Bottom line: Hong Kong’s Big Bus is good. Shanghai’s Big Bus is terrible; but there are still some benefits you get by purchasing their ticket, as long as you stay vigilant.
I stumbled upon a Big Bus salesperson at Hong Kong Island’s pier. They were spread all over the place, so it’s nearly impossible not to meet one. I purchased their most expensive ticket, the Premium + Night Tour package that cost HK$550. It was said to include 4 lines hop-on hop-off tour with 5 tourist attraction tickets and 6 ferry tickets included. A premium ticket is valid for 48 hours of hop-on hop-off, plus I was given an extra 24 hours because my original 48 hours included 31 December, when they closed early at about 5pm.
The greatest benefits I experienced in purchasing that ticket were:
- I got to explore a significant part of Hong Kong within a very short time.
- Big Bus provided rich audio information along the routes.
- I didn’t have to queue for tickets provided as part of premium package – and queues could be extremely long in Hong Kong.
This is why purchasing Big Bus premium package is preferable.
The only downsides of the HK package are:
- The 4th line happened to be the same as another line – except it’s run at night, hence dubbed the “night line”. For me, the cheaper premium package without night your should’ve sufficed.
- One staff misinformed me about the closing of hop point no. 10 and directed me to walk further while later I found out it was still running and in fact a very well staffed one.
Having been generally satisfied with Big Bus Hong Kong & knowing Big Bus also has a service in Shanghai, I immediately looked for their service on the first morning I was in Shanghai. To my great disappointment, this time I had a totally different experience.
The upsides of the Big Bus Shanghai were mostly the same as the one I experienced in Hong Kong: I got to experience a significant part of Shanghai in a relatively short time and there’s a (supposedly) rich audio guide.
The downsides, though, were numerous:
- Rough driving. Some bus drivers drove very roughly. They sped, made sudden breaks, and would speed up when the traffic light turns yellow.
- Whatever as-the-driver-wishes audio guides. That driving style meant some audio guides could not be played properly. In 2 days at least half of the audio lectures were abruptly stopped because the bus already passed the object being described or had arrived at another object.
- Unreliable timing of audio guides. The timing of the audio guides themselves were not to be trusted. One driver actually played many recordings in quick succession we may have heard 10 objects’ recordings a minute for several minutes…. Some drivers would play the Shanghai Museum guide when we were by The Bund or play the instruction “This is your stop for [a tourist attraction name].” while we’re stopping at a traffic light! At other times, they just stop without playing the hop-off instruction at all. Sometimes, they just started playing the instruction as they start the engine again. Isn’t it horrible?
- Hostile drivers. A few drivers were almost hostile: one refused to say a single word to passengers asking about the line color and the route; another just hushed in passengers and gestured that we quickly get in and get seated. This latter driver almost caused an elderly man to stumble as he hastened to gas before everyone sat down.
- Worst: Stranded. The worst incident I experienced was at the Jade Buddha Temple. The first driver dropped me and several other passengers at Jiang Nin Lu An Yuan Lu (江宁路安远路) bus stop – it’s across the street from one side of the temple and on a different side from the entrance gate. We didn’t know where to go, entered the wrong gate, and had to ask around. Once I finished touring the temple I returned to the same spot where I met with a couple of elderly Big Bus tourists – we saw a bus coming, but was surprised when it took a different route, passing the front side of the temple, hence missing us. I tried to call Big Bus number, to no avail. In the end we decided to take a taxi.
Big Bus Shanghai may be worth the price for the tickets and the convenient hop-on hop-off stops, especially if you buy it online, in advance, and with fixed date (250元 instead of 300元), but don’t expect much more. Be always vigilant and have a reliable source of information.
I recommend you have Shanghai Metro app installed in your phone. It’s very helpful to find the nearest MRT station. I also used iPhone’s native map app. You can also download Big Bus tour map here – it’s helpful to prioritize which spots you need to visit.