“Cocaine? Meth, ice, hash? Good copy Rolex? Custom suit just for you? What do you like? Sex tonight- you like ladies or men? Maybe you want one of each.” This was my welcome to the Chungking Mansions.
In fairness, it was my fault for not doing any research on where to stay in Hong Kong before I arrived. I booked solely based on price after noting that the location was central. Apparently the Chungking Mansions has an established reputation for being the “murder capital of Hong Kong” as I was told more than once. The building is so famous a book titled ‘Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong’ has been written about it. The information was out there for me to find.
What are the Chungking Mansions?
The Chungking Mansions is a 17-story tall building housing a collection of small shops and restaurants on the ground floor. It could be better described as a city within a building. The upper floors contain guesthouses, hotels, more restaurants and residential living areas.
The building is located in one of the busiest districts on Hong Kong and sits opposite the entrance to the Tsim Sha Tsui Station. Construction on the building was completed in 1961 and an estimated 4,000 people currently live in the building. The use of the word mansions in the title had me picturing something altogether different.
The smallest room I’ve ever stayed in
Chungking Mansions has the highest concentration of guesthouses in any one area in all of Hong Kong. The building houses over 80 guesthouses with a combined total of nearly 2,000 rooms. This makes the area famous with backpackers and budget travelers.
Now knowing this information I am not as surprised with how small my room was. Fortunately I was traveling alone- I do not see how two people could have comfortably stayed in that room. Sleeping would have been fine but getting dressed and ready one person would need to stay on the bed so the other could use the limited floor space. There were maybe six inches between the bed and the wall. The bathroom was so small the shower was over the toilet.
Restaurants in the Chungking Mansions
There’s a huge selection of restaurants in the building selling many different types of ethnic foods. I was told the some of the best Indian restaurants in Hong Kong are in the building. The restaurants are mostly small, family run businesses selling local dishes from Pakistan, Nepal, and India.
While much of it smelled amazing my one dining experience was not great. I paid 40 HKD/$5.15 USD for the most basic plate of Indian food I have ever had. I’m pretty sure you could find microwave Indian meals that are better than this.
Surviving a stay
Most of the building is monitored by CCTV cameras and you need a keycard to get into the guesthouses. This means that your guesthouse and room are both safe and secure.
Getting in the front entrance of the building is the problem area.
It’s best to stay alert, have your bag zipped, and not keep any valuables in pockets that could easily be picked. There are many money exchange shops when you first enter the building. The official website of the building mentions that it is here you can find the money changers with the best and worse rates in all Hong Kong. I don’t know that I would feel comfortable exchanging large amounts of cash there, especially if I was traveling alone.
Would I stay at the Chungking Mansions again?
To be honest, despite the warnings, it wasn’t as bad as people made it out to be. I even had several people tell me they really like the place. I searched for information about the building and it seems crime there is declining. I was speaking with a local person and they told me that the building has one of the best security systems in Hong Kong. “But why the need for such good security?”, I asked. “Well, because of all the crime”, he relented.
If you’re on a small budget there are few other low-cost options in Hong Kong. I would advise coming and going in a group, especially late at night. Because of extremely long waits for the slow moving elevators it would also be better to stay on one of the lower floors if possible.
For me personally, I doubt I would stay again. My decision has more to do with the size of the rooms rather than feeling unsafe. For only about $10-15 more per night you find a room in decent, larger hotel in the same neighborhood.
Have you ever stayed at the Chungking Mansions? Would you stay there while visiting Hong Kong? Let me know in the comments section below!
Practical Information: I booked through Booking.com but if I were to stay again I would turn up with no reservation and book directly. I paid 205 HKD/$26 USD per night but the touts outside were offering rooms for 150 HKD/$19 USD without me trying to haggle.