Useful Android apps for visiting or living in Hong Kong

Today I thought I’d share with you the apps that I have found most useful since living in Hong Kong. I have an Android phone so these are all Android apps, but most of them are available on Apple. I’ve provided links to download the apps from Google Play. These apps are mostly local to Hong Kong, and mostly free (with one exception). I’d recommend them to anyone who lives in Hong Kong or comes to visit!

I’ll start with the travel apps.

Google Maps

Google Maps

This is a bit of an obvious one, but I find Google Maps so useful! Not only is it great for figuring out where things are, but a recent upgrade included a journey planner which covers a great range of Hong Kong public transport information, including green minibuses! (I don’t think it has the red minibuses in but I’ve not checked). I use it all the time for finding the best way to get from A to B. However, be careful as occasionally it shows the closest bus stop as the crow flies and doesn’t take into account some of the sharp cliffs in Hong Kong – one of the first times I used it, it wanted me to scale a small mountain on foot!

CitybusNWFB

CitybusNWFB app

Not a very sophisticated app but very useful for finding out where buses go and where bus stops are. You can search by location or route number. If you have GPS it can tell you when you are approaching the bus stop you want to get off at. Some bus routes have live bus information on the app, telling you when the next bus will arrive at your stop (but I think this is currently limited to Express and Airport buses). This app covers Citybus and First buses (mainly Hong Kong island).

KMB & LW

KMB bus app

Very similar to the Citybus app but covers the KMB buses, which mainly go on the Kowloon side.

MTR Mobile

MTR Mobile app

I don’t use this app very often but if you’re not familiar with the Hong Kong MTR system this simple-to-use app would be useful for finding your way around. You can use it to find the best route between MTR stations and it will tell you the cost and roughly how long it will take. It also provides alerts when there is a major problem on the MTR system (although this is pretty rare).

HKFerry HD

Hong Kong Ferry app

This is quite a basic app but it does all it needs to, which is to give you the timetables for pretty much all the ferries in Hong Kong. It’ll also tell you when the next one is leaving so you can see if you’re going to make it in time!

Taxi Translator (Paid app)

Hong Kong Taxi Translator app

This is the only non-free app on my list, but in my opinion it’s totally worth the money (which is only HK$7.70, approx. £0.60). It has a Cantonese translation of every street, large residential estate, major buildings and landmarks in Hong Kong, which is so useful when you come across a taxi driver who doesn’t speak English! It will give you both the address in characters and a phonetic version (if you’re brave enough to try and pronounce it – although when I’ve tried it seems to work well). It will also give you a ‘taxi card’ which has the address in large characters, filling the screen, so you can just show your phone to the taxi driver!

Ok, onto the non-travel apps…

MyObservatory

HK Observatory app

This app from the Hong Kong Observatory is pretty much a staple. It’ll tell you weather predictions and much more, including a rain radar (so you can see if rain is coming) and storm track (so you can see if a typhoon is heading your way). One of its most useful features is that it tells you all the warnings issued by the Hong Kong Observatory so you can easily find out if a T8 signal has been hoisted and you get to stay home from work! Being Brits, we’re quite amused by the cold weather warning which pops up when the temperature is expected to go below 14degC – no unnecessary journeys, look after the elderly etc! (if that was the case in the UK, nothing would ever happen!)

Open Rice

Open Rice Hong Kong

This app provides information and reviews of a huge number of Hong Kong restaurants. Very useful for planning a meal out! The only downside is that most of the reviews are in Chinese, but there’s usually one or two in English to give you an idea of what other diners think.

Hong Kong Movie

Hong Kong Movie app

Another straightforward app which tells you what’s on where in Hong Kong cinemas. A nice feature is that most of the cinemas have availability information on the app so you can see what seats are free on a particular showing. You can also book tickets to some of the cinemas through the app as well.

Enjoy Hiking

Enjoy Hiking

This app has information on all the official hiking paths in Hong Kong, divided into Family Walks, Nature Trails, Country Trails and Long Trails. You can also search for walks roughly by region. Whilst it’s a really useful app for finding out what walks are where (and also how to get to and from them), the information on each walk is pretty limited and the accompanying maps can be a little hard to read. Another minor annoyance (although not the app’s fault) is that some of the walks start in quite random places so you have to hike for a while just to get to the start of the walk!

Whatsapp

whatsapp

This isn’t technically a Hong Kong app but I hadn’t come across this app until I came to Hong Kong. Everyone uses it here! It’s basically an internet based messaging system, so as long as you have wifi or mobile data you can send text messages for free. The app allows you to send a message to anyone in your contacts who also has Whatsapp on their phone. It’s really useful here because inter-network texts aren’t free (unlike in the UK) and you often don’t know which of your friends are on the same network as you! Being an expat abroad, it’s also useful for sending free messages to friends back home.

Pleco

Pleco app

This Chinese dictionary app is more useful for people with a basic understanding of Chinese characters (i.e. not me, but my husband finds it really useful). You can type in English, pinyin or draw characters and the app will give you possible meanings. It’s mainly for Mandarin speakers but also has Cantonese pronunciations as well as both simplified and traditional characters, making it useful in Hong Kong or mainland China. It also has a flashcard feature to help you to learn Chinese characters if you wish.

So those are my favourite apps to use in Hong Kong. Do you agree? Do you have any other recommendations? I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

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Pat Sin Leng Nature Trail: a walk in the countryside

We walked the Pat Sin Leng nature trail with some friends in February and really enjoyed it. It’s a fairly gentle hike along the edge of Plover Cove and continues north into some fairly remote countryside close to the Chinese border, finishing at Bride’s Pool. We found the hike through the Enjoy Hiking app, but the app is pretty low on detail so we supplemented it with Google Maps! The app says that the walk takes about 2 hours. To be honest, I can’t remember how long it took us, but I don’t think it was much different to what we were expecting.

The walk starts in Tai Mei Tuk. To get to this small village, take the MTR to Tai Po Market and then hop on the 75K to Tai Mei Tuk. It takes a while but it’s fairly straightforward!

Tai Mei Tuk is a nice little village which had a very ‘holiday’ feel on the day that we went, with lots of Hong Kongers visiting from the city and cycling around or riding on pedal carts. There are several restaurants to choose from if you want lunch. We ate at a Thai restaurant (unfortunately I can’t remember the name) which was perfectly acceptable.

This was the view from the waterfront in the village:

Tai Mei Tuk waterfront view

We also went for a walk along part of the dam which has been built across the end of Plover Cove, turning it into a reservoir. This is the view into the reservoir:

Plover Cove from the dam

After that we thought it was about time we started the walk! So we headed back into the town and walked up Bride’s Pool Road until we came to the start of the walk, which is clearly signposted. The first part of the walk takes you uphill, partway up a very large hill that the Wilson trail goes over. It is a bit of a climb, but not too challenging.

Walking uphill

As you ascend, you can look back and look out over Tai Mei Tuk and the beautiful landscape behind.

Tai Mei Tuk from Pat Sin Leng nature trail

The walk is pretty wooded at this stage, but every now and again you get glimpses of Plover Cove, which you are walking around the edge of.

Plover Cover from Pat Sin Leng nature trail

As you continue past the end of Plover Cove, the views open up and you find yourself in pretty remote countryside. At this point, our mobile phones went into ‘roaming’ mode as they thought we were in China! We were quite close to the border, and saw some glimpses of a large Chinese town in the distance but I couldn’t get a good photograph of it. But other than that, there was barely an sign of human life to be seen.

Open countryside in northern New Territories

Continuing through the open countryside, the path descended, eventually hitting Bride’s Pool Road again. We crossed the road and descended further to Bride’s Pool. To be honest, it was a little disappointing as it was pretty dry – February is not the time of year to go if you want to see a good waterfall! (you should probably go in spring or autumn after it’s been raining) But it was a nice spot nonetheless.

Brides Pool in February

IMPORTANT TIP: There is a bus (275R) which runs along Bride’s Pool Road and will take you back to Tai Mei Tuk, but it only runs on Sundays and public holidays. If you happen to do the walk on another day of the week, you can either walk back to Tai Mei Tuk along Bride’s Pool Road (which will probably take at least an hour) or do what we did, which was to take a taxi! We didn’t have to wait very long for one to drive past on a Saturday afternoon either.

So, for a nice walk and a fairly straightforward way to escape the city, I’d recommend the Pat Sin Leng nature trail. Have you tried it? What did you think?

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Featured blog: bluebalu

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts last week. A combination of being very pregnant and celebrating Tom’s birthday meant that I didn’t get much done!

This week’s featured blog is bluebalu: Living in Hong Kong, written by Ruth. The blog features a range of posts about life in Hong Kong, including lots of great photography, articles about hiking and restaurant reviews and tips on what to do and see in Hong Kong! She posts every day, so you are treated to regular updates!

Describe your blog in one or two sentences.

I started my blog ‘bluebalu: living in Hong Kong’ in January 2011 to keep my friends and family in Europe updated about my life in Hong Kong. Since then my blog has evolved and I write for a wide audience of people interested in what’s happening in Hong Kong in general, from good places to eat, scenic routes to hike, exhibitions to visit, interesting photo locations as well as trips to other cities and countries in Asia.

Ruth

What made you decide to start a blog?

My main reason was to stay in touch with friends and family, then over time, it became a way to keep track of what I was experiencing in Hong Kong and an outlet for my pictures and stories.

People of Temple Street 1

Where do you get your inspiration?

From everywhere around me – sometimes it’s a story that I read on the SCMP or the web. Other times it’s something my colleagues told me over lunch or what I’ve overhead on the hiking trails. A few times I just looked through the pictures I had recently taken and picked the best to share on my blog.

Tram travel in B&W

What has been the highlight of working on your blog so far?

It allowed me to connect with some really great people. I’ve had quite a few emails from people that have lived in Hong Kong many years ago and are sharing their thoughts and experiences. Other times I received emails from travellers that are soon coming to Hong Kong and either would like to have a few tips or would even like to meet up for some dim sum or drinks.

quintessentially HK 1 - people eating on the street

What do you like to do when not working on your blog?

Hiking, taking pictures and playing with my kitten Sam, a British Shorthair cat that we’ve adopted in May this year.

Shopkeeper in Wan Chai in B&w

What is coming up in future posts?

I don’t plan my posts – they just happen. I’m currently blogging about my recent trip to Singapore, then I’ll feature some new restaurants I’ve tried recently in Hong Kong.

quintessentially HK 2 - raining day in Wan Chai

What are your top three favourite blogs?

Can I select more than three? When it comes to Hong Kong and Macau I love the recipes on http://jasmineandginger.blogspot.hk/, the food reviews on http://www.hungrysu.com/ and the pictures & stories on http://julianaloh.com/. Jen from http://expatlingo.com/ makes me laugh with her humour and cartoons and Gary’s pictures on http://www.f8photography.com.hk/blog/ are mind-blowing.

Thanks Ruth! Please check out bluebalu: Living in Hong Kong to see more of Ruth’s great photography and insights into Hong Kong life.

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Maclehose trail stage 2: hills, beaches and lots of rain!

One weekend in December last year, Tom and I decided to venture out to do some hiking in the Sai Kung area, an area which we had never been to before. It’s a small(ish) town on the Eastern side of the New Territories, but is known as a great area for watersports, seafood and hiking. Many people live there and commute into Hong Kong as prices are cheaper out there and you can maybe get a whole house (unheard of!).

We decided to walk Stage 2 of the Maclehose Trail, a trail which winds its way from East to West across the New Territories (the New Territories is the name for the area of Hong Kong SAR on the mainland outside of the built up area directly opposite Hong Kong Island). Stage 2 sounded like it would be one of the more interesting stages of the trail to walk, so we plumped for that and set off to Sai Kung.

Sai Kung isn’t the easiest place to get to, although it’s not as bad as we initially thought. The best ways are to go to Diamond Hill MTR and take the 92 bus, or go to Hang Hau MTR and take the 101 minibus. It still takes over an hour to get there from Hong Kong Island though!

Unfortunately, once you’ve made your way to Sai Kung, you’re still nowhere near the start of the trail! The most straightforward way to get there is to take the 29R minibus, which starts from outside MacDonalds on Chan Man Street (timetable). We caught the 11.30am bus on a Saturday, although it didn’t actually leave till close to midday! The minibus takes you to Sai Wan Pavillion. From there, take the path down until you join the trail (which is well signposted). You get some lovely views of High Island reservoir on your way down.

High Island reservoir

When you reach the trail, turn left and keep following it! (I realise now that Stage 2 of the trail actually started a little way south of where we joined the trail but there seems little point walking back to the start just to retrace your steps again) First of all you go down to the two beaches at Sai Wan Village and then up over a headland. If the tide is out you can walk up the side of the headland, but if not then you have to use the bridge at the back of the beach. By this point in our walk it had started raining.

Sai Wan beaches

As you go over the top of the headland, you are greeted with the sight of two beaches in front of you. These are Ham Tim Wan (the closest) and Tai Long Wan (further away). Luckily the rain stopped for long enough to take a photograph!

Ham Tin Wan and Tai Long Wan

The path descends to Ham Tin Wan and goes inland but we walked across the beach and over this plank bridge to the restaurants where you can stop for some refreshments.

Plank bridge at Ham Tin

We walked straight through the restaurants and through Ham Tin village behind. At the back of Ham Tin village, before the path takes you through fields, there is a turning on the right. Follow this path round the back of the headland to reach Tai Long Wan. This beach is supposed to be the most pristine and idyllic in Hong Kong but unfortunately it was still raining and so it just looked a bit grey and wet to us!

Tai Long Wan

Tai Long Wan 2

Retrace your steps back to the path through Ham Tin village and continue through the fields and into the jungle. The path (which is very well concreted and has a lot of steps) then takes you over a very large hill and was quite hard work in the rain! You couldn’t see a lot either due to the density of trees, which was a bit disappointing.

Luckily, you are rewarded with a descent after the hard work of the climb, and this descent finishes at the deserted village of Chek Keng where the path takes you along the edge of the harbour. This is a very idyllic place, and happily for us it had stopped raining so we paused here for a while. It’s very quiet and the water was so still!

Chek Keng 1

Chek Keng 2Chek Keng 3

If you don’t want to carry on you may be able to flag down a small boat here to take you to Wong Shek, or if you head east around the harbour you get to the ferry pier where you can catch a ferry there instead (check ferry timetables first, as they’re not very frequent!).

However, after a little while it started raining again so we carried on, to finish the last part of the trail. Unfortunately, this was uphill again as the path climbs to meet the road between Wong Shek and Sai Kung. This was not fun, we were both pretty tired by this point and the rain was relentless! But we made it, and waited at the bus stop there to catch a 94 bus back to Sai Kung. We had walked about 12km, which I think was the longest I’d ever walked in a day! We caught the 101 minibus straight home as we were soaked, but a much nicer way to finish the day would be dinner at one of Sai Kung’s many restaurants.

If you fancy a long hike in a more remote part of Hong Kong, then I’d recommend this walk highly. It was pretty interesting. But check the weather forecast first – it’s not much fun in the rain!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

An uphill climb to Jardine’s Lookout

Jardine’s Lookout is a hill in Hong Kong with a great view from the top. It is situated near Happy Valley and Tai Hang. (Confusingly there’s also a housing estate called Jardine’s Lookout nearby, but we’re interested in the hill!) The name comes from William Jardine (founder of Jardine Matheson), who placed a watchman at the top of the hill to keep an eye out for incoming ships from Britain and India. When a ship was spotted, he was alerted and a boat was sent out to meet the ship and gain the first news of the world markets (ref).

The walk up to the top of Jardine’s Lookout was one of the first ‘hikes’ we attempted in Hong Kong. We made the mistake of doing it in September, when the temperatures were starting to fall after the summer but it was still pretty hot which made it quite hard work! I’d recommend that you leave any hikes until November at the earliest. It is very comfortable to hike in winter here but you would need to stop when the wet season starts in spring as it makes some of the less well-paved paths more slippery and some paths turn into fords.

Anyway, back to Jardine’s Lookout. I said it was a ‘hike’ but it’s actually a fairly short walk by Hong Kong hiking standards. For those who are in the mood for a proper hike, the path (which is part of the Hong Kong trail) does continue on after you get to the top and goes down the other side and then up Mount Butler. I’ve only done this once but it was pretty hard work.

To get to the walk to Jardine’s Lookout, you can take the number 6 or 66 bus (both buses start in Central and go through Admiralty and Wanchai) and get off at stop ‘Wong Nai Chung Reservoir Park’. This is right next to a petrol station with a little shop, useful for stocking up on water and snacks if needed.

On the road in front of you there is a road bridge going over it, which is the road you want to be on. Take the steps up to this road, turn left and start walking up the road. About halfway up there are some toilets, again you might find these useful! Keep going up the road (which is harder work than it looks) and on the left hand side before you get to Parkview is the entrance to the walk. It has a sign with lots of warnings about how it’s a really challenging walk and should only be attempted by experienced walkers, and also which weather conditions you should avoid (which covered most days in Hong Kong!). Looking back, these are pretty over-the-top – yes, the walk is a bit of a climb but it’s on a concrete path with steps all the way up. But Hong Kongers take their hiking very seriously, and most people you see out hiking will be in lycra with proper walking shoes and walking poles. I climbed to Jardine’s Lookout in a skirt, some normal but robust shoes and carrying a handbag! I got some strange looks! But I didn’t think these things hindered me, it’s really not that difficult a walk.

Starting at the warning sign, get walking up those steps! There are some flatter bits on the way up but it’s mostly just steps. About halfway up you are rewarded with some beautiful views out onto the south side of the island and the hills around you.

Hong Kong hills

Looking down to Deep Water Bay

Looking east to Tai Tam Reservoir

And then just keep climbing till you get to the top! I can’t really remember how long it took to climb from the sign to the top, perhaps 45 minutes? At the top there is a little open bit off the path with a bench and some amazing views over the north side of Hong Kong island and Kowloon. It really is worth the climb.

Wide view from Jardines Lookout

View from Jardines Lookout

And one with me looking very hot and red-faced (it really was quite a climb and there was very little shade!):

Me with the view

Have you climbed to Jardine’s Lookout? How did you find it? I enjoyed it but I think it just proved that I’m really not very fit!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel

Hong Pak – a walk with a nice surprise at the end

One weekend Tom and I wanted to go on a fairly short, easy walk so we looked on our Enjoy Hiking app and found the Hong Pak country trail. It’s rated as 1/4 (meaning Easy) is a level walk and is 3.3km long. However, the app also very briefly mentions that you have to walk uphill for 30 minutes to get to the start of the walk!

To get to the start of the trail, exit the Quarry Bay MTR station at the main exit, turn right and walk along the road for about 5 minutes until you come to a road (Mount Parker Road). Turn right up the road and keep following it up for about 30 minutes. The road is semi-pedestrianised and if you kept going you would eventually join the Hong Kong trail. You pass a BBQ area and the entrance to Quarry Bay Tree Walk on your way up.

When you see this sign, turn left…

Entrance to Hong Pak country trail

…and then immediately right. The trail is signposted to Kornhill, which is the estate you reach at the end of the walk. Follow the trail round. You walk around a pretty level contour around a large valley leading down to Tai Koo. It is mostly forested but every now and again it opens out to lovely views looking back over Quarry Bay and Tai Koo and looking round to the surrounding hills and the other side of the valley.

Quarry bay from Hong Pak walk

Hills around Tai Koo

Mount Parker radar station

As you get to about 3/4 of the way round (after about 45 minutes), you start walking past forks in the path. Take the left fork each time. At the third fork however, you might want to walk for about 30 seconds down the right fork because you come out on top of a large rock with a great view over Tai Koo and the harbour. Definitely made the whole walk worthwhile for me! I’ve done it twice now and both times I’ve stayed there for about 20 minutes just taking in the view.

Panorama view over Tai Koo

Shau Kei Wan typhoon shelter

Quarry Bay from Hong Pak country trail

After you’re done with the view, retrace your steps to the fork and take the other path. Shortly after this you should start descending. Again, at each fork take the left fork until you come to a fairly open area which is the other end of the Tree Walk.

This time take the right fork which will take you to Kornhill. Just keep walking down the path. You will walk along the storm drain for a while and will come out into the housing estate. Keep walking down the road (Greig Road) until you get to the main road (King’s Road). Then turn right and after about 5 minutes you should reach an entrance to Tai Koo MTR station.

This is a really pleasant walk, but the view at the end is definitely the highlight! We keep thinking we’ll take a picnic up but then we remember how much you have to walk upwards to get to the viewpoint so we haven’t done it yet!

Thanks for reading!

Rachel