Hong Kong: How to Get Around this City of Contradictions
“Hong Kong is a wonderful, mixed-up town where you’ve got great food and adventure. First and foremost, it’s a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way” ~Anthony Bourdain
For some 150 years, Hong Kong was under British colonial administration.
It gained its autonomy only in July 1, 1997 as Hong Kong Special Administration Region or HKSAR of the People’s Republic of China.
Except for defense and foreign affairs, the Basic Law provides for the “one country, two system” policy and allows the current systems to be maintained – in Hong Kong and in Macau – for 50 years.
Hong Kong is located in the south-eastern coast of China. It has a land area of 1,104 square kilometers, over 200 outlying islands, and 18 districts.
Hong Kong is endowed with a hilly to mountainous terrain. The 18 districts are very diverse in terms of heritage, history, and lifestyle.
Hong Kong Island is the one that provides the Hong Kong territory its name. It may not be the biggest part of the territory, but it is certainly where most tourists flock making it the heart of the territory.
The Lures of Hong Kong
Those who have not visited Hong Kong think that it is just the shopping and the commercial districts that makes this island a premier tourist destination.
On the contrary, those who have visited and have tried going beyond the commercial district attest to the fact that there is much more to this island. For one, it is widely regarded as a feast for the senses, just like a movie “where the past has melted into the present.”
It is undeniable that Hong Kong is advanced in so many ways. Yet to this day, bits and pieces of the past seamlessly interweave with the ultramodern progress of the present. Contradiction can’t be better envisioned with run-down cheap apartments standing next to avant-garde skyscrapers; wooden boats side by side gigantic ocean liners; neglected alleys behind opulent hotels; wheelbarrows pushed alongside Rolls-Royces slithering by; and dai pai dong or street-side food stalls gathering as much attention and diners as the fine dining restaurants.
Even when Hong Kong is recognized to have the best and the largest shopping malls, makeshift street markets are still very vibrant all over the city.
Know When is the Best Time to Travel
There are two important factors to consider when deciding when to go to Hong Kong for pleasure – the climate and the events.
Insofar as the weather is concerned, remember that Hong Kong has a subtropical climate. This means that it is leaning towards cold climate or a temperature below 10 degrees Celsius during winter from January to March, and a temperature higher than 31 degrees Celsius from July to September. Expect Hong Kong to be rainy from April to September.
These factors make October, November, and December the best months.
If you want to go to this island at a time when there are events to celebrate, take note of Chinese New Year in January, the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February and March, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival in late March to beginnings of April. Christmas is also a wonderful time to go to Hong Kong with the festive mood apparent throughout the city. Sports lovers may love to see Hong Kong during the annual event of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens from last days of March to early April.
But, Hong Kong being Hong Kong is enough reason to go there any time of the year. Knowing the climate and the events are just mere guides when making travel plans. Remember that there are certain times when the island is so crowded making it difficult to book a hotel or find a table in a restaurant.
Getting In and Around Hong Kong
Hong Kong International Airport. This is also known as Chek Lap, the leading port for Hong Kong visitors coming in by air. This airport services many direct flights to Hong Kong from virtually every country and continent in the world.
Shenzhen International Airport. This airport offers an efficient alternative when flying within mainland China, which is considered an international flight. It is more practical and cheaper to fly around China using Shenzhen Airport. The connections are good, but can use up more time with underground Shenzhen Metro.
Macau International Airport. This airport is another more sensible and cheaper option when you are to fly out of Hong Kong. This is accessible by ferry from Hong Kong island, Kowloon as well as Hong Kong International Airport. You can easily skip Macau immigration via the Express Link service that allows you to transfer directly from airport to ferry or vice versa.
Sky Shuttle. This is a helicopter service that can take you from Terminal Marítimo in Macau to the Shun Tak Heliport located at the Macau Ferry Pier in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong By Water
Ship: Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsu. Being an island, Hong Kong can easily be reached by ships and ferries. If you wish to start your travel from the water, you can find out about the Ocean Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is one of the hubs of Star Cruises. There are cruise ships here for various cities in mainland China as well as Vietnam and Taiwan. There are also long-distance services to Singapore via Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Ferry: TurboJet and Cotai Jet. These offer a comfortable and efficient way of plying in the region. Going to Macau and Mainland China from Hong Kong takes only an hour’s hydrofoil ride. Passengers have two service options – TurboJet and Cotai Jet.
Crossing the border from Shenzhen to mainland China. Know that there are six checkpoints between Hong Kong and mainland China: Lo Wu, Lok Ma Chau Spur Line, Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Ko and Shenzhen Bay. There are certain special visa regulations that you must comply with if you intend to visit Shenzhen.
By car. You can drive through Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Sha Tau Kok and Shenzhen Bay Bridge checkpoints. But for the car to cross these points, it must have a second set of number plates issued by Hong Kong. Those who want to drive a car from Hong Kong to the mainland must similarly have mainland Chinese number plates.
By bus. A convenient alternative is to take Cross Boundary coaches running from the business districts in Hong Kong island or in Kowloon to the checkpoint on the Chinese side. There are six lines to choose from: Jordan, Kowloon; Mongkok, Kowloon; Wanchai, Hong Kong Island; Kwun Tong, Kowloon; Tsuen Wan; and Kam Sheng Road.
By bicycle. While it can be more challenging to use bike in crossing the borders, this is known to be used by those who want adventure. This is possible on certain checkpoints such as Lo Wu where there is an MTR (Mass Transit Railway) train that allows bikes on board, and Lok Ma Chau where the green bus #75 allows a folded bike.
By train. Another option is the Intercity Passenger Train operated by MTR Corporation. This starts from Hung Hom station on Kowloon side to one of the several destinations, namely: Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Foshan, Dongguan, and Zhaoqing in Guangdong Province.
Going to Hong Kong Island
There are various methods to get to Hong Kong Island. It can be by boat, the Star Ferry Star Ferry, which is the typical mode of getting to Hong Kong Island from Kowloon.
The Star Ferry Company. There two routes to choose from: the busy route of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon at the Central, Hong Kong Island; and Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon at Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island.
New World First Ferry. It operates other routes: Hung Hom, Kowloon at North Point, Hong Kong Island; and Kowloon City, Kowloon at North Point, Hong Kong Island.
Fortune Ferry. This operates only one route: Kwun Tong, Kowloon at North Point, Hong Kong Island.
Coral Sea Ferry. This runs two routes: Kwun Tong, Kowloon at Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong Island; and Sam Ka Tsuen, Kowloon at Sai Wan Ho.
Aside from the ferry, tourists can go to Hong Kong island by bus, train, and MTR.
Get Around the Island
Octopus card. If you are planning to take the public transport in going around the city, it is to your convenience if you will have an Octopus Card or Bat Dat Toong. It is an electronic access card that you can use when riding Hong Kong’s public transport system. With the discounts offered Octopus card users, traveling around Hong Kong can be cheaper. It has other uses. It is recognized in restaurant chains like McDonald’s and Cafe de Coral, almost all convenience stores, vending machines, roadside parking and some car parks. It is akin to with Chicago’s Chicago card, Washington DC’s SmarTrip card, Singapore’s eZ-Link card, Melbourne’s myki card London Underground’s Oyster card, or Japan Railway’s IC cards.
Mass Transit Railway (MTR). This is a network of rail below the ground. It is fast and convenient, but you lose the views that travelers would want to see. The network consists of five underground lines, three suburban rail lines, Airport Express, and a system of tram lines in the North West New Territories.
Ding Ding. Cheap and traditional, these are the narrow double-decker city trams that let tourists enjoy Hong Kong for less. A great option is an hour’s tour at the Kennedy Town Terminus. Sitting at the upper deck gives the tourist an eminent view of the island from a hurried city street life to its plush financial and shopping districts and a flavor of suburban serenity. The Peak Tram is worth experiencing, though there are other alternatives such as the number 1 (green minibus) and number 15 (double-deck bus from Exchange Square Bus Terminus.
Bus Options. If you want to go around the south side of Hong Kong and Lantau, buses are about your best options even when these are not the preferred public transport around the island. There are three types of bus available in Hong Kong: The large double-decker buses covering almost the entire territory; the van-sized public light buses that can transport up to 16 passengers and are either colored red or green; and the feeder buses operated by the MTR.
Ferry Alternatives. Plying between the many islands of Hong Kong, travellers can always go for a ferry ride. There is a vast fleet around here; the most iconic of them all is of course Star Ferry that has been operating here for over 120 years. This is a must-do stuff when in Hong Kong.
Go around by cab. Taxi is a good way to travel around Hong Kong being plentiful, convenient and efficient. It is actually cheap compared to taxicabs in other cities. You can take a pick from three types: the red, green and blue taxis. The red or Urban taxis is the most expensive, but can travel anywhere within the island. The green or NT taxis are cheaper but are limited to rural areas in the airport, Disneyland, and the New Territories. The blue or Lantau taxis are the least expensive and only operates only in Lantau Island plus the airport and Disneyland. Be particular cautious if you are choosing from one of the three kinds of taxis when you are finding your way out of the airport, though there is usually attendants there to assist you. When in doubt, just take a red taxi.
Renting a car. This is impractical considering the heavy traffic in Hong Kong and the congestion, inadequacy and cost of parking. Those who opt to rent a car are those who intend to explore country sides. Hong Kong traffic rules and signage in Chinese and English are almost identical to England and are completely enforced. Do not forget to have a second set of number plates when driving up to mainland China.
Other modes: Bicycle, Escalator, On Foot. Using bicycle when going around the city may not be very popular considering the hilly terrain, and the absence of bike lanes. Despite the increasing popularity of biking, it is important to remember that Hong Kong is not bicycle-friendly. If ever you decide to through your island tour on top of a bike, you must make sure that you are familiar with the Basic Rules that you must follow. If you want a “free ride,” then go by escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world. It travels from Central Mid-levels through Soho and cuts through some of the oldest streets in Hong Kong. For using it, you can get Octopus credits. And since Hong Kong is small, you can consider walking around as a good alternative. But, if you have asthma or respiratory problems, consider other options as the air can be loaded with pollutants. Continues
Hong Kong is certainly among the busiest hubs between China and the world for tourists and business travelers. Apart from being a popular venue for meetings and conferences, it is also a premier destination in Asia with its appeals for a plethora of options – hotels, dining, shopping, and sightseeing.
There is so much to do in Hong Kong you would want to maximize your time by knowing where to go and how to get there.