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April 11, 2011

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Take a Ding Ding ride

TO savor the delights of Hong Kong where East meets West, you may go to Victoria Harbor for the seascape, Lan Kwai Fong for fun and Pacific Place for shopping, but there is something that should never be missed - a tram ride that takes you out of your comfort zone and offers a different perspective of the city.

Since their debut in 1904, Hong Kong's rickety trams have been rumbling along the northern side of the island for more than a century. From the original single-deckers to open-air double-deckers and then later enclosed trams with a top viewing deck, the trams may have changed a lot in appearance, but not in value, serving as an extremely cost-efficient mode of transport.

The trams are nicknamed the "Ding Ding Tram," a reference to the bell used to warn traffic and pedestrians of their approach. When bells were replaced by a beeper in 2000, a public outcry led to the bells being reinstalled.

With a fleet of 163 tramcars, including two antique trams, Hong Kong Tramways has the world's largest squad of double-deck trams in operation, carry about 233,000 passengers a day and provide 82 million rides per year.

But fares have remained unchanged since 1998 - HK$2 (26 US cents) for adults, regardless of the distance.

Robert Tsang, a 28-year-old bank clerk, says he often takes the tram to and from work since they run from 6am to almost midnight at intervals of one to four minutes.

"I prefer to find a seat on the upper deck, looking outside at the bustling street life with nothing on my mind - it's a good way to relax myself after a busy day's work," he says.

The trip is not simply about relaxation. The tram line extends for 13 kilometers from Kennedy Town at the western end to Shau Kei Wan on the northeast coast with a 3km single-track loop running through the Happy Valley district. It passes the city's highlights throughout the Central, Admiralty and Wan Chai areas, letting passengers admire Central District's skyscrapers. Passengers can hop off for a shopping spree at Causeway Bay, a paradise for the style-conscious seeking the latest fashion items. They can also take photos of the famous Racecourse, or even devour books in Hong Kong Central Library.

Angela Collette, a visitor from Singapore, says she likes to take a tram with her 3-year-old daughter because she considers it safer and more convenient than the bus. "Buses here run very fast, and often brake suddenly, so it's not comfortable for little kids," she says.

A tram driver in his early 30s says he took up the job months after the introduction of the new metal-body trams in 2000. They provide more space and comfort.

"The upgrade marked an important milestone in the history of Hong Kong trams. It reinforces our commitment to improve tram facilities and service standards for the passengers," he says.

Though imperfections remain - you get really sweaty taking a tram on hot summer days - the "Ding Ding Tram" is not merely a means of pleasant travel, but also a contributor to Hong Kong's modern story.


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