Hong Kong's retro ride: Peak Tram turns 125
It’s been 125 years since the first passengers boarded the glossy wooden carriages for the Peak Tram’s maiden journey up Hong Kong’s highest hill.
It’s hard to believe that prior to the tram, Peak dwellers -- mostly wealthy Europeans -- got to and from their homes on sedan chairs carried by local bearers.
What started as a simple means of transport has evolved into a beloved experience for millions of visitors each year.
To mark the Peak Tram’s 125th year of service in 2013, Peak Tramways and The Peak Tower have launched a publicity campaign in conjunction with Visa.
Limited edition tickets have been issued, along with a Peak Tram-themed board game, a paper conductor doll and a new bear mascot called Bobo, created by Hong Kong designer Douglas Young.
Tram carriages have undergone four changes over the years.
Initially, they were timber carts powered by steam.
Today's computerized aluminum cars carry up to 120 passengers.
While the first generation tram only carried 30 passengers per trip and was meant to serve only Peak residents and officials, more than 600 people traveled on the tram on its first day of operation in 1888.
The price for a single ride on the tram ranged from 5 to 30 cents, depending on which class the passenger traveled in. Today, a round trip journey costs HK$40 ($5).
First time passengers are often unnerved by the steep inclines as the tram hauls itself up the side of Victoria Peak on a steel cable.
“It gets so steep during certain parts of the journey that you’re practically lying against the back of your seat,” says Fan Kwok Chu, senior conductor of the Peak Tram. “That’s not something you can experience on your average tram.”
Fan has ridden in trams in all parts of the world, and says Hong Kong’s Peak Tram is “really something different.”
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“Most of the trams you seen nowadays just travel on ground level, and even for the ones that do go up mountains, they are designed in a way that you’re traveling level with the ground, not much different from an escalator,” says Fan.
In contrast, the Peak Tram ascends at varying degrees of incline.
On the steepest stretch of track the tram is at a 27-degree tilt, making the skyscrapers outside the carriage look as if they're falling toward the mountain in what's known as “the Peak Tram illusion.”
The steepness, the steady clink and clank of tracks and the trees that seem to close in as the tram keeps rolling, add a sense of tension to the journey.
It’s only when the tram rounds its final bend and the trees clear that Hong Kong’s skyline -- a stretch of shiny skyscrapers and silver concrete below -- emerges out of the green.
This is also the cue for passengers to let out gasps of surprise and dive into backpacks for their cameras.
“The Peak Tram is one of the most symbolic attractions of Hong Kong,” says Fan. “You can’t say you’ve visited Hong Kong if you haven’t been up the Peak, and a journey up Victoria Peak without the Peak Tram is simply incomplete.”
Peak Tram, Lower Terminus, 33 Garden Road, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2522 0922; 7 a.m.-midnight daily; round-trip tickets HK$40 ($5)
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