Guide to Using Public Transportation in Hong Kong

July 11, 2019


On any visit to Hong Kong, you'll most likely want to use public transportation at some point. Unlike many of the sprawling metropolises found throughout Asia, Hong Kong is fairly compact. Its size combined with the extensive and reliable public transportation system make it surprisingly easy to get around. This guide complete with a few tips will show you how to use Hong Kong public transportation like a pro! 

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Before Using Hong Kong Public Transportation

Before using Hong Kong public transportation, it's a good idea to complete these items. Doing so will make your life much easier as you navigate the various modes of public transportation in Hong Kong.

Purchase an Octopus Card

The Octopus card is a public transportation card, though it can also be used to pay in some stores and restaurants. Having this card just generally makes life easier, plus you receive slightly discounted fares using an Octopus card. 

You can purchase this card at any MTR station. If you're arriving at Hong Kong International Airport, the easiest place to buy the card is at the Airport Express ticket counter in the Arrivals Hall. These cards must be purchased with CASH (HKD), so be sure to visit an ATM first.

You'll need to choose between a couple Octopus card options:

Sold Octopus Card

This card is designed for tourists. It costs HK$39 and comes with no pre-loaded value. You can add value at the kiosks directly behind the counter. When you leave Hong Kong, you can keep this card as a souvenir.

Standard Octopus Card

This card is designed for residents and is considered “on-loan”. You pay HK$150, but the card comes with HK$100 loaded value. The HK$50 is a deposit which you will get back if you return the card more than 90 days after you have purchased it.

If you return it in less than 90 days, they charge a HK$9 refund handling fee so you will only receive HK$41. The deposit allows you to go into negative value on the card which comes in handy from time to time. 

Standard Hong Kong Octopus card against Hong Kong transportation backdrop

Pro Tip:  If you don’t plan to keep your card as a souvenir, I recommend getting the Standard Octopus card. When you leave Hong Kong, simply return it at the customer service station for a refund.

This way, you only pay HK$9 instead of HK$39 for the use of the card during your stay. You can use the cash you get back to buy snacks in the airport!

Download the Citybus-NWFB App

Due to Hong Kong's extensive bus system and routes running all over the city, you might be wary of taking a bus if you're new to Hong Kong.

This is why I highly recommend downloading the Citybus-NWFB app. I downloaded it when I first moved here and still use it frequently. It provides bus routes, timetables, and next bus arrival information. 

Special Citybus-NWFB App Feature for Tourists

In order to help tourists visiting Hong Kong, the Citbybus-NWFB app has a handy list of bus routes which go to popular tourist destinations (see image below).

Click on the "Tourist" button with the airplane icon in the bottom center of the app homepage. This will open the list of popular tourist routes, such as Victoria Peak, the Airport, Ocean Park, etc.

When you click on one of the sites, the app will open the buse routes which go to that destination. Then you can click on one of the routes for stop information.

bus app with tourist spots
Bus routes for Peak in Hong Kong

Forms of Public Transportation in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has many forms of public transportation which take residents and visitors all over the city and to its outlying islands. During your trip, you might end up using all of them! 

Airport Express Train

The Airport Express is the train that connects Hong Kong International Airport to central Hong Kong. It's the fastest way into the center of the city as the ride is only ~24 minutes. 

With luggage racks, free Wi-Fi, comfortable seating, and optional quiet cars, the Airport Express is a very pleasant introduction to Hong Kong! Using an Octopus card, the trip costs HK$110 (US$14) one-way. Or, you could save 30% by booking your Airport Express ticket on Klook.com.  

MTR

The MTR is Hong Kong's metro system and is comprised of underground and above-ground trains, including one that goes right to the border with mainland China.

The MTR is an efficient, affordable way to travel around the city. Most rides cost less than ~HK$20 (~US$2.50). Even going from my home on Hong Kong Island all the way up to the border (with several transfers) only costs ~HK$52 (~US$7)! 

MTR Map Hong Kong Public Transportation

Photo courtesy of MTR website

Although you can purchase single-journey tickets for the MTR, I recommend using an Octopus card. All MTR ticket machines are cash-only. So be sure to have smaller bills on hand, especially if you decide to purchase single-journey tickets. 

To pay, swipe your Octopus card or insert your ticket to get to the trains. When you reach your destination, you'll swipe again or insert your ticket to exit. The system will deduct the fare based on your journey or take your ticket if you've purchased a single-journey ticket. 

PRO TIPS FOR RIDING THE MTR

1) Avoid weekday rush hour. From 8:00-10:00 & 17:00-19:00, the MTR is packed. If you have a large personal space bubble and don't like being crammed against strangers in a metro car - avoid riding during those times!

2) Stand on the right, walk on the left on MTR escalators and moving sidewalks. This goes for moving sidewalks in the airport and on the Mid-Levels escalators and travelators too! 

3) Follow the arrows in the MTR stations. Many of the exit/entrance passageways to the MTR have arrows on the wall informing you which direction you should be walking. Follow them so you don't end up swimming upstream! 

4) MTR escalators move faster than most escalators! Not so much a tip as a forewarning. They can take you by surprise if you aren't expecting that much speed.

Buses

Even though the MTR services many places in Hong Kong, there are still certain areas where it doesn't reach. As a result, you'll probably find yourself on a bus at some point during your visit to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong buses can be quite enjoyable (as long as you don't get carsick). They offer a cheap way to see sight-see in addition to getting you to your destination. Most of Hong Kong's buses are double-decker so head upstairs to get great views of the city streets below! 

Buses accept both cash (exact change required) and Octopus card payments for rides. To pay, swipe your Octopus card or pay cash when you get on the bus. 

Double-decker bus, Hong Kong Public Transportation

PRO TIPS FOR RIDING HONG KONG BUSES

1) Download the Citybus-NWFB App mentioned above for schedule and route information plus bus arrival times. 

2) Hail a bus by lifting your arm out in the street as it approaches. Buses will not stop automatically at every stop. They only stop if a passenger inside requests the stop or if someone at the bus stop hails them. If you don't hail the bus, it may just keep on going and you'll have to wait for the next one.  

3) Request a stop inside by pushing the red stop button on the handrails. On most buses, they will tell you the next stop on the monitor at the front of the bus (and announce it on the loudspeaker). Once you see/hear your stop, push one of the red stop buttons on the handrails between the seats to signal for the stop.

4) Bus fares are determined from your starting location to bus terminus. This means if you get on the bus at its starting point but are only riding a couple stops, you'll end up paying for a much longer ride than you're actually taking. You can see how much the fare will be for the bus you're planning to take on the Citybus-NWFB app.

Minibuses - Green and Red

For harder to reach destinations or more local routes, a 16-seat minibus will often be your best and/or only public transportation choice. Although I've lived here for 3 years, I don't ride the minibuses often so I wouldn't consider myself an expert.

Nonetheless, here are some general guidelines that I've picked up over the years for riding the green and red minibuses in Hong Kong.

Riding Green Minibuses in Hong Kong

Green minibuses in Hong Kong are government-regulated and have fixed schedules, routes, fares, and stops. I recommend using the 16seats green minibus website to find maps, route information, and timetables for green minibuses.

Green minibus Hong Kong Public Transportation

To hail a green minibus, use the same method as for the larger buses - waiving your hand out as you see one approaching your stop. Be aware that since minibuses only have 16 seats, they may not stop for you if they're already full. 

Once you catch a minibus, pay using Octopus card or cash (exact change required) as you get on it.

To request a stop, some green minibuses have red stop buttons like the larger buses that you can push. However, sometimes you must call up to the driver instead. If this is the case, yell "next stop" or the equivalent in Cantonese - ‘ba si zaam yau lok’. I believe 'yau lok' might also be fine. Honestly, I've never had to yell up in Cantonese and I don't think it'd be pretty if I did!

Red Minibuses in Hong Kong

Red minibuses are not highly-regulated and allow passengers to hop on and hop off randomly. Since they are loosely regulated, red minibus drivers occasionally change their routes and also seem to be crazier drivers than other forms of public transportation. 

Red Taxi and Red Minibuses in Hong Kong Kowloon

Taxi and Red Minibuses in Mongkok, Hong Kong

For red minibuses, you can generally hail them anywhere along the route and if they aren't full, the driver will usually stop. 

When you arrive at your destination, your driver will tell you your fare and you'll pay in cash. Drivers on these red minibuses can usually provide change, but you should still pay with small bills/change. 

Since stops are not set like with other forms of public transportation, you'll have to yell up to the driver when you want to get off the minibus unless you're riding it to its final destination.

Tram (Ding Ding)

Since 1904, these double-decker trams (also called ding dings for the sound the bell makes) have been transporting passengers around the northern side of Hong Kong Island.

Riding the tram is the cheapest form of public transportation in Hong Kong at HK$2.60 (US$0.30) per ride and is a great way to experience the city. To pay, swipe your Octopus card or pay with cash as you exit at the front of the tram.

Tram in Hong Kong Public Transportation

Because the trams are not air-conditioned, I generally ride them for sight-seeing purposes when it's cool outside. Sitting on the second floor, you can really take in the vibrant Hong Kong street scene. Being on the tram, you won't have to worry about walking into anyone like you do when you're on the sidewalks as gawk at the sights. 

Conversely, if it's super hot outside (all summer long) and I only have a short distance to go, sometimes I'll take the tram rather than walk to my destination. 

In general, the Hong Kong tram is a slower option than the MTR and a warmer choice than the bus. But its charm combined with cheap fares make riding this iconic tram a great Hong Kong experience!

PRO TIPS FOR RIDING THE TRAM

1) Enter at the back, exit at the front. Since the machines to pay are at the front, passengers will disembark at the front, so you should enter the tram from the back. 

2) No large suitcases allowed. Since the trams are usually crowded and the aisles are narrow, you should not bring large suitcases on the tram. I committed this faux pas early on and got some sideways glances about it! Although no one said anything, I looked up the rules later and found out that you aren't allowed to bring large suitcases on trams. Lesson learned.

Ferries

Hong Kong is made up of so 250+ islands, so you can imagine that ferries are an important mode of public transportation. Although many islands are uninhabited, there are quite a few outlying islands on which people live full-time. Hong Kong's ferries play a necessary option for commuters but they also take us on fun day trip outings! 

Ferry in Hong Kong Public Transportation

The main ferry piers are located in Central on Hong Kong Island. Ferries departing from Central go to a number of islands, such as Lamma Island, Cheung Chau, and spots on Lantau Island. In Victoria Harbour, the Star Ferry also runs back and forth between TST and Central. 

Besides the piers in Central, you can also find ferry piers in other Hong Kong neighborhoods, such as Wan Chai, North Point, Hung Hom, Sai Wan Ho, Kwun Tong, Sam Ka Tseun, and Aberdeen.  

Click here for more information on the Hong Kong ferries.

PRO TIPS FOR RIDING THE FERRIES

1) Sunday or Public Holiday? Be sure you're looking at the right timetable. Ferries on Sunday and public holidays run on a different schedule than Monday-Saturday so be sure when planning your trip that you're looking at the right timetable.

2) Reload Octopus card before leaving Central Hong Kong. Some islands do not have Octopus reload machines so make sure you have enough money on your card for a return journey. Or, be sure to have enough cash to buy a single-journey ticket. 

Taxis and Uber

Although not public transportation, sometimes you will need to take a taxi or an Uber. They come in handy for getting to remote hiking destinations or if you've been out enjoying the nightlife and want to get back to your hotel quickly.

Red taxis in Hong Kong Mongkok

Things to Know about Ubers in Hong Kong

Although taxis and Ubers generally cost around the same price, sometimes Ubers can be much more expensive.

The positive thing about taking an Uber is that drivers tend to be more careful drivers and have newer, nicer cars - I've even ridden in a couple Tesla Ubers! Plus, you can input your destination in the Uber app and don't have to worry about speaking Cantonese.

Things to Know about Taxis in Hong Kong

Hong Kong taxis provide quite a thrilling and nauseating experience. Drivers are usually a bit faster than Uber drivers. But it really depends on the driver just how much like a roller-coaster ride your journey will be. Occasionally I get a very mellow taxi driver.

The color of the taxi will tell you what region of Hong Kong that taxi serves. Red taxis are the most common and are an iconic symbol of Hong Kong. They serve the "urban areas" according to the HK Transport Department's website.

  • Red taxis = Urban areas
  • Green taxis = New Territories
  • Blue taxis = Lantau Island

Probably the most important thing to note about Hong Kong taxis is that they accept CASH ONLY

Green Taxis in Hong Kong New Territories

Green Taxis in Sai Kung East Country Park, New Territories, Hong Kong

Pro Tip: Download the HK Taxi app to be able to call taxis to your location and input your destination just like with Uber. Using the app makes it easier to communicate with your driver and to catch a taxi in a more remote location.

More Hong Kong Articles You Might Enjoy 

Now that you're a pro at using public transportation in Hong Kong, it's time to begin sightseeing! These articles that I've written on Hong Kong may help to get you started. 

Final Thoughts

Hong Kong's public transportation network is one of the things that makes Hong Kong a great place to live and an easy place for tourists to visit. Getting around to all the sites is a breeze and taking all the forms of public transportation is part of the Hong Kong adventure!

Tell me about your experience using Hong Kong's public transportation system. Was there anything you wish you'd known before you visited that isn't included in this article? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Happy travels!


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Guide to Using Public Transportation in Hong Kong on beckyexploring.com
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