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Hong Kong is very densely populated. I knew that before I came here and I knew that my selection of affordable lodging wouldn’t be first class. I have no problem with that, and for the first several days I was in Hong Kong I had a nice, but small, place to stay. However, I wanted to stay a few more days and (this has happened a lot in Asia) they were booked over the weekend. I fired up the internet and checked out places that were available. I wound up at a hostel in the Chungking Mansion in Kowloon.
Normally, when I do longer posts, I tend to wait until I’m out of the country when I have more time to go over photos and think about what I”m going to say, but I wanted to make an exception here. I’m writing this inside my tiny room in the Chingking Mansion and I think it is so different, so unique, so……Hong Kong, I had to share this immediately.
I have never, ever seen anything like this place in my life. Do not let the word “mansion” fool you. This is as far from a mansion as Miller (the champaign of beers) is from champaign. The fact that this building has its own Wikipedia entry should tell you something.
The moment I walked into the doors I felt like I had stepped into a scene from Blade Runner. Africans, Indians, Arabs, Europeans, Filipinos, and mainland Chinese made this look like an alien experiment where they took a sampling of people from every part of the world and put them in one place to see how they would live together. Time Magazine called the Chungking the best example of globalization. I’m not entirely certain that if I were globalization, I would not want the Chungking Mansion to be my poster child.
The first floor of the building is all shops, stores and restaurants. It is nothing but remittance stores, money changers, places to buy luggage, electronics stores, cutom tailoring shops, cell phone kiosks and halal restaurants.
If you walk with a bag, you will be accosted by people trying to sell you a room. In the A Block of the building alone (and there are five blocks), I counted 30 guesthouses, hostels or hotels. That isn’t a typo. Three-zero. I literally cannot walk in or out of the building without someone trying to rent me a room.
Getting up or down the building is difficult. Each block has two elevators: one for even floors and one for odd. The elevators are small so there is always a queue to get in. More often than not, there is a full car going up and a full car going down. I’m on the third floor so I usually just take the stairs.
Being on the third floor is a good thing because this is probably the biggest fire trap I’ve ever been in. Lets just say the wiring codes in Hong Kong are not at the same level as the rest of the developed world. The third floor is the base floor for the building. All the different blocks seperate on this floor. This means I can get out side quikly if something were to happen (I know. I actually took the time to check the escape exits in here).
I’d say that if you are around Nathan Street in Kowloon, you should stop by and see it, if only for the experience, but if you are in the area, you probably can’t avoid it. I can’t really recommend anyone stay here unless you are really on a budget or have no choice. There are better places to stay that are cleaner, nicer, and you don’t feel that you are trying to get ripped off by everyone you meet. You also wont have to deal with the ever present smell of feces.