Why the Chungking Mansions are actually awesome

When I emailed my uncle the address for Delta Hotel, a small budget hotel in the Chungking Mansions, he immediately called me to express his concerns about the safety and cleanliness of the area. “You should cancel the booking and stay with us,” he urged. “A Chinese girl was raped there before. It was all over the news–you can Google it.

I reassured him that I’d done my research, and the place seemed fine. If I really felt unsafe, I would just leave after the first night and stay with them.

Truth be told, I was aware of the Chungking Mansions’ unsavory reputation. It was the site of a 1988 fire that killed a Danish tourist. About a decade later, it was in the headlines again for the murder of an Indian tourist by her partner. That same year, there was a police swoop that led to the arrest of ~50 people from Asia and Africa for failing to provide IDs, overstaying their visas, using false documents, etc. All of this led to its image as a refuge for criminals and undocumented immigrants.

Nevertheless, I was not deterred.

Nathan Road on a rainy Tuesday evening, as seen from the upper deck of Bus A21 from HKG.

Today, the Chungking Mansions are mostly filled with small budget hotels and cheap restaurants and shops (but mostly hotels). It’s easily the most diverse place you’ll encounter in Hong Kong, and that delighted me.

My room was rather small (in reality, very cramped but a fine place to rest your head) but pristine and included a private bathroom, phone, and TV. My aunt and uncle came by, met the friendly Sikh owner and Filipino receptionist, saw the room for themselves and felt much better about my staying there. (See my phone-camera photos below in all their unedited glory.)

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Hotel specifics:

  • The building consists of five “blocks” (clockwise from the Nathan Road entrance, left: A, B, C, D, and E). Delta Hotel is on the 16th floor of Block A, which is conveniently very close to the main entrance. There are two lines for the elevators–even numbers on the left and odd numbers on the right. The elevators are small, and the wait can be a bit long depending on the time of day.
  • Getting there: from Hong Kong International Airport, take bus A21 to stop 14 (Middle Road, Nathan Road), which stops right outside the Chungking Mansions. This will cost you $33 HKD (~$4 USD) using the Octopus card, which you can buy inside the airport for $100 + $50 deposit, cash only. Note that if you try to pay bus fare with cash (which is dumb–don’t do that), you will not get change back. When you leave Hong Kong, you can return the card at the airport and get your balance back minus a nominal $9 HKD change fee.
  • Getting around: The Mansions are in a superbly convenient location, between Tsim Sha Tsui and East Tsim Sha Tsui Stations, which are part of two different lines but are connected underground. You can walk to the waterfront very easily using underground tunnels and above-ground footbridges, which can be a bit confusing but is actually quite convenient.

I ended up staying for about a week, and I’m glad I stuck it out. It’s good value in an otherwise expensive city, in a great location, and I had a really unique experience there.

I met people from all over the world just in the elevator, from Fiji to Nigeria to India, and I got an interesting (if sometimes frightening) glimpse into their lives and how they perceive ours in the US. One night, I walked in on a multicultural birthday celebration in the hotel lobby for one of the receptionists. Another morning, I bought a box of Indian sweets from a nice vendor in the building and exchanged grins with an elderly Indian man over my chapati. On my last day, I did laundry and chatted with a diplomat with a fascinating history. I had a great time.

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Other trip highlights:

  • Hanging out with my aunt and uncle and learning family lore
  • Seeing the Tian Tan Big Buddha and amazingly kitschy structures at Repulse Bay
  • Getting dim sum with a new friend
  • Cool street art and cartoon statues in public parks
  • Listening to a live orchestra play Disney songs and show tunes during fancy afternoon tea at the Peninsula

img_20161125_070847The Chungking Mansions are an easy ~15 minute walk to this spectacular view.

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