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Scott Taylor, Deseret News
The Star Ferry crosses Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor on July 24. The Star Ferry Company features 12 ferries running four cross-harbor routes and carrying 70,000 passengers a day - or 26 million a year.
Editor's note: Scott Taylor is in Beijing covering the Olympics. Taylor is also providing photos and a traveler's look at China.

Half the fun of sightseeing in Hong Kong is traveling to the sites in style, often by modes of transportation that date back more than a hundred years.

For one of the world's major financial centers and a city of 7 million that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of just about anything and everything, a step back in transportation time is just fine — as long as it can be accompanied by high-tech alternatives.

Most iconic of Hong Kong's transportation options is its historic Star Ferry Company. Founded in 1888, it was the primary mode for public crossing of Victoria Harbor between the city's Kowloon side and Hong Kong Island until the 1972 opening of the Cross Harbor Tunnel.

Today, the Star Ferry Company features 12 ferries running four cross-harbor routes and carrying 70,000 passengers a day — or 26 million a year. Despite the influx of road tunnels and subways connecting the two sides, it remains a popular and inexpensive mode of crossing, just 2.2 Hong Kong dollars — or about 30 U.S. cents — for a single trip.

And for international visitors, the ferry provides not only a nostalgic journey across the harbor but some of the best up-close views of the towering monolithic skyscrapers lining both shores.

Also dating back to 1888 is the Peak Tram, a funicular railway traversing the steep, hilly terrain called the Mid-levels, located between the Central and Victoria Peak districts. It boasts an accident-free history, although service was knocked out for four years due to damage sustained in the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong during World War II.

With a capacity of 120 passengers a trip, the Peak Tram shuttles an estimated 4 million riders a year — or 11,000 residents and tourists a day — on the five-minute, several-stop trip that tops out at a steepness of 48 degrees.

What started out with a static steam engine to power the haulage cable is now a renovated, computer-controlled system transporting tourists to some of the most striking views from Victoria Peak overlooks.

Almost as old is the Hong Kong Tramways, serving Hong Kong Island since 1904. The electric streetcar system is one of only three tramways in the world — the others being Blackpool, England, and Alexandria, Egypt — and the only one that exclusively runs double-deckers.

Besides being a long-time tourist attraction itself, the tram system provides daily transport for nearly a quarter-million residents.

But Hong Kong is more than merely turn-back-the-clock transportation. Featuring a highly developed, sophisticated mix of public and private transportation, the city has 90 percent of its daily journeys taken on public transportation, the highest such percentage in the world.

Even those on foot in the Central, Western and Mid-levels districts get a modern edge, thanks to an extensive series of moving pavements and escalators.

The world's longest outdoor covered escalator system and operating since 1993, the Mid-levels Escalator, consisting of 20 escalators and three moving pavements, operates downhill until midmorning, then switches going uphill until midnight.

Other mass-transit options include modern subways, a light-rail airport express train linking the area's three major islands, double-decker buses, mini-buses, taxis, gondolas and more.

Paying for many of the old-school and more modern mainstream mass transportations, Hong Kong residents and tourists use an electronic money system called the "Octopus card," which has been in operation since 1997.

The electronic swipe card can be recharged with additional deposits and used not only on a number of transportation systems but also with parking meters and some vending machines and at convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and supermarkets.

But you'll see the Octopus used most often in Hong Kong by those riding mass-transit systems, whether it be a Star Ferry, the Peak Tram or one of city's ultra-modern subway lines.


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