Apps for Hong Kong Part 1

Category: Tech Today

I recently revisited old haunts in Hong Kong and a few of the well-known tourist traps in Kowloon just for the hell of it. I was saddened by how visitors were so dependent on wireless access and apps. At the Peak, a few Europeans were more concerned about the lack of free and fast Wi-Fi than the brilliant view. In Nathan Road, Americans were walking head down, scrutinizing Google Maps or some crappy app and ignoring the colorful experience of "The Golden Mile" of Hong Kong.

It's sad that a data plan, GPS and travel apps are now "indispensable" for visiting countries. Rather than learning a few words in Cantonese and brandishing an obtuse map that refuses to fold properly, the visitor now leans heavily on colorful apps that just link to Wikipedia (groan!) and aren't nearly as useful as a good book on history (try Austin Coates' grossly biased but highly entertaining narrative on Hong Kong and Macao).

Hong Kong has definitely lost its pep and reputation as the "Gateway to the Orient", having relinquished its popularity to Thailand's exciting cities, the glitz and glamor of Seoul and Tokyo, and Singapore's redundant materialism. However, I'm extremely fond of pre and post-handover Hong Kong and can attest that it's a city that is as navigable as Manhattan, Singapore, or London. Moreover, it's still worth a visit even after all these years.

If you insist on using apps in Hong Kong, then all you really need are three: a good map of the MTR, a basic map of Hong Kong (you can use Bing, Nokia, or Google Maps), and an app to assist you with your itinerary if you didn't plan ahead. Forget about translator apps or GPS. HK has plenty of English signs to point you in the right direction and unlike Shanghai, most of the locals can speak English. Loading your smartphone or tablet with too many apps just takes up precious space on your device and slows you down.

There are tons of available Hong Kong apps for iOS and Android and I tried out a few during my recent visit just to write this article. Here are a few I recommend and some that may be useful. I'm partial to offline apps - I'm a firm believer that a good app can be used even if you're disconnected from the Internet. Once again, I emphasis that the fewer apps you bring along, the better:

1. rGuide's HK Railways - The developers of this app also provide similar maps for Asian cities. There are plenty of MTR maps for Hong Kong but I used this one because it had the fewest features. The MTR is the best way to get around Hong Kong and the best investment during your trip is the multi-purpose Octopus Card (HKD 150 with a deposit that can be claimed at the airport after your trip). The HK Railways app was a bit slow loading on my old iPod Touch, but a more recent device such as the recent iPad Mini and iPad 2 can handle it easily.

2. DiscoverHK 720 - The Hong Kong Tourism Board developed a set of 'Discover Hong Kong Guides' to assist the clueless foreigner. All you really need is the main 720 app for a list you can use as an itinerary if you didn't plan ahead or you're a novice at big cities. Just pick the places you want to visit and click How to get there. DiscoverHK 720 can also download related apps for specialized tours around Hong Kong for island trips, heritage walks, and food. If you paid for a city tour or a tour guide, having this list is still pretty useful for ticking off places you want to return to or missed while fiddling around with your Canon EOS deadweight. The guides are a bit superfluous for a veteran traveler really interested in a city but useful for a casual tourist.

Unlike apps for U.S. locales and European travel spots, the DiscoverHK 720 app doesn't drown you with information - it provides you with just the essentials.

Note: Avoid the DiscoverHK AR (Augmented Reality) App. It requires constant updating which is troublesome if you don't have a data plan. It's also absolutely useless. If you want a preview of Hong Kong before going to the city, install it and use it at home then remove it afterward. What's the point of AR when you're already in the city?

Continued in Apps for Hong Kong Part 2


  1. Hi, I search for app and found here. I suggest you could try this app, Nice Spots Hong Kong -
    It different from major official style travel app, just provide what is essential as well, GPS location, traffic, and photo previews.


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