Hong Kong is renowned for its economical yet high-quality public transport system. As one of the most congested cities in the world, it has invested heavily in efficient ways for people to get around. From the historic Peak Tram to the esoteric Central and Mid Levels Escalator, the green electric Trams to the iconic Star Ferry, there are no shortage of great ways to get from place to place.
Of all the transport systems in Hong Kong, the one that carries the most people is the Mass Transit Railway or MTR. Every day more trips are taken on the system than the entire population of Singapore. With 91 stations spread over 11 interlinking rail lines, it connects the majority of Hong Kong locations with speed and efficiency on a safe, frequent and economical service.
During rush-hour trains on the busiest lines depart every two minutes. It is truly impressive to see a train leave as you enter the concourse, then by the time you have walked across to the platform find another train already arriving. Even during off-peak times, most lines run at 5-minute intervals so you are rarely waiting on a platform, which is a good thing as the majority have little or no seating for people waiting!
As one of the newer underground railways it is clean, modern and spacious and a lot easier to navigate than one of the historic ones such as the London Underground, Paris Metro or the New York Subway. It also is more reliable than the similarly aged MRT in Singapore, and that is according to Singaporeans!
For visitors or new arrivers in a city, the public transport system is always a challenge. Each city system has its own quirks and these are often not explained well by locals, for who it is all “obvious”. The HK MTR is no exception, but if you follow this guide you’ll be using the system like an old-hand in no time!
This guide is for:
Visitors to Hong Kong who want to make use of the excellent MTR underground railway system, but not sure how to navigate it or what the best way to use it is.
- Using the MTR
- Buying Tickets
- Finding Your Route
- Changing Trains
- Entering Stations
- Boarding Trains
- Riding Trains
- Station Exits
- Routes With A View
- Stations To Visit
- Station Facilities
- Wifi And Free Computers
- Customer Service Desks
- Eating And Drinking
- Rush Hour
- With Children
- With Baggage
- Vs Mrt In Singapore
- Vs The Tube In London
- Other Mtr Operated Services
Using the MTR
The MTR is a great way to get to a variety of different parts of Hong Kong, it is fast, cheap, clean and never gets stuck in traffic. Visitors to Hong Kong will find that many, though not all, of the places on their list of attractions and sightseeing destinations, can be reached easily with the MTR.
At the same time, the MTR is not always the best way overall for a tourist to navigate around Hong Kong, for one thing, there is no view on the majority of lines. A few do provide great views though and those are highlighted below. For some city routes, a bus would get you a more interesting experience, while some destinations are best reached via one of Hong Kong’s iconic red taxis.
Every MTR station has a set of turnstiles you need to go through in order to reach the platforms, once you have gone through the turnstiles you are in the “paid area” and MTR rules apply, such as no eating and drinking. At the end of your journey, you will go through another turnstile and be outside the system, though still inside the station building.
Turnstiles take contactless cards which you can buy in any station.
Three basic types of ticket are available. Each one is a contactless credit-card sized card that you hold at a reader until it goes “beep”. The three kinds are Tourist, Single Journey and Octopus. Each one is good for a different type of thing, so there is no “best” ticket, it depends on what you are going to do.
- Tourist day tickets – A HK$64 pass that allows almost unlimited travel for 24 hours, great for those on a whirlwind trip of the city in a day or three. Buy these at the customer service desk at any station.
- Single journey tickets – A set price ticket that allows one specific trip, the price depends on the trip you select. This is a good choice if you have just one trip via MTR in your plan. Get these from the machines in any station.
- Octopus pay-as-you-go tickets – The way the locals use the MTR, a stored value card that allows you to “beep” pay as you exit a station, the amount being deducted being related to the journey length. The best choice if you want to have a local experience, or don’t plan much in advance and want the flexibility to jump on and off public transport as it comes along. Read our full guide to the Octopus card, the cards do a lot more than just pay for transport.
Each ticket comes in either an adult or concessionary fare version. The adult ticket is for those aged 12 to 64. Concessionary fares are for children 3 to 11 and senior citizens 65 and above. Children who are less than 3 travel free with an adult, the adult should carry them through the turnstile.
There is one other kind of ticket commonly used, full-time students over the age of 12 in Hong Kong are also entitled to discounts by using a named “Student personalised octopus card“, but these can’t be issued to visitors to Hong Kong.
Rides on the MTR are slightly cheaper with Octopus cards but are very cheap overall anyway. A long trip that a visitor might make would be from Central station on Hong Kong island to Sha Tin station in the new territories, that’s a journey of about half an hour involving three different lines. The adult fare is HK$18, with a $2 discount if you use an Octopus card.
Finding Your Route
Using the MTR means finding the closest stations to the starting point of your trip, identifying the station closest to the destination, and then the route on the system. Given the simplicity of the 11 lines of the MTR for most trips the best route is obvious, but in a few cases there is more than one option and which one will be faster isn’t obvious. Use the MTR route planner app, or simply rely upon the suggestions of Google Maps Navigation to identify the faster choice.
Google Maps isn’t perfect but generally gives an acceptable route. It knows about the different speeds of the various lines and how frequent the trains run so if it is wrong it is only by a few minutes.
In streets and malls, there are often signs pointing to the closest MTR station. Sometimes the letters “MTR” are used, at other times just the shape of the logo with the two semi-circles joined by a line. Follow the signs to the MTR exit which may either be a street-level entrance with escalators or stairs going down or maybe in the basement of a shopping centre. Outside the city centre, some stations are at ground level or above ground.
Many stations have street-level entrances with a few steps up, and then many steps down. This is part of the flood control design to prevent the stations filling with water during the torrential downpours that occur during Hong Kong summers or typhoons.
Man trips may require you to change trains at some point, occasionally several times if you have a long trip to take. If you know the name of the line you need to take then there is good signposting inside the stations and the plenty of escalators to take you from platform to platform. Inside the stations the colour coding on the map is not used for signage though, so you’ll need to know the name of the line such as “Island line” or “Tuen Wan line”.
Once you arrive at the correct platform there are typically trains going in both directions from opposite sides of the platform. Look at the sign above the train track which shows which stations the train on this side of the platform will go to next. That’s an easy way to ensure you get on the train going the right way!
Changing trains doesn’t incur any additional fee, with a few small exceptions, and you won’t have to go through a turnstile. If you seem to need to go past a gate when changing trains then check because you’ve probably got lost. Only changes between Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui East station, and changing to and from the Airport Express require you to leave the system and enter again.
When you enter an MTR station you’ll generally be going down underground, the stations near the city centre are deep down in the earth. But the stairwells are wide and brightly lit so there is no feeling of going into a cave or it being dark. Often the first part of the entrance is steps going down about one or two flights, and then it changes to escalators which go down to the “concourse” level.
Here you will find ticket machines, a customer service desk, and often a wide range of small shops. The shops are an eclectic mix but typically include a convenience store, some snack foods, a gift shop or boutique or office supplies. Take away foods shops are common in MTR stations near offices. But despite the wide range of edibles on offer remember that eating and drinking are not permitted within the paid areas of the station.
After passing the shops, getting your ticket if you haven’t got a day pass or octopus card, you then go through a turnstile. Finish your snacks and close your drink containers before this!
Several different types of turnstiles exist, from the oldest with three rotating metal bars at waist level, through to the sliding open and closing small doors of the latest version. Somewhere within each station, there will be at least one “wide gate” which allows those with strollers or luggage to pass through more easily. If you need the wide gate but can’t see it then ask a staff member or look for signs for lifts as the wide-gate is often near the lift.
Each gate may operate in either direction, as entry or exit, and a green arrow or a red bar will show beside each gate to indicate whether it is currently an “in” gate or an “out” gate. They switch roles depending on the demands of the traffic flow.
Approach the gate and hold your card against the reader on the top right-hand side until you hear a beep, and the display lights up showing the remaining balance on your card if it is a stored value card. The beep indicates you can go forward, gates will open, or the rotating three bar gates will unlock so you can go forward. At this point, your card has not yet been charged, but it is now currently marked as “in” the system. Make sure you use the same card when you exit so you can be charged and the card can be marked as “out”. If you make a mistake and somehow leave the system without beeping out then your card won’t work again until you’ve gone to a customer service desk to have it fixed.
After the turnstiles follow the signs for trains, some of them are just an icon of a train and an arrow. In cases where there are two or more lines in a station, there will be signing stating the name of the line, such as “Tsuen Wan Line” or “Island Line”.
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The platforms all have screen doors to keep people from falling onto the tracks, and also to keep the aircon in the station! As the partition is all glass and the doors are all glass you need to look closely to see what is actually the door, there are arrows on the ground which show where you should wait to board the train.
Most people queue up roughly in line with the arrows, at the left and right of each doorway, so you can follow the lead of others on the platform. When the train stops in the station and the doors open the announcements ask people to wait for the passengers alighting to get off before we board, but most people try to board as soon as they can so there can be a bit of a squash getting on board.
During rush hour there are platform assistants in uniform who direct people towards the ends of the platforms where it is less busy and try to stop people obstructing the doors by leaping on at the last second. At the very busiest hours, the trains may be packed full with no room at all for additional passengers to get on and the platform assistants will wave people back. There is no pushing to get more people on in the MTR as apparently happens in Tokyo!
The trains are mostly all of similar design inside with wide corridors that open the entire length of the train. Shiny stainless steel bench seats along the carriage sides seat six people each, but a lot of the time you will be standing on MTR trains. There plenty of standing space and handholds everywhere for people to keep steady.
While the train rides are generally very smooth with no sudden stops or jerky motions, all the same, it is best to hold on just in case.
Announcements quite clearly say what station is the next one and so if you have planned your next stop properly you won’t have any trouble getting off when you reach the right station. Each station has a different colour theme used for the wall tiles and decorations on the platform, so if you take the same trip repeatedly you will start to be familiar with “red is Central station, I should get off here” or “blue means Admiralty, I should change trains here” and so on.
While on the trains most people remain quiet, stare at their phone, or just zone out. Nobody minds if you talk or move around a little but generally the carriages are quite quiet even at the busiest of times. There are no buskers, beggars or people having parties on the train as you might have seen in some cities.
A few seats in each carriage are marked with red signs as “Priority” chairs and it is suggested that those be offered to the disabled, elderly or those with children. Unfortunately, this suggestion is mostly ignored in Hong Kong but it is certainly appreciated when someone gives up their seat for someone in need, it is just that it isn’t considered unusual if people don’t.
Smoking, eating and drinking on trains is forbidden and rarely seen which may well be connected with how very clean the train carriages are.
Exiting the stations is quite a bit different to many other underground railway systems. the MTR stations tend to have a large number of exits, many of them going directly into neighbouring buildings. The MTR Corporation owns lots of the buildings above stations and these typically have malls and office above. Even when the MTR doesn’t own the building they are still happy to build underground tunnels that connect into the underground arcades that are common in Hong Kong.
This large number of exits, often spread over quite a large area around the station, means that it is important to come out of the correct one that is close to your destination. Leaving a station by the wrong exit can mean several minutes of walking, and sometimes involves routes that can get you lost.
To make it easier to get to the right exit there is a clear system of naming them. Each exit is given a letter of the alphabet and often also a number. So, for example, the exits from Central station are Exists A, B, C, D, E, F, H, J, K and L. Yes “I” is missing to avoid confusion with the digit 1 presumably. Where exits split just before coming up to the road level they may get numbers after the letter. In Central station, the D exit has two openings known as D1 and D2, while J has three J1, J2 and J3.
If you mistakenly come out of the station and J3 near Chater Garden when actually you wanted to be at D2 for Theater Lane to see the historic Pedder Building then you have a 10 minute quite confusing walk ahead of you so take care!
Signs clearly indicate which exit to take to reach which destination, the common tourist destinations such as Flower Market Road will be listed with which exit to head for.
Then hanging from the ceiling there are signs indicating which exit is which.
Just follow the arrows to find the right exit you need.
Addresses you read for different destinations often specify not just which MTR station to go, but which exit to take. For example, if you are going to the 10 thousand Buddha monastery then the directions will tell you to go to the Shatin MTR station and take Exit B.
When you leave the train on the platform heading for the exit there are escalators going up to the concourse where you will go through turnstiles using the ticket or card you used to enter. If your card doesn’t work then look for the customer service desk, normally this is a desk is situated next to the turnstiles or gates so that half the desk is “inside” and half “outside” and the MTR staff there will be serving people both in and out of the system.
For most stations, the whole concourse area is one open room and you can enter and exit from any point, but a few of the stations have distinct separate parts. Causeway Bay is one of these. And if you take an escalator up from the platform into the wrong part of the station then it can be hard to get back down to the platform so as to go up into the right side. In a few cases, it is impossible. But there are warnings above those escalators that say “Exit to Concourse only”, meaning no way back to the platform if you go up. Look out for the direction signs that say which exits are best for which destinations, and then follow signs for that exit.
Routes with a View
A view from an underground railway? Actually, several parts of the system are not underground at all and are either at road level or on elevated bridges. These provide some interesting views of the countryside that are well worth seeing if they are on your way to somewhere in that direction anyway. The MTR was originally mostly underground, with just a few surface-level tracks, but in 2007 it took over the services of the Kowloon and Canton Railway which previously operated other ground-level train services, and together with the Light Rail trams in the western New Territories they now operate as a combined MTR system.
- Tung Chung Line / Airport Express
If you arrived in Hong Kong at the International Airport at Chep Lak Kok on Lantau Island then you may well have used the Airport Express service, which is operated by the MTR thogh not strictly part of the MTR system, and so will have see the great views of the north coast of Lantau from that train. The same route is followed by the MTR Tung Chung Line which goes as far as Tung Chung just a few minutes drive away from the airport. See great views of the city followed by the countryside of Lantau. If you want to go to the Big Buddha or Lantau Peak or get to the airport on a budget, then consider this line.
- Tuen Wan Line north of Lai King station
After being underground all the way from Central Station on Hong Kong Island, this line suddenly bursts out into the open air on a high elevated track once it leaves Lai King Station and gives fantastic overviews of the Kwai Chung container terminal and surrounding areas.
- South island line
Take the train all the way to the end and pop into Horizon Plaza to see some of the amazing interior design and furniture shops, and yes you can buy things there even as a visitor as those shops are all quite familiar with having things shipped overseas.
On the way, you’ll pass under Victoria Peak and come into the daylight at Wong Chuk Hang with the headland of Ocean Park visible on the right of the train before you pull into Ocean Park station. Watch of out for the bridge crossing Aberdeen harbour with a view of the Jumbo Floating restaurant to your right. Take the train all the way to the end at South Horizons and check out the funky local shops, look in the Marina Square East mall, and then take the 10-minute walk to Horizon Plaza along the south coast of the island.
- East Rail line
The old Kowloon Canton Railway (KCR) lines from Hunghom to the border with China are above ground and go from the city through some residential and then countryside. The trains are modern MTR style but have a very slightly more train feeling about them if you actually like riding a train. And unlike other parts of the system there is a “first class” section with every-so-slightly more comfortable seating, make sure you validate your ticket as first class at one of the terminals on the platform before boarding a first class section.
Stations To Visit
The Hong Kong MTR doesn’t have the grand architecture of the Moscow subway system, the historic feel of the London Tube or the Paris Metro, but there are a few spots where the designers have come up with some pretty impressive sights. Worth looking out for if you happen to be passing the right station, the probably not worth going out of your way to see.
Mural in Central MTR station
One of the oldest stations, part of the first line, there haven’t been many upgrades to the station but there is a lovely tile mosaic on the platform of the Island line when you arrive from the Admiralty side. People don’t stop to look at it but it is actually a very nicely done blend of old and new Hong Kong scenes all made of tiny tiles. By local artist Lucia Cheung.
The new Wampoa station in Hong Hum has a great mural along one of the concourse passageways, as do several other stations on the line.
Music in Hong Kong station – to Central station passage
This long passageway with two sets of travelators has a little area set aside for live music performances. There doesn’t seem to be a published schedule, perhaps to avoid crowds forming, but when you do pass along and find musicians playing it is quite magical. It is directly oposit the huge murual called Swift and Safe by Gaylord Chan.
Kennedy Town sculpture
Right in the middle of the concourse is a giant sculpture of an apple sliced into halves. It is by Lao U-kei and Lau Lung-wah
Wifi and Free Computers
There is free MTR Wifi available in every station, generally near the centre of the main concourse. Several stations also have “iCentre” consoles where there are a number of small screens and keyboards that let you browse the web, perfect for checking a route on a map or sending an email if you’ve left your phone behind.
If the problem is your phone battery is flat, then you may be also able to charge at these stations where there are USB charging ports available. Bring your own cable though! They are always located in the paid area of the stations so they are for paid travelling customers only, and surprisingly there is rarely a queue to use them.
Look out for the iCentres at any of these stations:
- Kwun Tong Line: Kowloon Tong, Kowloon Bay
- Tsuen Wan Line: Tsuen Wan, Kwai Fong, Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok
- Island Line: Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay, Quarry Bay, Tai Koo
- Tung Chung Line: Hong Kong
It might seem obvious that a public transport system would have public toilets, but unti recently this wasn’t true. When first built the MTR had none, but the KCR did. When the two systems merged under the name MTR in 2007 it no longer seemed reasonable for the older MTR stations to have none and a slow project to introduce them into the busiest stations was started. It still isn’t complete but most new stations have been built with toilets.
Those stations without restrooms are often near or directly connected to shopping arcades which do have those facilities, but not all.
Where toilets are available they are typically small but adequate and include one cubical suitable for wheelchair users which doubles as a changing room for children.
The project to add toilets to older stations is starting with the interchange stations, those where two different lines meet and hence there is the possibility of having to wait for a train. All 20 interchange stations should have toilets by 2020.
Toilets can be found at least in these stations: Admiralty, Disneyland Resort, HKU, Ho Man Tin, Hong Kong, Kennedy Town, Kowloon, Lei Tung, Mei Foo, Mong Kok, Nam Cheong, Ngau Tau Kok, Ocean Park, Prince Edward, Quarry Bay, Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, South Horizons, Sunny Bay, Tsing Yi, Whampoa and Wong Chuk Hang.
Customer Service Desks
Every station has at least one manned customer service centres. The staff at these desks can resolve problems with tickets, give advice on routes, and generally assist travellers. During rush hour they tend to be busy dealing with the various strange things that crop up with peoples tickets, but there will be a queue and it won’t take long to be served.
Most desks are positioned on the concourse beside a gate so they can serve travellers both in the “paid” and “unpaid” areas of the station, and staff can be seen whizzing back and forth on their wheeled office chairs between the two sides of their desk! Amazingly they never seem to loose their cool and always provide great help.
You can also use them to add value to your Octopus card, but that can also be done from an automated machine if you would rather avoid a queue at the desks.
the MTR does it’s bit to ensure the ongoing reputation of Hong Kong as a “Shopping Paradise”. Every station seems to be packed full of shops selling a wide range of different goods. Each station has at least one convenience store but also a lot more that you might not expect.
The many choices available include food and beverage, health and beauty outlets, bakeries, convenience stores and shops selling fashions, cosmetics, accessories, gifts, herbal products and health drinks, confectionery and lifestyle goods. Some concourses are also home to dry cleaners, shoe repairers, bookshops, clinics, travel agents, banks and financial service providers.
Eating And Drinking
You are not allowed to eat or drink anywhere inside the paid areas of the trains, which includes the platforms and also on the trains. That’s been the rule since the MTR first opened and generally Hong Kong people are entirely ok with this, and you don’t see anybody breaking this rule.
The restriction probably contributes to the great cleanliness of the stations and trains, nobody is dropping crumbs, spilling drinks or littering wrappers or packing. It also tends to make the lack of toilets less likely to be urgent!
You’ll find that the rules are not always followed by visitors to Hong Kong, and sometimes this causes some disagreements or discontent from locals who don’t like visitors breaking these rules.
It is particularly strange when many of the shops within the stations sell food and drinks, not just packaged foods but things like fresh buns from bakers or even hot soups. But even though you can buy these things in the stations, even within the paid areas, you better keep the containers closed and take them outside before you consume them!
Nobody likes to use a public transport system during rush hour, and that goes for local commuters as much as tourists. As a visitor to Hong Kong it is really best if you can avoid the rush-hour, particularly at the busiest interchange stations where large crowds form waiting to change lines, and the trains themselves can become cramped and uncomfortable.
Rush-hour in Hong Kong is the same time as in most cities, running from around 8am in the morning until after 9am in the morning. During this time the flow is mostly from the residential outskirts of the city towards the central business areas of Kowloon, Central Hong Kong island and causeway bay.
The evening rushour is more spread out as first schools let out in late afternoon then office workers make their way home. Any time after 4:30 is liable to be congested on routes leading back from the city centre towards residential areas.
Admiralty interchange between the island line and the Tuen Wan line is a particular congestion spot, and causeway bay tends to be busy at almost any time as it is a mixed commercial, entertainment, shopping and residential area.
Any public transport system tends to build up an unwritten list of “rules” of good behaviour, and while Honkongers are generally quite flexible there are a few things that you should avoid doing so as not to appear rude while using the MTR.
Don’t eat or Drink on the trains. This is one of the few ones that is in fact clearly written down, that includes drinking bottled water. The only exceptions that people won’t mind is eating a sweet or poping a piece of gum into your mouth, mostly because they are not particularly noticable.
Don’t sit on the floor in the trains. While common in a few countries this seems very strange to Hong Kong people, anybody seen doing this seems to be inconsiderate. The same goes for squatting on the floor.
Don’t put your bag on the seat next to you unless the train is really very empty, and move it promptly if anybody want to sit there.
Walk along the train only if you are really going somewhere, not just to take a walk.
Stand on the right on Escalators, giving others room to walk past you on the left. This one is inherited from the British and the behaviour on the London Underground, and isn’t taken as seriously in HK as it is in London, but if there is room it is still better.
Don’t use the Customer Service Counters as a travel advice centre, there are people behind you in the queue so keep your questions short and to the point. Tourist information desks do exist in the MTR, but only at the airport, Hung Hom, border cross points and for some reason at Admiralty.
If there is a lift only use it if you actually need it, for example, you have a pram or a wheelchair user or have heavy luggage. The lifts in the MTR are slow and have limited capacity so able-bodied people using them is taking away from those who really need it.
Don’t be loud on the train. Although some HK people generally talk quite loudly, they don’t do this on the MTR. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation, but quietly. At any time of the day, the train tends to be a place of relative quiet and people like it that way.
Of course, for every one of the “rules” above you can point to exceptions, and show examples of local Hong Kongers disobeying these suggestions. But if you keep to them, then you’ll surely be a good MTR citizen.
The MTR system is very child-friendly, with one small exception we will get to in a moment.
Children under 3 years of age don’t have to buy a ticket on the MTR, but there is no facility for them to go through the gates on their own. The expectation is that they will be carried by parents, or be riding in a pram or stroller. In the latter case go to the wide gate and push on through, with the parent beeping at the turnstile to open it.
Once inside the station prams should go into lifts, but as the lifts are slow and not available everywhere people do sometimes take strollers onto escalators. This is a bad idea and frowned upon, it is dangerous and signs tell you not to. Barriers at some escalators make it difficult, but not impossible, to use them anyway.
If you have a pram then when looking for a door on the platform look for those with the wheelchair/disabled symbol next to the door. That means this door will lead into a carriage that has fewer seats and more space for wheels. Don’t worry about occupying that “disabled space” as it is extremely rare to see actual wheelchair users on trains and nobody minds if prams use it.
Kids from 3 through to 11 years old have to buy a ticket. Child concessionary versions are available for all the different kinds of tickets you can use on the MTR and are used in precisely the same way.
With younger kids, it is best if the adult holds the ticket and helps them beep in and out, because if they lose their ticket then it’s a pain getting out as you have to go to the customer service desk. Many locals whos kids travel on the MTR every day give their children lanyards with a cardholder around their neck. This is an ok idea, but make sure that the lanyard is a safety one with a “break-away” so that it comes off in an accident, such as getting it caught in a lift door or escalator.
Although the train stations are crowded around rush hour nobody minds kids, and they won’t get crushed, but there is a risk of them getting lost if you don’t keep an eye on them. The stations are large, and all look the same from a child’s perspective, it is hard to know where you are at times so this is definitely a place for “hold mummy/ daddy’s hand” as much as possible.
The platforms at the stations all have safety doors which means there is no danger of being pushed onto the rails; this makes the experience a lot safer for kids especially. Once on the trains, there are fewer handholds available for kids heights, but there are still plenty of places that a child can hold on to one of the verticle pole handholds located throughout the train interior. And children are often offered seats by other people on the train, but this can’t be guaranteed.
As a parent with children travelling on the MTR the only real issue you will face is the lack of public toilets, if younger kids suddenly need to use the loo then things don’t look so good. Although newer stations have toilets, and the major interchanges are installing them in phases, there aren’t that many and some stations still have no public rest rooms at all.
For less urgent cases look at the local area maps in each station, they clearly show where the nearest public toilets are, including those in shopping arcades attached to the station. For more desperate cases ask a member of staff, they will know if there is a public toilet in the station or if not they will let your child use the staff toilet. That is an official policy, that members of the public may ask to use a staff toilet, so don’t feel you are imposing. At the same time it is quite inconvenient so not a regular solution.
Officially baggage isn’t allowed on the MTR, anything larger than around airport-carry-on-luggage size is not permitted without an official exception letter.
In practice, however, you see suitcases all the time, and even stranger things such as bicycles (always with one wheel detached so they become “luggage”, not really a bike), and luggage trolleys used by builders to carry buckets and cement, or couriers with sacks full of parcels and so on.
If you are taking luggage on to the MTR then really you should avoid rush hour, and keep to routes where there are wide gates and lifts easily available. That isn’t always possible to work out in advance, but the major tourist routes such as from the Airport Express (which does allow luggage of course) through to the hotels in Wanchai, Causeway Bay or Tsim Sha Tsui generally work fine.
Your biggest problem will be waiting for lifts, which tend to be slow and cramped. Don’t be tempted to take your large suitcases onto the escalator, that’s frowned on and generally not very safe when people are walking past.
As taking wheely suitcases as a way to carry your shopping has become quite a norm for tourists in the region you see more and more in the MTR. Perhaps at some point in the future they will more strictly enforce the rules against them, but for the moment you can get away with one suitcase per person quite easily outside of rush hour.
Like the rest of Hong Kong the MTR makes some effort to be accessible, but fails most of the time. There is a sense that they have done the minimum to be able to say “yes, we are accessible” without actually doing enough to make it practical. Although the official figure says that most stations have “step-free access” this isn’t always easy to reach or convenient for where you are trying to enter.
Many stations such as Central Station have stairs at entrances on the street level, often just a few stairs up before another one or two flights down, to avoid flooding during heavy rain. But this causes an unnecessary burden for wheelchair users or others with limited mobility.
There are call buttons outside stations which allow you to ask for someone to come to help, and they will arrive with ramps, powered stair lifts, or simply man-power to help you. The problem is just that this takes quite a while during which you are stuck outside an entrance waiting.
For example, if you are trying to enter Central station from somewhere in Peddar Street then every entrance has this problem, yes you could get to World Wide House and take the lift down to the concourse level. But how do you get from Peddar to World Wide House? It is certainly doable but it just means one more road to cross, one more extra step to your route.
This is why it is extremely rare to see any wheelchair users in the system, and travellers to Hong Kong with limited mobility basically should forego even attempting to use it.
Try instead one of the two special accessible taxi services in Hong Kong, which offer an excellent and reasonably priced service, but do need you to book in advance and it isn’t as cheap at the MTR of course. Search for DiamondCab or SynCab to learn more about these.
vs. MRT in Singapore
Visitors from Singapore will find the MTR in Hong Kong to be very similar to what you are used to in Singapore. As the two systems were built around the same time they are naturally very similar in style. In fact, if your eyesight is bad you might get confused sometimes over whether you are in an MRT or an MTR station or train! But when you actually travel by train the big though you’ll notice different is that announcements about stations sound so different!
Although the MTR has a reputation for being more reliable than the MRT in truth both are modern reliable railways, and it is only the very occasional fault that makes the headlines in either city.
Being a bigger and more crowded city Hong Kong’s MTR is harder to navigate and a lot busier. This does mean there is less waiting for trains, but when the trains do arrive they tend to be more crowded than those in Singapore.
vs. The Tube in London
Coming to HK from London? Then you’ll need to know that it is very different in the experience of The Tube and the MTR.
First of all, you have to remember that the MTR is only about 20 years old, so when you compare it to a more than 100-year-old service it is going to look a lot different. Frankly, the Tube isn’t going to come off looking so good, it is complex, expensive, unsafe, unclean and very confusing for visitors.
If you are used to using an Oyster card then you’ll just want to go right ahead and get an Octopus. If on the other hand, you’ve been using tap-and-go using a paywave contactless card then you’ll be disappointed to find that PayWave doesn’t work in the MTR.
On the up-side, the Octopus tickets are just as good as an Oyster for public transport; and they let you do a lot of purchase in shops and cafes, not just within the MTR system but anywhere in Hong Kong. So get that Octopus card, perhaps a 1 or 3-day tourist pass if you are just here for a short period.
When waiting for trains notice the arrows on the floor on the platform to show you where you should stand to queue to get onto the trains. Be prepared to board quickly, but at least you don’t have to push buttons on doors and all the trains and stations are really similar so there isn’t the variation you get on the Tube. Even the lines that run overground are not like the Overground, they are still the same basic trains as the rest of the MTR.
Finally, just like when you leave London you can hand back your Oyster for a refund, you can do the same with your Octopus. Though as it is also possible to just buy things in a convenience store until the balance is negative, why not keep it as a souvenir?
Other MTR Operated Services
The MTR is mainly an underground train company of course, but they end up running a range of other connected and sometimes not so connected services.
Airport Express – This one makes some sort of sense in that the lines and stations overlap with the existing MTR services. You can take the airport express for a great fast, you might even say “express” trip to Chep Lap Kok where the Airport is. In fact the airport express trains actually stop within the airport building, it would be hard to be more convenient unless they went onto the runway! If you take the Airport Express don’t forget the major benefit of the In-Town Check-In which saves a lot of queuing in the airport as well as saving on lugging luggage around for the last part of your trip when you depart HK.
Light Rail – Situated in the North Western part of Hong Kong the Light Rail system is actually a tram, it runs through the towns of Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, which are not exactly on the tourist map. But if you do happen to go there, and there are a few hotels and many office blocks that business travellers may need to visit, then the LIght Rail may be for you. Much less picturesque than the historic “ding ding” trams of Central Hong Kong these LRT (Light Rail Trains) operate differently to the rest of the MTR system in how you board and pay. There are no turnstiles but instead, you need to “beep” to validate your octopus card using the yellow card reader on the platform before getting on the train. Nobody checks that you have done so, but if you get caught without a validated ticket then there is a fine.
Ngong Ping Cable Car – There is no apparent connection here with the rest of the MTR services, except that it is mechanical and until the original operates of the cable car the MTR knows what they are doing. The terrible reliability of the system when it was first opened has gradually been resolved since the MTR took over, so you can now safely choose this method to ride up to the top of Lantau to see the monastery and the Big Buddha statue.
Shopping malls – Part of the deal when the MTR gets to build a new station is that they will be allowed the “air rights” over the station, which means they can build yet another giant tower block. As though Hong Kong doesn’t have enough of them. And in fact, HK really doesn’t have enough buildings for both residential and commercial use, so these towers are actually a good thing. The lower few floors in each one are normally given over to some type of shopping mall or arcade, which then benefits from the through traffic from the connected MTR station both to the residential or commercial space above, as well as through traffic to neighbouring buildings as the MTR is always good at making pedestrian bridges in and out of the stations.
Swedish railway – The MTR has experience with railways and is now using that to operate rail systems in places as far apart as Sweden and Australia. The Swedish MTR Stockholm AB (MTRS) is one of newest ventures and doing very well.