File this under “OMG this is so extra but I had to do this at some point”.
If you’re not a hardcore premium travel geek and/or you don’t live in Hong Kong, this probably isn’t for you either.
But for those of you who are both of what I listed above, you must’ve taken the East Rail Line. And you must’ve seen the yellow signage towards First Class and wondered what that experience was like.
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class
After wrapping up a short stay at the Beas River Chalet Hong Kong (which I won’t be re-reviewing, as I’ve just done so last year and I spent a total of around 10 hours on the hotel grounds), my parents and Hailey wanted to spend a little more time taking advantage of the hotel pool, and they brought a bunch of friends with them too. With work to do over the next few days (for those of you wondering when my next flight reviews will be out, I’m finally flying out on Friday night), I had to use the East Rail Line to get from Sheung Shui back to Hung Hom, which is a ~20 km, 40-minute journey.
This began my 40-minute First Class rail experience that brought me ~20 km and cost me less than a Snickers bar.
Where does the East Rail Line go?
The East Rail Line actually stretches from Hung Hom to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau (75% of the system’s trains go to Lo Wu, so one in four trains are headed towards Lok Ma Chau – both are immigration ports towards Mainland China), with Mong Kok, Sha Tin, Fo Tan, and Fanling among the rail line’s 12 stops.
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line
In case you’re wondering, Hung Hom is right by Victoria Harbour, Sha Tin features a bunch of hotels and a famous racecourse, and Fanling features a collection of villages and delicious local street food that some of my “older” relatives (sorry, aunt) describe as what the city was like 50 years ago. If you’re considering first class on this route at all you’re probably either going on a day trip to Fanling (here’s a great guide on the area from The Loop HK), or headed on a train towards Mainland China from Lo Wu.
In this case I was headed home from Sheung Shui, which is a minibus ride away from the Beas River Chalet, and the penultimate stop before the two immigration ports to Mainland China. Hung Hom is a bus ride away from many of Hong Kong’s most iconic hotels, as well as Mid-Levels, where I live. It’s also very easy to get to Hung Hom by MTR.
How To Acquire East Rail Line First Class Access
If you don’t own an Octopus card, you’ll be able to purchase a one-way First Class ticket on the East Rail line.
If you do own an Octopus Card, just enter the paid area of your boarding station with your Octopus Card, and find the yellow signage towards First Class. The First Class cabin is located smack in the middle of the train.
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class Compartment
By the boarding area towards the first class section, you’ll see a First Class validation station, where you’ll have to touch your Octopus Card against the processor once. In most cases you’ll hear a “beep” and a green light, meaning that you’re good to go and can head towards the adjacent First Class boarding area (also clearly marked in signage). The process was incredibly easy. In all cases you’ll be charged exactly double the amount you’d otherwise be charged in the standard cabin when leaving the paid area. (If you’re connecting to another station from Hung Hom, you’ll only be required to pay the premium for the East Rail Line leg of the journey).
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class Processor
If you change your mind when seated in the standard cabin and decide to schlep your way between compartments to First Class, you can also do so by pressing your Octopus against a processor on the train (located right by the door towards the First Class compartment). I did this at Fanling, since I barely caught the train at Sheung Shui and only after boarding decided I might as well try out First Class. In this case you’ll still be charged the full First Class fare that you otherwise would have been charged if you’d taken First Class all the way from your departing station.
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line Onboard First Class Processor
Make sure your Octopus processes successfully, though – if you’re caught in the cabin without a ticket or a validated Octopus, you’ll be fined HK$500 (63.7 USD), and potentially get some scathing looks from around the cabin too.
The Sheung Shui to Hung Hom journey costs HK$20.4 for a standard adult first class traveler (since I have a student octopus I was only charged HK$9.6 for the entire journey). It’s worth noting that after June 30, 2018 the same route will cost HK$21, which is a marginal increase (we’re talking an increase from 2.60 USD to 2.68 USD). The real price premiums come for journeys to Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau, where the price jumps to HK$78.4 (US$10) regardless of which octopus you hold. Since all passengers are required to exit the train for border patrol at these two stations, consider staying awake when nearing your destination if you’re traveling towards Fanling or Sheung Shui, or you’ll otherwise be charged a lot of extra cash.
What Is Hong Kong MTR’s East Rail Line First Class Like?
While the rest of the East Rail line is laid out with metal seats along the sides of the compartment, First Class consists of padded seats in a 2-2 configuration. It’s worth noting that all the seats face each other, so you’re not exactly getting a very private experience. If you travel on the Airport Express often, it’s quite aways from that (at the same time I paid less than HK$10 for my journey, so…).
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class
While I took the above picture before leaving the train at Hung Hom, in reality the experience isn’t nearly as exclusive, with over 90% of seats taken. I didn’t have an empty seat next to me, whereas I did in the standard cabin on the way to Sheung Shui yesterday afternoon (by the way, Grandma wants her train back – since the MTR Corporation doesn’t manufacture trains with first class anymore, this route is usually run by some of the system’s oldest trains).
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class
The seats were green in patterned upholstery, and at least they were well-padded (that’s kind of what you’re paying for when seated in first class).
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class Seats
If for any reason you decide to schlep back to the main cabin, you can do so through a gangway that brings you back there. You’ll have to re-validate your Octopus to unlock the door if you decide to go back to first class, but you won’t be charged any extra (since your octopus is already validated).
Hong Kong MTR East Rail Line First Class Gangway to Standard Class
As you’d expect for an MTR line, there’s no service or whatever, apart from when occasional patrollers come to check that your octopus is validated or you have an eligible first class ticket. No patrollers were present on my journey from Fanling to Hung Hom, so I easily could’ve made my way into first class without validating my octopus. However, if you do get caught without doing so, you’ll be fined HK$500, as stated above. So your extra cash is given basically for a better seat, when you probably won’t even have an empty one next to you.
Bottom Line: Is East Rail Line First Class Worth It?
At first I was under the impression that getting from Sheung Shui to Hung Hom cost around ~HK$20 (~US$2.5), and costs can really accumulate quickly when you’re paying double that just for a better seat. While onboard I was surprised at how many people were using the first class cabin, and how many of them seemed to be “regulars” (they had kids, both the parents and their kids seemed to know what they were doing around the first class processors, etc.). It was only when I got home and realised I paid less than a Snickers bar for the first class experience when I decided this was probably worth it, at least as a one-time experience.
The Sheung Shui to Lo Wu leg is where the fares go upwards, and the entire leg lasts all of five minutes. The Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau leg is twice as long, but we’re still talking about a 10-minute journey that costs around thrice more. If I was getting to one of these ports I’d probably validate my Octopus all the way to Sheung Shui, exit the gate, and re-enter as a standard class passenger so I wouldn’t have to be charged twofold for a five-minute journey.
If you frequent the route, do you normally validate your Octopus to sit in first class on the journey?