The Mass Transit Railway is the name for Hong Kong’s rail system comprising underground, overland and Light Rail (slower tram-style) services. Universally known as the ‘MTR’, it is clean, fast and safe, and transports around four million people daily.
It costs only slightly more than bus travel (fares HK$4 to HK$25), and is the quickest way to get to most destinations in Hong Kong. Routes, timetables and fares can be found at www.mtr.com.hk.
There are around 90 stations on nine underground and overland lines, and a Light Rail network that covers the northwest New Territories. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted in MTR stations or on the trains, and violators are subject to a fine of HK$5000.
Departures Trains run every two to 14 minutes from around 6am to sometime between midnight and 1am.
Exits MTR exit signs use an alphanumerical system and there can be as many as a dozen to choose from. There are easy-to-navigate maps of the local area in each ticket hall; use them to decipher which exit will serve you best.
Fares Tickets are extremely cheap compared with those in many other world cities: between HK$5 and HK$30, though fares to stations bordering mainland China (Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau) cost up to HK$53.50. Children aged between three and 11 years and seniors over 65 pay half-fare. Ticket machines accept notes and coins and dispense change.
Tickets Once you’ve passed through the turnstile to begin a journey you have 90 minutes to complete it before the ticket becomes invalid. If you have underpaid (by mistake or otherwise), you can make up the difference at an MTR service counter next to the turnstiles.
Peak hours If possible, it’s best to avoid the rush hours: 7.30am to 9.30am and 5pm to 7pm weekdays.
The MTR’s Light Rail system is rather like a modern, air-conditioned version of the trams in Hong Kong, but it’s much faster. It runs in the northwest New Territories.
Departures Operates from about 5.30am to between 12.15am and 1am. Trams run every four to 12 minutes, depending on the line and time of day.
Fares HK$5.50 to HK$7.50, depending on the number of zones (from one to five) travelled; children and seniors over 65 pay from HK$2.50 to HK$4.
Tickets You can buy single-journey tickets from vending machines on the platforms, valid for 120 minutes. There are no gates or turnstiles and customers are trusted to validate their ticket or Octopus card when they board and exit – make sure you tap on the right processor (entry or exit) because you could get charged twice if you tap on 'entry' at the end of your journey.
Hong Kong’s MTR stations are colour-coded and colourfully storied.
Ancient superstition Traditional Chinese are apprehensive about digging activities because spirits are believed to reside underground. When the MTR was commissioning its construction in the 1970s, many local companies refused to bid. Like other high-risk industries in Hong Kong, construction has an informal code of ethics based on superstition.
Calligraphy Platforms on the Island Line, which tend to be less spacious, show the station names in ancient Chinese script. The graceful calligraphy is supposed to have a soothing effect on waiting passengers.
Haunted? Ghost stories about the MTR abound. A woman in a red dress is said to have leapt onto the tracks in Yau Ma Tei, but no corpse could be found. There are tales of children playing in the tunnel between Lai King and Mei Foo, vanishing just when the train hits them; and a victim of an industrial accident in white overalls, dangling his legs from a swing made from a high-pressure electric cable between Choi Hung and Kowloon Bay. Staff lit incense, offered apologies, and he was never seen again.
Platform design Colour-coding adds personality to drab underground environments and enables passengers on crowded trains to quickly locate themselves. The most chromatically interesting stations are on the Kwun Tong Line. Kowloon Tong is light blue – ‘Tong’ means ‘pool’. Wong Tai Sin takes ‘wong’ or ‘yellow’. Diamond Hill is charcoal flecked with silver. Navy with rainbow stripes stands for Choi Hung (‘rainbow’). Lai Chi Kok on the Tsuen Wan Line is orange-red because that’s the colour of a ripe lychee (‘lai chi’). Interchange stations, Central and Mong Kok, sport eye-catching red.
Minibuses are vans with no more than 19 seats. They come in two varieties: red and green.
Green minibuses (HK$4 to HK$24) Cream-coloured with a green roof or stripe; they make designated stops and operate fixed fares, much like regular buses. You must put the exact fare in the cash box when you get in or you can use your Octopus card. Two useful routes are the 6 (HK$6.60) from Hankow Rd in Tsim Sha Tsui to Tsim Sha Tsui East and Hung Hom station in Kowloon, and the 1 (HK$10.20) to Victoria Peak from next to Hong Kong station. There's a good directory of routes, costs and frequencies at www.16seats.net.
Red minibuses Cream-coloured with a red roof or stripe, they pick up and discharge passengers wherever they are hailed or asked to stop along fixed routes. Information such as the destination and price are only displayed in Chinese.
Star Ferry The scenic option between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
MTR Island Line Covers Kennedy Town, Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.
MTR Tsuen Wan Line Connects Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.
Peak Tram A funicular railway that takes you to the highest point on the island.
Tram ‘Heritage’ transport option that runs along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island.
MTR The Mass Transit Railway runs nine lines serving Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories; the Airport Express to and from the airport; a light rail network in Northwestern New Territories; and intercity trains to Guǎngdōng, Běijīng, and Shànghǎi.
Octopus Card A rechargeable 'smart card' that can be used on most forms of public transport.
Cross-Harbour Taxi A taxi going from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon Peninsula or vice versa that requires passengers to pay the cross-harbour toll for a single trip.
Central–Mid-Levels Escalator A long, covered escalator that links up areas built on slopes in Central, Soho and the Mid-Levels.
Hong Kong's night buses, running every half-hour or so, cover most of the city. Their numbers are prefixed with the letter 'N'. But while they're comfortable and safe, sometimes it's worth taking a taxi as they are inexpensive and get you to bed more quickly.
Octopus card (www.octopuscards.com) A rechargeable smartcard valid on the MTR and most forms of public transport. The card costs HK$150 (HK$70 for children and seniors), which includes a HK$50 refundable deposit (minus a HK$9 handling fee if returned within 90 days) and HK$100 worth of travel. Octopus fares are about 5% cheaper than ordinary fares on the MTR. You can buy one and recharge at any MTR station; the minimum rechargeable amount is HK$50. Exact change is required to travel on buses and trams so Octopus is the most convenient way to pay.
Airport Express Travel Pass (one way/return HK$250/350) As well as travel to/from the airport, it allows three consecutive days of mostly unlimited travel on the MTR, Light Rail and MTR Bus.
MTR Tourist Day Pass (adult/child three to 11 years HK$65/30) Valid on the MTR for 24 hours after the first use.