See Hong Kong for Thirty Cents? The Amazing Hong Kong Tram System.

The Hong Kong Tram System

The Hong Kong trams are one of the most surprising “tourist attractions” in Hong Kong. During the weeks I recently spent in Hong Kong, I spent hardly any money at all. Not out of choice, although, I have known to be “wise” with my dosh, at times. A one week holiday is not one of those times. One week is for cutting loose. For partying like a fool in a Kowloon ex-pat’s bar, staggering out at 5.30am, one shoe missing, losing your phone and discussing Hong Kong politics with a friendly posse of hungry homeless men.

A photo of a Hong Kong tram, taken in 2012

Or… so I have been told. In any case, one week is not for budgeting. Fortunately, the Chinese have a dandy custom of not allowing guests to pay for a meal. I tried to pay. Oh, how I tried. After witnessing boisterous groups of Chinese men coming to physical blows over who would get the “privilege” of paying for a group meal, I decided to just go with the flow. It occurred to me that many of the attractions I visited in Hong Kong were either free, very low cost.

One of the plain-sight-secrets of Hong Kong is the tramways. I spent the best part of a day on the Hong Kong tram system. Eating Michelin star Dim Sum for peanuts, and now seeing some amazing sights, for an absurdly cheap price? My hip pocket has a serious travellers crush on Hong Kong.

The view from a Hong Kong tram

hong kong density living

Get Around on A Hong Kong Tram. It’s Old School.

One of the earliest forms of public transport in Hong Kong, the iconic double-decker Hong Kong trams have been operating since 1912. The Hong Kong tram system commenced around 1904. Stretching from one end of Hong Kong Island to the other, grabbing yourself a seat at the front of the tram, on the upper level, is better than any Hong Kong documentary you have ever seen.

Hong Kong tram lines fill the streets

From Glitz, to Grit, and Back Again. A Typical Hong Kong Tram Ride.

I can’t go back to TV. When you can have the somewhat surreal views of bustling Hong Kong gently flowing by, you can’t go back to TV. On this voyeuristic journey from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan, the well worn layers of the city unfold before your eyes. Just sit back, and casually glide on through. Maybe take a few photos.

From glitz and designer labels, through to the grit and authenticity of local neighborhoods, typical Hong Kong daily life is viewed from a unique perspective, perched above the crowds. If you’re getting a bit hot, the sliding windows of the tram can be pushed open. Handy for great for photos as well.

Pawn Shop Neon Sign, Hong Kong

A Hong Kong tram glides on by...

The Hong Kong tram ride costs $2.30HK. That’s around 30 US cents. For as long as you want to stay onboard. Enter at the back, exit at the front. Simple. Pay as you jump off. An Octopus Card (which you can also use on the subway system, the ferry system, and to buy a drink at 7-11) is the easiest method of payment. You can also pay your tram fare with coins (no change).

Chivas Advertising on a passing Hong Kong tram

There really aren’t a lot of tourists on the tram- hardly any in fact. This is one relatively undiscovered Hong Kong tourist attraction. Astoundingly, most tourists to Hong Kong have seen these trams, but haven’t jumped onboard. The subway is faster, and more familiar to most visitors to Hong Kong, but you will see a lot more from the tram.

You can’t get lost – most of the stops are near a subway line, or you can always just hop off and catch the next tram back to where you started. I hopped on and off various trams, and journeyed from one end of the line (Kennedy Town) to the other (Shau Kei Wan).

I have never visited Shau Kei Wan before. Right near the tram terminus was a fantastic outdoor market, where I enjoyed some freshly cooked BBQ pork (with mustard), whilst observing the other “foods” for sale – such as a bag of live frogs. The tram is certainly a guaranteed journey into discovering the real Hong Kong.

Mean streets of Hong Kong

Hong Kong skyscraper architecture

Hong Kong pedestrian crossing

Used Hong Kong neon sign

louis vuitton from a hong kong tram

old hong kong buildings

Hong Kong tram, street scene

The Tram Ride is A Genuine Hong Kong Institution. 

Having visited Hong Kong a number of times before, I am kicking myself for not previously taking advantage of such a seemingly obvious way to discover the island. The photos in this article, all taken on single journey from a Hong Kong tram ride, will give you an insight into what you can expect – but really, every journey will be different.

There aren’t many places on Earth you can journey from one end of a city to the other, high above the ground, but right in the thick of it all. Next time you’re in Hong Kong, give the subways and taxi’s a break, and make use of the historic, and rather practical, Hong Kong trams.

Riding the Hong Kong tram is a very memorable, and unique, Hong Kong experience, that any tourist, on any budget, can afford.

Nate.

PS, photos like these don’t require an expensive camera. You just need to know the secrets, and to how to “get out of auto”. This is exactly how I do it. 

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18 thoughts on “See Hong Kong for Thirty Cents? The Amazing Hong Kong Tram System.

  1. These pictures look really great! I really regret not going to Hong Kong the last time I was in Shanghai. Looks like it’d have been quite an experience!

  2. This is great! I haven’t seen many photos of Hong Kong – I think you can get a great ‘tour’ of many cities by using the right line of public transport. Looks like a great way to see HK.

    1. Thanks Andrea – and I totally agree, there are some amazing “tours” that can be done using public transport – what a great list that would make!

    1. Excellent! Make sure you catch the ferry from Kowloon to the Island (or vice versa) another absolute bargain. The subway system is the most efficient on Earth (of all that I have seen). Enjoy HK!

  3. What a great idea for a tour around the city…and you get to avoid the crowds at ground level :) I’ve never been to Hong Kong, but last summer when I went to Berlin, my German friend there took me on one of those double decker buses to give me a “vibe” of the city on my first day!

  4. Hi, Nate. Seems that you took a long ride on the tram. Great shots! Iesha will have just one full day here. Will see how she can pack things in her brief stay.

    1. Haha… yes Nevin, it was a loooong ride. I don’t know that Iesha will have the time for a long journey like that, but, I’m sure with your local knowledge you’ll both get to see some cool places in HK. Have fun!

  5. Hi Nate,
    Great photos and tips! Which tram route were you on/do you recommend and how long did it take you on your route?

    Thanks!
    Alicia

    1. Thanks Alicia – I was on the “main” route that goes all the way from one end of the island to the other. Any of the trams would be good. I spent hours on the trams, I guess it takes about 90 minutes from one end to the other, and then I turned around and came back.

  6. Excellent excellent excellent! I’m doing some early planning for a trip to HK (& Tokyo) and your blog has just been a wealth of information, thank you!

    It’s just the type of immersion that I’m looking for, the off-the-beaten-path. From your blurbs on Tim Ho Wan, Victoria Secrets, these trams; I think I’ve filled at least 2 days of action for my trip.

    Also, fantastic photos, and to save pennies for this trip, i’ll most likely be using my trusty Canon 350D. Question, on some of your Victorious Secrets shots, it seems like you used quite some zoom (http://www.yomadic.com/wp-content/uploads/Hong-Kong-Peak-Skyscrapers.jpg?9d7bd4, http://www.yomadic.com/wp-content/uploads/Victoria-PEak-Hong-Kong-Kowloon.jpg?9d7bd4)…mind sharing the focal length? or were these crops?

    Much appreciated!

    1. Hi there Jeff… glad you found the info useful. I actually used a 28mm and a 35mm lens, there may be a couple of 50mm’s but that’s it. The buildings are very close, you won’t need a zoom, but it would come in handy. Have a great time in Honka’s!

  7. Nate. This is a great article with fantastic photos. Do you have any suggestions on tram stops that are worth getting off at to walk around or grab something to eat (beyond the obvious ones)?

    1. Thanks Serena. I don’t have any specific tram stops – they all seem to have something to offer. But I find the stops closer, or at, the end of the line tend to be very “local”, and interesting. Enjoy you time in HK!

  8. Hey, dear, what a great explanation! Hong Kong has always been one of my must visit a place. I just didn’t know where to go and your article has helped me get a feel of the location without leaving the comfort of home loved it

  9. We did it and it was great. We had to skip the first three trams at the stop at central station as they were overloaded. But the we hopped on board and found our way upstairs. Even the sits in front were empty. Yes, we were the only tourists.
    As we had no 4,60 we threw 5 HKD in the box and got out. It’s so cheap, so why bother about the 40 cents.

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