Hong Kong is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. This densely populated metropolis is not just a financial center and major trade hub, it’s also known for being a must-visit destination for travelers. For those of you who have yet to visit HK, let me list down a few handy tips on how to efficiently navigate this beautiful urban jungle.
1. Grab a map at the airport
Upong landing at HKIA – Hong Kong International Airport, look for the booth of the Hong Kong Tourism Board. They have free maps for tourists both in English and Cantonese. Grab one and while you’re at it, talk to the friendly personnel manning the booth because they speak good English. They are more than willing to answer your questions about how to get around the city. During my last trip, they gave me handy instructions on which bus we should take going to our hotel.
Travel tip: It’s easy to commute from HKIA. You can take the train (Airport Express), ride a bus, or get a taxi cab. Cabs are expensive though. Here’s a link of how to find transport to and from the airport.
2. Buy an Octopus Card
The Octopus Card is your best friend. It’s a reloadable smart card that you can use to pay for public transportation (bus, train, tram, etc.). This all-around card can even be used for buying stuff at convenience stores such as 7-11. Some fastfood restaurants accept Octopus Card payments too. Just look for special tap-machines with the infinity sign.
For first-time Octopus Card buyers, it’s HK$150 (about Php900). That’s HK$50 deposit fee (you can return the card before you leave HK and get the deposit back) and HK$100 initial stored value. Do you really need to buy this? YES. 100%. It’s a big help to avoid lines and breeze through transport stations.
Here’s a link for more information about the Hong Kong Octopus Card.
Travel tip: If you plan on visiting Hong Kong again in the future, I suggest that you just take it home with you. The Octopus Card I bought a few years back was still usable during my recent HK trip. Hooray!
3. Download the MTR Mobile App
I’m quite sure that you’ll be taking the MTR numerous times during your stay in Hong Kong. MTR, by the way, stands for Mass Transit Railway, and it’s Hong Kong’s comprehensive railway network. With a total of 9 railway lines connecting Hong Kong’s main islands and territories, the MTR caters to an average of 5.4 million passengers each day. It’s the fastest way to get around the city and has direct links to major destinations such as the airport, Disneyland, and AsiaWorld Expo.
With a network this extensive, it can be quite daunting for first-timers (even second timers too!). So if you’re a sigurista like me who likes to know exactly where to transfer, enter and exit, it’s a must to download the MTR Mobile app to your smartphone.
The MTR Mobile app can give you important information for each trip: estimated travel times, station information, estimated cost, exit information, etc. This handy app will save you time so you don’t have to stare at each and every map when you’re at the MTR station. It’s also great for OC itinerary planning- you can plan your journey simply by entering the name or address of the landmark as origination or destination in the Train Trip Planner and Light Rail Planner.
4. Choose a hotel that’s near an MTR station
I love taking the MTR. It’s fast, efficient and super accessible. WIth that said, I suggest that you book a hotel that’s near an MTR station. During my first trip to Hong Kong, our hotel was a good 15-minute walk from the nearest MTR station. We had to pass by several establishments before reaching it. Ergo, it’s more prone to getting lost!
That’s why for my second trip to HK, I really made it a point to choose a hotel that’s near to an MTR Station. Apart from reducing your chances of getting lost, your feet will thank you for this decision too. You’ll be walking around A LOT in Hong Kong, so save your energy by choosing a hotel that’s near a station.
Traveler Tip: Book a hotel within the Tsim Sha Tsui area. This area is vibrant, near the harbor (good skyline view), and has plenty of malls around it.
5. Get free mobile data
How? Simple! By choosing a hotel that offers a free Handy Phone. It’s a smartphone with free mobile data. Yes, it’s true. Some hotels in Hong Kong give their guests access to a smartphone that they can use throughout their stay.
Aside from its fantastic location, this is one of the reasons why I booked our stay at Butterfly on Prat Hotel. They lent us a Handy and we were able to bring it with us during our city explorations. It’s an Android phone with mobile data on it, so we used it a lot for Google Maps and for researching all sorts of things. It can also be used for free local calls (HK to HK) and contains a lot of information regarding tourist spots and interesting events. You can even use it to purchase discounted Disneyland tickets!
Traveler Tip: We used Agoda.com for our booking. Look around the options and you’ll surely find hotels that include a free smartphone with the room.
6. Contact your “local” friends
If you’re a Filipino like me, chances are, you probably know someone who works or lives in Hong Kong. Go through your Facebook list and think of friends who are HK-based. Who better to ask for directions and insider tips, right? Crowdsourcing is often a good idea.Traveler Tip: Why not make some new friends while you’re there too?
7. Follow the signs
Hong Kong is a very tourist-y place. Be observant. They have loads of English signs everywhere. All you need to do is stop and look around. If you find yourself lost in the middle of Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui or Causeway Bay, just stop and look for the MTR signs. There are plenty of them pointing towards the nearest station. From there, just find the station that’s near your hotel. :)
If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. As with any conscientious traveler, planning and research are the keys to success. If you don’t want to get lost in a foreign city, try to learn as much as you can before your trip. Know the key places you want to visit and find out exactly how to get there from your hotel (or Airbnb). Should you ride the MTR? Do you have to take a bus after? Would you rather take the cable car up instead? How much cash do you need?
Discover Hong Kong is one of the most useful and informative websites out there. Check it out!
Here’s the website for Hong Kong Disneyland.
Here’s the link for Ocean Park Hong Kong.
Traveler Tip: If you’re planning to visit the Big Buddha in Ngong Ping, I suggest that after alighting from the MTR (Tung Chung Station), take the bus instead of the fancy cable car. It’s much cheaper, plus, you get to see the scenic view of the surrounding areas. You can use your Octopus card for this.
9. Ask around
When all else fails, just ask the locals. If you can’t find a friendly local who speaks English, ask other fellow travelers around you. While the most common language used there is Cantonese, there are a lot of English-speaking people too. Just make sure to simplify your words for easier communication.
10. Throw caution to the wind…
If it’s your first time to visit gorgeous Hong Kong, make sure to allot some time to getting lost. Yeah, you read that right! Throw out all of the tips I just gave you and get a little bit lost. LOL! Sometimes, it’s fun to not have a plan. So maybe allot half a day (or an entire day) for some random explorations. Pick a random MTR station and let your feet take you to somewhere new. That will surely make for a memorable experience. Savor the moment and enjoy life! Hong Kong is lovely. Go see it! YOLO!
… And theeeeen, after you get tired, just check your Google maps again to find your way back. Just make sure to charge your gadgets accordingly. :P
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