Rainshowers – that was the forecast when we checked on the weather outlook for Hong Kong a few days before we were to leave.
It was quite a downer since we were expecting to amble on its streets and walkways while taking time to reconnect with a city that we last visited almost two decades back. But then again, we could do nothing about the weather. As travelers, we just need to adapt, and that meant, in this case, packing bulky jackets and sweaters. There was no way we were allowing our giddily excited spirits to be dampened by rain.
A very early morning flight prompted a sleep-deprived group of travelers to head towards the airport. We came home quite late from a despedida party for a relative who was also leaving for the US just days after our departure. Two and a half hours was the estimated travel time. It was still perfect for a quick, seat-belt-protected nap several kilometers above ground.
The first “first-time” experience that greeted us was the landing at Chek Lap Kok Airport. Okay, consider us as very “left behind” individuals considering that it started its operations in 1998, three years after we last visited the then British colony. The former airport of Hong Kong, Kai Tak, which was built in the 1920s, was closed due to the limitations of the area in terms of expansion, since it was located in a densely populated area in Kowloon.
Being an architect, I couldn’t help but set my sights on its design and its interior space. Designed by the firm of renowned architect Norman Foster, the airport terminal possessed a very sleek and aerodynamic design, which was said to enable it to withstand gusty winds during typhoons.
Although the ambience of Changi Airport in Singapore (which we visited last year) was more warm and welcoming, Chek Lap Kok can boast of its numerous restaurants and shops, which made waiting for one’s flight an extension of one’s tourist strolls. It’s nothing to complain about, considering that we had just landed in one of the Top 5 Airports in the world.
And so after collecting our luggage and waiting for our van to transport us to the hotel, we headed outdoors, and true enough, the prospect of rain was very imminent.
Although the ground was relatively dry, the sky was overcast as we started scanning the map to plot the destinations for the day. Yes, no one was going to get any bedtime yet as we had to make the whole afternoon fruitful.
It was when we left the hotel, which was located in the shopping district of Mong Kok, that we got a taste of some jacket weather. My cousin checked the weather on his mobile and it read 18 degrees. It was a cold walk, but an exciting one, considering the company.
It began to drizzle after lunch. The downside of rain for travelers is that one can get stuck in a place, wasting precious hours of exploration.
Well, lucky for us, we chose an appropriate place to hangout while rain was slowly falling on our heads.
Langham Place is the place to be if you are in search for stylish local brand stores and places to eat. It was a building that vividly reflected Mong Kok’s character as a shopping district in Hong Kong. The design featured glass openings that provided views of different nooks and crannies of Mong Kok, allowing the visitor to stay connected to the overall feel of the district. The thick crowd that we saw inside was natural since it was a Sunday.
Yet, we still managed to find a comfy place for an obligatory hot coffee near one of the shopping place’s distinguishing architectural features – its two sets of escalators that measured 83 meters. Known as “expresscalators”, these were anchored on dynamic brick masses that protruded out of the different floors. These served as a centerpiece for their glass-encased grand atrium and the whole composition was my first Facebook post about the trip.
It was actually worthwhile, being stranded in Langham, as we were able to buy some items at discounted prices at The Strip, Langham’s shopping area. As my companions said, “Naa gyud ta’y na-ani karon (We were able to accomplish something today).” As the sun was about to set, it was another joyful walk back to the hotel.
Probably the highlight of the trip was the visit to Disneyland on day two, most especially for my cute one-year-old niece. She was dressed in vivid pink and yellow, colors that not only embodied the animated characters of Disney’s various productions, but also countered the still cloudy weather.
It was actually back to distant Lantau Island for us, the location of the famous theme park, but thanks to the efficient Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system, the trip was a quick and comfortable one from Mong Kok all the way to Sunny Bay, which connected us to Disneyland itself through a train that had Mickey Mouse head-shaped windows.
Before the trip, my cousins and I had this self-imposed rule: to try as many thrill rides as possible, like Toy Story’s RC Racer and Parachute Drop. The weather somewhat cooperated with us, and the whole day at Disneyland ended without a heavy downpour.
The same was observed the next day at Ocean Park, where we noticed a lot of new additions since our last visit. More thrill rides was one of them. This time, the rain tried to be a party pooper, but that did not prevent my cousins from riding one of the most adventurous offerings in the park – The Flash. And boy, they got themselves up high and upside down.
Our last afternoon was spent at Hong Kong’s famous harbor area. Just immediately outside the Tsim Sha Tsui station was another great urban destination, the Avenue of the Stars. Opened in 2004, this promenade not only attests to the special administrative region’s glittery contributions to the film industry, by honoring stars like Bruce Lee along the Kowloon pier area overlooking Hong Kong Island, but it also gives us lessons on how to develop waterfronts, riversides and coastal areas into clean, safe and very efficient open public spaces. It gives visitors from all walks of life access to views, socializing (there are coffee shops ready for one’s caffeine fix) and even some private moments. For tourists, the panoramic view of the other island with architectural icons, like I.M. Pei’s Bank of China Building and Cesar Pelli’s International Finance Center towers, gives way for some snapshots that are distinct souvenirs of the place itself.
It was a short trip, but still we managed to keep our schedules full. Thanks to the internet, where one can buy tickets offered at promotional rates and take advantage of the value of early planning, giving one more than enough time to “strategize” trips before leaving. The rain made things more challenging, but we were almost unanimous in loving the jacket weather that prevailed for most of our stay in Hong Kong. It was fun to have enjoyed a few days of this year’s scorching summer season away from the city with way below average temperatures for summer.