The Chungking Mansions are a unique place and very exciting to visit. It’s one of those places that you’ll either absolutely hate or totally love. Many tourists end up here after booking a cheap guesthouse online but they don’t realize what they are actually getting themselves into. They can be recognized walking around the place like zombies, eyes wide open and a group of touts following them around. To prevent yourself from being one of those people, it’s good to know what to expect when going to the Chungking Mansions.
1: Expect Chungking Mansions to be overwhelming
If you expect to find some guesthouses and a few shops, when you walk into the Chungking Mansions, you’ll be in for a big surprise. There is all that and then much, much more. On the ground floor alone there are 140 shops, including eateries, mobile phone shops, electronic stores, little supermarkets and a lot of other stuff. Upon entering the building, people are offering you all kinds of goods and services and you walk into a wall of smell from all the food that’s for sale. It is said that you could spend your whole life inside the Chungking Mansions without leaving. This is very true because everything you could ever need is being sold here. The place is like a city on its own.
This map is made in 2007 and gives an impression of Chungking Mansions’ ground floor
2: Expect cheap guesthouses
Chungking Mansions has the cheapest guesthouses in Hong Kong. Expect Chungking Mansions to offer rooms in all price ranges because there are many differences in quality, size and cleanliness. A cheap single room can be found from about 150 HKD, while dorm rooms can be as cheap as 100 HKD. What you will eventually end up paying, depends on your bargaining skills and the time you spend looking around.
The more expensive single rooms can be around 500 HKD and double rooms a bit more. It also depends on when you’re going because it’s more expensive in the summer months. I’ve only been there around the summer period so I can’t really say what prices would be in the wintertime.
3: Expect bargaining
To get the best possible deal, my advice would be to go from floor to floor to ask for prices. Ask for their price first before letting them know your budget. You will ruin your bargaining position otherwise. More often than not, you will be able to get the room for at least 20% cheaper than their initial price just by negotiating. If you want to stay several days, it would be best to tell them this after you bargained the price down. This way you might be able to get a multiple day discount on top of the bargained price. You won’t always be so lucky though.
If you like to improve your bargaining skills, Chungking Mansions is a good place to go and practice it. You would actually be selling yourself short not to do it. Most of the room prices are inflated so the hotel owners have room to bargain. This is the way they do it here so it would be wise to take advantage of it.
Be a little quiet on the stairs of the lower floors, otherwise you’d wake up the people that are sleeping on them.
4: Expect small rooms
When you are shown around your hotel room, don’t be surprised to be led into a tiny cubicle that is smaller than the crawling space of your home (mild exaggeration). Hong Kong is a dense city, which makes space here, very expensive. Hotel owners try to maximize their profit by making the rooms as small as possible. And when I’m talking about as small as possible… it really is as small as possible. Some of the rooms are so small that you wouldn’t be able to open the door anymore if they made it one inch smaller. Better stay out of the Chungking Mansions if you’re claustrophobic.
This is a single room with bathroom in which you would need to sit on the bed to be able to open the door.
Not all of the rooms are this small though.
5: Expect to pay more when booking online
This might seem illogical but room prices are higher when making a booking in advance. If you just show up at their doorstep, you have a much better chance of getting a good deal. This is because you get to see their room first and know what you will get (a tiny room). This makes your bargaining position a lot better and you can get the rooms that they have been unable to rent out so far. You might not be able to get a room at the first guesthouse you bargain with, so hang in there.
6: Expect to pay more in the weekend and on holidays
If you are going to stay over in the weekend, expect Chungking Mansions to be more expensive than on weekdays. There is not really a set price for any one room, it all depends on the demand at that particular day. I have seen it happen that a room that’s being rented out for 160 HKD one day, goes for 300 HKD the next day. Many people from China are visiting Hong Kong in the weekend to do some shopping and this is driving prices up. Expect to pay at least 1.5 times more on Friday and Saturday then you would Monday to Thursday.
You can find some more walls when you look outside.
7: Expect crowded elevators
Don’t be surprised to find yourself in a tiny elevator with 7 people, a trolley packed with gas cylinders and a couple of suitcases. The Chungking Mansions only has 1 elevator going to each floor and its being pushed to its absolute limits. Hotel guests are going up with their luggage, construction workers are throwing bags of cement in, food supplies are transported to restaurants, garbage bags are being piled up and things you can’t even imagine are going on in there. It’s a very rare event to be in the elevator by yourself.
The elevators are designed to hold up to 7 people but unfortunately not everyone takes this limitation seriously. An alarm will ring when it’s too heavy but I’ve still seen up to 10 people at a single time in these tiny elevators. This will generally cause an overload and prevents the doors from opening. Some security guards will show up, frantically trying to open the lift doors with their bare hands and yelling out all kinds of curse words. Don’t get yourself in this situation because you don’t want to be at these people’s mercy.
8: Expect people from all over the world
Because such a wide range of products and services are being offered in the Chungking Mansions, a wide array of people can be found here. There are people from many layers of society and coming from all over the world. On a daily base, there are an estimated 10,000 visitors coming in, with more then 100 different nationalities.
Everyone has their own objective to be here. You will find tourists, salesmen, touts, hotel owners and many other types of people in the Chungking Mansions. It’s not that common to have such a diversity of people all just in one place. This is the reason that Time Magazine called the Chungking Mansions the “Best Example of Globalization in Action” in a 2007 article.
9: Expect a safe environment
On a first stay here you could feel a little uncomfortable or even unsafe. Especially females can feel like this because about 85% of the people here are male. Chungking Mansions have always been known as a pretty dangerous place but nowadays, there are almost no spots left without a camera watching you. They are even in the staircases and the cameras are constantly being monitored.
Police frisks are happening on a daily base to prevent illegal activities and to keep immigrants from overstaying their visas. Even most of the elevators have security guards watching them and pressing the buttons for you. I’ve even had a security guard walking into my room to tell me I should lock my door.
It wouldn’t be logical to feel unsafe here because this is probably one of the safest spots in Hong Kong with so much security around. This doesn’t mean that there’s no criminal activities at all and you might be harassed a little by aggressive touts but overall it’s a safe place. Even the guesthouses are regularly checked and can only stay in business if they are approved by a licensing authority.
10: Expect to be hassled
You can’t get to the Mansions without being hassled. Before you even reach it, you will already have people constantly asking you to buy tailor made suits, copy watches, copy handbags and other fake stuff. Once you’re actually on the doorstep, you will be offered menu’s of restaurants, cheap hotel rooms and even drugs. If you come walking in with a suitcase you are really in for a treat. The hotel touts will be all over you like a dog on a bone, especially if you look like you don’t know where you’re going.
The best thing to do with all these people harassing you, is politely tell them no and walk on. You could also tell the hotel touts that you’re looking for a single room for 100 HKD. This should scare them away. If it doesn’t, you’ve just found yourself a very cheap room in the notorious Chungking Mansions.