Travelling to Hong Kong

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Happily, we are expecting visitors from Canada over the coming months. Here are a few tips about arriving in Hong Kong that might be helpful.

  • The Hong Kong International Airport is really good, IMHO. It’s bright and spacious and efficiently moves more than 70 million people annually. You’ll have no problem finding your way around the terminal thanks to good signage, and systems tend to move quite quickly, especially security and immigration. Luggage claim is uneven though, and the wait can range from an acceptable 20 minutes to a frustrating 45, depending upon your airline and if your baggage is marked priority.

    HONG KONG-AIRPORT-LAST DAY

    The HK International Airport is located on the island of Chek Lap Kok, built largely on reclaimed land on the north side of Lantau Island. It replaced the former Kai Tak airport, famous for its hair-raising runway in Victoria Harbour and nearness to HK skycrapers.

  • There are several places at the airport where you can purchase a SIM card for your mobile phone. Friends who visited recently were amazed at how fast the process went, unlike some places (like in Canada) where you can spend an hour or more processing your plan and installing the new chip.
  • If you arrive at a decent time of day and are not too jet-lagged, you might want to take a few minutes to visit the counter in the main concourse that sells Octopus cards. This magic card allows you to go anywhere on public transit. It will save you having to buy single journey tickets on the MTR or buses which require exact cash. You can also use your Octopus card to buy coffee at Starbucks, stuff at 7-11, groceries, books, you name it. You pay HKD$150 (about CAD$24) for the card which includes a refundable $50 deposit and $100 in value. You will need one card per person.
  • You might be tempted to take the Airport Express (MTR) into the city, but I don’t recommend it after a long overseas flight; you will be too jet-lagged and taxis or public transit are required at the other end of the line which sometimes requires a fair bit of manoeuvring. The Airport Express is fantastically efficient for returning to the airport though; see below.

    Island taxi line at Chek Lap Kok airport

    Instead, take a taxi. As you approach the taxi queues, you will see red taxis on the left, which go to HK Island, while the green taxis on the right go to the Kowloon side. Don’t be discouraged by the likely long queue—it will move quickly.

    HK taxi drivers’ English is hit and miss, so try to have your destination and general directions written down in Chinese. Drivers are way more likely to know a building name than a street address, but have both with you and try to get their grunt of understanding before you leave the curb, otherwise they’ll be using their electronic devices to find navigation while driving on the highway.

  • Very important tip: BE SURE YOU HAVE LOTS OF $100 HK BILLS with you because HK taxis do not take credit cards. Further, drivers will not, or are loathe to, take $500 bills. Nor are they set up to take the cashless Octopus card, so be prepared. Entrenched, outdated systems never change here. Welcome to Hong Kong!

On the plus side, HK taxis are cheap and a 45-minute trip will cost around $300. However, upon arrival at your destination YOUR DRIVER WILL ADD TOLL CHARGES AND BAGS HANDLING TO THE AMOUNT. This is OK and perfectly legit. Depending on the tunnel you take, expect another $100 or so.

Before your trip to HK, check out the airport site or taxi fare calculators to get an idea of the distance and likely cost from the airport in order to avoid surprises. There have been stories about unscrupulous drivers taking advantage of tourists, but they are few.

One other piece of advice about taxis … don’t tip. You can round up to the nearest five, but put aside your qualms about the 10% or 15% thing and know that a tip is not expected.

  • The Airport Express is fantastically efficient, especially going to the airport. Both Hong Kong Station and Kowloon Station offer check-in services, which means you can check your bags there, get your boarding pass, and travel easily to the airport. This does not apply to people flying to the US who must check in at the airport.

A couple of other tips for visitors … at restaurants, you don’t have to discreetly catch the eye of your server. You just put your hand up and someone will come. I love this system. And when you are exploring the city, look up. You will frequently come to intersections where you cannot cross the street. Don’t despair. Look up and you will see an overpass nearby. Head for that, keeping an eye out for the stairs leading up to it and you will get safely across to the other side. And then, enjoy your time in Hong Kong!!