Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Getting Around in Hong Kong, For Fun

Getting there can be half the fun and in Hong Kong, getting around can indeed be half the fun.

I never rent a car and drive in London (I think you have to be crazy to do so) and I don’t in Hong Kong for many of the same reasons: public transit is very easy and accessible; if driving myself, I would spend half my time lost; traffic is insane and the public transport is part of the adventure.

Hong Kong today consists of more than Hong Kong Island. There are the New Territories and other outlying areas, as well as Kowloon, which is directly across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island. You will undoubtedly stay and spend most of your time on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

The use of public transport starts at the airport. There are taxis of course; the fare to Kowloon or Honk Kong Island is $30-$50 US. Depending on the time of day transit is 30 to 45 minutes.

There is also the Airport Express which runs from the airport to both Hong Kong and Kowloon. Travel time is about 24 minutes. Currently the fare is $13 US. There are free shuttle buses to most major hotels from the station. The station at the airport is conveniently located just inside the terminal. When leaving Hong Kong, the Airport Express offers baggage check-in at the station so you can board the train unencumbered. Bags must be checked at least 90 minutes prior to your flight.

The Airport Express is part of the Mass Transit Railway or MTR, the rapid transit light rail system that serves Hong Kong. You can get pretty much anywhere you want to go on the MTR efficiently and comfortably. The MTR also has bus service.
Three of my favorite modes of transportation in Hong Kong, however, are ferries, trams and escalators. They are as much about adventure as they are transportation – indeed getting around on them is half the fun.

Like San Francisco, Hong Kong is built on steep, hilly terrain. To improve pedestrian access to some of the hillier climes on the Island, the Government authorized the construction of the Central and Mid-levels escalator system. The system opened to the public in 1993.

It consists of twenty escalators and three moving sidewalks and is the largest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The system is over 2400 feet long and rises nearly 450 feet in elevation. It rises past shops and restaurants so you can get off and browse or eat.

Another great way to experience Hong Kong is on a tram. Just get on at one end of a line and ride to the other, then turn around and ride back, or grab the MTR to get back to your hotel or other destination. Be sure to go to the upper deck for the best views of the street life. There is also a tram up Victoria Peak for spectacular views of Hong Kong and the harbor.

Finally there are the ferries that ply the waters of Victoria Harbor. The Star Ferry runs regularly between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I'm a sucker for ferries and never miss a chance to take one.

Here's a tip: except for the escalators, the modes of transportation all cost. But don't just buy tickets get an Oyster card. It can be used on the trams, buses, MTR and the Star Ferry. You can buy an Oyster card at any of the MTR customer service centers in the train stations or at the Airport. The base card is $150 HK, fifty dollars of which is a refundable deposit An 'elder' Oyster card has recently been introduced for persons 65 years or older. It provides for reduced fares on the various modes of transportation (Star Ferries are actually free with the card).
It is easy and convenient, just pass it over the card reader and the fare is deducted. You can top up the card any time, there are top-up kiosks in the train stations. Be aware, however, that you cannot use a credit card to purchase or top-up a card. It is cash only.

If you go to Hong Kong, take in the sites, eat some Dim Sum and enjoy the transportation options as much as the sites and the food.

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