000 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; these are usually indicated by a sticker in the windshield.

There are no extra late-night charges nor peak-hour surcharges. However, baggage carried in the boot (“trunk” if coming from North America) 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.

Harbour crossing passengers (Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or vice versa) are expected to pay the return tolls. But you can use this to your advantage by picking a homebound taxi from a cross-harbour taxi rank in places like the Star Ferry pier or Hung Hom station. In these cross-harbour taxi stands only single toll charge will be applied to the taxi fare.

All taxi drivers are required to display inside the vehicle an official name card that includes the driver’s photograph and the registration 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 radio equipped 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.

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 take a journey back to your hotel, ask a receptionist for the hotel’s business card.

Learning some Cantonese pronunciation for your location will help (especially as some names such as Hung Hom, don’t sound in Cantonese like they are written in English). “Do” (said like “Doe” – a deer, a female deer, with a middle tone) and “Gai” (said more like “Kai” with a rising tone) are the Cantonese words for Road and Street respectively. If you can pronounce your suburb and local road correctly, this will help considerably. Nevertheless, even if you don’t, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics.

By car

Considerations when driving in Hong Kong:

Renting a car is almost unheard of in densely populated Hong Kong. With heavy traffic, a complex road network, rare and expensive parking spaces, and well-connected public transportation, renting a car is very unappealing. However, renting a car should not be ruled out if you intend to spend a significant amount of time hiking and camping in the countryside. Expect to pay over $700/day even for a small car.

The legal age for driving passenger cars in Hong Kong is 18, the same as the Mainland. However, you must be 21 in order to drive commercial vehicles.

Hong Kong allows most foreigners to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP). In fact, if one possesses a driving licence which is written in English, he/she can drive in Hong Kong for a temporary period of time. Anyone who drives for more than 12 months is required to get a Hong Kong licence issued by the Department of Transportation.

Hong Kong uses traffic rules and signs similar to the United Kingdom.

The majority of Hongkongers will exceed the speed limit by around 10km/h which is the tolerated threshold. There are many speeding cameras on most major highways.

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 not signal before changing lanes.

Traffic rules are enforced seriously and the penalty for breaking rules can be severe.

Signs are written in both Chinese and English.

Traffic in Hong Kong moves on the left (cars have their steering wheel on the right hand side), the same as in the British Isles, Japan, Australia, Thailand or Singapore, but OPPOSITE to Mainland China.

All unmarked locations mean “no parking”, which is opposite to most countries in the world. Cars must be parked with locations with “P” sign. Free parking is basically unavailable in urban areas.

It is basically impossible for a tourist to drive directly to mainland China from Hong Kong, due to the following reasons:
The vehicle must have a second set of number plates issued by the Guangdong authorities. These are issued in limited numbers to people investing in the mainland, and the price for a second hand plate can be as high as HK$300,000. So there is no such vehicles for self driving rentals.

The driver also needs to acquire a mainland Chinese driving licence. Hong Kong, Macau or foreign licences or International Driver Permits will not be accepted in Mainland China.

A special log book is required in Mainland China for cars with 2 licence plates, and the driver must be registered with the Chinese government, where their name and photo must be printed on that log book.

By bicycle

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. If you plan to use busy urban roads you should be fit enough to keep up with the traffic, which moves surprisingly quickly.

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.

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 $40-60 a day for a standard entry-level mountain bike, or around $150 per day for a higher-spec mountain or road bike.

Basic rules to follow:

  • Cyclists are not allowed by law to ride on highways and tunnels, which are well patrolled.
  • It is an offence to be drunk in charge of a bicycle.
  • By law, you’re required to have a front and rear light.
  • Electronic bike conversion systems are not allowed. The police have a strict enforcement policy on this offence.

The maximum penalty for riding on pedestrian roads is $500 or a three month jail sentence. Usually offenders get a warning, but the Hong Kong Police do occasionally have an annual, or bi-annual crackdown.

For folding bike users, sometimes a bus driver will tell you that it’s not allowed, but if you talk to them nicely they will usually let you board. A bicycle bag that makes your bike look like ordinary luggage can make your life a lot easier.

Bicycles on public transport

Folding bicycles are permitted on all public transport, provided that they are folded.

MTR: Non-folding bicycles are permitted to travel on the MTR system. Travel in the first or last carriage and remove the front wheel.
Ferries: Bicycles are permitted on board slow ferries including the Star Ferry, but are not permitted on the Fast Ferries.
Taxis: Most taxi drivers will carry bikes in the boot if the front wheel is removed. Some drivers will carry your bike for free, others will legitimately charge extra for ‘excess baggage’.

By escalator

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.

On foot

Hong Kong downtown is very small so that you can try walking around the city, a walk from Tsim Sha Tsui ferry pier to Mong Kok takes you around 50 minutes and you can visit Temple Street and Kowloon Park at the same time.

But given the crowded roads filling with cars and smoking pedestrians, the air condition in Hong Kong is relatively bad, if you have asthma or other breathing problems, avoid walking in Hong Kong streets if possible.

Also, if you plan to go in and out of buildings like shopping malls or even restaurants, bring a light pullover, jacket or shawl since the inside temperature will be much lower. Indeed, it is acceptable to carry a towel to remove sweat.