Budget Hong Kong: Coward’s Route To Victoria Peak

The tram to the statue of Christ the Redeemer. The elevators to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Santorini cable car. Any ski lift, anywhere.

They’re memorable travel experiences, sure. But they’re also experiences that strike anxiety into the hearts of heights-fearing travelers, like myself.

So when faced with the prospect of a thrill-inducing funicular railway ride to the top of Hong Kong’s famous Victoria Peak, I decided to take a pass. Though the Hong Kong Peak Tram hasn’t suffered any fatal accidents in its 124 years of operation, I wasn’t ready to take any chances if I didn’t have to. Plus, the bus was cheaper.The Hong Kong Peak Tram connects the city center with the famous Victoria Peak overlook, which offers stunning views of Victoria Harbour, Central, Lamma Island and the surrounding islands, as well as an over-commercialized shopping and dining complex. The historic railway has been in operation since 1888, making it one of the oldest of its kind. The original tram was made from varnished timber and operated by coal-fired steam boilers, but in the 1920s, the boilers were replaced with an electrically powered system. The current microprocessor-controlled electric drive system was installed in 1989.

While the Peak Tram’s history is impressive indeed, it couldn’t make up for the thought of riding up a mountain in a rickety old cable car. Instead, I opted for the slightly more boring but much cheaper bus.

The double-decker CityBus 15 departs every 15 minutes from Exchange Square in Hong Kong’s Central District, right by the Central Ferry Piers. The fare is HK$9.80 (US$1.25) each way – about a third the price of the HK$28 one-way tram ticket – and the ride takes about a hour, depending on traffic. It also offers a unique look at residential life on the Peak, which is home to some of the world’s most expensive real estate.

After a winding ride up the mountain, I was deposited at the Victoria Peak complex and met with a thick bed of fog that blanketed the entire city in white. Turns out, there was no need to be so afraid of heights.

[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]

Budget Hong Kong” chronicles one writer’s efforts to authentically experience one of the world’s most expensive cities, while traveling on a shoestring. Read the whole series here.

New Roosevelt Island Tram in NYC

Cities employ myriad modes of transportation for commuters and tourists. From subways to rickshaws to monorails to water taxis, there is no shortages of ingenuity when it comes to moving people around. In 1976, however, New York City became the first city in the world to operate a tram for urban transportation. The Roosevelt Island Tram transported people between Roosevelt Island and east side of midtown Manhattan up until March of 2010 when it was shut down for renovations. Today, a brand new, modern, state-of-the-art tram once again allows commuters and tourists alike to sour over the East River and enjoy views of Manhattan unavailable anywhere else.

Gadling took a ride on the new tram before it even opened to the public. Can urban transportation be exciting? Keep reading to find out.

%Gallery-108524%The new tram was fabricated by Leitner-Poma. You might not know the name but, if you ski, you very well may have enjoyed their products. They’re responsible for many of the gondolas, ski lifts and trams you find on mountains around the world. Perhaps that’s why the new Roosevelt Island Tram looks significantly sleeker and more sophisticated than the rest of the bland, utilitarian vehicles that comprise the rest of the New York City transit system.

For those of you worried about a repeat of the 2006 incident in which 47 Roosevelt Island Tram passengers were stuck 250 feet in the air for several hours, rest assured that this new tram has several backup systems and fail-safes. The two trams run on four motors but can operate on only one. There are four independent braking systems. Perhaps most importantly, the tram can run completely off the grid and keeps a hefty supply of gas to power its generators.

The ride is smooth and silent. Unlike the subway, there’s no jerky start to jostle passengers. Suddenly, seemingly effortlessly, you begin elevated above Second Avenue as traffic flows right below you. Huge windows provide 360-degree views of Roosevelt Island, the East River and the east side of Manhattan. As you gently pass the upper floors of high rise buildings, it’s certainly amusing to spot people at the desks as you’re pretending not to stare. Before you know it, you’re at the apex of the ride, high above the East River.

The trams themselves are spacious. The windows keep claustrophobia at bay. A tram operator rides with passengers and controls everything using a touchscreen interface. This is a far cry from New York’s 100-plus-year-old subway operation. Everything about the tram seems modern and sleek.

With the new tram in place, Roosevelt Island is once again accessible via public transportation beyond solely the F train. And while more people may know about the Staten Island Ferry, the Roosevelt Island Tram is another wonder of New York City transit. For just a swipe of your MetroCard ($2.25), you can take a three-minute ride above the East River. Not too shabby for a New York City attraction that actually serves a very useful purpose.

Istanbul transit fares increased

Travelers visiting Istanbul this winter will pay extra to get around on public transportation. The transit authority has just put a fare hike in effect on the trams, metro, bus, and ferry lines, the first in a year and a half.

A single-leg token (jeton) will now cost 1.75 TL (about ($1.25), up from 1.50, but Akbil (smart ticket) carriers will pay 1.65 TL and .85 TL for transfers. Ferries between the Asian and European sides or along the Golden Horn will cost 1.75 TL, using a token or Akbil.

Read on for more info on the Akbil and how to use mass transit to get to Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.An Akbil (smart ticket) is a small electronic button-like device that can be loaded with money at any major transit station or tram stop, and provides discounted transfers within an hour and a half of your first ride. The Akbil can be shared amongst multiple people, though only the discount will only apply to one passenger.Travelers can purchase a new Akbil with a 6 TL refundable deposit at major transit centers, though Taksim Square is the most reliable place to purchase one. Look for the booth that says “Akbil Satış Noktası” (Akbil sales point) rather than newsstands which may only allow recharges). There’s been talk of phasing out the Akbil in favor of the new RFID Istanbulkart but instituting the card into the system has caused delays and the card can’t currently be purchased.

While Istanbul’s transit system is not nearly as extensive or convenient as any many other European cities, most tourists will at least use the handy tram line during their travels, which connects many popular areas from Taksim Square (via an additional transfer from Kabatas on the funicular train) to the Old City sights including the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar. It is also possible to take public transit to the Ataturk airport if you have time to spare: a tram ride to the end of the line at Zeytinburnu connects with a metro line to the airport and takes a little over an hour (note: you can also transfer at Aksaray but it involves walking a few blocks, difficult with luggage).

A few additional kurus (cents) for a ride may not mean a lot to travelers, but with the dollar down 11 percent in the last 5 months, you’ll want to save your lira where you can.

Photo of the Day (8.19.10)

“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley,” sang Judy Garland in Meet Me in St. Louis, giving the most charming mode of transportation its own theme song. Except this trolley isn’t in St. Louis or even San Francisco, it’s in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, part of the oldest operating tram system in South America. Whether you call it a tram, a trolley, a streetcar, or a cable car, this Flickr photo by AlexSven captures the old-timey fun (also, suspenders are the most charming way to hold up pants). Nowadays, trolleys are making a comeback, with new or extended routes planned for many cities in the United States including St. Louis, Memphis, New Orleans, and Little Rock. Kennebunkport, Maine is even home to a trolley museum.

Find a fun way to get around on your travels? Upload your pix to the Gadling Flickr pool and it might be featured as a future Photo of the Day.

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.