When my mom first traveled to Hong Kong in 1962, this passenger terminal at Kai Tak was new and so modern. I saw airports in Southeast Asia thirty years later that didn’t come close to this. My mom’s family would fly in and out of Kai Tak for much of the sixties, seventies, and early part of the eighties. Kai Tak was an experience unto itself.
Even when I lived in Hong Kong in the 90s, the airport and surrounding area looked more or less like this. There couldn’t be tall buildings because the planes had to land right at the edge of a densely-populated area in Kowloon. I remember this roundabout and little park, and often walked to the terminal from my friend’s apartment down the street.
And the airport itself held so many great memories: first arriving in Hong Kong, flying to mainland China, Japan, Malaysia, and from those places on to other countries. Stopping by with my dad on my way back through China and overland on the Trans-Siberian. Returning to Hong Kong for grad school and taking trips back to the US: Chicago, New York, San Francisco.
My last flight out of Kai Tak was when I moved away from Hong Kong in February 1998, just five months before the airport closed for good. When I returned next in 2012, the new airport wasn’t new anymore. But Kai Tak aficionados will always see it as the new one.
On a quick layover a couple years ago, I stayed at the old Kai Tak hotel across from the passenger terminal. The buildings at the old airport are gone, but I was surprised to see very little of that space developed. There’s a cruise terminal out near the runway as well as a little park on Runway 13, the famous one that jutted out into the sea. But nothing else was developed. This is the view of the airport grounds at night. That bridge that crosses over the road below seems like it goes to the other side of the road, but it ends before it reaches the ground. This bridge used to connect the hotel to the passenger terminal.
Here’s a picture of it during the day. All that wasteland used to be Kai Tak.
And here’s looking toward my friend’s neighborhood, where I used to walk from when I had an early flight.
The streets of Kowloon City around the old airport haven’t changed a ton. I used to walk around here a lot, either when I met my friend in this neighborhood or picked up or dropped off family or friends at the airport.
And this apartment building, although constructed well after the airport closed, fits in with the area. Just for fun, I checked out this building and saw that 700 square foot apartments cost US$1million.
And here’s part of that little park in the round about, facing away from the airport.
It was like stepping back in time walking around here a couple years ago, even though my friend had moved back to the US years ago and I’ve seen her often over the years.
And staying at the Regal Oriental, which used to be called the Regal Kai Tak Hotel and the Regal Airport Hotel, was also like time traveling. The upper floors still have this lounge where guests could sit and watch the planes land.
Things haven’t been updated since the airport closed, but that just enhanced the experience of staying there. In the 36 hours of that layover, I never saw anyone in these seating areas. With the planes gone, there’s not much to see.
A new subway stop will open in this area soon and I’m sure housing will increase in price even more. High-rises are becoming the norm now, even though Kai Tak has been closed for almost 20 years. It’s just taken a while for things to develop in this area, which I’m not complaining about. I think it’s a miracle it’s not gentrified so quickly. That’s rare in Hong Kong, especially with all this open, undeveloped land. But when the train station opens, I expect the most traces of old Kai Tak to disappear just like the neon signs and Victoria Harbour.