While travel was paused during the pandemic, Hong Kong kept evolving. Three attractions give new and returning visitors fascinating insights into the city’s British era. Two reinvent an iconic Hong Kong experience, and the other provides visitors access to a part of Hong Kong that’s been closed to tourists – until now.
The Renewed Peak Tram
Hong Kong’s Peak Tram has been transporting people to the cool, greenery-covered heights of Victoria Peak since 1888. It’s one of the oldest funiculars in the world and is said to be the oldest in Asia.
Originally constructed with wooden cars to serve the British governor and other residents of the Peak, the tram takes riders on a spectacular, steep journey, one that has gotten only more extraordinary as Hong Kong has become a beacon of 20th and 21st century urban design.
Rising from about 100 feet to over 1300 feet above sea level, and at times ascending a nearly 30-degree grade, the tram glides past skyscrapers, leaving them below in a surreal trip that reveals at every moment new and unique views of Hong Kong’s ultra-modern cityscape, to Victoria Harbour and beyond.
The trip may be one of your most memorable - and certainly, most photo-worthy – few minutes in the city.
The Peak Tram has been an integral part of Hong Kong for 130 years, but during the pandemic pause, it closed for extensive renovations and upgrades and emerged all-new in 2022.
Its hundred million-dollar renewal created new facilities, increased capacity to reduce wait times, and unveiled an all-new look.
The tram’s latest - 6th - generation of cars (pictured, top) were made in Switzerland in a design that harkens back to mid-century carriages. They’re painted a retro color that’s being called “Peak Tram Green.” While not identical, a savvy traveler might be reminded of another renowned, bespoke, verdant hue in Hong Kong: “Peninsula Green.” That’s the custom paint color of a fleet of Rolls Royces that Hong Kong’s epic Peninsula Hotel has famously used for decades to ferry its guests around the city. Not coincidentally, the Peak Tram happens to be owned and operated by the same company that owns the legendary Peninsula Hotel.
More than a facelift and a new iconic color identity, though, the 6th generation Peak Tram cars feature larger, panoramic windows that give passengers even more breathtaking views of the scenery beyond and below the tram.
In addition, each terminus, top and bottom, has been refurbished, incorporating unique experiences.
Once you arrive at the Peak, there are plenty of reasons to linger. The wok-shaped Peak Tower, observation decks, and dining and shopping experiences make the Peak itself a destination in Hong Kong.
In addition to the views, one of the original draws of the Peak for early residents, including the British governor, was the cool air its heights provided – especially in pre-air conditioning days. Today, you can still take advantage of the refreshing atmosphere at the Peak to enjoy incredible hikes and walks.
Newly-Opened to Visitors: Hong Kong’s Closed Frontier Town Sha Tau Kok
Hong Kong’s northernmost town is the last stop before mainland China. Sha Tau Kok was designated as part of a “Frontier Closed Area” in 1951, off-limits except to citizens with special permits.
Like other closed border zones in the world, Sha Tau Kok became a hotbed of illegal border crossing and smuggling, with its reputation only adding to its appeal for those of us intrigued by no-go zones.
But beginning in phases in 2022, the area is being opened to visitors fascinated by its colorful frontier history. Tourists to Hong Kong are now able to join weekend tours and get access to this previously-closed area.
Chung Ying Street has formed the border between the Chinese and British territories since Hong Kong’s New Territories were leased to Britain in the 19th century. One side of the street remains part of mainland China, the other, Hong Kong’s New Territories. Dubbed Chung Ying (“China England”) Street, shops grew up on both sides for cross-border shopping for residents with border permits, and reportedly smuggling while borders remained closed. Chung Ying Street continues to be one of the symbols of the era and remains a restricted zone, but visitors on tours may be able to get a glimpse of the legendary street on their tour.
At 1000 feet, Sha Tau Kok Pier is the longest pier in Hong Kong. It’s got a brand-new outdoor bazaar and social media-worthy murals.
Hong Kong’s Historic Central Market, Re-imagined for Modern Times
One of Hong Kong’s oldest fresh food markets also became one of the city’s architectural landmarks, and now, Central Market has a new lease on life for current residents and visitors.
While the market itself dates back to 1842, the first year of the British era of Hong Kong, it went through a number of physical transformations until its most recent. The 1939, Bauhaus-style Central Market became entrenched as a symbol of Hong Kong in the 20th century, even as consumers adopted new shopping habits and new shopping venues, leading to the Central Market’s closure in 2003.
Luckily, that’s not the end of the story.
Hong Kong’s Urban Renewal Authority undertook a vision for a future for the Central Market. During the pandemic, the re-imagined, revitalized and preserved historic Central Market building re-opened.
The original structure, with its historic red brick walls and the hanging clock of the building’s grand staircase, remains.
But rather than a market full of traditional fresh food stalls, visitors today will discover a modern cultural, shopping and community destination with next-generation architectural elements like a 400-plant, air filtering green arcade, and also experiences that reflect the Central Market building’s heritage and place in the city’s history. Many of today’s vendors even create and sell products using traditional ingredients in new ways or souvenirs that take visitors back decades.
13 original stalls remain, along with displays of traditional shop signs - along with an art installation of 500 mini red lampshades that were symbols of Hong Kong’s traditional fresh food markets.
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Story by: Lynn Elmhirst, cruise/ travel journalist
Images courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board
Top image credit: William Furniss
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