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How do I Get Around in Hong Kong?

A map of China, including Hong Kong.
The farthest two places in Hong Kong are only two hours away from each other.
The flag of Hong Kong.
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  • Written By: Wanda Albano
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2014
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Hong Kong, which literally translates into "fragrant harbor,” is a cosmopolitan city bustling with shops, restaurants, clubs, and people. Getting around may seem daunting at first, especially with the unfamiliar Chinese characters and the strange-sounding words, but it's actually fairly easy.

Hong Kong may act, look, and smell like a big city, but in this case, "big" is only metaphorical. With an area of only 400 square miles (about 1000 sq.km), and a well-developed transportation system, the farthest point is only ever two hours away, and getting from here to there isn't really a problem at all.

The first thing a traveler to Hong Kong should know is that Hong Kong is basically a small group of islands and is divided accordingly. There is Hong Kong Island, where most of the action is; the Kowloon Peninsula, a good place to go shopping; Lantau Island, home of the international airport; and the New Territories. Most tourists to Hong Kong will probably concentrate themselves around the Hong Kong and Kowloon areas. To get anywhere using public transportation, you will need an "octopus card," which is accepted by the subway, buses, trams, ferries, and even parking meters. Also remember that maps are widely available and can be obtained from most hotels, trains stations, and bus stops.

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There are three train systems in Hong Kong. There is the Light Rail System, the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) and the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). The Light Rail runs within the New Territories and is hardly ever used by visitors. The KCR links Hong Kong to Mainland China and also goes through the western part of the New Territories. The MTR or the subway serves the rest of Hong Kong, and is the system most tourists will become familiar with. Hong Kong's trains are punctual, efficient, very clean, and incredibly convenient. MTR stations dot every commercial part of the city.

Trams are also available and are popular with tourists. Some of them will even take you on a leisurely tour of the island, which is a nice way to get your bearings. There is also the Peak Tram, which will take you to Victoria Peak from the Central District. The views from the peak are not to be missed.

The buses and minibuses in Hong Kong are also reliable, accessing almost every single part of the city. The minibuses, also called "maxicabs," are 16-seaters, and usually travel short distances, connecting train stations, shopping malls, and residential areas. The buses are double-deckers and are quite comfortable. They travel longer distances and usually go through cross-harbor tunnels. A word of caution however: some of the buses aren't heated in winter.

Hong Kong being a collection of islands, there is also marine transportation. A ferry can take you away from the chaos of the city and into some of the more laid back outlying islands at quite reasonable rates, while hydrofoils can get you to Macau, a former Portuguese colony, now touted to be the Vegas of Asia.

And finally, when in doubt, there are the cabs, which are everywhere. It should be noted, however, that while English is widely spoken in Hong Kong, a Cantonese accent can sometimes stand in the way of perfect understanding. It's good practice to take a business card from your hotel so you can show your driver the right address, ensuring that you'll always be able to get back home.

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