With bells on

BRIAN JOHNSON
Last updated 05:05 13/01/2014
Tram Landscape

ENDEARIGN: Hong Kong's double-decker trams.

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I'm sitting in a tram lurching through Hong Kong's Central Station. The wooden seat isn't exactly comfortable and the carriage is open to the elements but I don't mind in the least.

All around me, Filipino nannies on their way to Victoria Park are nattering, cracking nuts and smiling. Like a kid, I lean out of the window. The tram stops on average every 250 metres and I'll hop off when I see something interesting.

And with a flat fare of just HK$2.30 (36 cents), it will hardly matter if I give in to my whims and have to buy another ticket.

When I'm in Hong Kong, there's nothing I like better than hopping on a tram in Central and being rattled out towards Causeway Bay.

I'd rather forgo the scenic views provided by the Star Ferry and Peak railway, and get an up-close look at Hong Kong's gloriously scruffy, chaotic neighbourhoods instead. Besides, I find the rickety old trams rather endearing.

They first started service in 1904 and, in a city constantly crazy about the new, they're a sign of nostalgia. Locals affectionately call them "ding-dings", after the double bell warning pedestrians.

Ding ding! It's like a call to new discoveries, as far as I'm concerned. Before long, I spy some street markets hidden beneath the skyscrapers just off the tram stop on Des Voeux Road.

The little alleyways that run off here are crammed with stalls selling everything from fresh vegetables to traditional quilted jackets. I would have missed them on the train but, from the tram, I can alight and investigate. I rummage through heaped T-shirts and chopstick sets, and then another tram comes and off I go again.

As the tram heads out of Central on to Queensway, I see an unexpected splash of green. Hong Kong Park is a discovery that packs in carp-filled pools and conservatories of orchids, where newly weds come to have their photos taken. The highlight, however, is the stunning walk-through aviary of 600 birds.

As I walk along a platform high in the trees, I hear the tinkle of a stream and the screeches of birds against the roar of downtown traffic.

The park has been a pleasant distraction but the journey is the central theme. As the tramline enters Wan Chai, I begin to think about lunch. I hop off on Johnston Road and wander into Wan Chai Market, where office workers are tucking into fish-ball soup and chicken's feet at street stalls.

The area is crammed with dozens of hole-in-the-wall outlets serving hearty bowls of noodles and other snacks. Soon I'm slurping at congee flavoured with fish, tangerine peel and dried scallops, sitting beside locals in string vests.

A few stops further east, after rattling beneath a kaleidoscope of neon signs, I'm in the true heart of Wan Chai, crammed with electronic and fashion stores. Then I'm ready for another stop, at a teahouse for some refreshing herbal tea. Finally, I'm off back to my hotel at a slow lurch, wheels screeching on rails, Hong Kong slowly unfolding. Ding ding.

The writer travelled courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and Qantas.

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