Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chungking Mansions Tsim Sha Tsui Hong Kong


Also visit: Hong Kong Hotels Posted by Narinder Singh

Chungking Mansions is one of Hong Kong's best known buildings where one can shop for everything cheap, exchange money, buy international food, stay in one of the hundreds of guest houses, rent an office, and do God knows what else. The visitors to Chungking Mansions come from many parts of the world, such as Russia, China, Japan, Africa, Pakistan, Middle East, India, etc. Its a tourists' paradise except in a situation when one gets cheated by a shop owner or a guest house. Not getting cheated or scammed is important here. I have visited Chungking Mansions to exchange money or to buy SIM cards several times and got the best exchange rates and best prices in Hong Kong every time. But when I decided to stay in one of the guest houses in Chungking Mansions, I got cheated. I stayed there for two nights because I thought to really understand the place, it had to be more than just an overnight stay. This page contains some very useful information that I gathered during my stay in Chungking Mansions. Keep reading... 

Chung King Mansions Tsim Sha Tsui Hong Kong

iSquare Shopping Mall opposite Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

The building is located right outside Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station on Nathan Road. One can take any exit from the station going towards Nathan Road and will land very close to Chungking Mansions. The exit going towards iSquare Shopping Mall can also be taken. iSquare is right opposite Chungking Mansions (see picture above). The entrance to the building is open 24 hours. Shops are located on the ground and first floor. The first floor has mostly electronics and mobile phone shops. It is not advisable to buy anything there that is not branded and factory sealed. Most of the popular shopping and food action is on the ground floor. Avoid the touts standing at the entrance who try to mob every new face they see. It is better to look around yourself before spending any money in there. 

Money Exchange in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong - Best Money Exchange Rates in Hong Kong


Money Exchange Shop in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong
   
The first thing one sees upon entering Chungking Mansions is the money exchange shops. There are several and all of them display exchange rates prominently so one can take a walk around to compare the rates offered by different shops. Though these are probably the best money exchange rates in Hong Kong, the rates on display may not be final rates. Most of the shops give slightly better rates than what is displayed by them. One does not need to get into bargaining but politely asking for a better rate usually works. Therefore, first identify the shop that has displayed the best rate for your currency and then ask them what better they can do. You will get a few extra Hong Kong Dollars for your money.   

Mobile Phone SIM Cards and Calling Cards in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong


Best SIM Card Shop in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

One can buy very cheap calling cards with international call rates like 1 HKD per minute or less for calling many countries around the world. Most of the SIM cards and calling cards are sold at a massive discount, so do not pay the printed price for anything. it is better to go to the shop shown in the above picture. It is Man Hoi Shop (Number 88B on the ground floor). This is sort of a wholesale shop but one can buy one single SIM or calling card there without any trouble. The owners are Chinese and are happy to clarify all your doubts no matter how much time it takes. I have bought exceptional value Union SIM by More Mobile and IDT True Calling Card there. Both are recommended. 

Laundry Service in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong


Laundry Service in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

Perhaps the cheapest laundry service in Hong Kong can be availed of in Chungking Mansions. There are at least two laundry shops on the ground floor. They charge by weight and the prices start at around 30 HKD for 3.62 KG (8 lb) of laundry without pressing. No personal experience so I cannot say anything about the quality. The Chinese Laundry shop in the above picture looks good to me.

International Food


Smrat Indian Food Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

I spotted Indian, Pakistani (also sold as Indian), Nepali, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese food shops at the ground floor. There are some country specific grocery shops too. Someone looking to buy packaged ready to eat Indian food like MTR brand Indian ready to eat curries can go to these shops. A word of caution here. Shop rentals are very high in Chungking Mansions. Cooking is not allowed in the shop so the shop owners need to rent an apartment in some other floor for cooking. Thus the cost of food here is much higher than it should be. Quality of food also varies depending on the factors at play. Unsold food at the end of the day is not thrown away. Some shops do not have fixed prices. A cup of Indian Chai can cost either 5 or 10 HKD depending on whether or not the customer confirmed the price before ordering. My advice here is, eat in Chungking Mansions only if you must. 

Cheap Drinking Water Bottles in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong


Cheap Drinking Water Bottles in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

After wasting a lot of money in buying water bottles in 7-Eleven shops, I discovered the small shops in Jordan & Tsim Sha Tsui areas and Chungking Mansions that sell water bottles at prices that are less than half of what 7-Eleven charges.  Just remember that 6 HKD for a 1.5 litter bottle is not the lowest price. Walk around the ground floor and you may find a 5 HKD price tag for the same. 

Problems and Scams

The biggest scam prone business in Chungking Mansions is of guest houses. Someone told me that there are around 250 guest houses in this building. I do not know if that is true but know for sure that one guest house (some are called hotels) may be functioning from one or even half of a residential apartment in Chungking Mansions. The so called rooms in these guest houses are match-box sized cabins with hardly any space to keep anything larger than a medium sized travel bag. Some of them have private miniature bathrooms too. The scams are of two types. One, the tariffs are not fixed and depend entirely on demand and supply. Some of the guest houses do have fixed tariffs for advance booking through booking sites such as HostelBookers. The problem with advance booking is that one rarely gets what one sees on the booking site. Tripadvisor guest ratings are manipulated by the guest house owners who post fake reviews to increase their guest rating.


Canada Hotel Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

I booked a double room at Canada Hotel in Chungking Mansions and paid a price equal to what I paid for a hugely better hotel in Hong Kong Central (Read about Mini Hotel Central). In return I did not get a room at Canada Hotel. They told me some stories about overbooking and other problems they were having in some of their rooms (fake stories) and gave me a match-box not even fit to be called a single room in an illegal guest house located in a different wing of Chungking Mansions. I wanted to get a story and write this article, so I just let them do what they wanted. The illegal guest house did not have any front office or staff. Guests were left at the mercy of God and a telephone. Bed linen was of dark green color. Dark green color meant they could be replacing the bed linen every once in a fortnight or so regardless of how many guests stayed in the match-box during that fortnight. It was an outright fraud. My complaint to HostelBookers did not elicit any response. I decided never to stay in Chungking Mansions again but those who must stay there, can do the following to avoid getting scammed:

How to avoid the Guest House Scam in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong

(i) Never do advance booking for a guest house

Walk-in guests get the best rooms in guest houses in Chungking Mansions because they are able to actually see what they are getting for the price. They are also offered the best prices because the guest house owner knows if the price and value equation does not match, the prospective guest will walk away. On the other hand, the poor souls who have done advance booking, made part or full advance payment or have given their credit card numbers to the booking site, have so choice but to take what is given to them. Avoid staying at Chungking Mansions in the first place. If you can't, see the room before making any payment. Hotels like Mini Hotel in Hong Kong Central are a much better bargain than any guest house in Chungking Mansions. 

(ii) Never stay in a guest house that uses colored bed linen

If you see the bed linen of any color other than White in a guest house in Chungking Mansions, just walk away. If the bed linen is of a dark color, there is more than a 50% chance that the bed linen has not been changed after the last guest checked out. Take care of your health and stay somewhere else. 

Safety of guests and visitors to Chungking Mansions Hong Kong


Public Elevator in Chungking Mansions Hong Kong 

To give them their due, Hong Kong Government seem to have taken some care about the safety aspects in Chungking Mansions. Almost every inch of the building, except may be the toilets, is under electronic surveillance. I believe the fire alarm and hydrant system will be in working condition at all times. Still, I am not able to speculate on how the crowd management system, if there is one, will work in an emergency situation. I fear that in case of a fire or another act of God, safety of the people inside Chungking Mansions is most likely to be in jeopardy. The elevators are really small and there is always a long queue of people waiting to get into the elevators at the ground floor and at those floors where guest houses are located. Cramped spaces add to confusion during emergencies. Those staying in illegal guest houses like Canada Hotel will not find any help around them when the emergency strikes. Generally speaking, regardless of its popularity, Chungking Mansions is not really a place one should fall in love with. It should be more like a "get in and quickly get out" affair.

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Blog by: Narinder Singh

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