Chungking Mansions – Yes or No? My Experience…

Chungking Mansions – Yes or No? My Experience…

Chungking Mansions is infamous in Hong Kong. Known as a cheap place for backpackers to get cheap rooms, it also sports some less than favourable reviews. Wondering whether this is the place for you…?

Arrival

We arrived in Hong Kong at midday, after a horrific over-night train ride from Shanghai. Chinese trains are not Russian trains… I’ll be writing a bit about this experience and more of the epic train journey from London to Hong Kong! Watch this space…

I didn’t have a hand in booking our accommodation for Hong Kong, but James had done a marvellous job so far, so I had no worries about its quality. It was a short train ride away and I have never been more tired and excited to take a mid-afternoon nap!

As we approached the building on busy Nathan Road I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach and suddenly my confidence in James choices dropped.

I know this place!

We were approaching the infamous Chungking Mansions… I was not thrilled, specifically because I had come across articles such as this during my research on Hong Kong.

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Photo by: Ralf Roletschek

First Impressions

Before we had even stepped over the threshold we were accosted by masses of men aggressively insisting we buy their suits, phones, sim cards or stay in their guesthouses. The experience was overwhelming and made more difficult once we managed to get inside the chaotic interior.

For those who have never been to Chungking Mansions, it is a 5 block, 17 storey labyrinth. The lower floors serve as a mall consisting of market style stores and restaurants. Ancient little lifts with famously long queues will take you at a snails pace to the upper floors; where you can find all manner of guest houses, more restaurants and residential areas. Of course, stairs are an option. That is, if you don’t mind a truly rank smell and the possibility of bumping into a few drug dealers on the way.

It turns out finding the Mansions is only the first step to finding your place to stay. First you must successfully work out the buildings system and navigate to the correct lift; whilst simultaneously tuning out the constant propositions from vendors.

We finally made it to our guesthouse, Primo or rather, its reception shared with about 5 different hostels. Once checked in, we were taken to yet another floor where our room was located. I didn’t have much hope, but my fingers were crossed that it wasn’t going to be as awful as some of the ones I had read about…

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Photograph by Greg Goodman

Primo Guesthouse

The first thing I see upon entering our new home for 4 nights…

A cockroach in the toilet…

What a delight! Despite flushing the cockroach away, we were still treated to daily visits from its friends and family. I eventually dealt with this by turning on the bathroom lights and waiting to actually going in a few moments later – to give the little creature time to scuttle away. If I didn’t see it, was it truly there…?

The rest of the room was pretty bad. A dingy, windowless box with holes in the ceiling and questionable cleanliness. The bed was quite large but left little space for manoeuvre around the edge and the dirty underside meant there was no way I would be storing my bags underneath.The bathroom was no more than a shoebox, the toilet directly beneath the shower and the sink within reach of someone sat on the toilet. If you’d care to do that of course.

Overall, it was enough to make me cry, real sobbing tears and insist we immediately find somewhere else to go.

That simply wasn’t an option though, given the sky-high prices in Hong Kong and the fact we had come over the Chinese New Year. Plus, we had already paid. The chance of finding anywhere remotely close in price was out of the question. Even if we could these places would have been booked up long before we had even arrived in Hong Kong. So with a small pep talk from James, we settled into our new home.

A room similar to our own on Booking.com

On the Plus Side…

Despite the fact our room was fairly dirty, teeny tiny and home to a family of cockroaches, there were still some positives to the place.

  • Our particular guest house provided towels, a massive help considering our towels had needed washing for quite some time!
  • An oasis of quiet and calm – a much needed escape from the madness of Hong Kong city life. Even if that also meant we didn’t get a window.
  • Air conditioning, a valuable asset for sleeping let me tell you.
  • Free and unlimited coffee! Sure, it was sachets of questionable instant coffee – but coffee is coffee!

If you don’t think too hard about the gross stuff, and focus on the good stuff, you can manage with most things!

Primo wasn’t the nicest place we could have stayed, but it was cheap, private and worked for our needs at the time. However, that was a small piece of our experience. What about the actual Chungking Mansions?

About Chungking Mansions

The Mansions, built in 1961, was primarily a residential building. Since then, the building had evolved into the icon it is today. Housing an estimated 4,000 permanent residents, in excess of 200 guesthouses and uncounted shops and services.

It is said over 10,000 people pass through this place in a single day.

It is a place of gathering for the many ethnic minorities in Hong Kong. You will find quite the mix of nationalities here; South Asian, Middle Eastern and African communities. The lower floors are an onslaught of a myriad different languages being shouted into mobile phones and tantalising smells of the delicious food on offer from the many family owned business lining the walkways.

You will find clothes, mobile phones, sim cards, DVDs, electronics and tourist souvenirs for sale under its roof. You could get your key cut, your hair cut, exchange money, even book a flight. Many of the businesses operate as import/export services to predominantly selling to Africa and Asian countries.

It is said that 1 in 20 mobile phones found in Sub-Sahara Africa have at one point passed through the Mansions.

The Chungking neighbourhood is one of the most culturally diverse locations in Hong Kong.

Photo credit.

Why you should stay at Chungking?

  • Location: Chungking Mansions in on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. It is within walking distance of the star ferry, the Avenue of Stars and various metro stations that will take you to all corners of the city.
  • Price: Given its location, the price for a city such as Hong Kong is unparalleled. Yes, there certainly are other similar price options in similar locations but I think the availability of rooms in the mansions to be rather consistent.
  • Food: There are many restaurants and food stalls you can visit here. We had our fill of Indian almost every night we stayed here because it was cheap and readily available. However, if you’re willing to venture further into the mansions you will find many hidden restaurants on the upper floors serving all manner of cuisines.
  • Shopping: Whilst not exactly high-end department store, you can still find many items to buy here, all for a cheap price.
  • Laundry: you can do your laundry here for a cheap price and you don’t have to venture too far from you room. There are do it yourself options or if you’re feeling lazy, all-inclusive services are available. They just take a little longer.
  • Popular with other Travellers: due to its amazing location and cheap costs it is a popular place for other backpackers on the lookout for a bargain way to experience Hong Kong. You will be sure to bump into a fellow jet-setter in the queue for the lift or wandering the lower floors with a suitcase looking a bit lost.

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Photograph by Christopher DeWolf

The Bad Bits

Despite its popularity, the Mansions have a particularly bad reputation. It is known to be a centre of drugs, as well as a refuge for petty criminals, scammers, and illegal immigrants. Some Hong Kongers regard it as a bit of sinful den of criminal activity. Things to consider when visiting the Mansions:

Be aware of your belongings in the entrance. This goes without saying but keep an eye on your stuff. It is the same advice you would follow when going anywhere busy, anywhere in the world.

Don’t take the stairs. Especially if you are a solo female. The stairs are not busy and can lack camera’s. You may bump into drug dealers, drug takers or other illicit activity here and it’s just not worth it. Plus, it smells fucking awful.

The place is a massive fire hazard. The building is old and poorly managed by many different people. Therefore, it is kind of falling into disrepair. You will see huge masses of wires wrapped up around each other, sticking out of the walls; leaky pipes and holey ceilings. Pair that with the insanely cramped and busy conditions; tiny lifts and stairwells; and the abundance of cooking establishments all over the building; and you have a recipe for disaster.

I cannot imagine the chaos that would ensue if a fire was to start.

However, the building does have a fairly extensive network of CCTV cameras that cover 90% of the buildings public spaces. There is also a security office and lots of security staff, so you can rest assured that crime is being addressed!

Photograph: BBC

My Experience

On the whole, I felt ok about staying in the Mansions. However, I was travelling with my very tall, beardy and reasonably physically intimidating Boyfriend. Therefore, I was rarely personally approached by anyone, as they would generally direct comments towards him.

I will say that I would have been unhappy about wandering around on my own and never did. I remember writing in my diary that I felt like ‘A sheep among wolves’ at times and definitely felt the unwanted gaze of men that sat on the edges of the walkways and effectively surrounded us as we walked through.

I didn’t experience anything bad, I just got a terrible feeling of unsafeness sometimes, particularly at night. For this reason, I would not recommend this place for solo travellers, particularly females. That is not to say something bad will happen to you, but for peace of mind I would say it is worth finding somewhere else.

The infamous lift Photo credit

Chungking Mansions is an awesome little island of diversity and globalisation in Hong Kong. I would 100% visit – but perhaps think twice before booking a room there!

What do you think?

Let me know in the comments section!

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