Sai Wan Then and Now: Views Along the Tramline

Old Kennedy Town Tram photos

Sai Wan Then and Now: Views Along the Tramline

The tram is one of the oldest and most used transportation services in Hong Kong. The memories of times long gone only exist on faded black white postcards. I wanted to revisit the history of Hong Kong through they eyes of people who were on the tram a century ago. From a backyard to a booming market, the pictures tell us about the immense change. But even after going through a century of expansion and renewal, Sai Wan is full of character and history. The past and the future of this wonderful pocket is one of new immigrants and businesses. Only one thing will remain the same and that is the tram tracks!



The intersection between Catchick Street and Cadogan Street in the early 1900s and 2020.

This was the furthest the tramway went.  Sai Wan was always the ‘backyard’ of the island.  In the early years the waterfront was lined with rice depots, later slaughterhouses, factories, wholesale markets and mortuaries were built.

Right next to the line used to be an abattoir. The abattoir was demolished in 2009, and now there is a tall residential tower called ‘The Merton’ in its place. It is one of the few places in Hong Kong where you can be right at the waterfront.


“I have lived in Sai Wan for 30 years. Back then it would cost $1 or less to ride the tram.”

— Mr Ng, warehouse owner in Kennedy Town



Intersection between Catchick Street & North Street, 1957 and 2020

The tram tracks are actually one of the few constants in an ever-changing Hong Kong. Little has remained the same here since 1957. Even the width of the street has been decreased to make way for new buildings.  At the time, behind the buildings on the left was the bay, now there are more housing blocks.

If you look around Kennedy Town today, you will still see many shops on the ground floor and overhangs providing shade on a hot day. The days of handwritten shop signs may be over but the multi-coloured signboards make each shop unique.

“Our shop is literally on the tram track, so we didn’t have to think long about a name. We even painted the interior ‘tram green’.”

— Mark Brough, owner of The Tramline Liquor Co., Kennedy Town



Praya, Shek Tong Tsui, 1905 and 2020.

The photo shows the bay and the ferry that would take people to Kowloon and outlying islands. Next to it was a police station. The praya has transformed drastically over the years, even the name has changed, it is now called Des Voeux Road West. Did you know that before the 1980s, the tram tracks in Sai Wan were right at the edge of the waterfront? Land reclamation made it much wider Today, residential buildings make up much of the environment around the tramway.


“People would run to catch the tram and sometimes they would trip… something interesting would happen every day right outside my shop.”

— Ms Chang, shop owner, Shek Tong Tsui



Intersection between Catchick Street & North Street, 1922 and 2020

The tram was a very important mode of transport back in the days, there was little space for vehicles on the road. The tram system was built to give quick access to all areas of ‘Victoria City’ and reduce dependence on the chair coolies that were the main form of transport then. From the start of operation in 1904, the trams were electric, Hong Kong tramways never used horse or steam power. Even with the arrival of the MTR in 2015, the tram remains a convenient and cheap mode of transport for people living in Sai Wan.

“The tram is an integral part of many elderly in Sai Wan as it is easier and cheaper for them to take the slow tram.”

— Mr Ng, warehouse owner, Kennedy Town


I think that it is safe to conclude that Sai Wan is full of historical landmarks, even after going through a century of expansion and renovation. From a backyard to a booming market, Kennedy Town is definitely bringing out the big guns to the residential, commercial and tourism markets. The pictures tell us about the immense change Kennedy Town has gone through. The future of this wonderful little area is full of new immigrants and businesses looking to expand this town. However, one thing will remain the same as it has been for the past century, and that is K-Town’s tram tracks!




Mudit is a student in Hong Kong and he has lived in Hong Kong for 6 years. He moved to Hong Kong with his family for work and he has just completed high school. His favourite things to do in Hong Kong are to play volleyball and badminton, eat dumplings and ride around HK on the tram.


iDiscover Neighbourhood Mapping & Storytelling Internship Project

iDiscover Internship

This story is part of a 2-week iDiscover Internship Project. Under our mentorship, a group of recent high school graduates and undergraduate students unveiled the historical layers in three old Hong Kong neighbourhoods: Kennedy Town, Shek Tong Tsui and Sai Ying Pun. They learnt the stories of old streets, long-time residents and popular shopkeepers, and dived deep into the local culture and living heritage. Zooming in to neighbourhood level, the student interns set out to discover and analyse what makes this city unique, and published their observations in the form of blogs, vlogs, an app route, and a place identity report.


Want to do this at your school, university, or in your community?

You can with iDiscover Academy! We now offer tailored toolkits for school teachers, university educators, community leaders, planners and place-makers. We want to enable you to map what matters in your neighbourhood together with your students/community members, and help you share it on our digital publishing platform. Consolidating what we have learnt mapping over 50 neighbourhoods across Asia in the past six years, we have designed a streamlined 6-step methodology that is inclusive, fast and fun, with easy-to-use templates, a clean interface and instructional videos. Our hope is to share our experiences and learnings, empower like-minded organisations and individuals to #keepheritagealive. Head to the iDiscover Academy website to have a look at the different packages available and check out case studies across Asia. 

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