When in October 2015 a government proposal to scrap the Hong Kong tram in order to ease traffic congestion was put on table, the public reaction was overwhelming. For many Hong Kongers the Tramways-otherwise affectionately known as the Ding Ding- has been an integral part of the city’s history and just like the Star Ferry and the Peak Tram it belongs to a cultural heritage without which the city would be poorer.
But the tram is not only a charming British hangover that reflects the city’s past. It has traditionally been the most affordable and most environmentally friendly means of transport. Furthermore, its existence as a cultural symbol of Hong Kong has great emotional value for a large part of the local population that do not want to see rapid modernisation and technological innovation destroy the few remaining historical treasures of the city.
In a world that changes with whirlwind speeds, there are still some things that remind us that we sometimes need to slow down and reflect on who we are. Ding Ding is just that, a dear reflection of the Hong Kong’s identity.
Brief History: The tram was first introduced in 1904 by the British Hong Kong Tramway Electric Company and twenty six single deck trams were imported from England. At the time the trams offered first class and third class seating. A few years later they were replaced by the iconic double deckers we all know, that until today belong to the few remaining double-decker trams in the world. For many older Hong Kongers the tram was the very first transport they ever used and they hold fond memories of those early rides. Unlike bus conductors, the tram conductors were nicer to the people, allowing them to jam in.
By the mid 1950s the number of tramcars increased to 146 and they were completely remodelled.The 1950s antique tram 120 is still in use today and it passes through Shau Kei Wan, Happy Valley and Kennedy Town. The 1970s introduced major changes to the tram service. The tram panels were rented out for advertising purposes, a practice that has since rendered them the chicest and most fashionable means for eye-catching advertising in Hong Kong. Furthermore, female conductors appeared, and class distinction in trams was abolished.
Today,the tram fleet consist of 163 tramcars, two of which are antiques. It is not uncommon to see fully painted ads on trams bodies, a practice that brings life and colour in the busy streets, and attracts art lovers and creative spirits from around the world. The antique tram no 28 is unique with a rare open balcony design and light bulbs that make it glitter at night, and it is used exclusively for city tours, parties and promotional events.
So, what are you waiting for? Hop on! The trams, being slower than other means of transport such as the MTR, are less busy and are one of the best ways to see Hong Kong.
The service is pretty straightforward, it goes East and West on the Hong Kong Island, and runs along some of the best parts of the city such as the historic Sheung Wan, the business centre in Central and the commercial Causeway Bay. The passenger can get a good idea of the different aspects and dynamics of the city on a single tram ride. If possible, grab a seat at the front row of the upper deck for breathtaking views of the imposing architecture and the fascinating street life.
Today there are no tram conductors but your Octopus Card will grant you unlimited use of all Hong Kong’s transport, and you can also use coins. A four day pass is also available that allows you to hop on and off as much as you like.
Taking Tram Journey to a whole new level: Realising the trams immense cultural value, gave birth to a number of different services and creative ideas. The TramOramic Tour is a comfortable and stylish way to see the city on an open top 1920s tram and offers plenty of spectacular 360° snapshot opportunities. It also provides seven thematic journeys including Colonial, Art, Foodies, Shopping and Nature, where passengers get to choose their own itinerary based on their specific preferences and interests.
Party On a Tram? One thing that Hong Kongers know how to do well is party. You can party everywhere in Hong Kong, in the streets, at the beach, on a junk boat, on a helicopter and why not, on a vintage open-top double-decker tramcar! This is probably one of the most romantic ways to experience the legendary Hong Kong night lights and the city’s extraordinary festive vibe. Enjoy fine champagne and the city’s balmy nights, as the tram trundles through the bustling streets. Bespoke tram parties and events are available.
And the most famous Tram of all: The Peak Tram funicular that carries passengers from Central to the Victoria Peak was built in 1881, and it was the first tram in Hong Kong. It was constructed to speed residential development on the hills as well as serve the privileged residents of the Peak,which before that were carried on the mountain by local bearers on sedan chairs. However it was considered a revolutionary form of transport in Asia, and for many today it is the city’s emblem.
Once you are at the Peak take some time to visit the Peak Galleria where the Hong Kong Trams Station Museum displays valuable Tram memorabilia including rare old photos and route maps.
I originally wrote this travel guide for Mavel