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Therese Iknoian

Traveler | Photographer at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
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A good number of flights to and from various Asian cities have a Hong Kong layover — for a few hours or even much longer, like our layover of 17 hours. No need to hunker down in the airport, though. Hong Kong has made a quick trip into town such child’s play. So go ahead, pop in for a meal, a walk, the famous Hong Kong waterfront light show, or even a night’s sleep.

The transit is so easy, you really don’t need us to tell you how to do it! But we know, we know, it’s a little disconcerting if you don’t know in advance what’s going to happen. So HI Travel Tales will put your mind at ease. Read on….

Enough time to head in for a Hong Kong layover?

Do you have enough time to go into the city? Without luggage, you won’t likely need more than an hour or perhaps a little more to get into town. If you arrive back to the airport two hours prior to your flight, you may need up to three hours to get back in allowing time to get to the city station and take the train. That’s four hours, give or take, depending on the type of traveler you are – cut it close or allow so much extra time you drive companions crazy.

hong kong airport arrival terminal.So now it’s your choice, based on your personality and how much time you want in the city. Either way, without at least six hours, it would hardly seem worth it to us.

With that in mind, here is our quick list of tips and how-to’s for your Hong Kong layover.

Plan your layover

  • Double-check when you check in for your first leg that your luggage is checked all the way through to your destination. Who wants to schlepp a suitcase around for a few hours on a Hong Kong layover? Plan in advance, as we did, and pack a separate bag with any essentials for the length of your stay. In our case, that meant a few toiletries, a change of clothes, and our personal electronics and essentials.
  • If you are there overnight, as we were, pick out an inexpensive hotel that is just good enough for a good sleep. We decided we were not up to staying up all night, nor did we want to crash on a chair in the airport. If money is no object, then any hotel will be willing to accept about 10 or more times what we paid (see our HITT Tip, below).
HITT Tip: Yes, Hong Kong is known to suck money out of your pocket quicker than a vacuum, but I found a truly amazing place for a one-night stay called the Bridal Tea House. It is a chain with a lot of places spread all over the Hong Kong area, but our goal was to be as close to the transit stations and Kowloon as possible with only 17 total hours, including transportation, sleeping and returning to check-in prior to our outbound flight. Thus, we choose the original one called Yau Ma Tei, in the heart of Kowloon. Our room on advance purchase was barely over USD$50 with breakfast! Note: Advance-purchase rates are 35 days out or, priced a little higher when 14 days out. Yes, the room was a cement box, you had to call out your intention to move from one side to the other to avoid bumper cars, and the bathroom was itsy-bitsy, but it was quiet, and had AC and even all the bathroom amenities you could want. For 8 total hours in the room, who cares?

Customs and airport transit

We have read a lot of concerns online about getting out of customs and security. Rest easy, my friends. This is so easy. Customs? What customs? Your baggage is checked through so you whip right out of the airport, no questions asked. Show your passport to enter and that’s it. You’re on your way to the city of lights and skyscrapers. All good there?

Click here to see a map of the arrival area and some arrival information. Click here to see an interactive map of the entire airport, or download PDF maps if you prefer.

Hong Kong airport signs for the airport express. Makes a layover very easy.

Airport Express best for Hong Kong layover

We found out why the local transit railway MTR and its Airport Express is one of the leading systems in the world. What efficiency! No need to worry about missing one and having to wait an hour. They run every 10 minutes, from early to late.

Plenty of signage is everywhere, as well as very helpful English-speaking assistants. Really, you can’t miss it. Really!

HITT Tip: Here is the link to a page of Airport Express information that will tell you all you need or link you to other pages and maps or timetables.

What to expect on transit into Hong Kong

Assuming you have chosen a hotel (if you are overnighting) close to either Kowloon station or Hong Kong central station, it’s easy. Those are the two stops for the Express line from the airport. Travel time from the airport to Hong Kong station is 24 minutes and of course a few minutes less for Kowloon, the stop prior. Click here for a MTR system map; the airport is at the far left on the green line; follow that line to the right and you’ll see Kowloon just after Olympic station, with Hong Kong across the water just after that. Kowloon is where things are “happening,” while Hong Kong Island is much nicer — and more expensive.

Hong Kong layover is so easy with the Airport Express.

Heading out of the Hong Kong airport to the Airport Express area.

HITT Tip: Do not bother with a taxi into town. The Airport Express will be quicker and much cheaper. Unless of course you are staying much farther from one of the two stations mentioned above.

Once you exit the arrival area, the halls directly connect you with huuuuuuuge signage to the Airport Express area. You can buy a ticket from the desk there or from a machine with a credit card. You can also buy it in advance online if you prefer. At the time of this writing, the price to Kowloon was HKD 90 (RT 160) and to Hong Kong Station HKD 160 (180) – about USD$ 10-12 per person each way, depending on your price structure and destination.

Buy the ticket, follow the signage (and the nice women ready to help if you go astray), and board the train from a clean, neat, safe platform. There are even charging stations in some areas on the train if you need a power boost. And the trains too are clean and comfortable.

If you are worried, take a look at this short video by MTR summarizing the journey.

Hong Kong airport express platform.

Not a scrap of litter on the platform and informative signage too.

City arrival for your Hong Kong layover

We arrived efficiently at Kowloon station. That’s when we discovered part of the Airport Express service is an entire network of bus shuttles – free! — that can take you into most parts of the city, with stops at a number of hotels. (Note: The same shuttle network will take you back.)

Do not worry if you are not staying at one of these hotels. The wonderful guides in the hall will help you pick the right one that will stop closest to your destination.

HITT Tip: Be sure to have the address of your hotel or destination handy or have it marked on a map so the assistants can help you pick the correct shuttle. Then be sure to have a map handy to maneuver from your stop to your destination.

The shuttles were also efficient, and we were at our hotel within minutes. We were happy for the shuttles, too, since it was very hot and muggy, and although you can walk to and from the station, it is a rather convoluted route with all of the freeways and overpasses that converge there.

Getting back from your city stay

Same thing in reverse to get back to the airport. Either walk to your chosen station or take a shuttle bus or taxi (if for example if it’s raining since that direction will only be a few bucks). One fantastic benefit is the ability to check luggage you may have directly with your airline at either Kowloon or Hong Kong stations. Thus, no need to maneuver bags on the train or through the airport. Man, they have really thought this out!

Hong Kong Express gates.

Through the turnstiles with your ticket to the Airport Express platform.

This is such a breeze, there is utterly no reason to not head into the city for a Hong Kong layover rather than hang around the airport bored to tears.

HITT Tip: Remember, if you are heading to and from the airport and the city on the same day, the return is also free!

Map of China

In the map below, pins mark the location of all the sites mentioned in our articles on China. Zoom in or out on the map using the controls. Switch easily from map to satellite view. Click on each pin to pull up a tooltip with the name and any additional information.

Heads up! This information on Hong Kong was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). Please be sure to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, request for perfect weather during your entire visit, and any other important details before your adventure.