Saturday, November 24, 2007

MTR - Hong Kong

The MTR or Mass Transit Railway is Hong Kong's subway, bus and light rail service provider. The subway system is clean, efficient and reasonably priced. The biggest question that kept running through my mind was, "Why can't the Washington, DC Metrorail service be just as nice?"

After touching down at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok International Airport, retrieving our luggage and clearing immigration, we headed for the MTR outlet. We purchased two Airport Express smart card passes, which included three days of unlimited subway use. The Airport Express line was quite impressive. Designed for travelers, it has spacious seating, luggage storage areas and video displays in each car that provide transfer information in multiple languages. In less than 30 minutes, we traveled from the airport to Hong Kong's Central district.

Another very nice MTR feature is the shops and eateries located at each stop. Stores ranging from 7-11 to Giordano (the Chinese equivalent of The Gap stores in the U.S.) are available at the stations. My favorite is a bakery called Maxim. The Mrs. and I enjoyed countless pastries, rolls, mini-cakes and other desserts from Maxim's. And, the other benefit was I didn't gain an ounce. We walked around 2-3 hours a day and that actually helped me lose weight.

On our third day, we went to recharge our 3-day MTR tourist smart cards, and learned a few things. First, the smart cards are valid for 72 hours from initial use. Second, you cannot use the automated machines to recharge the tourist smart cards. They have to be recharged in person with a station attendant. Third, while you can use a credit card to purchase the 3-day smart card, you can only use cash to recharge the cards. And fourth, when you return to the airport, you can return the 3-day smart card to the MTR station manager for a full refund of any unused fare, plus the HK$50.00 deposit. The Mrs. and I ended up getting back about HK$180 (about $30 U.S.) which we managed to spend on more pastries, lunch and trinkets at the airport.

Two things about the MTR I would change is 1) color-code the station signs to help people transferring from one line to another figure out which way to go - the multiple subway lines are already color-coded, putting the color-coding on the station signage is logical; and 2) the subway cars can get packed during rush hour - but then again - if you can't deal with crowds, you shouldn't be visiting big cities.

I'd still love to go back and visit soon!

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