Hong Kong isn’t cheap and we’re on a budget. However, its possible to get around this SAR cheaply. This is Hong Kong Transport on a budget.
We’re staying in Kowloon at the Chungking Mansions, which was the cheapest place we could find to stay and our stay here in Hong Kong will be a week, because we’ve now booked a flight from here to Seoul, Republic of Korea, our next stop. We don’t have that long a list for Hong Kong, but the week is because of a broken iPhone and the requirement to collect some specific contact lenses which are really hard work trying to buy here in Asia.
Hong Kong does transport REALLY well.
First of all the layout of the city is just so organized – at least from my British perspective, it feels normal and as though the good old Ordnance Survey have mapped it, it feels very familiar.
Public transport here is superb. It’s all incredibly easy, all in English (and Cantonese) and you can access it all with the Octopus card – one of those, you load money onto it and zap your card at the metro, on buses etc etc. You save a little money, but what you really get is major convenience for having it. If you don’t have it, you’ll need exact change on the bus, on the ferry and so on, otherwise you will be paying over the odds. We threw down our HKD $150 for the Octopus card, which included a HKD $50 refundable deposit that we’ll get back when we head to the airport and haven’t looked back since.
The MTR (Metro)
The MTR is simple and fast and we’ve taken it everywhere – including when we walked across the border from China right down to Tsim Sha Tsui and even to the horse racing one night.
And that’s a great thing to do in Hong Kong. The bus that we took to Aberdeen went past the Happy Valley racecourse, but unfortunately the racing wasn’t happening there, we were too early in the season. We ended up at the Sha Tin Racecourse for Wednesday evening racing on the second meet of the season. Entrance is a bargain HKD$10 – if you don’t want to pay the HKD$130 to get into the members enclosure (we didn’t of course) – and then there’s a food court area, lots of places to sit and watch ceefax type coverage of the racing, lots of places inside to watch and bet and of course the grandstand. Betting too was easy, and we lost HKD$30 on three horses, who came last, last and one even went almost backwards during the course of the races.
Public buses are also superb – we took a bus from the Central Bus Station on Hong Kong Island right over to Aberdeen on the other side of the island, wandered around the harbor area and then picked up another bus to ride to Stanley to explore Repulse Bay en route, and to see the promenade, pier and Murray House, moved over from Central, stone by stone. When we were finished, we got on another bus which took us all the way from Stanley, right back to Kowloon outside the Chungking Mansions for the bargain price of HKD$15 (US $1.93, GBP1.18).
The Tram is fabulous, running from Kennedy Town in the west of Hong Kong Island to Sha Kei Wan in the east, you can ride the tram from end to end for just HKD$2.50. And we did. And boy does it make your bum go numb. We made sure we had the top deck front seats, to maximize the air flow and the views that we got, but we also bailed on returning to Central on the tram and took the metro. It’s a fabulous ride, but it takes a long time to travel the length of the island.
The Mid Level Escalators
We couldn’t travel to Hong Kong without taking the escalators. Traversing from Central up to the Mid-Levels, this 800 metre stretch of escalators (there are quite a few of them, go downhill from 6am until 10am, take around 20 minutes to change the direction and then go uphill until midnight. They’re mainly for the commuters who work at sea level on the island, but live in the mid levels, but clearly have become a tourist attraction – while we didn’t see anyone else sightseeing when we visited and there isn’t much to see, it’s a good way to take in a little more of the island. Oh, and it’s free 🙂
The Peak Tram
We saved visiting Victoria Peak until our last day in Hong Kong, and it was worth the wait. The Peak Tram was opened in 1888, prior to that you got to the top on foot, or in a sedan chair. There’s an excellent display of memorabilia after you’ve paid for your ticket and are waiting for the next tram, that we actually missed one tram in order to read. It’s not a cheap trip through. A one way ticket is HKD $28, if you want to return, it’s a further HKD$22 and while you’re there you might as well tag on the Sky Terrace ticket for HKD $40, which lets you go to the highest viewing platform at the peak, and promises 360 degree views from the top. We’d planned to take the number 15 bus from Central to wind up to the top and then take the Peak Tram back down, but time got the better of us and we took the tram both ways.
It’s kind of cool. It’s pretty steep, it reaches an incline at one point of 27 Degrees to the horizontal, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a seat and aren’t standing. And while you may be in Hong Kong, where everything is orderly, those pesky Chinese tourists will forget where they are and the advice of their leader about queuing, so keep your elbows sharpened. It doesn’t take long, and you can’t actually see much, but if there is a view it’s on the right hand side of the tram going up, so sit there, and you’ll get the photo opportunity.
At the top, there’s a shopping centre. Bizarre eh? (Actually there’s two). There’s also an outlet in the shopping centre for the Tai Cheong Bakery, renowned for the egg tarts that Chris Patten, former Hong Kong Governor apparently lived on. They’re good – at 6 HKD$ each – but they’re not as good as those from the Lord Stow Bakery in Macau.
And the views from the top of the Sky Terrace, well, yes they’re good, marginally better than from the top of the free shopping centre terrace, but boy is it crowded. And they fence off a couple of areas that you can go only stand in if you’re having your photo taken by the official folks and paying for it. Yes, even after you’ve paid your money to be up there.
The Star Ferry
What can I say? This iconic image of Hong Kong is everything you dreamed it would be. The ferries themselves are still the same unique shape and color, the dark green with white trimmings. The seats on the upper deck still have a moveable back, so you can flip your seat to face in the direction of travel and the star emblem is punched into the seat, so you won’t forget who you’re traveling with. The cost of going from Kowloon to Central or from Kowloon to the Wan Chai ferry terminal is still just HKD$2.50 (US$0.33, GBP 0.20) during the week or HKD$3.40 (US$0.44, GBP 0.27) at the weekend. It is the most magical way to travel and mid channel I almost had to pinch myself and realize that yes, I was here. In Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong.
We used a lot of shoe leather too in Hong Kong, there are walkways everywhere on Hong Kong Island, and the footpaths are gloriously clear of motorbikes and mopeds, so walking is pretty easy. Just don’t attempt the shopping areas at a weekend. You don’t get very far. There’s a fabulous hour long hike at Victoria Peak that we took at the end of the day at the peak. Heading west from the Peak Tram down Lugard Road, we walked around this old road, where we saw fabulous views of Kowloon, and then the sun setting to the west, before we rounded the headland and came back, past views of the Pok Fu Lam reservoir and to the peak again, to head up to the Sky Terrace and watch the lights come on over the Island and Victoria Harbor.
Taxi’s and Airport Express
And finally, when our time was done in Hong Kong, we took a taxi from Chungking Mansions for HKD$30 – which saved us a 60 minute walk to the Kowloon Airport Express Station (as the shuttle buses, MTR and public buses didn’t start in time for us to catch our flight). That’s where we were able to check in for our flight, drop our bags right there at the station and then jump on the airport express for HKD$70 each (there’s a discount from HKD$90 each if there are more of you traveling, but you have to go to customer services to get the discount). Whizzing us away at speeds of up to 130 kilometers an hour, we were at the airport in just 24 minutes, before even any of the duty free shops were open…