hongkong commute

Surviving the Hong Kong Commute

Hong Kong is a vibrant autonomous territory and a former British colony with about 8 million in population, features skyscrapers that seem to be in a tight contest on whoever first reach the sky, is also the worlds official shopping destination, a global financial hub, and visited by about an average of 50 million tourists in a year. Imagine all that people in only a little more than 1,000 square kilometer of land and you got a densely packed urban center.

Picture yourself amid all the chaos of people running everywhere, rushing off to somewhere and you get that feeling of being lost. And with the locals having limited knowledge of the speaking and much less understanding English, you’d be anxious to know how to survive commuting around Hong Kong. So here’s some tips to help you in your commute in this tiny island of Hong Kong.

Getting around Hong Kong

Hong Kong is visitor friendly in that all the directional signs are also written in English below the Chinese characters. Getting around is not that difficult and somewhat similar in how you get from Point A to Point B in other developed countries.

First things first, you need to purchase yourself an Octopus card. Its Hong Kong’s universal card made of plastic, same size as your credit card, that is accepted in most mode of transportations, even in The Peak Tram. Octopus card is widely accepted in most convenience stores, fast food chains, road side parking, carpark buildings, some museums (check first before going) and vending machines.

This is one of the more important and the first thing to purchase when visiting Hong Kong. You can buy the Octopus card in all MTR ticket concourse, at the airport and convenience stores. The card is HKD150.00 with an initial load of HKD100.00 and HKD50.00 is for deposit value and payment for the card. You can top up the value in most convenience stores and MTR ticket concourse too. The minimum value to top up is HKD50.00 and in increments of HKD50.00.  The value of an Octopus card can go as low as negative HKD35.00. But you cannot use it again unless you top up the value. The negative value on your card is secured by the initial HKD50.00 you paid for it. When I left Hong Kong, I had a negative HKD32.00 balance on my Octopus card.

Meet my new travel buddy. #octopus #travels #wheninhongkong #discoverhongkong #mtrhongkong #travels #hongkongtrip

A photo posted by carla abanes (@justtravellingsolo) on

After buying the Octopus card, feel armed and ready to tackle the concrete jungle that is Hong Kong. So here we go.

hongkong commute

By Bus

Bus rides in Hong Kong’s double-decker bus is a fun joyride. I always go up the “second floor” for a full view of the streets and the mad rush hour in the late afternoon. It’s a fun way of people watching too, since the bus frequently stops at traffic signs and bus stops.

There are two kinds of bus in Hong Kong, the giant double-decker bus and the green and red light buses which can seat up to 16 people only.

hongkong commute

Here is where it gets tricky. Bus timetables, posted on bus stops and at the terminus, are not always accurate, well never was when I was there.  I never figured out how the fare is computed but I noticed that fares depends on where you board. If you’re boarding at the earlier stops, your fare is higher than when you board at a latter stop. And if you’re crossing Kowloon, expect your fare to be around HKD9.00 and higher.

But its nice that the bus stop signs and announcements are done in 3 languages, Mandarin, Cantonese and English. So at least you know where you are and what is the next stop.

Another tricky part is when you choose to board the red and green light or mini buses. The green bus operates more like the giant double-decker bus. You can use your Octopus card or drop the exact change in the metal fare box. For the red light bus, it’s a bit different. If you don’t have the exact change, you can get your change and take note that not all red buses accepts the Octopus card. Also the signage are in Chinese and don’t have an English translation. Do not expect the driver to speak English if you need to ask questions or directions. Lucky me, there was another Filipino that gave me tips when taking the light buses.

By Mass Transit Railway (MTR)

MTR is by far the fastest way to get around town. With the heavy traffic jam in most busy roads, the taxis and rented cars don’t make the cut. So if time is of the essence and you need to get to your destination faster, forget the taxi and plan your route with the MTR instead.

hongkong commute

Hong Kong’s MTR map is by far the simplest I have seen in all of my travels. Most of the MTR stations are also within walking distance from the next one. Hong Kong Station and Central Station are within ear and you can walk in between stations.

The Tung Chung line (orange on the map) is by far the fastest route to get to the airport and to Hong Kong Disneyland Park and Resort. Most visitors take the blue and the red lines, also known as the busiest lines, because they pass by most tourist spots districts and to Kowloon via a tunnel and to Nathan road. The blue line passes by Admiralty station, where the Temple Street is within walking distance, and to Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, another famous stop for visitors.

Take note that “subway” in Hong Kong is not synonymous to MTR. Subway in Hong Kong refers to under the street passage ways.

By Tram

Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, has always been the cheaper way to see most of the city. If you prefer to go slow and cheap, the flat fare is HKD2.30, the tram or more popularly called the “ding-ding” by the locals is for you. Octopus cards are also accepted on trams. There is no air conditioning and the ride can be stuffy during summer.

To hop on, get on the rear side and hop off at the front side. You pay your fare when getting off the tram. The ride can be scenic as it takes you from the busy financial district to the quiet suburb side and allows you to see more of the residential areas.

By Taxi

Taxis in Hong Kong are color coded, the red, green and blue taxis. All of them serve airport destinations. The difference is in the districts they serve. If in doubt in which district your destination is, just flag the red taxi. They serve all districts but the fares are a bit pricier among the colors.

The green taxi costs cheaper than the red taxi but serve only in New Territories, the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland Park. The blue taxis is the cheapest among the three but only serve Lantau island, the airport and Hong Kong Disneyland Park.

It is a good tip that before you leave your hotel, ask the receptionist to write your destination in Chinese characters on a piece of paper. Give this piece of paper to your taxi driver. I had this difficulty when I was trying to ask the driver to bring me back to my hotel. I had to show him my phone where I loaded the hotel map.  Most drivers cannot speak English and cannot understand the way we pronounce Chinese words in English.

One thing I love about Hong Kong taxis is that there is no late night surcharge or peak hours surcharge unlike in most large cities in other countries. But if you’re coming from the airport and you’re carrying bulky baggage or large suitcases, they will charge you around HKD5.00 per baggage. Also if the taxi is passing thru a toll tunnel, you need to pay the toll fee. Let the taxi driver know beforehand if you are paying in denominations of HKD500.00 or higher because taxi drivers have the right to refuse to carry you if they don’t have smaller bills yet.

From the airport to city center

hongkong commute

From the airport, exit the terminals and approach the MTR ticketing machines. Purchase the Octopus card at HKD150.00. The airport to city center should cost you around HKD60.00, I took the Tung Chung line (orange color on the MTR map), depending on your MTR station destination. This is the fastest way to get to the city center which is good especially for jet lagged travellers.

The cheapest way from the airport to the city center is by bus. You can visit this website for a schedule and list of airport buses available. Take note of the following bus routes depending on the letters on the buses;

  • Buses with routes beginning with “A” have free Wi-Fi internet and take a more direct route and can cost you up to HKD48.00
  • Buses with routes beginning with the letter “E”, which travel via the cargo terminals and Tung Chung town
  • Buses with routes beginning with “S” are shuttle buses.
  • S1 bus operates bus service to the closest Tung Chung MTR station. This is the cheapest rate.
  • “N” and “NA” routes are overnight routes which serves after the midnight.

Lastly, walk!

It’s a tiny island. If you look closely on the map, most of the MTR stations and bus stops are within walking distance from each other. So put on your sneakers or your most comfy walking shoes and start walking. While walking, you get to experience the noise, the smell, the crowd, and the hustle of Hong Kong. Plus you get to burn calories too!

Hong Kong’s crowd and unfamiliar streets may be intimidating for some, but commuting from point A to point B is breezy. No sweat even for first timers. One thing that’s good about the place is that most street signs, bus stops, directions and MTR stations are also translated in English to cater to visitors from all over the world. So get out and try to commute within the jungle. Should be a piece of cake. Ooh cake!


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  1. Reply

    Walk and take bus or mtr and never taxi. So expensive!!!

      • carlaabanes@justtravellingsolo.com
      • November 4, 2016

      True! And you get to burn more calories when walking. Thanks for dropping by!

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