Month: July 2013

Hong Kong Taxis – Red, Green and Blue

red hong kong taxi

Taxis are pretty much universal in Hong Kong, in that almost everyone takes one from time to time, and in some cases, they seem to be about half the traffic on the streets (the other part being double decker buses!). They are also a fairly decent bargain for getting around town, especially if you understand a few things about how the systems work in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Taxis come in three flavors, Red, Green and Blue. The red Hong Kong taxis are the most common, they serve Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and most everywhere else. There are a few tricks that come into play because of the difference between Kowloon and Hong Kong side, but we will get to that in a minute.

blue hong kong taxi

The blue Hong Kong taxis serve Lantau Island exclusively. This is where you will find City Gate, Disneyland Hong Kong, the Big Buddah, and many other attractions. You can only get a blue Taxi generally if you are already on Lantau Island, and they will not normally leave the area either, except for airport runs. Unless you are heading to Lantau Island or taking a taxi from the airport, you might never see this rare Hong Kong Taxi.

green hong kong taxi

Green Hong Kong taxis cover the New Territories. That is everything north of Kowloon, including places such as Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, and so on. If you venture north, you are likely to see these green taxis. Again, they do not leave their area except for airport runs.

The red Hong Kong taxis rule, and they go everywhere. While they generally won’t do short run trips on Lantau Island or in the New Territories, although they can. You will find them in both areas making trips to Hong Kong Island and Kowloon areas however. Please be aware that when you take a taxi through a toll bridge or tunnel, that toll will be added to your fare. Many red taxis will not venture outside of their areas, and if they do, they will be looking for a “return” fare. There are a number of locations (such as the Sheung Wan ferry terminal) where there are separate lines for taxis that will return to Kowloon side only, and there are a few areas in Kowloon and TST where you can find taxis ONLY going to Hong Kong island.

While you can flag a taxi down on the street in Hong Kong, it’s recommended to look for taxi stands or parking lines, as you will usually find a taxi faster. You can also do the “swoop” as a taxi drops someone off, pretty much jumping in and off you go. Some drivers may not want to do that, but most are more than happy to get more business and stay active. Drop fees vary by area, but the red taxis drop fee is $20hk at this point, and includes some distance before it starts counting. Overall these are a very good deal if you are going point to point with 2-4 people, you can really cover a lot of ground!

Taking the Airport Express to Hong Kong

So, let’s say you have decided to take the airport express to your hotel. A good, safe choice, as the airport express will certainly get your closer to your hotel, and the free shuttle bus service is really helpful if your hotel is one of the ones on this list.

If you haven’t don’t it already, now would be a good time to do the Things To Do Before Leaving Hong Kong Airport, because a bit of cash in hand is good, and the Octopus card will be used to pay for your Airport Express. Please note there are sometimes specials on the Airport Express (recent example was Hong Kong to the Aiport for $160 for two people… which is a bit lower than the price when you use the Octopus card). But remember, in the end, the airport express is $100HK per person from airport to Hong Kong (central) station, or under $13US… any discount would be about $2-$3 US is you can get it.

The airport express station is centrally located in the airport. Once you have picked up your Octopus card at the MTR ticket counter:

mtr octopus card booth hong kong airport

you will see signs for the airport express train. There are three access points to the train platform, one behind the ticket booths as shown in the picture near the A and B sides, and there is also one in the middle. Pro tip if you have baggage is to use the access closest to your exit gate, because it has a ramp up and not stairs! Just look for these passages:

airport express sign

or closer up:

airport express passageway hong kong airport

or finally signs like this:

hong kong airport express trains to city

The airport express from the airport is one of the rare train stations that you do not have to “beep in” to get to the platform. Generally Hong Kong subways and trains are “beep in – beep out” systems that track your travel from start to finish and deduct from your Octopus card that way. However, from the airport you can just walk right onto the platform. So let’s go and get to the platform and wait for the train. Your wait won’t be long, the trains leave every 10 minutes or so. Here is one other nice Pro Tip to remember in Hong Kong: Above the doors for the train, you will see a route map, like this:

airport express map

It shows each station on the journey. The ones that are still colored are the ones remaining on this trip. Notice which way the stations are, because that is the direction that the train will travel when you get on – so you can sit on the train facing the right way! This system applies for all MTR subway trains in Hong Kong, so you can be sure you are heading the right way, and you know which way the train will run.

When the train arrives, the doors will open and inside each door area is place for your baggage. Put your bags here, it really is safe, and just take your carry on with you. Take your seat and get comfortable, your journey to Hong Kong proper is about to start. There are three stations on the route, and you choose your exit based on where you are going. Most people will not get off at Tsing Ye (this is for the New Territories generally). For most travelers, it will be a question of Kowloon Side or Hong Kong side. If your hotel is on Hong Kong Island (such as Wan Chai, Central, Cuaseway Bay, North Point, Tin Hau, Happy Valley, or similar) then you will want to take the train to the Hong Kong stop. If your Hotel is in Kowloon, Jordan, Kowloon East, or similar, then you will want to get off at Kowloon station.

Currency Exchange Tips for Hong Kong

1000 hong kong dollars

One thing that happens on every trip is the issue of exchanging currency into the local money. Hong Kong uses the “Hong Kong Dollar”, often indicated as an example as $1000HK or $1000HKD. Thankfully, for the moment at least, the currency of Hong Kong is “pegged” to the US dollar with a pretty solid rate, 0.13 or 7.76 Hong Kong dollars for 1 US dollar. Because of this official peg, your exchange rate to Hong Kong dollars is essentially based on whatever your exchange rate may be to US dollars. For Americans travelling to Hong Kong, let’s just say it makes it very simple.

There are tons of ways to exchange money in Hong Kong. First off, there are the exchange places at the airport. A recent survey showed them offering something near to 7 even, which is pretty poor rate. I never want to put down anyone’s business, but honestly, that exchange rate borders on criminal – 10% is a huge drop. The airport also has some currency exchange ATMs (Citibank, example) but I have never personally tried them, I don’t know what rate they give.

The best bet generally is to use your ATM card to make withdrawals directly from your home bank account, providing you take a reasonable amount of money. Most machines will limit you to $2500HK per transaction, which should be around $320 or so US at a time. Add to that a transaction fee, and whatever the banks take in the conversion, and you are still okay. At the official rate you are looking at $322, and one recent transaction I did (against a debit mastercard) was $333, or about 3%. That makes for a pretty big difference.

In town, there are currency exchange places just about everywhere, hanging out of every possibly nook and cranny and crevice in most areas. Keep an eye on both the rate and any fees they will charge you beyond the exchange, some have “no fees” beyond the displayed rates, while others will charge you for the service directly. Either way, check out what your net money would be and go with what works. If you get a street exchance over 7.5 these days you are doing pretty good. Some hotels also offer exchange services, but watch the rates, some of them are trying to profit from your ignorance about the exchange rates.

More than anything, avoid anyone who is offering to do money exchange on the street or “down an alley” to a side office or location. While Hong Kong is generally not dangerous this way, there are always some who will try to rip you off. Stay with actual exchange shops and you will do fine.

Finally, my basic rule for shopping. If you are any good at doing basic math in your head, when you are a hong kong store, just take the price you see and divide it by 7 to get the price in US dollars. You will give you a slightly inflated US price, but will also give you a pretty solid comparison after exchange and all that. In those terms, your Big Mac combo meal at McDonalds here costs under $4 US… nice!

Before You Leave Hong Kong Airport For Your Hotel

Before you leave Hong Kong airport for your hotel (or other final destination in town) there are a couple of things you should do. These two important steps will turn you into a real Hong Kong person and make your trip very much more interesting.

Before you can do either of these things, you will need some cash. Hopefully you followed my advice and didn’t do any money exchange in the arrivals area of the airport, their rates are generally terrible. The best way to get cash in Hong Kong is to pull out your trust ATM / cash card and make a withdrawl. At current rates, a $1000HK dollar withdrawl is about $130 or so US dollars. Thankfully, there are a number of ATM machines right in the airport, which makes things a little easier.

citibank atm hong kong airportThe cash machines are generally located in the area between the A and B exits, near the central elevator / escalator complex. If you came out of the A gate, that will be to your right down the concourse, and if you came out of B, it’s to the left. All of the stores and services are located along the wall between the A and B gate exits, so as you walk along from the A gate you will have shops and banks on your right, and restaurants on your left (congrats, you just saw your first Hong Kong McDonalds!). There are a couple of sets of ATM machines along the right side near the elevators. I think they are a Citibank and an HSBC, but not to worry, they have global access to most other banks. Withdrawing cash here will likely get you a much better rate than trying to exchange cash at the airport. You should probably withdraw a couple of thousand HK (which is only $250 US dollars) as you will need to spend a bit in the next few minutes to get yourself organized.

octopus card hong kongNow, for Hong Kong step 1: You need an Octopus card. Why would you want an octopus on a card? Well, actually, in Hong Kong the Octopus card is possibly one of the single most useful things you can have. It’s you method for paying for trains, buses, subways, and even the airport express train. So in that regard, it’s sort of a transit pass. But it is much more, because pretty much every small convenience store (7-eleven, Circle K, Vingo, and others) will have a machine that lets you pay for your purchases by deducting right off the Octopus card. No more fighting for change! You will actually be very surprised all of the places you can use it instead of cash, from McDonalds and KFC to local restaurant chains like Fairwood or Cafe Coral. You can use it to access the cross harbor ferries, you can even use it in some places in Shenzhen in mainland China. It’s a value added storage device that will keep you from ending up with a pocket full of change, and also help you to not slow down lines in convenience stores!


Hong Kong Airport To Your Hotel

hong kong airport signOkay, keeping up with my previous post about arriving at the Hong Kong Airport (terminal 1), let’s keep the show on the road and deal with the next part of your journey, getting from arrivals to your comfy, wonderful hotel (or the hole in the wall you have chosen, depending on your desires). The good news as you can see is that the aiport is absolutely filled with clear and distinct signs, and they are all bilingual English and Chinese, so no problems here for most people (if you are reading my blog, you are probably okay). The pictograms are also nice and clear and easy to follow.

Hong Kong Airport is laid out in a pretty organized way, and the ground transportation is pretty much all in one area. As you come out of Gate A or B (see my previous Hong Kong Airport Arrival post for more in that part), the ground transportation options are generally right ahead of you. How you decide to do things will depend on your budget and size of group.

If you are coming in with an organized tour group, generally your tour leader should meet you right here in front of the gates, and you don’t have to go any further. Keep your eyes open for the person holding the right sign for your group, and you are on your way. The same thing with most pre-arranged travel by limo or shuttle bus. If their service includes meet and greet, they will do it right about here, and they will guide you from that point.

If you are like the rest of us and having to figure your way from the airport to the hotel yourself, then it’s time to examine your choices on how to get where you are going. It’s also time get yourself some Hong Kong supplies so that the rest of your trip goes well.

There are three general ways to get to your hotel: train, taxi, or bus. Hong Kong has amazing public and common transit systems, and each of these options has a plus and a minus. Let’s have a look at each one:

Welcome To Hong Kong – Confused Yet?

hong kong airport arrivals

Welcome to Hong Kong Airport. Are you confused yet?

Welcome to Hong Kong. Are you confused yet? If the time zone changes and the long flight to get here haven’t completely scrambled your mind, the airport arrival will certainly get you going a little bit more. Thankfully, with a little explanation, I call let you know what you will see coming in the airport, and how to make your arrival smoother and more reasonable.

First off, Hong Kong airport has two terminals, but the vast majority of the flights come into Terminal 1. For the moment, I will concern myself with your arrival into this modern, spacious terminal. Get your hiking boots on, because almost without exception you are going to be doing some walking. Like most modern airports, the gates are fairly far away from the main terminal building. Depending on what gate you come in, you may have to take a “people mover” train to get to the main terminal building.

hong kong airport people mover

people mover terminal at the hong kong airport image from wikicommons


Hong Kong Cell Phones For Visitors

One thing that you will come to realize if you spend any time at all in Hong Kong is just how darn useful cell phones can be.  If you are travelling with a group of people (or even a family that might go in different directions from time to time) having a functonal cell phone in Hong Kong can be one of those things that takes your vacation from good to great.

The good news is that companies such as 3 Hong Kong, 1010, China Mobile, and others have pay as you go cellular service offers for those of you who already have your own unlocked GSM band phones. Unlocked (or unblocked) phones mean that your phone is not locked to a single carrier. It is almost always possible to unlock a phone, contact your local carrier for more information. Basically, you just remove your home sim card, insert the Hong Kong sim card that you have purchased (the prices are very low) and you are off and running with your own Hong Kong phone and phone number. The last time I purchased this sort of thing at the Hong Kong airport 7-Eleven store it cost me $150 and lasted an entire trip. Remember, this is only for local calls, if you want to do long distance calls there are other options, including special long distance sim cards or calling cards.

For those of you who have smart phones or tablets with data needs, there are also short term data options available, which can give you access to the internet almost anywhere in Hong Kong. I say almost anywhere because phones work pretty much everywhere in Hong Kong, including in the subways, which takes a bit of getting use to. The only place phones never seem to work well is in the middle of your hotel room for some reason, not entirely sure how that happens!

Welcome to Hong Kong Tour Guides

Hey there. Glad you could make it to Hong Kong Tour Guides. This site is new, but it’s been a while in the making. This site is for people who are travelling to Hong Kong, are in Hong Kong, or what to know more about what to expect on their upcoming trip to Hong Kong. It’s sort of information source and personal blog, it’s clearly nowhere near complete and exhaustive, but I will certainly try to get you the sort of information and tips you need to have a good time while you are here in Hong Kong.