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Guide to Exploring Hong Kong on Minibuses

A guide to taking the minibus without getting yelled at.

· 5 min read

Hong Kong has one of the best public transport networks in the world, and it is very easy for you to get around by the MTR or public buses. But if you were walking along the streets of Hong Kong, it is hard to miss the iconic minibuses — or the public light buses.

These buses are not the most tourist-friendly mode of transport, and you might not necessarily need to take these minibuses to help you get around, but they definitely are efficient. And if you are looking for a truly local experience, you should try taking a ride on one of these buses.

Source: Alexander Synaptic
Source: Alexander Synaptic

What are Minibuses?

Hong Kong public light buses, also known as "minibuses", are a popular mode of transportation in Hong Kong. They are smaller than regular buses but larger than taxis, and can carry up to either 16 or 19 passengers, depending on the vehicle. Minibuses are known to be efficient and fast, but what truly sets these minibuses apart from the regular buses are that the drivers often disregard any form of speed limit or service standards.

Types of Minibuses

There are two types of minibuses in Hong Kong: green and red. They are differentiated by the colours of the roof of these buses. But what makes them different from each other is not only the colour of the roof. The primary difference between the two is that green buses are regulated and operate on a schedule along fixed routes; and the red minibuses are mostly privately operated and less regulated, and do not follow a fixed route or schedule. The fares for the red buses are also generally higher.

Given the difference between the two, there are also different practices when taking these buses.

Green Minibuses

Of the two, the green minibuses are easier to navigate and more similar to the normal public buses.

Source: HSubki Menrenz
Source: HSubki Menrenz

Which minibus to take?

Green minibuses all have numbers displayed, and they always follow a fixed route. It is fairly straightforward to identify which minibus to take — just know where you want to head and check that it is along the minibus’ route.

Bus Fares and Payment

The green minibuses charge a flat fare. You can pay in either cash or use the Octopus card. If you are paying by cash, be sure to prepare exact change as change will not be given. On the green minibuses, you should pay your fare upon boarding.

Boarding and Alighting

As green minibuses operate along a fixed route, you will have to wait at a bus stop. Similar to how you would flag down a normal bus, simply wave your hand to signal the driver to stop.

Most of the green minibuses are now equipped with a bell that you can use to signal that you want to alight. If you are on board a minibus that does not have the bell, when you want to alight, just yell at the driver in advance to let him know you want to alight. He will usually wave his hand to signal that he heard you.

But even if the minibus is equipped with a bell, sometimes the driver would ask where you want to go as you are boarding, so be prepared with your answer. In these cases, even if you don’t press the bell, the driver will stop at those stops and let you know when you have arrived.

Red Minibuses

Now, the red minibuses can be rather overwhelming and you probably need to do more research when taking these minibuses.

Source: Him9
Source: Him9

Which minibus to take?

Red minibuses do not follow a fixed route or schedule — that means that the red minibuses can deviate from their original route due to road conditions or where passengers want to go. Unlike regular buses, the red minibuses do not have numbers displayed. Instead, the buses will display on the windscreen a placard with the destination that it is heading to.

So to identify if the minibus will bring you to your destination, you should have a rough idea of where it is operating, and if your destination is along the way.

Bus Fares and Payment

The fares for red minibuses are not fixed, and can fluctuate depending on factors like destination or weather conditions. On public holidays, the fares could also increase. The fares for the red minibuses are typically also printed (or written) on a placard and displayed on the windscreen so you will see it as the minibus approaches.

Since the fares could fluctuate, fares are usually paid on alighting. You will be informed if the fare deviates from what was on the placard. Not all red minibuses are equipped with the Octopus card reader, so it is best to have cash ready. If you don’t have the exact amount, change is usually given on the red minibuses — but make sure that you have small bills ready so it is easier for the driver to pass you your change.

Boarding and Alighting

To board the red minibuses, you simply wave your hand like you would when you are flagging down a taxi. You don’t have to be at any designated stop, and as long as it is an area that is legal for the minibus to stop, it will stop.

Since the red minibus doesn’t follow a fixed route, when you are boarding, let the driver know where you want to go so that they can adjust the route to fit your destination if needed. When you want to alight, simply yell at the driver to let him know that you want to alight, and he will usually acknowledge with a wave of his hand. Passengers will typically let the driver know where they want to alight by giving instructions like ‘at the traffic light’ or ‘at the junction’.

Phrases you need to know

Most of the minibus drivers speak only Cantonese — they are unlikely to be able to speak English and probably not even Mandarin. Since there will be quite a bit of yelling at the driver, especially on the red minibuses, here are some key phrases that will come in handy:

  • *Yau Lok: *I want to alight
  • *Ba Si Zaam Yau Lok: *I want to alight at the bus stop
  • Deng Wai Yau Lok: I want to alight at the traffic light
  • Juen Wan Yau Lok: I want to alight at the the turn
  • *Lo Hau Yau Lok: *I want to alight at the junction

Of course, it will be very useful if you also knew the Cantonese name of your destination.

Source: Al Bar Ting Kong Yu
Source: Al Bar Ting Kong Yu

Tips and Etiquette

The minibus drivers are known to be rather fiery. Here are some tips to help you reduce the chances of getting yelled at by the driver:

  • Don’t choose a seat. Once you are on board, just sit down at any available seat; the drivers wouldn’t like it if they had to wait for you to get a seat before they can drive off.
  • Belt up! While there are speed limits imposed on these minibuses, the drivers tend to ignore them. Minibuses are also more prone to accidents, so be sure to buckle up. You could also be fined if a police caught you without a seat belt.
  • Always have your octopus card and/or cash ready. You don’t want to be fumbling with your purse and wallet when boarding or alighting - that will definitely annoy the heck out of the driver…and possibly the passengers too.
  • For more information on the green minibus routes along with other information of the public transport in Hong Kong, download the HKeMobility app (App Store | Google Play).
  • Take note that if the minibus is full, the driver wouldn’t stop even if you flagged it down. If you are travelling in a group, it will be useful to show the number of people in your party when flagging down the minibus so the driver will know if there are sufficient seats.