Not a lot of businesses earn praise for being slow in fast-paced Hong Kong. But then, not a lot of them offer a rolling view as great as the city’s 111-year-old tram.
Affectionately called “ding ding” by locals – mimicking the sound of its bell – the tram’s one of the city’s icons, gliding past some of the most recognizable landmarks in town.
The experience is now even better thanks to the introduction of a new TramOramic tour.
“You don’t need to travel fast – you just have to enjoy the city and discover the space,” says Antoine Sambin, Hong Kong Tramways’ commercial and corporate affairs manager.
“We’re lucky because the tram is on the northern part of the island – it’s the busiest part of Hong Kong.”
The tour runs between Sheung Wan’s Western Market (a historic colonial building) and Causeway Bay (a busy shopping district) through Central (home to many famous skyscrapers).
Sambin’s favorite tour scenes are the old Legislative Council Building in Central and the towers of HSBC and Bank of China.
“So you’ve some very modern skyscrapers on one side and a heritage building on the other side. It’s very Hong Kong – a good mix of old and modern,” says Sambin.
On board a 1920s-style tram
One big feature that differentiates it from a normal passenger tram is its covered upper deck, which has a large balcony. It’s modeled after the company’s third-generation tram – the first double-decker tram to have a roof – built more than eight decades ago.
“We decided to resurrect one tram car from the 1920s,” Sambin tells CNN. “It has a very unique design.”
“We tried to find the designs and plans from that time and rebuild the tram with spare parts from former times or source new parts from original vendors.”
It has a retro interior finishing, mostly in wood, and the tram lever is an original from the 1920s.
The journey takes about an hour. There are personal audio guides available, broadcasting tales about the tram and the city in eight languages.
There’s also a mini museum on the lower deck with exhibits including pictures and videos from times past.
“We also have authentic artifacts from past years – old tools, tickets and punching machine that were used to make holes on tickets.”
The tour includes a free two-day pass, which allows unlimited travel around the city by tram.
How to ride the tram
How to ride Hong Kong's iconic trams
Launched earlier this year, the tour is one in a series of recent campaigns reigniting interest in vintage public transport since Hong Kong Tramways was taken over by French firm Veolia Transport China in 2010. But if you can’t afford to go on a one-hour tour, this is how to use the company’s normal passenger tram. (And see the above gallery for our favorite stops.)
For traveling short distances, Sambin says that riding regular trams is “probably the best solution in Hong Kong.”
The tram line runs 30 kilometers across Hong Kong Island, stretching from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east. It runs in only two directions – eastbound and westbound – but some routes go further than others.
Tram stations usually sit on “islands” in the middle of the street, although a few are on the side of the road. Stops are marked by stand-alone green signs.
Decide which direction you’re heading then look for the tram that goes to or beyond your station. There’s a map at the stops. Boarding is through the rear door – passengers don’t pay until they exit through the front.
The fare is HK$2.30 (about 30 U.S. cents per ride), regardless of the length of the journey. Fares can be paid with cash or by swiping one of Hong Kong’s all-purpose Octopus cards inside the tram. For comparison’s sake, it costs more than 50 U.S. cents for a one-stop ride on the MTR.
QR codes are posted at most stations, allowing passengers to find out the time of the next three arriving trams.
The longest possible tram ride takes around 90 minutes.
TramOramic Sightseeing Tour, No. 88 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay Tram Terminus, Hong Kong, China.