The Easter holidays are upon us in Hong Kong, leaving our tutors with plenty of time for exploring. Chatteris’ own Hannah Sutton takes us on an adventure by tram, giving us her top tips on what to see and where to eat along the way.
The trams have been a fixture of Hong Kong Island for over 100 years. Whilst the Peak Tram is often the first tram on a tourist’s list and an icon in its own right, often overlooked is the tramway which spans the length of the island. Affectionately named the “Ding Ding” in reference to the bell noise it makes to alert pedestrians and cars of its presence along the main thoroughfares of the island, this tram is certainly not to be disregarded as a relic of colonial transport. Moving at a maximum speed of slow, the tram goes at the perfect pace to take in all that Hong Kong Island has to offer and serves as the perfect opportunity to access all of the sites across the northern coast. For a perfectly reasonable fixed price of $2.60HKD, which is paid at the end of the trip, the tram is the best value way to travel.
This article focuses on the main tram link from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan. I’m yet to explore other routes to Happy Valley. From end to end, the total travel time is approximately 90 minutes. With over 120 stations along the 13km route, there are plenty of stops to disembark and explore the various neighbourhoods and sights to see. I am a huge fan of the trams. I seize every opportunity to take them. This, I have learned, is quite a niche fascination. So with this in mind, I travelled the tram route in its entirety for the purpose of research to determine my favourite must-see-sights and eateries. I encourage you to do the same…
Boarding the tram: Kennedy Town/Sai Ying Pun
Kennedy Town is the place to go to begin your tram adventure. This neighbourhood on the furthest western stop on the MTR Island Line is well-known for its vast array of eateries offering any type of cuisine and dogs everywhere. Kennedy Town is the best place to board the tram, as the coffee shops around the district can offer the perfect hydration and snacks before embarking on the tram ride. As with all public transport in Hong Kong, food and drink is prohibited whilst onboard. My recommendation for a light bite in Kennedy Town is Winston’s which serves excellent coffee and offers high quality sausage rolls (both vegan and pork varieties).
As an alternative boarding spot to Kennedy Town, I would recommend boarding at the Whitty Street Depot. This is located just a short walk from “Instagram Pier” in Sai Ying Pun – an aptly named area, famed for providing artistic shots for social media thanks to the working shipyard with a backdrop of Victoria Harbour. Frequented by runners and influencers, the pier is a must-see stop along the tramline (remember to document the visit on your feed)!
Moving through Sheung Wan, the neighbourhood is a contrast of traditional Chinese medicine stores and artisanal coffee shops. What struck me most was the number of stores selling fish skins, it seemed endless! This, however, is not the only food available and a recommendation of mine is Feather and Bone. With multiple locations across Hong Kong, Feather and Bone is a great place for food, coffee and this site has a store and deli attached to it if you’re after any luxury non-essential items.
The next and most famous district is Hong Kong’s financial area, Central. Rattling along Des Voeux Road Central on a tram rail which is over 100 years old, past the glittering financial towers and high fashion stores is a somewhat surreal, but nonetheless spectacular experience. From here, access to the Mid-Levels and ferry ports is easy and this area is abundant with food options and shopping alike. My post would go on all day if I were to list all the great food spots in Central. However I will say, my all-time favourite place for brunch is Oola in Soho. The French doors offer a relaxed Mediterranean feel to dining and the food is delicious.
Onwards past Admiralty, you arrive in Wan Chai. Here is the famous Lei Tung Avenue with art installations hanging from the buildings, creating a ceiling illusion. Throughout the year, depending on the season, the decorations change and are always lovely to see. Amongst the bars and restaurants is also Hong Kong’s own multi-coloured Flat Iron building. Information on this building is limited but its pastel exterior makes for a great picture!
Causeway Bay and Tin Hau
The adjacent area is Causeway Bay, well-known for its shopping district. Interestingly though, on approach to the area, the tram passes under a flyover known for its “Villain-Hitters”. As the name suggests, there are women stationed there that offer to curse a patron’s enemies. This means they will hit a paper representation of said-enemies for a price. Whilst I’m not endorsing putting a curse on your enemies, it is definitely an unusually unique spectacle as the sound of paper being hit echoes over the taxi horns and pedestrian crossing beeps underneath a flyover.
After passing Victoria Park, you will head into Tin Hau. A small neighbourhood, it offers a slower pace from the bustle of Central and Wan Chai and is a great place for shopping and food alike.
North Point and Quarry Bay
En route to North Point, be on the lookout for the State Theatre on King’s Road. This cinema is a heritage site and famed for appearing in a Bruce Lee film. A derelict theatre, this antique building serves as a reminder of a past Hong Kong as you enter the more traditional area of North Point. As an alternative destination for the tram, this area has a different feel altogether as one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods. The track runs through the middle of a market street which is truly an amazing sight and in this instant, it is clear where the trams get their nickname from. Street vendors and customers obstruct the tram the whole length of the line and the bell ringing from the tram driver is almost constant. The final stretch towards the North Point terminus is truly a different experience as the tram crawls down the line between the market stalls and pedestrians pushing goods. In terms of food, there are some good options including Vegetarian Kitchen where the meals are served with substitute meat and as a non-vegetarian, the food is some of the highest quality meat-free meals I have experienced in Hong Kong.
At Quarry Bay, the tram faces a slight ascent and here alongside the tramline is the famous “Monster Building” renowned for its feature in the Transformers films. The tightly packed blocks create a sense of being enclosed yet the sunlight at one end lights up the buildings to give the courtyard an almost moody atmosphere. A popular backdrop for Instagrammers, this area is technically restricted to just residents. However, visits to the stores inside the complex are allowed and as long as you are not a nuisance to those living there, a quick picture is deemed acceptable.
Alighting: Shau Kei Wan
Reaching the end of the line, towards Shau Kei Wan, the eastern side of the island takes a turn to the more residential, although there is a tourist trail which can take you via the waterfront and Coastal Museum. Passing a skyline of white residential blocks was a stunning view. I rode the tram on a bright, sunny day and the light was perfectly reflected off the towers, providing a really interesting skyline of Hong Kong’s suburbia. This complex is Taikoo Shing – one of Hong Kong’s first major private housing estates. The seemingly endless tower blocks provided the first area for Hong Kong’s middle class to settle in a residential community.
All in all, the tram ride is somewhat mammoth from end to end yet is a great way to see the variety of neighbourhoods and districts along the coast of the island and an alternative way to spend an afternoon in Hong Kong without breaking the bank!
Looking to explore Hong Kong at a slow and steady pace like Hannah? Apply now to become a Chatteris Tutor.