Like any metropolitan city, Hong Kong has a very extensive public transportation system. The thing I find unique about Hong Kong is that it’s system is efficient AND over-crowded at the same time (usually it’s just one or the other).
At times the crowds can be panic inducing – this makes traveling with a toddler tough at times. I just wanted to relay my experience on this trip (mostly on the MTR) and offer some suggestions for how to make things more manageable.
Airport Express – A Convenient Airport Transfer
The Airport Express is probably the easiest way to get from the airport (which is far out on Lantau Island) to Kowloon or Central. It only costs 90-100 HKD ($11-$13) and is a 24 minute ride. Trains depart at 10 or 12 minute intervals depending on the time of day.
Finding the Airport Express at the airport couldn’t be easier. Follow the signs, buy a ticket at one of the kiosks (its electronic and you use it to tap out when you exit), then wait for the train. If you have an Octopus card, which we did, it’s even easier.
The ride itself is very comfortable and we didn’t have trouble finding seats either to or from the airport. There is plenty of room for luggage as well, and luggage carts are waiting for you at the station as soon as you arrive.
My only issue with the Airport Express is the free shuttle to the hotels. Obviously I have no issue with it being free, but the shuttle can be a little…crazy. At least our trip was.
We took the K3 shuttle which services the Holiday Inn Golden Mile, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Regal Kowloon Hotel, Hotel ICON, Hotel Nikko, InterContinental Grand Stanford, and Kowloon Shangri-La Hotel. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but our shuttle was pretty full leaving Kowloon Station.
This turned into a big problem at the Holiday Inn – a huge family wanted to get on to get to the airport (we’re talking six adults, four teenagers, some little ones) – but nobody had gotten off yet. I’ll just let the picture do the talking:
Needless to say, I was happy to get off at the next stop, between flying luggage and an exhausted sleeping toddler it just was pretty overwhelming. So I think the free shuttle to and from Kowloon Station can be a little bit luck of the draw, just be aware.
On our return trip to go home, we decided to take a taxi to Kowloon station to avoid all of that. One neat thing about the Airport Express is that you can check in for your flights at the train station, so you don’t even need to lug your bags with you all the way to the airport.
There was no line at the in-town check in, and while I was a little worried about our bags getting there, I still preferred checking our bags at the train station instead of taking them all the way to the airport. It all worked out great our bags were happily waiting for us in Chicago. I didn’t even see them loading luggage onto our train so they must teleport them to the airport or something. Pretty cool.
The MTR – Well Run, Crowded, Not Super Toddler Friendly
Full disclosure: I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years and it was the first public transportation system I was introduced to so I love the MTR (subway system). I think it is clean, well run, and efficient.
It also is incredibly overcrowded and downright scary in rush hour. It feels crowded during off peak times. A lot of the central areas in Hong Kong feel like this, so it’s something you need to prepare yourself for.
Since we have Octopus cards I never actually bought a fare at a MTR station. If you’re going to do any type of traveling, I’d recommend getting the card – you can get it at any MTR station for a $50HKD refundable deposit (plus whatever money you load). You can use your Octopus card to pay at a lot of stores, which won’t earn you any points on your credit card but I generally choose convenience and speed in Hong Kong over a couple of points.
You really want to avoid rush hour (pretty standard times though a bit later than most of the States) on the MTR, especially the interchange at Admiralty between the Tsuen Wan and Island lines. You will literally get out of the train and stand in a mass of people that gradually moves across the platform until you reach the train on the other side. Not fun as an adult, definitely not fun with a little kid.
I won’t lie, traveling with a toddler on the MTR can be tough. It’s tough to figure out where the handicap accessible elevators are – there are so many exits that it’s tough to find the right one. The Tsim Sha Tsui/East Tsim Sha Tsui underground complex alone has like a billion exits (okay, 25+).
With the crowds, you kind of want to figure out what entrance/exit you’re going to use beforehand so you don’t have to be fighting crowds and figuring out where you are going at the same time. Once you get in, it’s not always easy to find your way down to the platform either – there are some elevators that are actually gated with turnstiles, while other times you go through the turnstile first and then find the elevator.
Our solution? We did a lot of stroller carrying, stroller breaking down, etc. etc. At some point it’s not worth it to find an elevator. Obviously this doesn’t work for wheelchairs, but it works just fine for toddlers. What we didn’t do was let M wander around the station herself – it’s just too crazy in there.
The MTR is definitely doable if you avoid peak times, just be prepared to deal with crowds. Thankfully there is another great option for parents of toddlers to get between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central (two of the main areas most tourists visit) – the Star Ferry.
The Star Ferry – Slightly Less Crowded and Fun For All
The Star Ferry is a great option between TST and Central. You have to walk to the Star Ferry pier (near Ocean Terminal), but once you get there everything is pretty straightforward. You can take a ferry to either Wan Chai or Central, and it costs less than $3HKD per journey – that’s less than 50 cents!
I think I read on the Star Ferry website or something that there is something “romantic” about the Star Ferry. While I can’t say I agree, I’d definitely say that the Star Ferry just screams iconic Hong Kong. Better yet, it is a less crowded, cheaper, and for a toddler, more convenient way to get between TST and Central.
The reason I think its more convenient is because it’s less crowded, which is huge. No crush of people, no worrying if your toddler can get lost, we let M walk on and off the ferry when she wanted to. Another big point to consider is the ferry terminal on the Central side is right by the IFC – a huge mall with tons of eating options that is one of the main draws on that side of the harbor. Finally, I find the ride across the harbor to be much more peaceful than taking the MTR – with much better views!
One drawback of riding the Star Ferry is to get to the upper deck you’re going to have to do some stroller carrying, there is absolutely no elevator access. You could always ride on the lower deck if you’d like. When you are walking down to access the ferry, stay to the right with your stroller where the going is smooth and not bumpy.
In the end, M loved the Star Ferry. In fact, we rode back and forth a few times just for fun – during off peak hours too so we had a ton of space to spread out. So not only is it a great transportation option, it can entertain toddlers like mine for almost an hour – no small feat!
Summary of Things to Consider if You’re Trying to Get Around Hong Kong with a Toddler
Here are some quick thoughts I have about traveling with a toddler in Hong Kong.
– Off peak hours are your friend
– Walking can be a better option, but the streets get super crowded as well so be prepared for some slow going with a stroller (I went out once on my own and cut my travel time in half!)
– A lot of times, walking underground is a good option. You can avoid waiting at crowded intersections and generally get to where you want to go – Tsim Sha Tsui station in particular is very extensive
– There aren’t any hard and fast car seat rules and most (not all) taxi drivers will be impatient with you if you try to put one in (this from my relatives). As a result, be prepared to hold your child in taxis
– There’s no way getting around carrying a stroller from time to time unless you want to take very long detours
– The Star Ferry is a more relaxing option and sometimes can be more convenient
– The Airport Express is a great way to get to the airport – check your bags at the train station to reduce stress further
– Since everything is so crowded, be careful if your child is walking on their own, it’s quite easy to get run over
Bringing a toddler to Hong Kong totally changed the way I look at the public transportation system. It’s great, but the crowds mean you need to plan a little more carefully. The MTR and Star Ferry are great for getting you where you want to go and you can hold your child in your lap in a taxi in a pinch, but it’s definitely more difficult to navigate the city and less family friendly than Taipei. My one hard and fast rule? Don’t transfer from the Tsuen Wan line to the Island line during rush hour under any circumstances! That goes for you even if you don’t have kids!
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