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Today’s guest post comes from Steve Bloom from Do Something Cool
Despite what the name implies, Chungking Mansions isn’t someone’s home. It’s a run-down mass of shops, restaurants, offices, laundromats and guesthouses packed tightly together in one 17 storey tall building. In short, it’s a dump. But it’s also the best place I’ve ever stayed at.
The entrance to this building is small and sandwiched between a mall and other smaller stores. You can easily miss it if you’re not looking for it. In fact, I walked past it several times trying to find it. And when I did find it, I wasn’t even certain if it was the right place.
I took several steps inside before coming to a sudden halt. This place is crazy! In the first few minutes I saw people from just about every square inch of the planet. People were moving around at a fast pace and my eyes needed to adjust to all the commotion. It took me a few moments to even acknowledge the aggressive touts vying for my attention. It’s like the wild west of travel in there.
I almost turned around and walked straight out – Almost. I read everything I could about Chungking Mansions before I arrived so I knew its reputation. The building is a notorious refuge for petty criminals, drug traffickers and illegal immigrants. The police did a mass sweep through the building in both 1995 and 1996.
So why would I want to stay in a place like this? For one reason, Time Magazine named Chungking Mansions “The Best Example of Globalization in Action” in its annual “Best of Asia” series. The magazine says there is nothing to be afraid of and I agree. Underneath its gruff exterior lies a unique and amazing place.
Knowing this, I gained my composure and walked into the center of the building. A sign for the hostel I wanted led me to a line for the elevator where I waited. And waited. I waited 30 minutes to use the elevator. My pack was digging into my shoulders and I’d long given up searching for stairs (there are none).
The line slowly dwindled down until I was next. In the meantime I looked at an official-looking poster on the wall with “Reward” written in big letters at the top. It read, “Found in the mountains of Kowloon. He was gagged and tied with electrical tape and left for dead. 3000 Hong Kong Dollar reward for information leading to arrest of his killer(s).” Underneath was a picture of a Middle Eastern looking man.
The elevator door finally opened again, I crammed into the tight space with about five other people and went to the top floor to find my hostel. It was a hostel in the loosest sense of the term. Beds were crammed into closet sized rooms and the communal showers were disgusting. At night, the front desk operator cheered so loudly at the soccer matches on TV that I woke up several times each night. I guess I shouldn’t have expected much from Hong Kong’s cheapest hostel.
I now know what Time Magazine was talking about with “globalization in action”. When I signed in, I saw countries from Cameroon, Ghana, Brazil, Philippines and France to just name a few. I met more people from distant places there than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
Chunking Mansions is an interesting place to see even if you’re not staying there. In fact, I spent most of one day just exploring the place. The main floor is a shopping mall of assorted little retail stores selling trinkets and cheap knock-offs of brand name goods.
Just one floor up is a multitude of restaurants. They’re easy to find due to several touts with flyers aggressively vying for your attention. If you tell them you want to eat there, they’ll escort you all the way to your table. I was reluctant at first to eat there due to the unappealing conditions of the hostel, but I had read about how world-class they are so I gave them a chance.
The food is fantastic. I ended up eating at about four small family-run restaurants and it was some of the best food I’ve eaten anywhere. They have a great selection of mostly Indian, Pakistani and Nepalese.
This was by far the most fascinating unsanitary fire-trap I’ve ever stayed at and I even felt sad saying goodbye to it days later when I left. As I was trudging off to my next destination Macau, I saw two timid backpackers at the entrance nervously talking to each other.
I could tell what was going on. They were debating back and forth about if they wanted to stay there or not. I made my choice to continue inside, would you?
If you want to escape the bedlem of Hong Kong and return to nature, check out these cool 5 Hong Kong hikes.