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Hong Kong Life Hacks

Time-saving, cost-cutting tips and tricks guaranteed to improve your life. By HK Staff.

Nov 07, 2013

We’re sick and tired of reading endless Buzzfeed posts about ingenious alternate uses for empty shampoo bottles, so we came up with our own Hong Kong life hacks—also known as “tips” to the pre-internet generation—for you lucky readers. Read on, and happy hacking!

01: Food and Drink

These nuggets of wisdom will leave you the envy of your foodie friends.

Chopstick Fix If you always break the delicate skin of your xiaolongbao dumplings when you pick them up, dip the ends of your chopsticks in vinegar first. We first saw a waitress in a Shanghainese restaurant do it, and it changed our lives forever.

Ice to Meet You You’re at a house party but due to a stupid oversight, all you’ve got is warm beer and a bag of ice. Throw the ice and some water into a bucket, add a handful of salt, throw in the beer, and stir. You’ll have an ice-cold brew in about three minutes. The science here is that salt lowers the freezing temperature of the water. The ice cubes melt faster, and your beer gets colder, quicker.

Let’s Spoon A Chinese porcelain spoon is perfectly weighted so it can also serve as a sauce caddy.

Saline Solution If you’re sick of your salt getting damp in Hong Kong’s sweltering humidity, add a teaspoon of rice into the salt cellar to absorb moisture.

You’ll Brine ‘Er Pineapple too acidic? Here’s a Chinese cuisine trick: brine it in salty water for half an hour to take the sharpness out of it.

Dope Dip So you’re having the most middle-class dinner party ever. You want to make hummus, but you can’t find tahini anywhere! Chinese sesame paste is cheap, works almost as well and can be found in the condiments aisle of any supermarket.

Fruit Tips Chop dragonfruit or kiwis in half and excavate with a spoon. Open a mangosteen by gripping firmly and twisting. It will neatly shear in half. Open durians inside chemical laboratory fume hoods.

02: Getting Around

Navigate the vagaries of Hong Kong’s sometimes baffling transport system with childlike wonder and ease.

Bonus System Trapped somewhere remote and the taxi dispatcher can’t convince anyone to pick you up? Offer an extra $20 to the cabbie who’ll come to get you. Raise your “collector bonus” in $10 increments until someone bites.

Photo Recall New job? Use your phone to take a photo of the bus stop nearest your office, as a handy reminder of which buses run near you. Bonus: this stuff looks awesome on Instagram.

Screw Queues If the taxi queue on Pedder Street is ridiculous, walk three minutes over to the Landmark Mandarin and get one there. Also, the back of World Wide House by MTR Exit A on Connaught Road almost always has taxis waiting.

Fare Play This holy text contains the location of all the MTR fare discount terminals. Learn it and save cash wherever you go.

Better Timing Not sure how long your journey will take? The average travel time (including waiting) between MTR stations is two minutes. The Island, Tseun Wan, Kwun Tong, and Tseung Kwan O lines all take half an hour to run their full lengths.

Escape Routes Hate how long it takes to get out of Causeway Bay station? Always take Exit F, which brings you out at Jardine’s Crescent, opposite the Sogo intersection. It’s by far the quickest route. NEVER take Exit A, through the subterranean suckhole, to Times Square.

03: Sneaky Solutions

The hacks that the fat cats in the Central Liaison Office don’t want you to know...

Lift Life Pressed the wrong elevator button? Lifts in many modern buildings are equipped with a “cancel” option. Just hit the button you accidentally pressed twice, quickly, and if you’re lucky it might cancel out.

When You Gotta Go All MTR stations have staff bathrooms, and MTR employees have to let you use it, if you’re desperate enough to go to the Customer Service desk and ask.

Hotel Hack Heard good things about China Club but not a member? If you have a black Amex, you can eat there no problem. Don’t have the $38,800 annual fee lying around? Get a hotel concierge to book for you.

Ritz Blitz Want to check out the view from the ICC? Don’t drop $168 each on the Sky100 observation deck. Instead, go for afternoon tea at the Ritz, two floors above. On a weekday it’s $328 for one or $568 for two. That’s the same as going to Sky100 and then buying a $116 lunch.


HK Life Apps

Find the love of your life or a place to pee—it all gets easier with these apps. By Andrea Lo.

Toilet Rush
Toilet Rush is the ultimate app for those desperate moments. It lists hundreds of public bathrooms near you. It also tells you whether or not these bathrooms have amenities like showers or baby-changing facilities—and also if they provide toilet paper. Because nothing is worse than finding out the hard way.

Hong Kong Taxi Translator/Taxiwise
Non-Cantonese speakers can rejoice at the Hong Kong Taxi Translator, which offers Chinese translations of locations around town. Taxiwise does the same thing, while also offering a built-in taxi-booking service—no more desperate hailing at 2am.

Paktor—named after the Canto word for “dating”—helps you find booty calls attractive individuals nearby. If you like them and they like you back, then a chat screen pops up for you to take it to the next level. You can remain anonymous (although not when you actually meet).

Hong Kong eTransport
The government’s eTransport app makes life a little easier by allowing you to plan your journey with every mode of transport possible. If it’s close by, it even tells you that “walking may be an option.” If you hadn’t stopped to look it up on your phone, you could have been there by now.

CX Mobile
This is one for all the jetsetters. Cathay Pacific’s app allows you to check in, and check out the statuses of incoming and outgoing flights. If you’re using the iPad version, you can even book flights.


04: Save Some Cash

Life hacks for your wallet.

Ferry Saver Going to Macau? You’ll save 15-20 percent by picking up a ferry ticket from the travel agents right next to the ticket counters. That’s 20 percent more cash you can lose in a casino instead!

Free Parking Are tickets at Ocean Park too expensive? If you have an HKID they’ll let you in for free on your birthday! Your friends still have to pay, though. Chumps.

Now Filming The next time you’re in Yau Ma Tei, drop into Broadway Cinematheque (3 Public Square St., Yau Ma Tei, 2388-0002). It sells a year-long membership card for Broadway cinemas, with a points system where every 10th movie is free. You also get discounted food, a free movie when you join and one on your birthday, and free DVD rentals. All for just $100.

Lucky Gym Ditch the hyper-expensive gyms and join the cheap government sports facilities. Sit through a free, three-hour-long briefing session and then you can work out in cheap surrounds for $14/hour or $180/month.

It Takes Tue Most movie theaters in Hong Kong do discount tickets on Tuesdays.

Drug Score Ditch Watsons and Mannings and hit up your local pharmacy. Not only are the medicines far cheaper, you can also stock up on shampoos, deodorants, toilet paper and other non-food groceries for a fraction of the price.

05: Time-Savers

Jump the queue without offending your fellow citizens.

Flat Pack Hack When heading to Ikea in Causeway Bay on a busy weekend, instead of walking around the entire store, take the elevator to the left of the entrance, and enter via the checkout. Also handy if you want to skip the furniture and just buy a bag
of frozen meatballs.

I’ll Have Some Fries With That Crazy McDonald’s queue got you down? Stroll over to McCafe and order your fries and burgers there. As long as you order something from the McCafe menu as well, such as a coffee or tea, they’ll take the order.

Ticket Outta Here If you’re getting out of baggage claim at HKG and want to take the Airport Express, skip the long ticket line in the terminal building and just get on the train. You can buy your ticket from the attendant at Kowloon or Central station before you swipe out, and there’s never a queue. Also, always buy a group ticket from the ticketing counter. You’ll save up to 40 percent. Not in a group? Make a friend!

I Just Called To… Oh OK Then Tired of time-wasting sales calls? Call 1835-000 to add yourself to the do-not-call register. Annoying, tedious conversations will be a thing of the past, except for when your family calls.

Swear By Menswear When you’re shopping for food at Marks & Spencers and the checkout line in the food hall is too long, just hit up the menswear counter, which is never busy. This is also a great excuse to buy more socks. You need more socks.

06: Fresh off the Boat?

Navigating Hong Kong, for total n00bs.

Talking Shift Taxi drivers change shifts at 4pm. Avoid trying to flag down a cab around 4pm AT ALL COSTS.

You’re Forked Can’t use chopsticks? Hold the top chopstick as you would a pen. The bottom one rests in the crook between your thumb and fourth finger, and doesn’t move at all. Don’t rest your chopsticks on the table, and don’t stick them upright in your food. Actually, just ask for a fork.

Kings of Convenience 7-Eleven is not only a magical place where you can buy microwave dumplings and Pocari Sweat. You can also take care of a lot of “life admin” there. You can pay utility bills, purchase stamps, fax or photocopy documents, charge your phone (if the battery’s removable—sorry iPhone slaves), and get up to $500 cashback if you make a purchase with your EPS card—even if it’s just a pack of gum.

Gor Hoi Need to get a taxi across the harbor? Flag one down that has the “for hire” sign covered by a red “out of service” card. That’s the sign that that taxi wants to cross the harbor (“gor hoi”); you won’t have to pay the return tunnel toll. Signal your intentions to the driver by doing an “under the water” gesture with your hand.

Space Out Enjoy the awesome public spaces that you can chill in, free of charge. These include the rooftops at IFC Mall, Pacific Place, Star Ferry Pier and The Pawn; Times Square’s sky garden on level 13; the outdoor terraces at Dragon-i and Watermark, to name just a few. Go, bring a bag of 7-Eleven beers, and no one is allowed to shift you. Warning: you might have to do battle with hordes of international school kids with exactly the same idea.

07: Smart Moves

Impress your friends with these genius (and yet somehow obvious) tips.

Top Tip Trying to find a phone number for a restaurant but—shock horror—it’s so new it’s not on Openrice yet? Here’s a life hack so old school, it’s actually just a “tip”—call 1081, directory enquiries.

Icy Reception When you’re going on a junk trip, ask the boat company to supply drinking ice. It’ll save you from having to buy your own and have it melt to a puddle as you wait for latecomers. The regular large blocks of ice junks provide are for chilling beverages, and are not safe to put into drinks.

Lai See Reception If you’re going to a wedding and don’t want your (no doubt incredibly generous) lai see to get muddled up with everyone else’s, write a signed, heartfelt message on the inside of the back of the envelope. That way, the couple will know who to thank.

Bite Begone If you spend all summer suffering from bites caused by tiny, annoying sandflies, rub some body oil on exposed skin. The slippery substance forms a barrier between those itchy little bugs and your tender, tasty flesh, and they won’t be able to take a bite. Bonus: you will look sexy and gleaming all day long.


Mall Mayhem

Our malls can leave you feeling like a rat in a nightmarish maze. Yannie Chan and Sean Hebert help you find those cinemas and lifts with ease.

Hysan Place

Where: 500 Hennessy Rd, Causeway Bay.
Difficulty: 3/5, increasing to a 4 if you’re not dressed like a banker, as it’s hard to navigate a mall while avoiding the disapproving stares of store greeters.
Get to... Eslite: From street level, get on the escalators to the right of Joyce Beauty. The escalators will take you straight to Eslite.
Get to… the food court and restaurants: Take escalators to Eslite, and then the center escalators up.
Getting out: This is the real challenge, as those direct-access escalators only go up. Head for the lift.


Where: 63 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui.
Difficulty: 3/5 Once you get over the fact that the people-to-escalator ratio is approximately 1:1, it’s not overly challenging to navigate.
Get to… UA Cinemas: Enter from the ground floor entrance on Peking Road, hang a left when you get to Marks and Spencer, and ride the lift to 7/F. You’ll sometimes wait for a few minutes, but it beats riding 43 separate escalators. There are literally 43 of them. Buy your popcorn before you head up the escalator to the IMAX theater, as once you’re up there there’s no easy way down.
Get to... the bars and restaurants on 20/F to 31/F: You’ll need to find the main lift. Take the escalator closest to MTR exit R, which skips four floors and takes you straight to the “LB” floor. Turn around and you’ll see the lift lobby. Entering via Peking Road? Take the longer escalator to your left. Walk straight. Good luck.

The One

Where: 100 Nathan Rd., Tsim Sha Tsui.
Difficulty: 5/5. The layout is so confusing, you’d think MC Escher was the architect.
Get to… the main lift: If you’re coming from Nathan Road, go up two escalators and then it’s straight on. Remember: the lifts are key to getting anywhere in this mall. If you’re using the Carnarvon Road entrance, get on the lift immediately on your right and hit “UG2.” From there, walk the length of the mall and you’ll see the lift lobby.
Get to… the cinema: Queue for the lifts in the center. Hit 6/F, and provide elevator music for the amusement of the other passengers.
Get to… the roof: No idea. But we hear that Yoshi is up there with a wing cap.

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