In a previous article, I travelled on the Airport Express service into the central district of Hong Kong. Once in the city centre, it rained constantly so I had good use for the public transport options to get around. These included the MTR subway network, on-street light rail and the quite unusual Mid-Levels escalators.
Central Hong Kong is split between ‘Central’ on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon area across Victoria Harbour, on the mainland. The easiest way to travel between the two parts is to use the short ferry crossing or take the MTR between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui stations.
The most surprising thing about Hong Kong is how unfriendly the street environment is for pedestrians, the central areas have wide, multi-lane roads with pedestrians exiled to narrow pavements or 60’s inspired walkways in the sky. On the back streets, the level of traffic makes running across the narrow roads an exciting game of chicken.
When I attempted to use the MTR subway system, the first obstacle was buying a ticket. The large ticket machines in the station don’t sell Octopus pay-as-you-go cards so it’s necessary to find a staffed ticket office. Unfortunately, you can’t buy a card with credit card so you have to find a cash machine too. Luckily – as in the example below – there are bank branches within the stations but this all seems quite a faff. I was also informed that there was a 9 dollar (80p) service charge to refund the card deposit within 90 days – a tourist tax.
Once you have your Octopus card, you can travel unhindered around all modes of public transport within the city, including ferries. You can also spend your Octopus credit in many shops around the city so it doesn’t matter if you put too much credit on for just your trips.
Navigating around the MTR subway is relatively simple but don’t expect to ask for any assistance as I didn’t encounter many customer service staff at all. It’s the vast stations in the central area where wayfinding is problematic: they are a web of multi-level tunnels where a wrong turn could take you half-a-mile in the wrong direction. The added complication being working out at which level you need to exit the system – the underground shopping centre, the street level or on the elevated walkways.
If navigating through the MTR is too confusing, there’s always the street-level modes. The historic trams travel the length of the northern shore of Hong Kong Island providing a very interesting view of life along the way but are much slower than the MTR.
Where the streets are mostly stepped up the hillside of the island, public transport to the upper parts of the city (where many hotels and restaurants are) is limited. There are footways and narrow alleys straight up the steep hills. As it was wet most of the time, I was thankful for using the Mid-Levels escalators (a series of rain-protected escalators and moving walkways) that form a pedestrian highway up the hill from Hong Kong station. It’s quite easy to re-route your walk so that you can use the escalators for the up-hill part and then walk along a flat street to your destination. These are reversed in the morning to increase pedestrian flow into the central area.
Beyond Hong Kong
The MTR system covers a large proportion of the Hong Kong. To travel outside Hong Kong scheduled passenger services include the regular ferry shuttles from the city centre terminal to former Portuguese colony of Macau; and Intercity through-trains to Guangzhou in mainland China. These trains depart from the uninspiring Hung Hom Station in Kowloon.
As the MTR only serves the northern coast of Hong Kong Island its necessary to take a double decker bus through the central tunnel to reach the southern communities – the bus encountered considerable traffic on the route. Hoping to avoid the return bus trip, I saw an elevated rail line snaking through Aberdeen and looked for a station only to realise that it was under construction so it was back to the bus – though at least I got the front seat upstairs! The extension I saw will serve the theme park at Ocean Park and Aberdeen. Further extensions are under construction to provide a new route under Victoria Harbour and better connect to the mainline railway terminus at Hung Hom.
Author: Liam Henderson