Hong Kong: Be taken for the ride of your life

By Russell Maclennan-Jones

Roll up! Roll up! For the chance to ride some of the best double-decker trams in Hong Kong, writes Russell Maclennan-Jones.
Hong Kong's trams are a hair-raising way to see the island and visit side-street markets.
Hong Kong's trams are a hair-raising way to see the island and visit side-street markets.

The trams that rattle along the waterfront of Hong Kong Island are cheap and much more fun than you expect.

They're a great way to see a fair bit of the island, at least along the waterfront. Locals seem to love them and crowd the trams for much of the day.

Vintage machines rock and roll on the narrow tracks but the most fun of all is that the cars are double deckers so if you are quick enough you can scamper up the stairs and grab a seat, even right at the front. Usually it can be a wild ride, especially when other cars are rocking and swaying towards you at what seems like a dangerous closing speed.

Don't lean out of the tram say the warning signs, and you have to take them seriously because when other trams rush past there is little room to spare.

The drivers for the fleet of 160 trams have one of the best jobs going, gunning their machines along the ageing narrow tracks.

The locals are used to cramming into them, leaping up the curving stairs at the back, sliding down the spiral at the front before dashing out the front door, tossing their fare into a box as they go.

The driver appears to pay no attention to the riders and if you don't have the right change for the HK$2.30 (34c) fare the noise of any coins in the box will do. There's no turnstile.

The tram system began in 1904, has six routes totalling 30km and one of the most interesting does a big loop around Happy Valley. From the top deck you get a prime view of the racecourse with its wide but unusually undulating track.

The top deck is definitely the place to be because it gives you a great insight into how many air conditioning units can be crammed on to sagging shop verandas.

As the car rockets along you get glimpses down side streets set up as mini markets. And if you're quick enough, and the tram is not too crowded, you can dash down the stairs and get off at the next stop to check one of them out.

Don't worry, another tram will be along in a minute or two and you can squeeze on to that if the market disappoints.

More famous, and certainly more expensive at HK$40 return, is the Peak Tram, which is really a cable car. It heads up from Garden Rd downtown to the top of the island where you can shop and dine while enjoying great views.

At busy times, such as before sunset, you can expect to queue for more than an hour. First thing in the morning is a good time to go to avoid the crowds and appreciate the sparkling views of natural landscapes and the city's skyscrapers.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Cathay Pacific offers non-stop flights each day between Auckland and Hong Kong.

Accommodation: The Marco Polo Hotel overlooks Victoria Harbour.

Further information: See discoverhongkong.com.

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