Hong Kong, April 2018: Kai Tak, a name that will resonate with just about everyone in Hong Kong for it was the home of Hong Kong’s airport for 73 years. Those living within the vicinity had the daily spectacle of seeing jumbo jets swooping low across rooftops of the densely built Kowloon city while residents living under the final approach could almost touch the aircraft’s undercarriage – well perhaps not but those floating urban myths serve to illustrate how close Hong Kong’s airport was to the city. Nowadays planes have been replaced by a plethora of cranes as Kai Tak airport is bulldozed to make way for swanky condominium towers and a new MTR station. Today my urban wanderings have led me towards Kai Tak airport so that I can discover what, if anything, remains of this iconic piece of Hong Kong’s history in 2018.
I was last here in 1987 although back then I didn’t really pay much attention to the surroundings and so memories of Kai Tak are pretty vague. I do remember the passenger terminal though – about 3 to 4 floors, full of students doing homework and it was the only place I could make an international phone call which had to be booked 24 hours in advance! Now, its all gone, the place obliterated from the landscape with nothing to indicate there was ever any building or structure sited as one looks on from the Prince Edward Highway. All there is to see are cranes, fences and stacked containers serving as constructors offices -progress they call it. All that remains is a section of an elevated access road that would have taken passengers to the check-in halls at Kai Tak International Airport.
Further along the perimeter fence and one comes to the former RAF Kai Tak base. Situated in the northeastern corner of the old airfield and still intact are a couple of hangars along with the aircraft pans. Vacated by the RAF in 1978 the site was primarily given over to civilian use with the support of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. Surprisingly the place looks in pretty good shape today, separated from the main redevelopment by a line of hedging with at least on of the buildings housing the Hong Kong Aviation Club! Yes, a flying club without a runway sadly, but all is not lost since the wonders of flight simulation allow folk to relive Kai Tak operations albeit from the safety of an old hangar (More on the HKAC here).
Here’s whats left of Former Royal Air Force Kai Tak…
For now at least, one leaves in the knowledge that this small section of heritage is being preserved and put to good use. My curiosity doesn’t end here though, and since there’s still public access to the old Kai Tak runway 13, a good opportunity to grab what could be the final ever photos from the runway of the old airport. Most of it is a car park and tour bus parking lot strewn with garbage around the edges. Since the airports closure in July 1998 some original surfaces have been replaced or simply bulldozed, but there are sill patches of the original runway left – concrete slabs with friction grooves.
Clearly not a mainstream tourist activity but perhaps a last chance for those with fond memories of the Kai Tak days to take a wander down memory lane. For a complete Kai Tak experience I’d recommend combining a visit here with a trip to the Checkerboard Hill (That post here)
The easiest way to access Kai Tak is via a 30 minute hike from Lok Fu MTR Station down through Kowloon City. There’s plenty of Youtube content on Kai Tak such as this excellent 12 minute video
And lastly… I didn’t see or feel any ghostly presence, but it was daylight. Perhaps a visit at night might produce a very different experience!