Hong Kong Tips



David Whitley looks at a few simple ways to get the most out of Hong Kong

Get an Octopus card

Similar to the Oyster cards in London, the Octopus card can be used across public transport in Hong Kong (usually for slightly reduced rates). This can be rather handy – especially given an obsessive zeal for having the correct change if you’re travelling on single tickets. More than that, however, the Octopus cards can often be used for payments in shops such as 7-Elevens and vending machines in parks. The deposit on the cards is HK$50 (about £4.25), but they’re well worth it for time saving, let alone money saving.

Don’t forget the buses...

Hong Kong’s public transport system is tremendous. The MTR (equivalent of London Underground) is frequent, reliable and expansive, while the ferries are justifiably famous. The HK$2.50 trip across the harbour is magic. Using the ferries and MRT can be time-consuming, however – not because they’re slow, but because of the way Hong Kong is laid out. Getting to and from the stations and ferry terminals can involve mazy walks through malls or up and down overpasses. Something that looks close on the map can actually take ages to get to once you’ve gone round all the loops and trudged up the steps. The advantage of the buses (and the brilliant trams on Hong Kong Island) is that they go at street level – you can see what’s going on around. On the outlying islands – particularly Lantau – a bus journey can be brilliant for sightseeing. They’ll often go through the mountains and along the coast.

...Or the taxis

Public transport is dirt cheap in Hong Kong, so the taxis will seem relatively expensive. However, for shortish distances (ie Causeway Bay to Central) they can be the smart option – they’re door to door, and cancel the need for what can be 15 to 20 minutes of walking either side of the stations. Flagfall is HK$20 (just under £2) – but the key thing to remember is that it takes quite a long time before the meter starts ticking over. Once tolls under the harbour come into play, then costs start to rack up. But for journeys of a mile or two that would take a long time walking (again – the diversions and overpass climbing make being a pedestrian slow going), judicious use of cabs can be a winner.

What you see isn’t necessarily what you get

An awful lot of the good stuff in Hong Kong doesn’t happen at street level. In the popular nightlife areas – especially Lang Kwai Fong – there are plenty of bars and restaurants that can be walked straight into off the street. But they’re not necessarily the best or the most interesting ones. Others can be in the same buildings but in the basement, or on the third or fourth floor. It’s worth being nosy, going in and pressing that lift button to see what you can find. There are also some great places hiding out in seemingly sterile malls.

Get one of the free magazines...

This applies pretty much anywhere in the world, but pick up the free magazines (such as HK Magazine) in bars and hotels and they’ll give you a much better idea of where the party’s at, what’s opened recently and where new things are being tried than any guide book.

... And a copy of the SCMP

The South China Morning Post might not be the most entertaining newspaper in the world, but it does provide a window into what Hong Kong’s major talking points are at any given moment. In particular, it’s fascinating to see the frequent clashes of cultures between Hongkongers and ‘the Mainland’.  A skim through will regularly reveal a city that’s not quite sure about what’s going to happen to it in the future – and that frame is a useful one to observe your experiences and encounters through.