When travelling, it’s always great when plans come to fruition. At our arranged meeting point I meet my friend whose LAX flight arrived 20 minutes before my New Zealand one. After a coffee, we find the bus into town, and get off at the correct spot – our 5 weeks of SE Asian travels are beginning well. And, we’re off to stay in a mansion!
Chungking Mansions to be precise – and despite the name, these mansions were the cheapest accommodation we could find in the centre of Hong Kong. Fantastic we thought.
As we approach the doorway, dragging our wheeled suitcases, half a dozen men offered us their cards – touts for suits, dresses and jackets that we could have made. Silk, linen, cotton, a sari perhaps? All we wanted was to check-in and start exploring.
This huge block is actually a collection of 5 buildings each named A, B, C, D or E -and each block has 2 lifts – one stopping at all the even numbers, the other at all the odds. Despite the rabbit warren confusion, we found the appropriate check-in place. What we hadn’t realised there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses, and once checked-in we were taken to our accommodation – in a different block.
My room is across the hallway from my friends one: it’s tiny, spotlessly clean, has air-con, a bottle of water and is windowless. It’s also shoebox-size, with an even tinier bathroom. I have no problem with that, I only want this room to sleep in as I know I’ll be out exploring – this is my first time in Hong Kong!
We stayed here for 3 or 4 days, and then after our travels, I stayed another couple of days before returning to New Zealand.
This is not only full of guesthouses but also restaurants, shops and moneychangers. As someone said you could have a holiday in Hong Kong and never leave the mansions. No matter what you want it will be here: fruit, biscuits, bread, curries, pizza, computers, or kebabs; new luggage, new phone, Sim card, umbrellas or batteries, they’re all here -and of course suits, dresses, jackets, or a sari. In fact, anything you want. We had our delicious, early morning, Indian breakfast, on the ground floor, every day.
This United Nations of people seem to come from, largely, Southeast Asia and Africa, and in conversation with a young Hong Kong woman on the ferry, she was astonished at our bravery. ‘I’ve never been allowed there’ she said. ‘My parents would never let me go anywhere near there. Is it safe? It’s full of drug dealers I think.’
There is no doubt about it, for years it’s had a notorious reputation, and at any one time, among the 4 or 5000 people who live, and or work, there. I’m sure there are drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and sex workers.
Over the years it’s cleaned up its act, and despite still being a fire hazard, I never saw anything that concerned me. However, over the past few years, there have been assaults and even murder (s?)
Originally built as middle class, one-family flats or apartments, many families, seeing an opportunity to make money, bought other flats and converted them into guesthouses to serve American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam -it was then that the sex workers started hanging around the entrance.
Would I stay there again? Of course! Would most my friends stay here? Of course not!