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Time Out Hong Kong

Ultimate Guide to riding the Hong Kong minibuses

Ride Hong Kong's most underrated form of public transport like a local

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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As Hongkongers, we take a lot of pride in our efficient public transport system. Whether it be enduring icons like the trams and ferries, or the city’s MTR network, it’s been growing increasingly convenient in recent decades to travel anywhere in the city. One overlooked form of getting around is definitely the minibuses that zoom around city streets. While they definitely get you where you need to be relatively quickly, they can definitely be intimidating to ride sometimes, with no-nonsense drivers and confusing routes, so here is our guide on how to ride Hong Kong minibuses like a pro. By Yu An Su

RECOMMENDED: Once you’ve mastered the minibus, why not take a stab at Hong Kong’s iconic trams?

Ultimate Guide to riding the Hong Kong minibuses

The red and the green
Red and green minibuses

The red and the green

All minibuses that operate in Hong Kong either have a red or green roof, and the difference is important. Green minibuses are more common, and follow more stringent regulations, which translates to a more concrete route, more defined operating times, and proper bus stops. Red minibuses, on the other hand, are less regulated and most of the time privately owned. The route is subject to change depending on what the driver thinks will be fastest, as they can pick up and drop off more passengers in a day, and maximise their time out on the road. These minibuses can sometimes run 24 hours a day, making them an extremely popular and convenient option for late-night travellers.

Flagging them down
Flagging down a minibus

Flagging them down

As mentioned, green minibuses usually have a regulated route and distinct bus stops, while red ones don’t. However, even with green minibuses, you can typically just hail them by the road as they approach, and they’ll usually stop anyway. If the bus is full, they won’t stop, so during busy hours, it is useful to hold out the number of fingers for the number of people in your party, so the driver can figure out whether or not the bus will fit your entire party.

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Have your payment ready
Have your cash or travel card ready

Have your payment ready

Upon boarding the minibus, make sure you have your payment ready. Green minibuses are all fitted with an Octopus card reader, or you can choose to pay with cash, although the driver won’t give you change. With red minibuses, only a selection of minibuses have an Octopus reader, but usually the drivers are willing to give you change if you decide to pay cash.

Hong Kong is a fast-paced city, so whichever payment method you choose to use, make sure you have it ready before the bus stops for a seamless boarding; other passengers will likely curse you out in their heads if you’re stood at the door, fumbling for change, and holding up the show.

Safety first
Buckle up where possible

Safety first

Minibuses get you where you need to go fast, which also means they are partial to their own special interpretations of the speed limits. With that in mind, make sure you buckle up on minibuses that are fitted with seatbelts, and hold on to the handle in front or the metal bar along the windows if the feeling takes you.

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Getting off
Alerting the driver

Getting off

Arguably the most nerve-racking part of taking the minibus is when it comes time to get off. Unlike double-deckers, most minibuses don’t come fitted with a bell that alerts the driver someone wants to get off at the next stop. This means that you’ll have to shout out when you want to get off. With green minibuses having distinct stops, this means you can shout ‘ba si zaam yau lok’ (next stop) before your stop. Passengers on red minibuses will know the general route taken by the driver and will often just shout instructions at the drive, such as ‘deng wai’ (traffic lights), ‘juen wan’ (at the turn), or ‘lo hau’ (junction), followed by ‘yau lok’ (getting off). 

One final thing to note is that some passengers might call out a landmark to the driver such as ‘yi yuen’ (hospital) or ‘hok hau’ (school). They might also refer to a street or village name. Even if that place is no longer there, the driver will know where to stop. Most minibus drivers don’t know English, so it pays to know some basic Cantonese so you can effectively call out. After you shout out your stop, the driver will usually raise his hand to show he’s heard you.

Doing your research
Research before you ride

Doing your research

Taking minibuses can be stressful sometimes, especially if you don’t know the route or can’t speak Cantonese. If you want some more peace of mind to enjoy the journey, make sure to do some research on routes of certain buses, or, you can always do a bit of detective work and observe what the other more experienced passengers are doing, so on your next journey, you’ll be more prepared to ride these speed machines. For more information on minibuses, visit the online route directory, where you can get details on routes, times, and prices.

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