Hong Kong’s public transport system is world-renowned and an oft-used international benchmark. It’s cheap, efficient, highly reliable, and made up of many forms of transport: trains (over/underground), trams (old and new), ferries and buses. Perhaps the most ubiquitous of these is the trusty (or should that be “rusty”) old minibus.
Minibuses (also known as maxicabs or by their more official moniker “Public Light Buses”) are like the capillaries of a blood system – reaching places too small for larger vehicles to reach, or too out of the way to justify the cost of building larger infrastructure, and providing a link between the major transport arteries. Their speed and relative cheapness means they are a versatile and popular mode of getting around Hongkong.
Of the two types of minibus – red and green, identified by their roof colour – red minibuses (in general terms) are privately run with no set fare tariff (the companies charge you what they can get away with), and take you from A to B by the shortest route possible. Stopping on the way to pick other people up being at the sole discretion of the driver. Essentially, like a big communist-like taxi system – maybe that’s why the roof is red?
Green minibuses are really the guys I like because they are Government vetted, have a set fare structure, set routes and set stops (although they will pretty much let you get on and off anywhere along the route), and best of all a timetable you can usually rely on. In other words they are an integral part of the transport system as a whole. Best of all they provide one of the more authentic HK experiences that anyone is ever going to have. I can’t think of specific reasons why the experience is like this, but here’s a few good ones to get the ball rolling…
Lack of English spoken: more so in the NT, not so much Island-side. Only the brave need enter. Non-Cantonese speakers beware, knowing the name of your stop and asking to get off may not be enough, sometimes drivers will turn around and ask if anyone wants to get off (yau mo lok a?) or if there are any spaces left (yau mo wai a?). If you don’t answer and still want to get off then don’t be surprised if you manage to add a few expletives to your growing Cantonese vocabulary.
No frills ride: a bit like flying Ryanair. Luckily for us the seats are usually fixed to the floor and these days even have lap belts, but don’t expect much else. The inside often looks like the inside of a squat, or perhaps a military transport plane. Bare essentials and nothing else except for a pile of refuse next to the driver (they could get an extra seat in there!!) and perhaps a loosely secured metal toolbox at the back of the bus, often giving the impression that the driver moonlights as a plumber and is perhaps using his minibus as his personal transport.
Rollercoaster ride: In days of old when ships were bold and the minibus had no speedo, you had no idea how fast you were being driven and could only guess that the driver was breaking all speed limits. These days there is a red LED display at the front which, rather than pressuring the driver to slow down (it beeps when he hits 80KPH), merely confirms what you feared all along…YES, he is speeding and NO, he doesn’t give a toss! Watch out for those bends…whoa!!
Personalised Tour: Pay attention and on almost any Green MB journey you take it is like being on a Cantonese tour. All the stops you make will be announced by either the driver (asking if you want to get off) or by a passenger (asking to get off). If you have some time to kill why not just sit there and soak it all up, like I said they go to some pretty cool places. This option is available only on the few routes that still don’t have buzzers (and most people shout at the driver when they wish to alight).
Anyway, I love the whole experience and the fact that they are quick and cheap just merely adds to my personal feeling of satisfaction. So here are a few routes that I have personally undertaken which the reader may find useful and or interesting to know about.
#1 from Central up to the Peak
My preferred method of getting to the peak is actually on the #15 double-decker, but if you are pushed for time then you can catch this at either end of the journey, and for about $9 take it down/up the winding roads of Central Mid-levels. This one scores 8/10 for rollercoaster worthiness and sheer adrenaline release – watch out for those midlevel’s hairpin bends.
28K Tai Po Market East Rail to Shatin City Hall
This goes along the old Tai Po Road, once the only way from Kowloon into Eastern NT and now a tree-lined and leafy journey that takes you into the hills above Tolo Channel and Shatin Hoi. Some seriously rich people live here and I love looking at the views and the houses. Also takes you past the CUHK. The whole journey takes about 25 mins and costs $8. Bargain.
#26 From HK Institute of Education to Ma On Shan Centre.
Very convenient if, like me, you head into Sai Kung a lot. This knocks about 30 minutes off the alternative route (by rail) and gets me to Ma On Shan in about 10 minutes. The environment at the IEd is really nice and close to Plover Cove.
#56K Fanling East Rail to Luk Keng
Another one that starts urban and ends up in what feel like the middle of nowhere. Once you get away from the Fanling sprawl the hills and mountains close to the border along Sha Tau Kok Road are beautiful and the sight of Starling Inlet going by is wonderful. Take this is you want to explore Luk Keng or neighbouring Nam Cheong.
#51K Sheung Shui East Rail Station to Ho Sheung Heung Village
A recently discovered one that can be caught for the whole journey and it terminates at a Heritage Monument: the Hau Ku Shek Ancestral Hall in Ho Sheung Heung. The environment around here hasn’t really changed much and you can alight at the terminus and head up nearby Tai Shek Mo mountain for views across the Closed border area into Shenzhen. The trip skirts along the Castle Peak Road for a while before turning into a more secluded part of the territory. Incidentally, Ho Sheung Heung is the location of the Bruce/Samo fight in Enter the Dragon, hence why I recently found the bus route (more on all that stuff in a later entry).
If I think of anymore in the meantime I will add them as and when, in the meantime here is a link to all the routes in the territory.