A slice of culture via the Hong Kong Tram

It’s no secret that Hong Kong has some of the best public transportation in the planet. Land, sea, or air, you can bet that it’s going to be clean, new, inexpensive and well maintained, from the recent airport on Lantau island to the fast and furious MTR slithering like tentacles through the islands. Better, most of it is tied together by the solid Octopus RFID system, letting travelers on ferries, buses, trams alike use the same versatile card to pay for any fare, or even a snack at the local 7-11.

Routes and times are listed in both Chinese and English, passage is frequent and one leaves the train station with a sense of efficiency and accomplishment rather than shaken with the din of a recent assault on the senses.

Another facet of the Hong Kong public transportation system, the tram, offers a unique immersion into Hong Kong culture. Run on a similar rail-and-wire system to San Francisco’s, Hong Kong’s trams are a skinnier, taller version of their western counterparts with dark, varnished wood interiors, large glass windows and awe inspiring views around the perimeter.

Running through a broad swath of Hong Kong island, the tram only run on a few routes, but riding the double decker cars is a sensory experience. Along Hennessey Road, the cars crawl from stop to stop, pausing at lights and stations to let millions of passengers circulate around and through the stationary beast like termites through a log. At one stop, shoppers mob a crosswalk and disappear around a corner into the local megamall or Goods of Desire, a sea or black hair, dark suits and silent movement as the signals blare on. At another stop, an outdoor market teems with passing tourists and locals, while across the street a brightly lit vendor sells sheets of dried fish, eel and duck skin.

Smells waft through the open glass windows, and if one is quick, an arm, head or camera can hang out the window and peer up the perspective of the car, a jungle of Chinese culture from the second floor perch of a Causeway Bay-bound tram.

Make no mistake, these aren’t tourist devices engineered to make a buck off of a saucer eyed visitor. These trams play a critical, real role in Hong Kong Island culture, ferrying commuters, athletes, workers, parents, children, locals and tourists alike. Were one so inclined, its even possible to rent a special party tram to cruise the streets at night with whatever food and beverage you provide.

Tram stops are scattered across the backbone of commercial northern Hong Kong Island, and with or without an Octopus Card, fare is only 2HKD ($0.26) to ride. The voyage is worth a thousand times the price.