The Hong Kong trams (Ding Dings) go back to the origins of the city’s modern history and set the tone for the renowned and popular MTR metro system. The iconic double double decker electric trams were the first forms of mass public transit in the city and are found only on Hong Kong Island between Shau Kei Wan in the east and Kennedy Town in the west, although they didn’t always have the appearance they have now.
On any visit to Hong Kong, it should be mandatory to take a ride on these trams. For more than 100 years, they have been taking the local people to and from work and personal appointments around the main island along its 13 kilometer route. It is now also the only tram system on earth that uses only double decker vehicles (even though they started out as single deck trams) and also one of the most environmentally friendly ways to get around the city due to their electric power usage. Not only does a trip on the trams, also known as “ding dings” because of the bells used in place of honking, take you quickly from one place to another, it is a fine way to see the city for a very cheap price. It’s no wonder, then, that the trams are such beloved icons of Hong Kong for its citizens and visitors alike.
The tramway system was first proposed for Hong Kong in 1881. However, it was not an easy argument. It wasn’t until 1901, about 20 years later, that the city’s government finally accepted the proposal. Even back then, the trams were run on electricity and not steam, coal, or other energy sources popular in that era. The original route ran from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay, west to east, and later extended to its current reaches. At one point, a short side circuit was added specifically to add the Happy Valley Racecourse to its path.
Ever since the early 20th century, the Hong Kong trams have been on the forefront of urban transportation design and organization, constantly implementing new ideas for better and more efficient movement. The current trams you see on Hong Kong Island today were installed in 2011 as a 7th generation design, giving them a classic look on the outside but modern conveniences and comforts on the inside.
There are many benefits to taking a ding ding. Firstly, its hours are extensive, running from 6am to midnight daily. Secondly, the trips are a great way to see the urban side of Hong Kong Island on an east-west axis for just about 30 cents USD no matter how long you travel. That’s a cheap ride indeed! The first floor is perfect for watching a real-life documentary unfold before your eyes, while the second floor is best for grand overviews of the city. And of course, it is important to get to your destination in time. There are 163 total trams running on the average day over the 13 kilometer route which means you won't have to wait long for the next vehicle to come your way. It takes about 90 minutes to travel from one end to the other.
Be sure to bring exact change when you travel on the ding dings since the farebox nor driver are able to provide change. A more convenient way to pay for your fare is to get an Octopus Card which is a touchface prepaid payment card that you can use later on to ride the MTR metro or any of the city’s buses.
Sometimes, especially during rush hours and weekends, the trams may get quite full. Because of this, be ready to stand in the aisles and hold on to the handlebars if no seats are available.
The top deck is the best place to gain panoramic views of Hong Kong, while a window seat on the first deck are best for intimately watching life on the street.