The tram system offers sightseeing at a bargain price. // © 2013 Thinkstock
A ride on the venerable Hong Kong tram is one of the city’s truly timeless pleasures. Known by locals as the “ding ding” because of its familiar double bell ring at each stop, the wooden-framed trams have ferried passengers across Hong Kong Island day and night since 1904.
As the trams trundle along winding tracks, and between cars and buses, the open top-deck windows are perfect for watching street life outside. The tram is also very economical. Jumping on at the Whitty Street terminal in Western district for a thrilling 50-minute sightseeing ride through Central to Happy Valley costs less than $1.
From the Whitty Street starting point, the route rumbles along De Voeux Road West. Near the junction with Eastern Street is the historic dried seafood district, where open storefronts on both sides of the road sell myriad items from the sea, including dried abalone and bird’s nest.
Clients then turn left near Victoria Harbor and past the Shun Tak ferry terminal for Macau, before turning past the picturesque Western Market. This landmark Edwardian building opened as an indoor market in 1906 and now houses clothing stores and a Cantonese restaurant.
The Western Market marks the beginning of De Voeux Road Central, one of Hong Kong Island’s most vibrant streets. Clients should keep an eye on the left side for the time-honored Wing On Department Store, and then head right near the Jubilee Street stop to ride the series of escalators that rise up the hillside to the trendy dining and shopping districts of SoHo and Mid Levels.
As the tram reaches the Pedder Street and Icehouse Street junctions, crowds of consumers shopping at Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana stores signal that it has arrived in Hong Kong’s glitzy downtown shopping district.
The journey continues to the statuesque towers of the financial district, including Norman Foster’s iconic HSBC building and the crisscross pattern of I.M. Pei’s Bank of China. These modern architectural highlights stand opposite the neoclassical Ionic columns and grand dome of the former Supreme Court building, opened in 1912.
After leaving Admiralty district, the tram veers right into Johnston Road and the energetic dining and nightlife district of Wanchai. Earthier and less polished than downtown Central, it is worthwhile to jump off for an hour to explore the street buzz here, or return later to experience the area’s vibrant nightlife.
From Wanchai, the route continues along an inland trajectory, toward Causeway Bay. After turning into Percival Street, Times Square — one of the city’s largest, most popular malls for shopping and dining — is visible on the right.
The end of the ride approaches as the tram winds into Happy Valley. Looming on the right side is the grandstand of Happy Valley Racecourse. Wednesday horse racing nights here are a Hong Kong institution, with large crowds gathering to bet and cheer on the horses as the floodlit grass track is framed by neon-topped towers. It’s a truly spectacular sight.
Stay aboard until you reach The Jockey, a pub on the left side of Wong Nai Chung Road. This cozy pub is a great place to finish the trip with lunch and a beer — either amid the walls adorned by photos from the 167 years of horse racing history in Happy Valley, or on the front terrace with views of the racecourse.