Your welcome guide for a faster orientation
Hong Kong has a lot to offer, but unfortunately many of the city’s visitors only plan for a rather short stay. In order to enable you to make the most of your stay and to avoid wasting your precious time, I wrote this little Welcome Guide to Hong Kong that shall help you orientate after your arrival at Hong Kong’s major entrance gate, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).
Arrival in Hong Kong
Having to travel for business purposes quite often, I’ve already departed from and landed at HKIA again countless times. In the course of time, I developed certain routines. For instance, during my first weeks in Hong Kong, I used to pick up speed as soon as I got out of the aircraft (Hong Kong-style!) in order to overtake as many people as possible to avoid having to wait at the very end of a long queue before immigration. Nowadays, being proud holder of a Hong Kong ID card, this doesn’t matter that much any longer, as the convenient e-gates are never too crowded. However, I also got to know that hurrying up in the end only pays off for travelers without any checked-in luggage, as the baggage reclaim after immigration can take for ages which is really annoying.
So I leave it up to you to decide whether you want to hurry up or not. In any case you should be aware of one the most important street rules in Hong Kong: whether on moving walkways or escalators, you always stand on the right and move on the left side. Don’t EVER block the way by standing on the left side, you will most probably get a testy reaction from an edgy Hong Konger immediately. Often you will have to take a train, the Automated People Mover, to get to the immigration checkpoint, baggage claim area and arrival hall. If you want to be among the first ones to get out you should stay close to the doors through which you are entering.
Don’t be afraid when on your way towards immigration some officials with pistol-like machines seem to aim at you – they are measuring your temperature in order to prevent epidemic outbreaks in Hong Kong. SARS has created a sensitivity that still prevails today, you have to understand that.
You should have filled out the white Immigration Card before it’s your turn, then there should be no major problem to enter Hong Kong territory. For most countries, e. g. from the European Union, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel and South Africa, a stay of up to thirty days is visa-free. However, many travelers are a little disappointed as they won’t receive an official stamp into their passport, but only a small confirmation slip. If you travel to Hong Kong frequently but do not live there permanently, there is the possibility to register behind the immigration counters at the far right in the so-called “Enrollment office” as frequent visitor which enables you to use the time-saving e-gates – a very recommendable option!
Killing time at the luggage carousels
As already mentioned, in this hall you can’t do anything but wait and hope that today it’ll be a little bit quicker that they get your luggage here, but the whole process is highly intransparent. Sometimes the carousels start running and a bunch of suitcases arrive, but after that no further movement for half an hour. Highly frustrating, but don’t worry, you can use this time by fetching some cash from the nearby ATMs between carousel 7 and 8.
And, another good thing about HKIA is its free WiFi connections anywhere in the airport area. So, let your dearest know you’re well, inform yourself about recent developments in the news or start a shitstorm about the slowliness of the baggage reclaim area on Twitter – and time will go by. Eventually your luggage will arrive and you’re settled to pass customs clearance. Attention: Hong Kong has rather strict regulations on the import of certain goods. Strong alcohol is limited to 1 liter per person (wine unlimited!) and it is only allowed to import 19 cigarettes (i. e. in general less than a package) per traveler.
On your way to the Airport Express
Having passed the customs clearance you reach an area in which you can pick up information brochures on Hong Kong (have a look at them and pick whichever you like) and a counter of the Airport Express. If the queue is too long, skip this one – there will be additional options in the arrival hall or next to the Airport Express tracks.
If you’re on your own, look out for any of the ticketing machines, as these are usually less frequented. A single ride to Kowloon is 90 HKD, for a journey to Hong Kong Central you have to pay 100 HKD. By the way: if you want to return on the same day, please choose the “same-day return” option and you get one way for free.
However, as soon as you travel in a group of at least two persons, it pays off to go for a group ticket. Two persons only pay 170 HKD for the single journey to Central instead of 200 HKD. The bigger the party, the more you save. Downside: group tickets are only available at the counter, so you might potentially have to queue. If you decide to do so, you can also purchase an Octopus Card or a Tourist Day Pass as viable alternative that allows for unlimited rides on the MTR within 24 hours.
Anyway, as a taxi will easily cost you at least 250 HKD and should definitely take longer than the 24 minutes you need with the Airport Express, the latter one is an unbeatable option.
For those that were not satisfied by the meals served on the plane and those that suffer hunger or thirst, the arrival hall offers plenty of choice: 7-Eleven has cheap snacks and drinks, Pret-a-manger offers salads, sandwiches and wraps for a quick eat. Apart from McDonald’s there are some really good restaurants, of which my personal favourite is “Crystal Jade”. I really recommend their Dan Dan Mian Noodles (spicy!) and delicious Xiao Long Bao Dumplings at affordable prices.
Arrival at Hong Kong Station: Where to next?
Being refreshed and ready to go, you can now board the Airport Express. The first and last carriages offer charging opportunities for your electronic devices. The tickets will only be scanned and checked after getting off at your final destination. Most passengers will take the Airport Express to the very end at Hong Kong Station, where you have different options for the continuation to your target destination:
- Many large hotels on Hong Kong Island (as well as in Kowloon from Kowloon Station) offer a free shuttle bus service (leaving on the left after the exit of the paid area). Please check beforehand whether your hotel offers this particular service, as some buses may only run when pre-booked.
- To your right after exiting the Airport Express area, you can find 4 queues for taxis. Advice: all of them are equal in priority, but usually to the further you go to the right the less people queue there, so this can save you some time.
- In the middle you can find the elevator on the very left bringing you down to the MTR station. Here you’ll have access to the blue “Island Line” as well as the red “Tsuen Wan Line”. In case you don’t have heavy luggage with you, this is a cheap and feasible option. If you have heavy or bulky luggage, don’t try to fight with the underground masses, just take a taxi, it’s also not too expensive.
I hope this helped a little bit to get a first orientation and to get fast and efficiently to your (temporary) residence, so that there’s nothing left between you and your Hong Kong adventure! Enjoy it and have lots of fun!