Before I had even gotten through immigration I managed to pick up SIM card with unlimited* data and was back online. I grabbed my bag from the carousel and headed towards the train. There is a customer service centre just after customs with a big sign that says “There are more places to buy your ticket, including the destination station.” or something like that. I bought a ticket anyway and head to the platform. Exiting the customs area and into the arrivals hall they have giant TV screens showing the other exits passengers can come out, just in case people waiting for you are at the wrong one they can see you.
Immigration, baggage collection, customs, and the Airport Express train are all on one level, and all within a few hundred metres. I was sitting on an express train checking my email within 30min of the flight landing. Once at Central I jumped on a waiting hotel shuttle bus that weaved its way through the tiny back roads of Sheung Wan, dodging trams and taxis.
The next morning I meet Tony at the hotel and we headed off to the closest station via a 7-Eleven to get an umbrella. I wanted to go up Victoria Peak and it was supposed to rain most of the day, so going first thing was probably the best idea. I acquired the ultimate in contactless payment systems (an Octopus Card) and we were on our way.
The tram to the top of The Peak runs on a cable and is incredibly steep. The seats only face one way and part way up you are lying on your back more than sitting. We exited the tram via the gift shop and entered one of two shopping centres at the top of the hill.
It was raining a bit when we got to the top, but we braved the outside with our umbrellas. The warning said a “Yellow Thunderstorm Warning had been hoisted” and that wasn’t red. After about 2 min standing in the rain we agreed it was time for a coffee inside. After our (enormous and quite pleasant coffees) the thunderstorm warning had been upgraded to red, so we headed back down in the tram to find some lunch. The trams just travel up and back on the cable, you face backwards on the return trip. The announcement at the bottom said the doors would open on the left of the tram, without qualifying if that was based on direction of travel or direction we were all facing. No one else seemed to pick up on this point as we piled out of the tram.
Lunch was in the basement of a small shopping block at a dim sum place, as we waited for our food I read the Foursquare review, we ignored the Foursquare review and enjoyed the food.
We had a walk around Hong Kong, down to the waterfront, and up to Nathan Road and Jordan.
We got back on a train and heading to Tony’s place on the island. Tony has a tiny, but well appointed flat with his wife on the 27th floor of a highrise. He even has a view of some hills!
Dinner that evening was at Hainan South – a chicken place that served both Hoisin Chicken, and spaghetti, pizza, and sandwiches. It pays to diversify.
The next day I tried going up the peak again. Instead of catching the tram, which doesn’t accept the Octopus cards I caught a local bus which goes from Central up to the top. The weather was a lot nicer today, and the bus was packed.
Up the top there were great views of Hong Kong, and it was pleasant to walk around in the shade. I did a lap of the shopping centre on top of the hill and caught the bus back down again.
Instead of catching a train one stop back from Central I walked through the shopping district and along some of the smaller streets towards the hotel.
That evening I set out to meet up with a friend from university. We organised to meet on the platform at Central, where we’d both be changing trains. “I’m next to the box with a man inside it”, moments later Terrence found me and we headed the other platform.
Terrence had chosen one of his favourite restaurants, one he had been to a few times and he knew the staff a little. It had only recently opened up – and wasn’t on FourSquare for me to check-in at. They gave us bibs, and little bags for our phones so they wouldn’t get covered in oil from the grill. We had meat, meat, and some more meat, with potato salad as a starter. Dessert was sweet potato something with ice-cream.
We head back to the station to catch a train to Admiralty where we’d both change trains again. I missed the connecting train by a few seconds – after going through the formalities of saying goodbye, something the timetables don’t cater for. The platform was completely empty and I had to wait nearly 45 seconds for the next one to come along. That night I download my photos to my laptop and the GPS track from GPS logger. To my surprise we had been off the island and over to the mainland – I had no idea. I thought we had just taken a different train on the island.
There are two key things with Hong Kong transport system (and the Japanese one as well) – the integration is fantastic. It isn’t the pure number of trains, is that you cross a platform for your connection when you need to change. You don’t go up an escalator, along 3 platforms, and back down again, you walk from carriage to carriage as the train pulls up.
You can top-up your travel pass, or even buy a ticket at your destination. On a tram in Melbourne if your MyKi is short on funds you get an on-the-spot fine where there is no way for you to top up your travel pass (yet they somehow managed to get portable Eftpos machines for the transit police). If you arrive at a train station in HK and your travel pass is short you top it up.
If you purchased the wrong ticket for the train in Melbourne you can’t exit the platform and will probably be hunted down by drones if you tried to. In Tokyo you go to the Fare Adjustment machine and adjust your ticket.
In Hong Kong the Octopus card can be used to purchase a lot of things from a lot of places. The Paper Stone Bakery in Sheung Wan had the readers built into the benches and people would pay for breakfast with them – by vaguely waving their entire bag above the reader. Don’t worry about taking it out of your wallet, you don’t need to take your wallet out of your bag.