The Hongqiao area of Shanghai strikes a balance betwen the truly suburban feeling of Huacao or Jinqiao and downtown living. Living in the area has been described by some as having one foot in the door of Shanghai. The roads, for example, while not as quiet and broad as those of suburban expat areas, are certainly not as busy as those inside the Inner Ring Road. International schools are present and villa compounds abound. The density of people and traffic, while still high compared to most Western cities, is a notable degree less than Jing’an or the French Concession.
Many who choose to live in the area want to be within striking distance of all that downtown Shanghai has to offer but don’t want to deal with the density or the distance to international schools that comes with living inside the ring. Others simply want a house (in Shanghai they are all termed villas for some reason) with a yard in which their children can play and don’t care for the cultural sterility of suburban life. Whatever the reason, Hongqiao is one of the primary expat areas of the city with a broad range of services and accommodation aimed at the expat community.
A subset of the broader Hongqiao area, Gubei is distinct in its own right. Part of this distinction comes from the high number of Asian expats from Japan, Korea and Taiwan residing in the area and the related services geared towards them, such as Japanese supermarkets and Korean restaurants. While a certain number of Western expats do live in the area, most tend to take the full step inside the Inner Ring Road or back a bit further to the villas of Hongqiao only a few blocks to the west, as the difference in density from downtown to Gubei is not particularly notable. Gubei is, however, close enough to Hongqiao that its services are patronized by Hongqiao’s residents as well as some residing inside the ring. In Gubei, accommodation is dominated by high-rise apartment blocks and compounds – there is a wide selection to choose from, including numerous that are luxurious. Gubei is also notable for the number of embassies located in the area.
The broader Hongqiao area is bordered by Zhongshan Xi Lu (Inner Ring Road) to the east and the S20 (A20) Freeway (Outer Ring Road) to the west. Tianshan Lu forms the northern border while Wuzhong Lu delineates the southern edge of the area. The area is roughly bisected north to south by the Middle Ring Road and east to west by Yan’an Elevated Road. The area between the Outer Ring Road and the Middle Ring Road north of Yan’an Elevated Road has the highest concentration of villas inside Puxi’s Outer Ring Road. The epicenter of commercial activity in Hongqiao is Hongmei Lu between Yan’an Elevated Road and Wuzhong Lu.
Gubei is bordered by Wuzhong Lu to the south and Tianshan Lu to the north, while the Inner Ring Road and Shuicheng Lu/Gubei Lu mark its eastern and western boundaries respectively. The nexus of activity in Gubei primarily centers around Shuicheng Lu south of the Yan’an Elevated Road, with a secondary area concentrated around Loushanguan Lu north of the Yan’an Elevated Road.
Hongqiao and Gubei have a number of good health care options, such as the ParkwayHealth Hongqiao Medical Center at 2258 Hongqiao Lu, which has x-ray and lab facilities on-site as well as the ability to perform some out-patient procedures. They also have a Women’s Health Center at the popular expat compound Mandarine City.
St Michael Hospital, at 388 Hongbaoshi Lu, has a 24-hour emergency service (tel: 6270 5300) and specialises in orthopaedics and recovery with an English-language service.
The 16,000 square meter Sun-Tec Medical Center at 2281 Hongqiao Lu is another option, with top rate diagnostic equipment and a variety of services.
Shanghai United Family Hospital at 1139 Xianxia Lu has an expat- oriented facility located in the heart of the Hongqiao villa area specialising in both surgery and emergency medicine.
Proximity to world-class international education is one of the primary draws of the Gubei/Hongqiao area, as it is the only non-suburban area of Shanghai with international schools. Shanghai Community International School and Yew Chung International School both have two campuses in the area, while Britannica International School, Rainbow Bridge and the Japanese School are also represented. The commute to the American and British schools in neighbouring Huacao is also eminently doable at about 20-30 minutes, in most cases via school bus services. The French/German Euro Campus and Western International Schools are also not far away.
The well-respected Soong Ching Ling Kindergarten is situated at the heart of Hongqiao, and there are a number of smaller kindergartens and nurseries sprinkled throughout the area. This is an important consideration for many parents who wish to accompany their young child to school on a daily basis.
While commute times are obviously important to the students who have to endure them, they are also important to parents as international schools are hubs of community life. Thus living within reach undoubtedly means you’ll be more involved.
Taken as a whole, Hongqiao is not particularly transport friendly when compared to the downtown areas of Shanghai. If you don’t have a driver, most likely you’ll be taking taxis to get where you want to go, as walking or cycling are not realistic in most cases. Taxis are, however, ubiquitous and affordable.
Metro Line 2 skirts the top edge of the district and can be a good option if you are travelling to People’s Square, Lujiazui or even Pudong Airport – particularly during rush hour, as you’ll undoubtedly reach your destination in a fraction of the time. Metro Line 10 bisects Hongqiao and Gubei and eventually traverses the French Concession with stops at Shaanxi Nan Lu and Xintiandi. This recent addition to the system is notably crowd free and often has seats available, a rarity in Shanghai.
Most notable in the area is the Hongqiao Transportation Hub, home to China’s high speed rail network as well as a new airport terminal. Although international flights are limited, it has excellent service to all cities in the mainland. If you travel frequently within China, living 15- 20 minutes away from the hub can make a significant difference to your quality of life.
Shops and Services
Not surprisingly, Hongqiao and Gubei have excellent expat-focused shops and services. In Hongqiao, Hongmei Lu is the center of commercial activity. It has an excellent City Shop, a Curves ladies-only fitness centre, a Franck Provost beauty salon, art galleries, bakeries, boutiques and more. The Hongmei Entertainment Street (which is actually a pedestrian-only offshoot of the main road) is one of Shanghai’s premier nightlife destinations. There are enough bars and restaurants on this street that you could party at a different venue every night for a month. When the weather’s good the atmosphere along the street is positively festive. In addition the Hongqiao Golf Club is minutes away, offering a decent course, good driving range and night golfing.
Near the corner of Hongmei and Yan’an Elevated Road is the inimitable Pearl Market, long a Shanghai landmark when it comes to fake markets. It recently seems to have reformed, or at least to be, well, faking it – for now it’s no longer the counterfeit cornucopia it used to be, but by the time you read this it may well have reverted. It’s definitely worth checking. Either way, the pearls remain.
In Gubei, the focal point of activities is the Carrefour at the corner of Shuicheng Lu and Yan’an Lu. By foot traffic it is the busiest in the world and the complex houses a wide variety of shops and services from restaurants to dry cleaning to retail (it’s best to avoid the Carrefour itself on weekends as it’s insanely busy). Outside of the Carrefour complex on U-shaped Ronghua Dao you’ll find the typical range of services and shops in an expat-oriented neighbourhood, such as massage, restaurants, cafés, salons and recreation options.