Hong Kong Stories and Tips

The MTR -- Mass Transit Railway

Ticket Machines Photo, Hong Kong, China

Most mass transit systems are not something one generally waxes enthusiastic about, as I’m sure you’ll agree. Indeed, more often than not, they’re something that frequently provokes dismay, derision, and disgust. Hong Kong’s MTR network, however, is an exception to this rule. It is nothing short of brilliant. Although it would be nice to see a few more metro lines added to the system – and the buses could certainly stand to be less heavily air-conditioned – the fact remains that it is unquestionably the easiest and most transparent system to use that I have ever encountered anywhere in the world. It is just about idiot-proof, which is saying something.

As is often the case nowadays, you buy your ticket from an automat; indeed, you cannot even buy a single ticket from a person. Often instructions are difficult to puzzle out. Not in Hong Kong. You walk up to the machine, look at the interactive map, put your finger on your destination, the machine displays the fare, you insert the fare, and the machine prints the ticket and dispenses your change if you have anything coming.


You take your ticket to the turnstile, insert it in a slot, the gate opens, and you pick up your ticket again on the other side. After following the signs to the platform, you’ll find not only destination signs for each train, but the name of the next stop as well, not forgetting signs telling you when the next train is going to arrive. And if you look along the edge of the platform, you will even see markings indicating where you should stand so that you're properly positioned in front of the doors when the train arrives! I had not seen this little nicety since using the Japanese Shinkansen ("bullet trains").

On board
Once on board, you’ll note an electronic map above each door. The stations before the one you have boarded are dark; succeeding stations are lit in red. As you progress, the next stop’s light blinks. On opening the doors, the stop stops blinking – and so on. When you come to a station where you can change to a different line, the lights of all the stations on the line then blink, showing you that you may transfer to a train going to any of those destinations.

Exiting the train and station
Once you are off, follow the signs up to the concourse, go to an exit turnstile, insert your ticket in the slot, the gate opens, and your ticket is retained. Now follow the exit signs, which list major buildings and streets that are accessible from each one. Exits are named: A, B, C, etc.

Octopus Cards
If you’re there for four days or more, buy an Octopus card. With it, you merely place your wallet or purse – or whatever you have the card stored in – on the pad atop the turnstile, the gate opens, and in you go! You’ll pay a HK$50 deposit, and you must pay a minimum of HK$100 in fares. The turnstile will tell you how much money you have left on the card as you pass through the exit. If you leave the country before you have used it all up, you get every HK cent back!

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