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The real deal on Hong Kong's notorious Chungking Mansions

A view from Chungking Mansions. Is it just us, or does this guy know he's being watched?
A view from Chungking Mansions. Is it just us, or does this guy know he's being watched?
Robert Schrader/

Although it's still rather cheap by Western standards, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive destinations in Asia. This is understandable: given how densely populated its tiny urban area is, space comes at a premium. Naturally, high rents mean higher prices on just about everything - except for electronics, which we'll discuss at greater length another time.

Unless you're rich enough to afford a private car and driver, location is probably near the top of your list while searching for travel accommodations. Likewise, the issue of cost hangs in the balance - you're not going to be spending your whole holiday cooped up in a hotel room, I hope. Why pay big bucks for a primo place to be unconscious?

Thankfully for people like yourself, Hong Kong boasts a menagerie of low-priced accommodation in one of its most central neighborhoods, Tsim Sha Tsui. Located at the southern tip of the Kowloon peninsula just a five-minute walk from the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island and amid some of the world's best shopping, the guest houses and hostels within the so-called Chungking Mansions are doubly attractive to backpackers, budget travelers and people who have better things on which to spend their hard-earned money - which can be exchanged into Hong Kong dollars in the lobby! In addition to being dirt-cheap (doubles with private bathrooms can easily be had for under 15 USD per person, per night), these lodgings all happen to be located within the same mid-rise.

For some travelers, this is precisely where the trouble begins.

The building's 16 floors, for instance, are served by only two elevators - one for even numbers, one for odd. Worse is that word has gotten out about where travelers are getting their cash converted, which has caused an overgrowth of fake watch sellers, drug pushers and hustlers paid to get you shacked up in a hostel other than the one you've already booked. The aforementioned elevators are narrow and have strict weight limits, which results in queues sometimes approaching half an hour. Want to take the stairs? Too bad. They're not accessible from the ground floor. For better or for worse, the majority of non-Western guests in the building hail from developing countries throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

If you choose to pay attention to the incredible perfumes and ornate gowns the women wear instead of the dozens of suitcases with which their husbands press you against the back of the elevator shaft, you might find that the rest of your experience will follow suit. The rooms at establishments like New Peking Guest House are far from roomy, anything but elegant and not for light sleepers. They are however clean, functional, convenient and staffed by incredibly friendly people, who will be more than happy to help you plan any excursions on which you might want to embark. Once they begin to recognize you, the desperate salespeople at its base will start greeting you as you depart and enter instead of trying to take advantage of you.

Most importantly, the Chungking Mansions are the perfect place to start any Hong Kong urban safari, shopping trip or excursion to any nearby islands - but we'll be posting all about that tomorrow. For now, just get some rest.



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