I don’t get the hype about Chungking Mansions being the dodgiest place ever. I don’t blame the reviews and posts by travellers who report the place as being dubious though because they probably booked a hotel there expecting something more since it IS Hong Kong.
Chungking Mansions is quite likely one of the dodgiest places you can stay in in Hong Kong but that’s about it. It’s really quite the same as any run-down black market electronics bazaar you can find in just about any other Asian city. Most shops in there are run by Pakistanis which isn’t so much a racial statement as it is to say that it’s run by migrants hoping for better prospects in a nearby country.
Like many other such bazaars, it is located in a corner of a busy shopping district – Tsim Sha Tsui in this case – and the shock of the going-ons in there is quite likely to be due to the look and feel of the surroundings.
I went in expecting a rowdier crowd but exited after a walk around. Then I thought I should perhaps wander into the higher levels and as I backtracked into the building, some guy decided to promote his hotel on the upper floors.
So I played the part of the backpacking tourist.
Getting into the elevator is a work of art. It fits 5 people at best but at least 8 of us managed to be squeezed into it. There’re just two ancient elevators serving that part of the building (and likely the entire building) so there’s a perpetual crowd gathered. My host and I snaked through the hordes before most of them realised the elevator doors were opened and that was it.
The ‘hotel’ rates weren’t cheap. You paid about US$30-50 a person for little more than a storeroom (it comes with air conditioning!). It was reminiscent of high-rise buildings from an era long past with narrow corridors with doors on each side. Each lead to a room that, despite the appearance of a window, really had the view of a brick wall when you pulled the curtain to the side.
After declining the room, I had to make my way down myself and got to chat with some of the guests during the 10 minute wait for the elevator. There were two guys en route to Thailand for a business trip that looked completely like the kind of folks you’d imagine selling watches to you on a street corner but generally everyone was cordial and friendly. It’s strange in a way but I think that people do bond over the fact that they’re all in the same situation and as shit poor as the other person in the room.
The most interesting part about Chungking Mansions though, is this.