So, with that in mind, and a budget of about 500rmb a night, I set out to explore five of the best.
Approximate Room Rates: 522rmb
Opened: September 2016
This was my first stop and my most frustrating check-in, because I wanted to use only English, like most tourists would. But they had trouble from the word ‘passport’ and it only went downhill, as I tried to confirm the room I booked was indeed the one I was getting and I just generally played the demanding tourist. Communication went straight to technology, with either them or me speaking into a mobile phone and using the translate function. Once settled, everything was lovely. The hotel is less than a 10-minute walk from Jing’an Station, the room was 20 something square meters, and the amenities in the bathroom were from a brand I’m vaguely aware of, not the convenience store downstairs. They did get points off for the room not having a window, but that was offset by a huge, soft bed, fast wi-fi and a two-story Burger King within walking distance.
The Orange Hotel
Approximate Room Rates: 549rmb
Opened: April 2014
I really wanted the staff to speak English at the Orange Hotel because I’ve stayed here before and I know how nice the place is. I was hoping they’d really come through. And they did. With their phones. Same as at Jimoo. Nonetheless, the check-in was smooth and the room was excellent, though on the smaller side of the five hotels here. But Orange prides itself on being a modern multi-star hotel jammed into affordable rooms, and so there was a huge Bluetooth speaker under the TV, the lighting system was all touchscreen and in order to get power to the room, instead of sliding your card into a slot, you just lay it down gently inside this curbed orb thing in the wall. Also, the bathroom has a full-length window onto the bed, in case your parents or friends like to check each other’s soap usage and showering process.
The neighborhood here is great for visitors, too, with a makeshift wet market spread around the outside of the hotel (the layout is weird, the hotel is set perpendicularly off the street), lots of Shanghai color that people who live here ignore but visitors love (and should), and just a generally vibrant neighborhood, and all within a 10-minute walk of the Changping Lu metro station, which connects to the very useful Line 7.
Home Inn Plus
Approximate Room Rates: 370rmb
Opened: Opened 2006, renovated 2016
Do not stay at a regular Home Inn. They are stuck in that Motel 168 pre-fab, plywood mattress budget hotel mold. Stay at a Plus. This is their attempt to go slightly upscale, and since renovating in 2016, it seems to be working well. I checked in on one of those weekday nights when it was pouring, and the lobby was like a community center holding Bingo night. It must have 200 rooms, and there was not even one available other than the one I reserved. (I had asked to see a pricier one.)
The draw here is that you’re about a 10-minute walk from the bottom of Xintiandi and all of that, and it’s a pleasant walk through some neighborhoods that haven’t been torn down yet.
This might sound dumb, but it was at HOME INN Plus, where once again, we went through the translate-through-phone process, and I saw who the other customers were, that it really hit me. These hotels are completely and 100% for Chinese tourists, and Chinese tourists have better taste and higher demand these days. That’s making things nice for everybody. Good job, China.
The room? It was alright. Smallest of the bunch but also the cheapest, with a big comfortable bed, though not much room for other stuff. Clean, modern, a view out of the window of the Huaihai Lu skyline, and a quick walk to Xintiandi or the Line 9 Metro station – all pluses.
Approximate Room Rates: 459rmb
Opened: October 2016
This Yitel is, I think, a repurposed Motel 168, and it still has some of that budget hotel DNA in it, and there’s the faint whiff of Chinese Hotel Room. That said, the lobby looks like a four-star hotel and they got points for having a great English speaker on duty when I checked in. No telephone translation needed. The room… the room… what to say about the room. It’s a boring hotel room in every sense of the word, but it’s clean and it’s big, much bigger than any of the other hotels. It feels like a cross between a Chinese business hotel and a budget chain, and they clearly used all the investment in re-doing the lobby.
The location is ambiguous. If you live in north Jing’an and want to keep your parents close but not so close they can just walk in on you, this would be a good place to detain them. If you’re staying in the city, and have never been here before, the immediate neighborhood is boring and under construction – there’s a Metro station being pounded in one thud at a time – but you are less than a 15-minute walk from either Expat Pile in Jing’an: the one on Yanping Lu (restaurants, WeWork) and the on Wuding Lu (bars). It’d make a good base if you want to get a feel for what it’s like to live in Shanghai, and it’s completely inoffensive, but it’s just not the first choice among these five.
Approximate Room Rates: 550rmb
Opened: July 2017
The Ji Hotel was my favorite of all five, displacing the Orange, even though the rooms were perhaps the smallest. The bed was extra comfortable and, what really made it for me, the decoration was natural and muted, in bamboo and cream tones that gave it a vaguely Japanese/Taiwanese feel. It didn’t feel budget or compromising at all, and it’s exactly what I would want if I was visiting one of the big Asian metropolises for a city break: someplace just nice enough to feel comfortable but cheap enough that I could spend my money on other things than the hotel. The hand soap was CO Bigelow. That’s supposed to mean something.
There is one drawback to the Ji Hotel that I can see, though it didn’t happen to me: luggage (I wasn’t carrying any). The hotel’s location makes it a kind of a pain in the ass for taxi drivers coming from the west (it might be easier coming from Pudong airport), forcing you to either cross an overhead walkway or get dropped off on a seriously busy thoroughfare.
Otherwise, transport is great. You’re split between the Line 10 Metro stations for Laoximen and Yuyuan, which are both just less than 1 km away from the hotel, and this would make a great base for exploring what’s left of the old town. I didn’t check out every single one, but there are also branches around the rest of the city, if you want to base yourself elsewhere.