Situated between the Inner and Outer Ring Roads on both the north and south sides of Yan An Elevated Road is the Hongqiao area of Shanghai. The area is primarily residential and made up of villa compounds, low-rise apartments and sprinklings of high rise buildings. With the opening of the Hongqiao Transportation Hub – the world’s largest - a few years ago and the development of the adjoining Hongqiao CBD area, the pace of life in Hongqiao’s busy Hongmei Road and Loushanguan Road areas will certainly change.
Before the rapid development of the past 10 years, the area enjoyed a pace that was a step slower than the rest of the city. Residents would joke that they had one foot in and one foot out the door of Shanghai.
The Gubei area of Hongqiao is a subset of the district often referred to as K-Town for its popularity with Korean as well as Japanese and Taiwanese expats. The Carrefour in Gubei, which serves the entire district has the most foot traffic of any Carrefour in the world.
The Loushanguan area to the north of Yan An road is a small enclave that houses a number of embassies and residences. If you happen to be in the area for lunch, the Japanese and Korean food is excellent and priced well.
Further west along Yan An Road a few blocks is Hong Mei Road which is the heart of Hongqiao. Home to what is affectionately known as Laowai Jie (Foreigner Street). This collection of bars and restaurants - most with terraces and patios - is super fun when the weather is nice in the spring and fall. The area has its moments, even in the sweltering heat of August, as people start to arrive home from summer vacation and get together. The feel of the area on any given weekday is almost sleepy for Shanghai, though on weekends and rush hour the two block stretch of Hong Mei south of Yan An road that defines the area is often gridlocked.
Being the closest to the major development happening further to the west, the Hongmei area is likely to lose any ‘sleepy’ feeling in the next few years as the march of progress slowly fills in all the empty spaces.
Shopping in the area is highlighted by the Hongqiao Pearl Market, which is located at the corner of Hongmei and Yan An Road. Once very popular with locals and expats for shopping for fake goods – that is counterfeited products made to look like the real thing - the market has changed to more of a giant souvenir shop on the main floor. The second floor of the market still houses a very large pearl market with jade available as well.
Only a few years ago the market was bustling with expats buying copies of luxury watches and handbags that would fool almost any but the most careful observer at prices that were 1/100th the retail price. The small shops all had secret doors to back rooms filled with their contraband. Following a number of high profile raids, the sale of counterfeits was stopped, or more accurately disappeared from plain sight.
The area is well served in terms of health and education with services spread out through the area both in terms of schools and bus routes as well as clinics and hospitals.
The Hongmei area Metro stop is a bit of a hike from the main business area around Laowai Jie as is the Gubei and Shuicheng stops relative to the center of Gubei life, which is around the Carrefour on Shucheng Road. The result is that many people drive and traffic is often horrible.
The big attraction for many expats to the area is the Hongqiao Transportation hub – particularly if work requires travel in China. The regular flights to Hong Kong and Beijing leave every hour and the high-speed rail terminal is part of the complex.
All in all, Hongqiao and Gubei are still a nice balance between the inner ring and suburbia and one can still find two floor townhouses with a garden off Hongmei road for less than 20,000 RMB per month. This is inbetweener town to be sure but it does it well.