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Layover in Hong Kong

In June 2024, I had a 15-hour layover in Hong Kong while traveling to San Francisco for WWDC 24. This article will cover my experience and offer tips for similar layovers in the city. I'll share how to make the most of your time in Hong Kong during a short stay.


Hong Kong offers visa on arrival for Indians, but there are prerequisites to fulfil. To obtain a VoA, you must complete a Pre-Arrival Registration (PAR) on the Hong Kong immigration website. This online form is free and quick to fill out, requiring your journey and passport details. Important points to remember:

  • The PAR details must match your passport exactly. For example, if your passport lists "Kolkata" as your place of birth, enter only "Kolkata" on the PAR, not "Kolkata, West Bengal."
  • Any discrepancies between your PAR and passport will result in rejection at immigration, requiring you to resubmit the form and then scour the airport for a place to find a printout from. Not worth it!
  • Print out your PAR and sign it before hand. Present the signed PAR printout along with your passport to the immigration officer upon arrival.
  • There’s cases where passports issued from certain cities in India aren’t eligible for VoA due to a historically higher chance of visa law violations from individuals in those regions. If your PAR is not immediately approved, you’ll have to go through the traditional way of submitting your application at your nearest Hong Kong embassy and getting a traditional visa.

SIM Card

I initially booked an e-SIM through Klook for about 500 INR, offering unlimited calls and data for one day in Hong Kong. However, upon landing, I had mobile signal but no data access. As a backup, I purchased a physical SIM card from a 7-11 at the airport for $32 HKD. This SIM provided unlimited data with 5-day validity. Note that they didn't offer e-SIMs, so if your phone only accepts eSIMs you will need to look for alternatives. To activate the SIM:

  • Use the airport WiFi to access the activation website. You can find the link in the activation booklet inside of the SIM card packet.
  • Take a photo of your passport as required. This took me a while as the image has to be without any reflections.
  • Follow the on-screen instructions. The website is available in English as well.

The SIM operated on the China Mobile network and worked well in most areas.

Public Transport

The airport offers a fast connection to the city via the Airport Express train. It's located right outside the arrivals hall and reaches the city in under 30 minutes. To use the Airport Express, you need either:

  • An exclusive Airport Express pass
  • An Octopus card (recommended)

The Octopus card is versatile, usable on other public transport and at some retail outlets. It requires a $50 HKD deposit, refundable when the card surrendered at the airport. Airport Express features:

  • Day pass option charges only for one-way (about $120 HKD) if you return the same day
  • Two main stops: Kowloon and Hong Kong

Buying the Octopus card:

  • Counter opposite 7-11 in arrivals hall
  • Cash only, so bring local currency or use nearby HSBC ATMs Travel tip: I took the train to Hong Kong and the ferry back to Kowloon/Tsim Sha Tsui.


  • When using ATMs or making purchases, avoid accepting the machine's offer to convert currency for you. These conversions often come with really poor exchange rates.
  • It's best to withdraw money or pay for goods and services in the local currency (Hong Kong dollars).
  • If you do have to convert during payment- allow your home bank to handle the currency conversion. Their rates are usually more competitive than those offered by local ATMs or point-of-sale systems.


Booking a hotel room for a day was really the best decision I had made during my layover. Initially I was inclined to use my priority pass to book a shower room at the airport lounge but I realised getting to sleep and a private shower would make my onward journey significantly more comfortable. Several hotels are located near the airport.

I stayed at the Regala Skycity Hotel:

  • The room cost 7,000 INR for a night, which I booked through Agoda. Despite only using it for about 9 hours, the price was reasonable for the convenience it offered.
  • The hotel has a flexible check-in policy. They let me check-in well before their standard check-in time. They provide a full 24-hour stay from the moment you check in, which is particularly useful if you’re on a layover.
  • Although the room was small, it was clean and had a very comfortable bed. This setup was perfect for a short stay.
  • During my brief time there, I was able to enjoy a restful sleep and a warm, refreshing shower, which prepared me well for my upcoming 13-hour flight to San Francisco.


  • The hotel is conveniently located one metro stop before the airport on the Airport Express line. You’ll have to take the metro that is coming in from the city not the one that’s going towards Hong Kong.
  • To reach the hotel, disembark at the "Expo" station. It's clearly marked and easy to find.
  • From the station, it's a brief 10-minute walk to the hotel via a covered sky bridge. The walk is pleasant and has great views overlooking the ocean.

Places to Visit

  • Victoria Peak- The Peak offers stunning panoramic views of Hong Kong. I suggest booking your sky-tram return ticket and peak access in advance online to bypass queues (although the queues aren’t that bad). The Peak Tram, Hong Kong's oldest form of transport dating back to the 1800s, was recently renovated. The steep track provides a thrilling ride to the top. However, check the weather before your visit, as fog or rain (which happens in Hong Kong more often than you think) can obscure the views. Despite poor visibility on my rainy-day visit, the historical significance of the tram ride made it worthwhile.

  • CBD: Central Banking District While it might sound unexciting, walking through the Central Banking District is an impressive experience. The area near the Peak Tram is home to numerous skyscrapers housing major banks and offices. The sheer height of these buildings is awe-inspiring, especially on overcast days when their tops disappear into the clouds. It's a great place to feel the pulse of Hong Kong's financial heart and marvel at modern architecture.

  • Star Ferry: The Star Ferry is an iconic Hong Kong experience. For about 40 HKD, you can travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon or Tsim Sha Tsui. Ferries depart every 10 minutes, and the journey takes only about 5 minutes. Despite its brevity, the trip offers spectacular views of Hong Kong's famous skyline from the water. It's a must-do activity that combines practical transportation with sightseeing.

  • Avenue of Stars and Tsim Sha Tsui: After crossing Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry, you'll arrive at Tsim Sha Tsui, home to the famous Avenue of Stars. This waterfront promenade is Hong Kong's equivalent to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrating the city's film industry. Look for handprints and statues of famous Hong Kong cinema stars. The area also offers breathtaking views of Hong Kong Island's skyline, especially beautiful at night when the buildings light up for the Symphony of Lights show. Nearby, you'll find numerous shops, restaurants, and the iconic Clock Tower, a remnant of the old Kowloon Station.


Hong Kong is a culturally rich city that blends modern amenities with preserved colonial heritage. While a layover doesn't provide nearly enough time to fully explore this expansive city, it offers a fantastic alternative to waiting at the airport for hours.

The city seamlessly combines Western influences, evident in the presence of familiar global brands and then some, with its unique local culture. This fusion creates a distinctive urban landscape worth experiencing, even if only for a short time. And if you're a fan of cinema and directors from Hong Kong (Wong Kar Wai!!), you'll find many of the places already relatable! If you can easily obtain a visa, I highly recommend venturing into the city during your layover. Explore as much as you can, but don't forget about your next flight!