Spotlight: Chungking Mansions



There’s a building complex in the very heart of Kowloon that is a maze of blocks, elevators and multiple stairwells filled with electrical cables, pipes and where the walls are covered in graffiti. People from over a 100 countries come here to trade, eat, sleep and live. This building complex is known as the Chungking Mansions.

Where: Chungking Mansions

36–44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

When: Hours vary

Chungking Mansions

1:00pm

Last year, the Chungking Mansions celebrated its 55th anniversary. The massive concrete building consists of 17 floors and comprises five blocks (A to E), all of which are a jumble of shops, food stalls, restaurants and cheap guesthouses.

The complex began life as an upmarket residential estate in 1961. Many compare it to the former Kowloon Walled City but, unlike the Chinese enclave that was demolished in 1993, Chungking Mansions is being called the perfect example of low end globalization.

Globalization in action

Throughout the building

More than 10,000 people are estimated to enter and exit the Chungking Mansions every day (not an easy feat considering the many touts waiting at the entrance, ready to offer anything – from accommodation to restaurant menus to knock offs) and around 4 000 live there permanently. Nearly 70% of the occupants come from outside Hong Kong – mostly they're Southeast Asians, Africans, Indians or Pakistanis.

Across the first and second floors are shops – selling watches, clothes, mobile phones and other cheap electronics – as well as many currency exchange stalls and restaurants.

Get in line

Throughout the building

The Chungking Mansions has five elevator banks serving each of the five blocks. Each bank has two elevators – one for odd- and one for even-numbered floors. To reach your floor, more often than not, you’ll have to get in line. Look for the name of your guesthouse on the listing of establishments reached by each elevator that can be found on the wall right next to it.

The elevators themselves are plain – made of gray metal, equipped with a camera that shows who’s getting in and out on a screen located on the first floor, next to the elevators. They are slow and small, designed to hold up to 7 people; wait for your turn to cram yourself in with people and luggage and be prepared to step off if an alarm rings. Once the elevator reaches its maximum weight, it won’t move until someone gets out.

Despite its five separate blocks, winding stairwells and constant flow of people, the Chungking Mansions are more than safe. The first CCTV cameras were installed around 10 years ago to improve safety. Now, there are around 330 CCTV cameras, covering nearly 70% of the building’s public spaces.

Sleep tight

Throughout the building

Directly above the first and second floors, a different kind of business is thriving. The 15 floors are packed with guesthouses converted from the building’s original residential apartments.

The Chungking Mansions has the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong. There are many differences in quality, size and cleanliness of the rooms and rooms can be found in all price ranges. A single room can be around 150 HKD, dorm rooms being cheaper – as low as 100 HKD. A more expensive single room can be around 500 HKD and double rooms are a bit more.

You can book your room in advance, using one of the many booking websites, or you can come straight to the Chungking Mansions and go from floor to floor looking for the best possible deal for you. What you eventually end up paying, depends a lot on your bargaining skills; if you’d like to improve your bargaining skills, this is the place to come to.

The rooms themselves are small and cramped: a single bed, bedside table and basic bathroom is the standard. The rooms are equipped with air conditioning and you may even get a window. But don’t expect too much – if it doesn’t open into the tiny alleys between the blocks, more often than not it opens into a ventilation shaft. If you’re claustrophobic, better stay out of the Chungking Mansions.

In case of emergency

Throughout the building

The age and structure of the Chungking Mansions are causes for the building’s reputation for being a firetrap.

Remember, you can (and in case of emergency – must) use the stairs – especially if you don’t like waiting for the elevator or are in need of (good) exercise. But be warned – the corridors are narrow and the winding stairwells often times unsanitary and dimly lit. The walls are covered with graffiti in different languages and above your head, you’ll notice the twisting electrical wiring that is a sight worth seeing (and photographing) on its own.

I once read a forum comment that said you couldn’t call yourself a traveler until you’ve stayed at the Chungking Mansions. I took on that challenge – three times so far – and to be honest? There’s no place I’d rather stay while in Hong Kong.

By Magda Stojicic

  


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