After leaving Seoul for good, I embarked on a short trip to Hongkong which I had planned from the get-go. Things did not go all that smoothly at first. Prior to going abroad, I had taken a total of four flights in my entire life, all on dirt-cheap carriers within Europe. I had never even checked in any luggage. So I was a bit nervous about my first long-distance flight to Seoul at first. However, I flew around quite a bit during the semester, and now felt like a somewhat experienced traveler. I was usually always super early for any of my flights for fear of missing them. Now, near the end of my travels, a previously unknown level of comfort had set in….so of course I got too comfortable and missed my flight out of Seoul. It was not all bad, though. Due to my 16+ hour layover waiting for the next flight to Hongkong, I was able to cross one more item off the to do list and visited Songdo. I also ran into a Korean student at the airport (Hi Cherry!) that I thought I wouldn’t have time to say goodbye to, so that was nice as well.
However, the lay-over was still pretty rough as the only reasonably priced alternative flight left at 4am. And since I absolutely did not want to miss this one too and the Korean subway system shuts down pretty early, I was back at Incheon Airport at 10pm. Incheon is often praised as being one of the most lovely airports in the world and offering ton of opportunities to pass the time during a layover. However, my lack of experience with airports reared its ugly head again here – I couldn’t really find any of the advertised spots supposedly offering free showers and whatnot, and the airport was deserted at night, so I just sat around the terminal for a couple hours. Sleep was impossible. At least I was able to doze off for a little bit during the four hour flight.
The circumstances of my arrival in Hongkong were less than ideal – I arrived at around 6am on almost zero sleep, and the heat and humidity were already overwhelming. While Korea and Japan were already quite hot in late Spring for my European sensibilities, I managed to avoid the unbearable summer weather. However, Hongkong climate is a bit more extreme. Felt temperatures of 45°C and 90% humidity were the norm during my stay. You felt like you needed a shower seconds after leaving your room. That, combined with my usual travel habits (walk around all day, don’t drink enough, get lost, et al.), made for a rather exhausting time. Hongkong is absolutely fascinating, but it was also an utterly exhausting place to visit, at least for me, even compared to cities like Seoul or Tokyo. I think I would have lost my mind if I had stayed there for more than a couple of days.
Hongkong is quite notorious for its high cost of living and tiny but expensive apartments, and it seems like that is reflected in the accommodations for tourists as well. As usual, my budget was extremely tight, so I had to look for the cheapest options available, and was quite delighted to have found a single room in a central location near the Harbor for quite a cheap price. I didn’t research the place too much, or else I would have found out that I had booked a room in the somewhat (in?)famous Chungking Mansions. It is a fascinating building. The bottom floor is basically a bazaar full of diverse bistros, restaurants, and shops and is always crawling with people. Many ethnic minorities have made Chungking Mansions their home and/or place of business, making it an incredibly diverse place. That was quite a culture shock after spending four months in one of the world’s most ethnically homogeneous countries (95+% of Korea’s population are ethnic Koreans), but certainly not an unwelcome one. There is pretty much always something going on here, and it is located in one of the busiest areas in all of Hongkong.
Chungking Mansion houses almost 2000 rooms, which are apparently managed by a bunch of different small-ish hotel companies. It’s all a bit confusing. Speaking of confusing, it took me about half an hour to actually find the place even though it is located directly next to a subway station. But it certainly doesn’t look anything like a hotel from the outside. There are multiple elevators taking you to different sections of the building, so it’ll take a while to get used to that. You will also be approached by countless people trying to sell you various goods, from no-doubt high quality watches to electronic goods to pot. So yeah, it’s a…unique place. The low price also comes as a price, as the place apparently is known as a fire hazard and a meeting place for petty criminals. I personally never felt unsafe there, but it’s not for everyone. I’m not sure if I would recommend this place, but it was definitely a very unique and unforgettable place. It is absolutely fascinating, and you can read more on it in this Economist feature (comparing it to Star Wars’ Mos Eisley Cantina of all places) or in this BBC piece. Time Magazine even included a visit to Chungking in their list of ten things to do in Hongkong. It is definitely one of the most diverse and unique places I have ever visited.
The room was tiny, but it had an AC that worked well except for that one time it started dripping water on my head, and my own bathroom. What more do you need?
The location is very convenient – right next to a busy subway station and within walking distance of the famous Victoria Harbor.
Then again, the vicinity of the Mansions is very busy and certainly not the most luxurious place you can stay in. The houses surrounding you are gigantic and often seem a bit run-down. Hongkong did feel a bit ‘dirty’ to me on the whole, at least in comparison to Korea and Japan, which both have a (well-earned) reputation for being incredibly clean.
I’m sure much of that can be blamed on the absurd weather that made you feel sweaty and gross the second you went outside, no matter the time of day. I’m sure Seoul or Tokyo are pretty gross in August too.
It’s a pretty gross feeling when a drop of water hits your head and you are first relieved, thinking that it might rain a bit and cool down. But then you notice that the drops hit you in all-too-regular intervals and begin to realize that they are dropping down from the countless air conditioners high above you. Yuck.
Let’s briefly talk about Victoria Harbor. On this side of the ocean, you have a perfect view of the famous skyline of Hongkong Island, the more prosperous part of Hongkong famous for its financial district. There is a daily light show, which I honestly did not think was all that impressive. It’s nice, but the brightly illuminated buildings are breathtaking by themselves. Adding a few giant laser pointers certainly doesn’t hurt, but also doesn’t really add that much to me. The little dragon boats with their illuminated bright red sails are a great touch though.
Stay tuned for part 2, in which I will talk a bit about my favorite sightseeing destinations!