A Night at Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong 重庆大厦

Hong Kong’s cheapest accommodations — Kowloon Walled City lives on.

I arrived in Tsim Sha Tsui just after midnight after traveling nearly 20 hours on China Eastern Airlines — San Francisco to Shanghai, Shanghai to Hong Kong. The hostel I was planning on staying in was fully booked, and at this time most receptions had closed for the night. To put it nicely, I was shit-out-of-luck. So where does one go when they’re in Kowloon and don’t have a bed for the night? Chungking Mansions, the backpacking central of Hong Kong, of course!

Hong Kong’s Chungking Mansions

As I stepped up the front stairs into the main arcade, I was greeted by numerous salesmen, offering their wares. They were selling everything from fake Louis Vuitton bags to international sim cards, and in less than 20 seconds I heard the word “guesthouse?” I traced the voice back to a middle-aged Indian man, who immediately began guiding me to an elevator toward the back of the building. I stopped him in his tracks and demanded a photo of the room before going any farther, and he refused. “Free WiFi, private bathroom, AC, and TV, come with me!” he responded, which is everything I needed, but I still demanded a photo. Finally, he relented and showed me a wrinkled business card with small photos in each corner.

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The stairway next to the guesthouse.

We weaved through groups of people, past halal stands and phone accessory stores, finally joining a line of people waiting for the odd-number elevator. In Hong Kong, high rise apartment buildings have two elevators: one for even floors, and one for odds. After a short ride, I followed him onto the third floor and around a weaving hallway, bracing myself as we entered the “Licensed Guesthouse” apartment flat. Inside, there was a small desk with a fan and three adjacent rooms. He gave me a brief room tour, which couldn’t possibly be long considering the room’s tiny dimensions (3mx3m).

Welcome to my humble abode.

Some funny things about the room:

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Somehow, the photo doesn’t fully accentuate the grossness
  • The air conditioning remote, which I meticulously adjusted for over an hour, was not actually connected to anything. Upon further inspection, the room had only a fan — no AC unit.
  • The TV he advertised could more accurately be described as a “fraying cable coming out of a hole in the wall.”
  • The shower was a hose coming out of the sink faucet.
  • The toilet was immediately below said shower.
  • The WiFi, despite having a super lucky password (77777777), was not functional.
  • The sheets were visibly unclean.

At 3 in the morning, I get a knock at the door. Great. My first instinct is to ignore it, hoping the person will eventually go away. After about 30 seconds, though, I hear a key entering the lock. Time to get up. I open the door through the three inches allowed by the chain lock and am greeted by a Sikh in his mid thirties. “Wrong room, sorry!”

My one chance at falling asleep had been interrupted, and at this point, I resorted to laying on the bed, doing nothing. Yesterday’s shirt was now repurposed as a pillow case, yet laying on the sheets was difficult to stomach.

As soon as the sun rose, I was out of there. In the hallway outside my room, last night’s “receptionist” was now asleep on the floor, wearing only underwear. I lifted my suitcase and stepped over him. Good riddance.

On the way out, I bought a slice of pizza from a Halal stand and started talking to the owner. We shared our life stories over the meal, and he gave me a tasty snack when I finished eating.

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Unfortunately, the one night I enjoyed in Chungking Mansions is the every day plight of millions of Hong Kongers. According to the South China Morning Post, more than 200,000 Hong Kong residents currently reside in small, subdivided units, with each person designated as little as 20 square feet. That’s less than half the space I had in my room, and I didn’t even need to have access to a kitchen. Hong Kong is facing a serious issue; as the population continues to grow, and housing prices continue to soar, where is everyone going to live?

I recommend a night in Chungking Mansions only to the bravest, most adventurous souls, yet I still believe it was a valuable experience. Firstly, the total cost was only $8. Score. Secondly, I received a first hand glimpse into the life of many Hong Kongers and have been inspired to brainstorm possible solutions to the housing crisis. Finally, if I had done it right and found a nice hostel, I could have had a much cleaner, social experience.

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Hong Kong, as seen from the International Commerce Center in West Kowloon

Written by

Journalist, entrepreneur and student - Boston College, University of Otago. Buddhist. Expert adventurer and consultant for conducting business in Asia.

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