I have a friend who is travelling to Hong Kong this Christmas and she asked for some suggestions on places to see and things to do. However, as the transit geek that I am, my biggest recommendation once you land at the Hong Kong airport is to grab an Octopus.
Now I am not referring to our eight-tentacle friends of the sea. I am talking about Hong Kong’s transit smart card, the Octopus card. The Octopus card is your vital cash card to getting around and payment in Hong Kong. Even though, there are many private rail and bus companies that criss-cross the territory, the Octopus card will give you the super eight-tentacle ability to pay for travel on all these different modes of transit. (The one glaring transport omission in the Octopus repetoire is the taxi. You have to pay cash in taxis.)
You can grab your Octopus immediately at the airport after landing. The MTR Airport Express counter in the giant Arrivals lobby sells the cards. This is where you can also buy your ticket into Central Hong Kong via the Airport Express. If you’re planning to take the train into Central, then you could buy the Airport Express Travel Pass for HKD $300 and it’s good for 3 days of unlimited travel on the MTR system. Basically, that covers all rail travel in Hong Kong, but it does not work for the buses.
If you get the regular Octopus card, it is essentially a cash card. I load mine up with HKD $100-200 and that should last you a few days if you travel a couple times a day. If you ride the MTR metro a lot, then you can expect to see the money go quickly. I also love using the card at convenience stores (7-Eleven, Circle-K) and fast food places (McDonald’s, KFC, Cafe de Coral). Sifting through change in Hong Kong is a pain because coins range from 10 cents to 10 dollars. So having the Octopus card is a time saver at these stores.
So my biggest recommendation when visiting Hong Kong is to grab an Octopus card for easy travel and easy payment for small purchases.