Picture a group of muscular Nigerians in tank-tops and flip-flops, a Sikh man in a freshly wrapped turban, an entire Filipino family, a group of African mama’s dressed in traditional West African dresses and dragging blue and red plaid gunny sacks, a couple of Japanese tourists sporting “Hello Kitty” with rolling suitcases, Indians in overly fitted bell-bottom tailored pants and tightly knitted shirts, a Caucasian world traveler in hunky hiking boots and a worn out rucksack, Somali’s in their long dresses, and Arabs in their keffiyeh checkered scarves.
Within the multitudes, everyone is attempting to sort out some form of business, searching for a way to send something back to their far-off homes and families. Under these circumstances, everyone is in need of money exchanges and they are plentiful. People shout on their mobile phones in fifty different languages trying to take care of things while others calmly spectate the scene. All unpleasant aromas are blotted out with the aid of glorious Indian curries filling the air. Interested in daal and a chapati, a Bollywood DVD, a second hand Blackberry, a tailored suit, a fake rolex, or computers by the bulk? Put everything under a single roof and you’ve got the Chungking Mansions in Hong Kong, representing the world coming together.
The Chungking Mansions are a series of 5 towers, each 17 stories tall and conveniently located in the hectic Tsim Sha Tsui district in the heart of Kowloon. The buildings are in a golden location, mere minutes walk from the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island and directly on the Kowloon traffic vein of Nathan Road.
“It’s not exactly the place you want to take the family on vacation.”
People come to Hong Kong to handle business and the Chungking Mansions are the same. Fake watches, tailored suits, hustled mobile phones, and hashish are shamelessly offered, if not rudely pushed upon passerby’s.
The entrance is at all times filled with loiterers, chitchatting and discussing something, or maybe shouting something on phones. There is always a myriad of interesting sites and sounds. Many newcomers enter the structure straight off the Airport Express and wander around the Chungking Mansions, rolling their suitcases with gloomy eyes.
The Chungking Mansions were built in the 1960′s as apartments. Under the corruption of lousy management, a span of different ownership, and a landslide of age, the building has since been deteriorating. A few efforts of mass clean-up and an improvement on the fire hazardous conditions and the Chungking Mansions are still positively throbbing with International life.
The mine-shaft elevators that service the businesses and 90-100 guest houses in the mansions are far from luxurious with lines stretching into the hallways at all times of people waiting for a lift. About 5000 people continually live in the building but over 10,000 people pass through on the daily.
The Chungking Mansions have a roller coaster history of up and down security and fire safety. With tight corridors, narrow escape routes, and jam packed with people, a fire scare would surely cause horror.
There are a host of delicious smelling eateries serving mostly Indian delicacies. The curries and deep fried samosas fill the stuffy air with vibrant flavor. In the Chungking Mansions you won’t find restaurants like Lin Heung Dim Sum, but you will find a scrumptious array of some of Hong Kong’s finest ethnic eats.
Within the passageways and back staircases are the moist decaying bowels of the Chungking Mansions. Just like in dark movies, driblets of water fall from the ceiling, the piping system looks like it could burst at any moment with raw sewage, and the electrical system looks like it could ignite into flames at any second.
With little choice due to soaring hotel room prices in Hong Kong (I visited the same weekend as a few world events and expos) and a yearning for adventure, I picked out a guest house on 5th floor of Block B, a place called the Guangdong Guest House / Super 7 Hostel (2 guest houses, same owner, same floor, I’m not even sure which we stayed in, felt the same) in the Chungking Mansion.
Super 7 Hostel
Mr. Simon To
Block B 5th Floor B2
40 Nathan Road
Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Amidst the chaotic Chungking Mansions, the Super 7 Hostel was a quiet and clean oasis. The room which included a private bathroom was micro-sized with little room to maneuver, but the bed was comfortable and clean. Simon, a mid-aged Chinese man walked around with a fanny pack and grin on his face while taking care of the facilities.
Still expect to pay $20 – $30 USD per person / night
Here was our lovely view when we drew back the curtains for a peak out the window…
Despite the overall poor conditions of the premises at the Chungking Mansions, the scene and international atmosphere were buzzing with character and truly spectacular. Staying at the Chungking Mansions is not the most glamorous thing I could think of doing, but a browse through the first couple of floors during the day is a gripping activity of “Asia’s World City” within Hong Kong.
Check out my photo essay of Hong Kong!
- Migration Mark