Getting Around Hong Kong

Countries  »  Hong Kong  »  Getting Around

Getting Around Hong Kong

By Mass Transit Railway

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 five 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), 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. This line can also be used to change to the Disneyland Resort Line at Sunny Bay. All signs are bilingual in Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English so 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 absolutely unique to Hong Kong's suburban rail system is that it's linked to two international 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 now) 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, 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 Line.

In addition to the Airport Express Octopus, 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.

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 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 traverse 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 6:00AM to midnight.

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-deck bus) that cost $8.4 and $9.8, respectively, from Exchange Square Bus Terminus.

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), signage 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 subsidary 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 World First Bus and 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 indepndent 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 buses routes. Red minibuses usually does not 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 $3.00 on weekends while the lower deck cost $1.50 on weekdays and $1.80 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.

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.

By taxi

Taxis are plentiful, clean and efficient. They are quite 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. The Urban (red) taxis can travel anywhere within Hong Kong, and 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. NT (green) taxis are slightly cheaper than the red ones but are fundamentally confined to rural areas in the New Territories, the airport, Hong Kong Disneyland. Lantau (blue) taxis (the cheapest of the three) operate only on Lantau Island (including the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland). Be particular cautious if you are choosing from one of the three kinds of taxis when you are finding your way out of the airport, though there is usually attendants there to assist you. When in doubt, just take a red taxi.

The 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. Selected 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 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 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. Nevertheless, even if you don't, most taxi drivers know enough English to communicate the basics.

By car

Renting a car is almost 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 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 license issued by the Department of Transportation.

Nevertheless, while there is public transport in the more remote areas, frequencies tend to be more limited, and you may have to wait for a long time to get a taxi. 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 as well as 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. However, they most probably will not yield to pedestrians at crossings without traffic lights. 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 from 8am-11am and 4pm-10pm and even sometimes up till midnight. Many drivers will not give their indicators at times when changing lanes.

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.

If you wish to drive to mainland China, your 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 $300,000.

You will also need to acquire a mainland Chinese driving licence. Hong Kong, Macau or foreign licences will not be accepted. You will also need to change sides of the road at the border.

By bicycle

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:

  1. Cyclists are not allowed by law to ride on highways and tunnels, which are well patrolled.
  2. It is an offence to be drunk in charge of a bicycle.
  3. By law, you're required to have a front and rear light.
  4. Electronic bike conversion systems are not allowed. The police have a strict enforcement policy on this offence.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

The content on this page is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. It has been written by the users of WikiTravel and cannot not accept any responsibility for its accuracy. For any critical information you require, please be sure to check with the relevant embassy for the most up to date information before you travel.