Octopus – An Essential Friend
Hong Kong may well be famous for its abundant sea food, but if someone on your arrival asks you if you would like an Octopus, welcome the opportunity with open arms.
Hong Kong's public transport system is truly excellent and a good example to the rest of the world of how transportation should work when properly planned.
Some 30 years ago, the MTR – Mass Transit Railway – was born and now includes nine lines (ten, if you include the Airport Express), plus a network of modern tram lines operated by the MTR in the North West New Territories, that cover virtually every major district and leading tourist attraction, except for the very south of Hong Kong Island itself. All signs are bilingual in Chinese and English and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English so tourists should not have a problem using the rail system.
The Octopus payment card has been in use since September 1997. It is a contactless smart card which stores money; and even inside a wallet or bag, you can tap on card readers and the correct amount will be deducted from the amount stored. In addition to being used for virtually all forms of public transport, Octopus can also be used in convenience stores, fast food chains like McDonald's, many vending machines, all roadside parking and some car parks. No self respecting Hong Kong resident would be seen without one!
Indeed, when travelling by MTR and some bus routes, payment by Octopus card often works out much cheaper than cash. As it has a refundable deposit of HK$50 on the card and on any unused credit, it is highly advisable to get an Octopus card the moment you arrive in Hong Kong.
Your Octopus card’s balance is displayed as you exit the gates after each ride, or after each transaction. The balance can also be checked using a small machine near regular ticket machines in MTR stations.
If you are on Hong Kong Island itself, the narrow double-decker city trams running along the north coast have been an icon in their own right for over a century. Their routes cover the full 30km length of the Island, and although they are considerably slower than the MTR (the whole trip can take 90 minutes), and with a flat fare of only HK$2 which you pay on exit, (and which you can also pay with your Octopus) they're the cheapest sightseeing tour around.
There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong, and while they are easy to use (especially with your Octopus), signage in English can be sparse and finding your bus stop can get difficult; but they are pretty much your only option for travelling around the south side of the island and around Lantau.
A huge fleet of ferries plies between the many islands of Hong Kong, with the Star Ferry linking Kowloon with the Island from early morning until late at night. The views are fantastic, and the cost is a mere HK$1.70 (and yes, you can use Octopus on these too).
Taxis are plentiful, clean and efficient and generally regarded as the cheapest of all big cities in the world. Tipping is not expected but drivers normally round up the fare to the nearest dollar when giving change.
And a final word: if you were thinking of hiring a car for your stay in the territory, don’t bother. With heavy traffic, an extremely complex road network and parking spaces difficult to find, renting a car is very unappealing. Stick to public transport like everyone else; and put your Octopus to good use.