Where life comes to a standstill for nine minutes in Hong Kong

29 07 2010

One of the must-dos for any visitor to Hong Kong is to catch the slow boat across the Victoria Harbour. The Star Ferry, aptly named as the ferry service is one of the “stars” of the fragrant harbour, connects Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland, providing a vital link that served as the main link across Victoria Harbour before the Cross Harbour Tunnel was completed in 1972. These days, the MTR offers the most efficient means of getting across the harbour to those travelling on the public transport, and one can be whisked across in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the nine minute ferry ride (not including waiting time), or being stuck in traffic, but there is really nothing like the laid back old world experience of making the crossing in a charming green and white ferry boat.

Star Ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier. One painted in festive colours for the Dragon Boat Carnival is seen with one in the traditional green and white.

Star Ferries at Tsim Sha Tsui Pier. One painted in festive colours for the Dragon Boat Carnival is seen with one in the traditional green and white.

A Star Ferry against the backdrop of Hong Kong Island.

A Star Ferry against the backdrop of Hong Kong Island.

Up the stairs to the Upper Deck at Tsim Sha Tsui. The more expensive upper deck provides good views of the harbour.

Up the stairs to the Upper Deck at Tsim Sha Tsui. The more expensive upper deck provides good views of the harbour.

Tokens can be purchased at vending machines at the pier, or if you have the exact fare, you may proceed straight to the turnstiles.

Tokens can be purchased at vending machines at the pier, or if you have the exact fare, you may proceed straight to the turnstiles.

Turnstiles at Tsim Sha Tsui.

Turnstiles at Tsim Sha Tsui.

I suppose, I can be accused of being biased in stating this, having throughout much of my life had a fascination for ships, particularly old ships, and I guess taking a ride on any ferry for that matter is something I would always make a point of doing and something that I would not tire of. The ones with some of history in them can especially be irresistible: Wiseman’s Ferry being one of them, perhaps partly for that bit of nostalgia for the river crossings of old, and the Penang Ferry being another. Ferries often provide not just a means to get across a body of water, but a means to take the sights in: the Staten Island Ferry provides an excellent vantage from which the green lady we know as Liberty can be photographed, and the ferries running across Sydney Harbour which provide an economical way to take in the sights of the Sydney’s magnificent harbour in. It is in fact the Star Ferry that offers all of that, if not much more: history, nostalgia, a means to get across the harbour, and magnificent views of the harbour and the Hong Kong’s and Tsim Sha Tsui’s spectacular skyline … and a first hand feel of how the masses of people were (and still are) moved across the harbour.

The Ferry Time Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/)

The Ferry Time Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/)

The Fare Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/). The Star Ferry provides a cheap means to take the sights of the spectacular harbour in.

The Fare Table (source: http://www.starferry.com.hk/). The Star Ferry provides a cheap means to take the sights of the spectacular harbour in.

Indeed, the nine minute ride on the Star Ferry, which the National Geographic Traveler magazine had identified as one of 50 places of a lifetime in 1999, provides not just a means to cross the harbour which would perhaps be more efficiently traversed on the MTR, but offers an experience that is unique to Hong Kong. It is on the ferry where one can mingle with a Hong Kong rush that comes to a standstill, forced to slow to a pace that is in keeping with the old world that the ferries seem to take one back to. It is on the ferry that tourists and locals, people from all walks of life on the move, can pause for a while, where faces are no longer faces that are blurred by motion, but faces that are to be observed.

Taking in the beautiful sights of Victoria Harbour.

Taking in the beautiful sights of Victoria Harbour.

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A team of Dragon Boaters returning to the island after the races on 25 July.

A team of Dragon Boaters returning to the island after the races on 25 July.

Based on information on the Star Ferry’s website, the ferry traces its origins to 1880 when a Parsee cook, Dorabjee Naorojee Mithaiwala, began a ferry service across Victoria Harbour using a steamboat named the Morning Star. By 1888, the Kowloon Ferry Company as it was known as then, ran the a regular 40-minute to one-hour trip, through the day, stopping only on Mondays and on Fridays for coaling of the steamboats to be accomplished. By 1890, four single-deck Star Ferries were operating, and double deck ferries were later introduced to cope with the increasing demand. These days the service is run like clockwork utilising ferries that are very much still old world in appearance, the fleet having been built in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving visitors with a piece of Hong Kong that is very much the old Hong Kong that has survived the onslaught of the fast paced world we see today.

Sights in and around the Star Ferry and the terminal


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Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.

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