Travelling around in Hong Kong can be complex for the uninitiated – and is becoming ever more crowded. The Octopus card simplifies your travel immensely – and if you stick to the dedicated routes of the MTR, Tram, Bus, Peak Tram and Star Ferry then you’ll also dodge much of the congestion that otherwise clogs the roads.
If you’re familiar with Oyster cards in London then Octopus in Hong Kong will be second nature. If you’re not, then Octopus represents the simplest and easiest way to travel all over Hong Kong Island, up into Kowloon and to the ‘New Territories’ of Shenzin; without having to know about all of the myriad intricacies of payment and fares for each of the methods of transport that it covers.
It’s the world’s second contactless smart card system and works for all of the following methods of travel around the city and island.
Deciphering the best way to travel around can be time consuming but with Octopus you can have no end of fun by hopping between the various forms of transport as you explore Hong Kong – from the heights of Victoria Peak to the top deck of a tram, the underground MTR or over water on the Star Ferry. Although we’ve shown individual costs of travel for each method of transport – all are within the Octopus’ reach and covered by the convenience of a single card.
Although we’re dealing primarily with forms of transport and travel around Hong Kong with this article, the Octopus card can be used in all sorts of outlets –
from cinemas to shops and fast food outlets to fast horses at the racecourse.
It’s a truly versatile companion to have along on your next trip to Hong Kong.
Known as the Standard Octopus and as the name suggests, you’ll pay a returnable HK$50 deposit and add value as you would with Oyster in London. You can get child, adult or senior cards.
You can buy them at virtually any MTR customer service centres at rail stations, Star Ferry terminals or the KMB Customer Service Centre at Sha Tin Central Bus Terminus.
If you return the card within 90 days there’s an administration fee of HK$15; so you’ll only want it if you’re on an extended stay in Hong Kong or if, like us, your hotel is prepared to lend you one.
The link for the ‘On Loan’ card terms is here
The purchased or SOLD card as Octopus refers to it, carries a special design and is better suited to short stay tourists who will most probably forget to get their refund on the ‘On Loan’ card.
It currently costs HK$39 but this is non-refundable, albeit you get a souvenir design to take home.
It has no immediate useable value when you buy it as it holds no deposit and cannot be refunded unless you add value to it. Any remaining value on it is refundable. It’s only available in one category – Adult.
Sold Tourist Octopus distributed by 7-Eleven, Circle K and VanGO is HK$39 without any initial stored value included.
Sold Tourist Octopus distributed by China Travel Service (HK) Limited is HK$39 plus an initial stored value of HK$10, total selling price is HK$49. The link for the ‘Sold’ card terms is here
Once you’ve got your card, you’re off and riding…
The Hong Kong Tramway is perhaps one of the most charismatic (and environmentally friendly) forms of transport on the island.
It’s one of the earliest forms of public transport – dating back to the city’s colonial period; being inaugurated in 1903 .
The tramway runs on Hong Kong Island between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town, with a branch circulating through Happy Valley.
Originally of teak construction the fleet of 163 ‘Ding-dings’ has been faithfully rebuilt using aluminium bodywork in the same design.
The cheapest form of transport on the island, normal fares are approx. HK$2.5 per trip, however far you travel.
Destinations are shown on the front in English and Chinese. If you’re doing the sights along the main east/west route then the only tram to avoid is the ‘Happy Valley’ tram (unless you want to go there of course) as the main route runs along the whole of the top of the island.
Hong Kong Tramways website
The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the equivalent of the London Tube but uses heavy and light rail equipment, plus feeder link buses between stations.
You can travel within Hong Kong Island or be more adventurous and venture under Victoria Harbour to a more comprehensive system in Kowloon and on to Shenzin in the ’New Territories.’
Today, the entire system has 91 stations and 68 Light Rail stops.
MTR operates ten main commuter lines serving Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.
Among them, the East Rail Line connects to the boundary at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau stations for travel between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.
The bus system in Hong Kong is very easy to use.
Final destinations are shown on the front of the buses, both in English and Chinese.
The bus routes cover almost all of Hong Kong except some outlying islands.
Buses in Hong Kong are self-service ticketing and change is not given.
Generally, ticket fare is displayed on information boards at the bus stops – good reason to use Octopus
There are also open-top buses, which offer yet another dimension to travel around the city. Bus No.15 C, runs open-top between the Central Ferry Piers and the Lower Peak Tram Terminus.
There are five major bus companies in the city. The bus routes provided by these are dovetailed together for the convenience of passengers, with some having been introduced specifically for visitors.
List of current routes on Wikipedia
Taking the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak, where the whole of Hong Kong lays at your feet, is an unforgettable experience.
The earliest form of motorized public transportation, the Peak Tram has operated for over 100 years.
It runs on tracks following the slope of the mountain and takes seven minutes to travel from an elevation of 92 feet (28 metres) to 1,300 feet (396 metres). Each cabin can carry 120 passengers at a time.
If walking from Central, you might consider taking the Mid-levels escalator part of the way to the Peak Tram Station; simply for the experience. Don’t go all of the way or you’ll have along walk downhill to reach the lower station!
The Peak Tram passes six stations; Garden Road, Kennedy Road, Mac Donnell Road, May Road and Barker Road, before finally reaching the Peak.
It doesn’t routinely stop at the intermediate stops; passengers needing to press the bell to tell the driver to stop.
Adult Ticket – Round-trip fare HK$45; One-way, HK$32
Concession Ticket – Children: 3 – 11 yrs; Seniors: over 65 yrs – Round-trip HK$20; One-way HK$12
Central-Mid Levels Escalator website Peak tram website
The Star Ferry Company was founded in 1888 and is one of the iconic attractions of Hong Kong.
Star Ferry operates a passenger service with principal routes across Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
Its fleet of twelve ferries operate two routes across the harbour, as well as harbour tours, carrying over 20 million passengers a year, even though tunnels to the island have made the journey simpler by road and rail.
You’ll find as many, if not more, locals on the Star Ferry as you do visitors and tourists and it remains one of the most authentic ways to travel in Hong Kong.
Website links for more information:
Fare from HK$100-200 depending on timing and offering
Central – Tsim Sha Tsui – Wan Chai Ferry
Fare circa HK$3 or free as a senior with a senior Octopus card
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