Public Transportation: MTR / Bus / Tram / Ferry

Public Transportation infrastructure in HK is amazing. It goes everywhere and is super cheap if you’re used to western pricing. Practically everyone in HK takes public transport, it’s fast efficient, and cheap. Even millionaires regularly take the MTR to skip traffic that their Bentley’s need to suffer through. Key is to have an Octopus cards, makes things a lot easier. Keep in mind there are senior discounts, which is generally half the regular fare, except on taxis.

Octopus Cards, Oyster Cards, Squid Cards

What the heck is up with all this? (OK, so Oyster Cards are in London, and I don’t think Squid Cards exist, yet.)

You will learn that in Hong Kong, an Octopus card will be your best friend if you plan to take any form of public transportation. In fact, they’re so ubiquitous, you can use them to pay for items at tons of places such as bakeries, convenience stores, supermarkets, really anywhere!

Find all you need to know about our eight-legged friend on our Octopus primer.


Most tourists will take the MTR, the subway system. It’s fast, efficient, clean, and labeled in English. It stands for mass transit railway. It’s regularly rated best in the world and comes at insane frequencies. During rush hour the trains are literally back to back. More than a 2 minute wait would mean there’s a delay.


You must use your Octopus card or you can purchase a single journey ticket at the station to pass through the turnstiles. Journeys are charged by distance, and anything crossing the harbour (between Kowloon and HK Island) will generally result in an approximate $10 charge. MTR Fare details here.  You will also need to tap your card, which makes a ‘doot’ sound, or insert your ticket upon leaving the station to calculate the fair. You should queue by the doors, as indicated with lines on the floor.

The MTR logo looks like a spider, oddly not an Octopus. Stations are filled with people, some have stores, bakeries, Hang Seng Banks, ATMs, etc. A good meeting spot is the Hang Seng Bank at any MTR station, you’ll always see people loitering around waiting for their friends to get off the train. The many exits are also marked with an exit letter and number, e.g. A1, E3, etc. Another way to help guide you through the stations. If you’re good at reading maps you won’t have any trouble navigating.

MTR Map in PDF

mtr map hk

MTR System Map as of Nov 2016


The bus system is a bit more difficult for tourists. There’s a myriad of routes and probably more trouble than it’s worth for a quick trip to learn it. However, you might need to access places which are not accessible by MTR, so bus will be a cheap option. I would advise at least taking one trip on a double-decker for fun. It’s quite the experience when it seems like you’re going to smash into all of the signs and buses in front! Snag a front seat upstairs for a cool view, but your legs will be squished.

There are large double decker city buses, and smaller mini buses which ply every inch of the territory, so I can’t nearly go into every route. Below are the links to the various bus companies. You’ll have to see where you need to go and find out the best route yourself. As with the MTR, all buses take Octopus except a red minibus. Red minibus requires cash/coins, but generally tourists won’t even know about these. They’re a bit ‘unofficial.’ Imagine it as some guy who bought a bus and just decided to pick up passengers along a route.


Bus Companies

Queuing is essential when waiting for buses. If you are at a busy stop, following the line from the bus sign and line up at the rear. Busy stops can easily have 50-100 people in line for one bus line. Don’t just stand in a mass crowd like everywhere else and run to the bus. This is not acceptable in HK, unless you’re at a very quiet stop. Get off the bus using the rear doors, this is essential for keeping the flow of passengers moving. Do not stand on the upper deck or stairway for double deckers.


Hong Kong Tramways runs the tram system on HK Island. It’s a great touristy ride, super cheap, and nostalgic. It’s also slow, hot, and uncomfortable. Fares are $2.30 flat for each boarding no matter the distance. Octopus card or coins accepted.

You may hear locals referring it to the ‘ding ding’ as it makes a particular sound, guess. There’s basically one route between east and west HK Island, in the middle of the main road. Basically it runs on Des Voeux Road, Hennessy Road, and King’s Road. The full HK tram map is here.

Board from the rear, go upstairs or walk front. Exit at the front and pay your fare where the driver is. Easy, but crowded if busy.



As Hong Kong is an island, naturally there are ferries going to the nearby islands. There’s a few different companies which runs to various islands. Star Ferry is the famous boat which runs between HK and Kowloon. You’ll get all of the amazing views on a short ride on the Star Ferry. It’s also the cheapest way to cross the harbour, aside from swimming.

Most likely as a tourist you’ll take the Star Ferry, or New World Ferry to Cheung Chau or Mui Wo. Ferries are old and not very fast. They do tend to leave on time though, so be sure to check the schedules. You can use Octopus card or pay with cash.