(Nothing sexier than a Lord of the Rings reference.)
Join me, Sacco, your love guru, as I explore the longest metro rides, seediest love cinemas, darkest alleyway, not-so-tallest heights, and a love train to ecstasy-ville that ain't never coming back. Or something like that!
1. The Train Inn Restaurant
In my experience, the one answer to the age old question of what women want always comes back time and time again, "trains, trains, and more trains”. Way out yonder in Pudong, just a few stops before the very end of Line 8, you’ll find a quaint and charming bed and breakfast that goes by the name of "Train Inn". A covered courtyard features four 1970s-era long distance train carriages that include a public dining car, a private dining car, and a hostel car were you can rent a cabin for the night. Everything in the carriages is authentic except maybe they are slightly cleaner then what you’ll find out there on the rails.
Yes, Train Inn offers all the unbridled, fiery eroticism of a slow train ride in China, yours for the night for just a few hundred RMB.
It’s all the intrigue and mystery of a long distance train ride to love with the added bonus that you don't even end up in Wuxi afterwards.
I chose to treat my special someone to the private dining car experience. You know I’m classy like that. The minimum spend is 120rmb on food and drinks for the private cabin, and the menu is a large selection of mostly Shanghainese dishes with some sushi options. Sushi on a train, what could go wrong? Quality-wise, everything was tasty and delivered promptly. The venue also features an early 1900s steam engine you can climb around on, foosball, pool tables, and a bar in the courtyard.
If your date goes really well you can stay overnight for around 200rmb. Cabins include two tiny beds on the bottom and, just in case you make some new friends on your journey, two fold-down top bunk beds in top. Not bad for 200rmb. From time to time, the Train Inn even hosts small concerts in the courtyard.
Ideal for a little light role play, if you ever find yourself on a date with, oh let's say a "German backpacker", then this is definitively a great place to get your passport stamped.
All aboard, fraulein!!!!
2. The Romantic Walk - Getting Lost In Some Disappearing History
If you’re like me then your pockets are usually a little light on the Yuan. Frequently. Perennially. Invariably. No worries, friend, I've got you covered with my patented Xiaonanmen Station Alley Date. With the rapid development and modernization of Shanghai's urban spaces we are quickly losing the old school alleyway neighborhoods day by day, which is exactly what you'll say on your date to sound deep, worldly, and intelligent.
"With the rapid development and modernization of Shanghai's urban spaces we are quickly losing the old school alleyway neighborhoods day by day, girl."
While not the biggest or cleanest places, these tight little alley spaces offer an authentic experience not unlike a visit to an important art gallery or... ummm... an academic symposium on disappearing neighborhoods or something.
And nothing says true love like hanging chicken corpses in the windows.
From Xiaonanmen metro station, Exit 2, you’re going to want to hang a hard left to enter the alleyways. You’ll notice a lot of people playing cards or mahjong in their apartments with doors and windows open to let the evening air in. In general, most of the old people were cool with taking pictures and reminded us that this whole neighborhood will be torn down within a year or two to make way for high rise apartments.
Cherish these stolen moments, kids.
If you walk further down into the winding alleys you’ll run into a sort of secondhand fabric market with aunties offering their seamstress services and hocking various wares. This area is colorful and filled with life as people trade stories with fabric samples in the open air. You’ll also find a second hand wood market, cheap food, and elementary kids running game.
About a half hour into the walk we came across a ‘gang’ of 20 or so gentleman all wearing black clothes and gold chains. They were breaking the locks off small store fronts in what seemed to be a really personalized form of eviction notice delivery. Having lived in Shanghai for years I’ve never seen that and it was another reminder how this small neighborhoods days are numbered.
Make sure to take your lover on an alleyway stroll and then come back again when they open a Wagas or Sproutworks there.
3. A Ride on the Sky Ring - Love Is in the Air
Holy moly, have you been to Joy City Mall lately? This place is pure romance. We're talking workshops that include making your own cookies, book binding, terrarium building, and that’s just to name a few. We started our mall date with a spin on the Sky Ring. Yes, Joy City built a big ole Ferris wheel on top of the mall roof, which is supposed to mimic the London Eye. Upon entry, the ticket attendant told us that usually, guests need to squeeze four to a pod but this time, for us, they were down with the language of love and let us ride just as a couple.
For 60rmb you’ll get a ten-minute spin along Shanghai's skyline. Being in a city surrounded with tall buildings the thrill of a Ferris wheel can be a little lack luster. Maybe it was the 35th-floor office worker in the adjacent building looking down on us like, “You paid 60rmb for what now?”
But it's all in the name of love and romance, and you can’t exactly show up with your date to Joy City mall and not take a whirl on the Sky Ring. For 380rmb you can choose from a number of set meals of various Joy City restaurants that includes a DOUBLE spin ride on the Sky Ring. My date got treated to a single spin and 40rmb Vietnamese sandwich. Nailed it.
4. The Universal Cinama Private Theater
(aka no really it’s not a love hotel, I swear)
Parents, tell your children to leave the room because this one's just for the grown ups. Everyone is aware of the million KTV’s Shanghai has to offer but did you know about the VTV scene? Talk about sexy good times. Throughout the city, if you know where to look, you can find small karaoke-slash-love hotel style private cinemas that offer 3D movies, video games, and various other digital delights. Here's a peek inside one such VTV about a five-minute walk from Exit 2, Dapuqiao metro station on Line 9.
Taking the charming elevator to the 13th floor of a dusty '80s-era apartment building, guests are greeted with a tasteful hand-drawn logo for “Universal Cinama” [sic]. Seems legit. Completely.
A clerk buzzes you in -- that's what you call "exclusivity" friends -- and a number of different rooms and themes await. The door girl was actually super nice and spoke perfect English. She gave us examples of what movies were available.
Let's cut to the chase: Every room has a bed with crushed satin and velour sheets. It’s a fuck house. Oh, it's a fuck house alright. Movie-wise, they have a selection of over 1000+ features organized by genre and about 20 new-ish 3D films. The projector was super high quality and the screen is a whole 10-meter wall.
We chose Kung Fu Panda 3 (I've got weird fetishes) and I must say it was pretty damn close to watching in the theater.
Except for, you know, we watched it lying on satin sheets drinking a bottle of Champagne. Upon taking a peek out the curtains, sure enough there was a 60-year-old auntie in the next window over. She gave me a friendly wave, so I reciprocated by blasted some love making with the curtains wide open, Kung Fu Panda 3 cranked on full volume.
At 26rmb an hour per person (or 300rmb for the night) this place is a great deal and, best of all, you don’t need to a passport like at standard love hotels. Again, I’m sure everything is on the up and up with Universal Cinama.
5. The Ocean in Shanghai - A Sea of Passion
Rumors has it there is, in fact, an ocean called the "Pacific" near Shanghai. I bet you’ve heard similar tale but never the proof before. Well, I’m here to tell you the stories are true. I’ve been to the ocean in Shanghai and took a date there on the metro. It was... beautiful... -ly cost effective.
At the very end of Line 16 is Dishui Lake, which is China’s biggest man made lake that feeds directly into the ocean. From Zhongshan Park metro, we're talking about a ride that clocks in just under two hours. Bring a book. No one can talk to their date that long.
From the Dishui Lake metro station you can either take a 10 minute taxi or a much longer (#33) bus ride to the scenic ocean point called “Star Seeing, Sunrises Watching”. There is literally nothing out there so you are going to either need to tell your taxi drive to come back in a couple hours, figure out how to use a taxi app, or trek the hour hike back to the metro station.
Once at the scenic point, you can venture out on these little rock piers right into the ocean. Everything is sparse and majestic and all that crap. Not exactly Bali but, hey, holding hands walking along the ocean with fresh sea air is a welcome break from inner city living. Our daytime date ran just under 100rmb for travel and snacks but if you want to flash some cash then I suggest staying at the Holiday Inn Express which will run you quite a bit more.
Happy fucking, Shanghai!
[Ed's Note: Don't forget, kids, if you're looking for a date with which to embark on any of these lovely scenarios, there's plenty of Shanghai-based hotness over at SmSh's Dating section.]
Much thanks to Rhiannon Florence for research and photography for this article.