Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong

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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.

Chungking Mansions
Chungking Mansions Photo: Kent Wang

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.

Chungking Mansions
Chungking Mansions Photo: Immu

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.

Chungking Mansions
Inside Chungking Mansions Photo: bricole urbanism

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.

Chungking Mansions
Would you stay here? Photo: Nekotank

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.

Steve is the writer behind Do Something Cool where he blogs about travel, motivation, personal growth and adventure. He’s always looking for ways to make life more interesting. Get tips on living life to the fullest through his Facebook fan page.

35 thoughts on “Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong”

  1. Sounds like an awesome and unique place to stay. I think I would have no problem staying there for the food alone, but we might just limit it to one night. How can you say no to “The Best Example of Globalization in Action?”

  2. Oh mate you summed up Chungking really really well. I stayed there in March last year and it was such a culture shock. I remember having to wait in that lobby for aaaages for an elevator in the stinking heat and getting hounded by the touts to stay in their guesthouse. Fortunately I had a private room in one which made the whole stay a lot more bearable.

    Did you have a curry at Butt Food Centre, kind of to the right and on the ground floor? So so good.

    1. That elevator almost made me leave because it took so long. I think certain times of the day are better than others for it. I didn’t get a chance to eat at the Butt Food Centre. The restaurants I ate at were on the second floor. But if it was there, I’m sure the food was good. All the food I ate there was good.

      1. This place is a shithole mate,no offense but fact still remains its a bloody shithole of epic proportions..but what the hell its got best damn curry i have ever tasted.so kudos that,…cheeers

      2. I unfortunately booked a room at Fortunate guesthouse in Chungking, It was too late for me to realize that the guesthouse was in Chungking Mansion. I am bringing my daughter there, I pray that it will not be a horrible trip for myself and my daughter.

        1. Oh no. can you change or cancel? I’m sure it won’t be so bad. At least you know what to expect going there and it might be a great cultural experience for your daughter.

  3. Steve,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences about this place. I have never heard about it before but it sounds interesting. You just don’t find this type of cool information on travel magazines.

    The word Chungking is hilarious. I think that is going to be my favorite word for the week.

  4. we stayed here also and had the same impression we were scared at first but after a while we realized it was safe afterall. We also salute the owner of the hostel where we stayed, the Guangdong Hostel. Simon the owner was very kind and helpful, we definitely want to stay there again. No regrets.

  5. We loved and hated our time there…. we did some research before so kinda knew what to expect but it is still very daunting! And our room… lets just say tiny doesn’t cover it!!! We also loved the food, had a brilliant indian and so cheap compared to the rest of hongkong!

  6. eat-laugh-love-anon

    I was thinking “fire trap” the moment I saw that first pic.
    I think when I was younger I would have given it a go. Now I’m a bit older, even if I was traveling alone I think I’d want to pay just a little bit more and stay somewhere that seemed a bit safer. I would feel very uncomfortable staying there now, with a 14-month-old baby in tow.
    However, I’d definitely go there to eat!

    1. I think I would be uncomfortable with Kalyra staying there as well. It’s a definite fire trap. We were lucky we had a friend we stayed with in Hong Kong. I didn’t know about this place, but would have loved to have checked it out.

  7. I’ve wanted to stay in this place for years but the closest we’ve got to Hong Kong is staring forlornly out of the airport window. Probably my biggest travel regret is not having the foresight to stop off in Hong Kong on the way to Thailand.

  8. Pretty insane place, this. The area around the building on Nathan Road has prime examples of hard-sell advertisers, charmers and leaflet distributors selling their restaurants whilst dodging the police. The other thing I find bonkers: I’ve always found non-Asians (as in Far East) fluent in Cantonese creep the hell out of me, so when these Indian blokes tried to pitch to me in Cantonese (thanks to my appearance) even though I insisted that I speak English sent cringe after cringe down my spine.

    However, arguably the best India food in the whole of Hong Kong – as claimed by someone who’s lived there for 14 years (yours truly).

    As a side note, Chungking Mansion is widely considered as a no-go area by local Hong Kong’ers. Does emphasise the problem of racial discrimination – and I won’t relay, or agree, the things members of my (Chinese) family have to say about the foreign population.

  9. Thanks for sharing this place Steve. However, I am not sure if I could do it. It would be worth visiting and checking out though. Even though I am a budget traveler I think the conditions would be a little too rough for some people. The stores and restaurants sound fascinating though and I think the globalization aspect of the hostel is great for travelers!

    1. It is a place worth visiting. At least to get a good meal. The conditions are a little rough so I wouldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to stay there.

  10. I totally agree with you on the most insane “firetrap” because our hostel in Hong Kong was the exact same way! I actually read about that place but we decided on one a few streets away. Ours had an elevator- but only going up, coming down you had to take stairs- 15 floors down! Seriously, I’m surprised thousands of people don’t die daily based on so few exits each building has.. ek!

  11. Woooah! Crazy! It sounds like pretty cool adventure to have.. I think I’d probably stay, just to be in the middle of all of the action!

    Hopefully it won’t be soccer season…

  12. The Chungking Mansion is a place where you can find everything from every part of the world. But its definitely not the place for stay. Most of my HK friends had warned me not to stay there if i want to leave the HK alive and in one piece.

    1. Ha Ha. Sounds like place to avoid. I’d like to check it out, but not sure if I would stay there. Definitely not now we have Kalyra

  13. I am enjoying reading your posted touts here. Well, how about the Chungking House Deluxe Hotel??? What can you say about this Hostel??? It is recommendable to stay? Thanks (^,^)

  14. We arrived at Chungking Mansion at 12 midnight straight from the airport and we were very disappointed with the place that we ended up looking for a better hotel nearby in the wee hours. Not recommended.

  15. I was just there a few weeks ago – a nonprofit I was working with on an MBA trip to Hong Kong took us to Chung King Mansions for excellent Indian food and then we went to one of the NGOs that helps refugees. Since then I have read Gordon Mathews’ book Ghetto at the Center of the World. What a fascinating place and a contrast from the rest of Hong Kong. I’ll be writing my own blog entry on CKM soon.

    Cheers!

  16. I was on a business trip & found the place by an accident. I like the place, especially for the food. We did not stay there though. Just calm yourself down, things will be okay.

  17. English Jobs in Hong Kong?

    I had a similar impression to Chungking Mansions when I passed by the front doors (and quickly walked the main level). I had also heard of the less-that-savory reputation of the place. But it was a cool experience passing through. Maybe next time I stay in Hong Kong I’ll work up enough courage to try staying there.

    I’m hoping to hit Hong Kong again soon. I’m thinking of relocating there to try teaching there. I’ve been poking around on http://www.teachergig.com and found a few jobs, but I was hoping a few people would be able to give me some advice. Anyone with experience teaching there?

  18. I know replies to this post are way old, but I happened to stay at one of Chunking Mansions’ guesthouses a couple of months ago for 4 days… Sort of scary place, but I happened to find a newly renovated and clean place. Rooms are small boxes but you can’t ask for more at affordable prices in HK, land is scarce and VERY expensive. Showers are on top of the toilet, so the tiny little bathroom ends up soaking wet! (hint: leave towel and toilet paper out when you have a shower). The lift business gets on everyone’s nerves… Or at least mine! I am a woman travelling solo and although this is not the nicest place to stay, it isn’t as bad as it looks. As for the room and bathroom, ask to see it before you pay and if you are not satisfied, go somewhere else in the same building or the surrounding area.

  19. It will not be wrong to say that Hong Kong is “California of Asia”. The place has a number of destinations for the tourists to visit. The Hong Kong Disneyland is the best example in this regard. It is a perfect competitor of the original California Disneyland. Hong Kong was under the British rule up to year 1997, and was handed over to Republic of China after that. Today also, China has given a liberty to this place and it works under “one country two systems” principle. Today, it has been flourished a lot, and there are a plenty of tourist destinations available at this place.

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