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Hong Kong: Public transportation
The inhabitants of Hong Kong are riding across the SAR's territory by motorcycles, cars and various means of public transport. The visitors, on obvious cause, do not have private transport, but the public transportation also can satisfy practically any need of a tourist.
There are only three means of transportation that I will not recommend: rickshaws, taxis and helicopters. Rickshaws and choppers are rather attractions (the latter is too expensive attraction). Taxis, if permanently used, are also too expensive. It is not proved while there is a good alternative in the face of well-developed system of public transportation.
Ground transportation is presented by buses, public light buses, trams, MTR (Mass Transit Railway), KCR (Kowloon-Canton Railway) trains and LRT (Light Rail Transit). LRT is some hybrid of train and tram, which shuttle through the towns of New Territories. It is almost a train, but consists of only one or two carriages, and its tracks are laid along the city streets.
The trips can be paid for with cash. There are cash boxes in buses and trams, and passengers can throw coins into them. The fare is on display, and it is better to throw the exact amount, otherwise no one will change back. For MTR, KCR and LRT there are ticket machines for single-ride tickets.
Nevertheless, the smart local people use another payment system. It is called Octopus and is based on smart cards. The cards are sold at every MTR station, at the airport and plenty of other places. Within the amount you deposit to the card there is a refundable frozen sum of HK$ 50, all the rest is for payments. If you stay there for more than one day, it is better to buy an Octopus card.
Octopus terminals are installed in buses, light buses and even ancient wooden trams. The fees are fixed despite of points of your boarding and unboarding. In buses it is necessary to pay at boarding. Passengers must enter the front door, where there are an Octopus terminal and a cashbox to their choice. Exit is through the back door. Formally speaking, it is a middle door, while the door at a tail of a Hongkong bus is simply absent. It is necessary to board a tram from the back and to unboard from the front, first throwing coins into a box or touching an Octopus terminal with a card.
There is quite another matter with MTR and the transportation means owned by KCR (trains and Light Rail). When entering the departure station, passengers must check their cards at the entrance terminal, and at the destination the exit terminal will write off the actual riding cost from a card.
Octopus is very convenient. Ideal for lazy-bones. I saw many times that Hongkong ladies not bothering themselves with taking smart cards from their purses simply touched the terminals with purses. And there happened nothing wrong, the system worked correctly.
In order to exploit these excellent possibilities correctly, the free map of HK tourist information bureau is not enough. It is necessary to buy Hong Kong public routes map at a bookstore or a newsstand. For me, I bought not a map but the bilingual atlas of Hongkong roads and locations (Hong Kong Guidebook by Universal Publications, Ltd., cover price HK$ 62). The book was just the size of my windbreaker's inner pocket and was accompanied by the bus routes guide of smaller format. The atlas is more usable than a map, it do not wear off from folding, and to close a book is more easy than to fold a map. The book also contains a description of major sites, much more of them in the Chinese text. The bus routes guide is very usefull for planning trips across Hong Kong.
To enjoy different means of transportation, one must take into account their specific features. The simplest of all is to ride a tram. There is practically single route: along the island part of the city. The difference is in starting and ending points of the routes. The destination is displayed above the tram's windscreen. Trams move slowly, stop frequently. They worth riding if you need to overcome a short distance (for instance, from Central to Wanchai twice cheaper than taking MTR) or simply to joyride.
At first glance, it is not everything so obvious with buses. The stops on a route are placed frequently, but the bus do not stop everywhere. They are marked with signs of one or more routes they are purposed for. If you wish to board a bus of certain route, you must wait for it just under the respective sign. Moreover, if you wait not at terminal station, you must wave to approaching bus, because the driver can not know, which bus you are waiting for. The same is for unboarding: if you wish to exit on the route, press the signal button prior to it, otherwise you risk to pass by your stop. In other words, the bus stops on the way if someone needs to board or unboard.
Light buses, though departing from the same terminals sometimes, usually do not copy big buses' routes. They have another system of routes' numeration, but the destination point by common principle is displayed at the front of vehicle. The ride cost is slightly higher than for bus at equal distance.
MTR is the fastest of city's transports. The stations are placed in key areas, the trains are easy to ride. Their seats are of stainless steel, obviously against knife-scratchers. The carriages are not divided from each other, so one can walk from the first to the last one without any obstacles. Strange as it may seem, there is a destination displayed at the front of a train, though on this certain track there can not be the train of another route. The interchange stations are designed wisely. For instance, if it is announced that North Point is the interchange from Yaumatei (green) line to Island (blue) line in West direction, and Quarry Bay in East direction, so, leaving the train of green line at North Point, on the opposite platform you can board a train going definitely to Sheung Wan, and at Quarry Bay board the train to Chai Wan. There are several exits from every station. To exit at the right place, read the exits' signs carefully. There are major buildings on surface listed in English and Chinese for each exit. Bus terminals and taxi stops are pictured with understandable symbols. If you mistake with exit, you can make loops on surface for a long time or return back underneath to look for right exit.
KCR trains go through New Territories between Kowloon and Lo Wu (near the border). The trains resemble MTR's in layout, the major difference is first-class carriages. Somehow funny feature: the announcements are made in three, instead of two for MTR, languages. English and Cantonese are accompanied by Mandarin, the official variant of Chinese.
At the end, the transport that purely has no alternative sometimes. It is impossible to pay by Octopus for it. This is sampan, traditional coasting boat of South China Sea. As hundred years ago, one must to bargain the fee with sampan's skipper (the only crewmember as well). Taking into account that in most cases the skipper and English language are the matters of parallel worlds, this is quite difficult. That is the live island of an exotic past in totally urbanized and technologically sophisticated Hong Kong.
© Dmitry Alemasov
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