Dim Sum Dialogues: Planes, Trams, & Automatic Doors

This is a continuation of yesterday’s column on the transportation of Hong Kong.

After seeing various Youtube videos of the infamous landing at Hong Kong’s now defunct Kai Tak Airport, I’m disappointed that I never had the chance to experience a 747 roaring over a narrow Kowloon street. But the beauty and convenience of Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport make up for that disappointment, and have even earned it the first & second spots on international airport surveys for the past seven years.

For those of you that just can’t wait to throw your savings away at the Happy Valley Racecources, or blow it all in the numerous shopping malls of Hong Kong – the fastest and easiest way (but most costly – $13 USD) to get to the heart of the city is on the MTR’s Airport Express. Covering 35km in just 24 minutes, the trains depart every 12 minutes to the remote airport and convention center. If “investing” your money at the roulette tables of Macau is more to your liking, you don’t even have to officially enter the territory – a direct ferry terminal is situated before immigration in the airport for arriving passengers. The transit system was designed to be tourist-friendly, so there are plenty of accessible options.
Once you get settled inside the city, the MTR remains the most efficient way to get from end to end, or to cross under Victoria Harbor between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon side. But as any well-traveled soul will tell you, the scenic route is often the best – and the Star Ferry offers some of the most enjoyable views of the city at the right price. For roughly USD 25¢, you can ride between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui – a service that has been operating since the 1870′s. The Star Ferry has become a major icon in Hong Kong, so much so that people often rent out ferries for a day to host private events, weddings, and dances on. For USD $500 to $700 for the day, it might not be the most luxurious cruise that you can take on the harbor – so I’d recommend sticking to the regular fare.

However, if the idea of hosting a party on public transport still appeals to you, look no further than HK Tramways. The Hong Kong tram system has been serving the city for over 100 years, with narrow double-decker tramcars running on overhead electric cables through the busiest areas of Hong Kong Island. When the expansion of the MTR threatened to make the tramways redundant, the public concluded to keep the service active because of it’s low fares and frequent stops on popular routes in the city. In my opinion, it is by far the most fun way to travel in Hong Kong. I guarantee that the views from the upper deck combined with the smells and sounds of the markets of Central will keep you entertained for your entire journey. If it doesn’t, I’ll personally mail you the 25¢ you spent on the journey. After you’ve sampled it (and fallen in love with it), get 25 of your HK friends to rent out a tram for USD $150 an hour and party your way through the city. Don’t get too distracted when you pass by Wan Chai though, the private trams run in a full loop that last from 2 hours to 3.5 hours.

Finally, if you refuse to take public transport, or the rain threatens to ruin that new designer item from Lane Crawford, Hong Kong taxis are remarkably cheap and easy to come by. Now I haven’t traveled anywhere in Asia, so this might just be my naivité here – but the taxis in Hong Kong have an amazing feature that I can’t believe doesn’t exist anywhere else (I’m sure it does, so readers help me out) – the back doors open automatically. The driver pulls up to your spot on the sidewalk, pulls a lever and bam – the door is open and ready for you to get in. Genius. Don’t worry about closing it on your way out either, because the driver has that covered too. On average, USD $15 will easily get you from one end of the major urban area to the other – with average city center cab rides being $5. Another reason I don’t particularly miss Los Angeles.

There you have it – the major travel methods in Hong Kong. Now that you (roughly) know how to get around, I’ll be taking you deeper into the destinations and traditions of this eclectic city. If you have specific questions about how to get around, or want to know more about the methods covered here – feel free to leave comments below.