Getting around Hong Kong
Trams: There are double-decker Hong Kong Tramways (www.hktramways.com) trams on Hong Kong Island, running from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan (with the red and blue lines heading inland to Happy Valley Racecourse). Get on at the back and pay the $2.30 fare upon disembarking; the Octopus Card, which stores credit for pay-as-you-go travel, can be used on trams.
The Peak Tram on Hong Kong Island has operated since 1888 and is a funicular railway to the upper terminus on Victoria Peak. The trip is a mainstay of Hong Kong tourism, with great views on the way up and from the top. Octopus Cards are accepted.
The road network is extensive and of high quality but often congested in central areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
A wide selection of self-drive and chauffeur-driven cars are available. Car hire isn’t very popular however, since congested roads mean that it’s generally easier to use public transport on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. Some of the outlying islands are completely car-free.
Taxis are plentiful in Hong Kong and Kowloon and are reasonably priced, although note that there is an extra charge for the Cross Harbour Tunnel. Red taxis serve most of Hong Kong (except for Tung Chung Road and the south side of Lantau Island); green ones serve the New Territories; and blue ones serve Lantau Island. All taxis operate to and from Hong Kong International Airport. Many drivers speak a little English, but it is wise to have the destination written in Chinese characters. Meters are used – it’s rare to find a driver unwilling to turn them one – but a small tip is expected. Rounding up to the nearest dollar is usually enough.
Hong Kong Island is not particularly cycle-friendly, since roads tend to be busy, steep, or both. Traffic is also heavy in Kowloon, but there are plenty of good cycling options in the New Territories and on the outlying islands.
The most popular route in the New Territories runs 20km (16 miles) from Tai Wai to Tai Mei Tuk, while a good option on the islands is to take a ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau Island and hire a bike from close to the ferry terminal. From there, visitors can ride through quiet villages and to the Silver Mine Waterfall. Those who want to cycle in one of Hong Kong’s country parks will need a free permit from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.
The bus network is extensive, covering the New Territories and outlying islands, as well as Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Helpfully, the destinations are marked in English and may be accompanied by an X (express), R (Sundays and public holidays only) or M (links up with a station on the MTR metro network). Note that no change is given on buses.
Speed limits are 80kph (50mph) on most highways – although some in the New Territories allow faster travel – and 50kph (31mph) in urban areas.
There are numerous breakdown services available in Hong Kong; ask for details from the car hire outlet.
An International Driving Permit is recommended, although not legally required. A valid national licence is accepted for up to 12 months; those who are staying longer will need to apply for a temporary or full local licence. The minimum age is 18 years. Third party insurance is compulsory.
Many tunnels in Hong Kong operate a toll system, which can be paid at the booths or using an automated pre-pay system called Autotoll. Signs on the roads are in both English and Cantonese.
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have very good transport networks, with rail and buses covering almost everything likely to be of interest to tourists. The tram network on Hong Kong Island is also an appealing way to get around. Then there are the cross-harbour Star Ferries, which are not only useful but provide classic views of the city.
The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) (tel: 2881 8888; www.mtr.com.hk) has 150 stations and nine lines: Kwun Tong, Tsuen Wan, Island, Tung Chung, Tseung Kwan O, East Rail, West Rail, Ma On Shan and Disneyland Resort. Three lines cross the harbour and are more expensive than the ferry but quicker, particularly for those travelling further into Kowloon than Tsim Sha Tsui or to Lantau Island. Trains run between 0600-0100.
The MTR also operates the Airport Express, which is a very convenient way to get from the airport to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. This service operates daily between 0554-0048, and the journey time to the centre is 24 minutes.
Some airlines allow customers to check in their bags for free at Kowloon and Hong Kong MTR stations, up to day before departure depending on the airline – this can very handy for those who want to get rid of their luggage to explore the city on their last day.
Cross-harbour passenger services (shortest route – 7 to 10 minutes) are operated by Star Ferries (tel: 2367 7065; www.starferry.com.hk) between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon (sailing every 6 to 12 minutes). The low cost and the great views make this a tourist attraction as well as an essential mode of transport for residents.
There are frequent passenger and vehicle services on other cross-harbour routes. Ferries and hydrofoils service the outlying islands, Peng Chau, Cheung Chau, Lamma and Lantau, including Discovery Bay. Ferry services are run by New World First Ferry Services (tel: 2131 8181; www.nwff.com.hk), the Hong Kong Kowloon Ferry (tel: 2815 6063; www.hkkf.com.hk) and Discovery Bay Transportation Services Ltd (tel: 3651 2345; www.dbay.hk).
Tours of the harbour and to Aberdeen and Yau Ma Tei typhoon shelters are available by Watertours (tel: 2926 3868; www.watertours.com.hk) junks; while visits to outlying islands are possible by public ferry. Weekdays are the best time to go, since ferries tend to be very crowded at weekends. During the typhoon season (May to November), all ferry services may be suspended during bad weather.