But nuts to those cities...
I’m talking about Jiaxing, baby. It's that one high-speed rail stop on the way to Hangzhou you kind of remember sitting at for 30 seconds. This third-tier city features a multitude of industrial zones and a quaint little factory by Korean tire maker Hankook, which gives the village a nice rubbery smell throughout. It's also famous for zongzi, those little triangle-shaped rice snacks wrapped in lotus leaves and filled with mystery meat. The First National Congress of the Communist Party was moved from Shanghai to Jiaxing's South Lake, and so Jiaxing is also considered to be the birthplace of the CCP. You can check out the Revolutionary Memorial Hall located on the scenic South Lake.
My main point of interest, however, was the bar district. It's located in a preserved ancient hamlet near the center of a modern downtown and features over 30 watering holes. Bored of the usual Shanghai haunts of Hengshan, Yongkang, and Yongfu Lu, and having been banned from every Perry’s in town, I figured this was an opportunity to take my special lady on a weekend getaway. Think you can’t afford an out-of-town trip for two? Don’t worry, I've got you sorted. The whole trip — including metro, train ticket, hotel, dinner, and drinking — cost me less than 300rmb! Now, let’s go Jiaxing!
Train Ticket: 19.5rmb
If you’re lucky enough to own a car the trip out to Jiaxing takes about an hour. The rest of us have two options, the fast or slow train. The fast train takes 27 minutes and leaves from Hongqiao Railway Station every half hour or so. That will run you 38.5rmb. From there the Yuehe Old Town district is about a 35rmb taxi ride.
We took the slow train from Shanghai South Railway Station. That is 19.5rmb and takes an hour. Although the slow trains takes 30 minutes longer it drops you off right in the middle of downtown. From there, the Yuehe Bar Street area is about a 20 minute walk. Upon reaching the bridge into the Old Town you might notice the ancient Chinese map. You can tell the map is historic by the drawings of late 90’s sedans in the parking lot.
Canalside Lodging: 170rmb
There are two main options for accommodation in the Yuehe Old Town District. The first is a five-star joint called the Yuehe Kezhan Hotel. That ranges in price from around 350 to 500rmb. Word on the street is the hotel is all that and a bag of chicken feet. Being that my pockets were a little light on the yuan, we opted to stay at the Yuehe Holiday House located next door for only 170rmb. Hey, it's got a clean room, cable TV, and it's only about 50 feet away from from Yuehe Bar Street. Score!
All You Can Eat Hot Pot Dinner: 40rmb
There is not much for restaurants in the Yuehe, but right across from the bridge is an all you can eat hot pot restaurant for — and I am not kidding you — only 40rmb per person. That includes all you can eat lamb, sausage, crab, dumplings, fruit, veggies, fruit juice, and even beer, rice wine, baijiu etc. I’m not going to lie; the quality is shit. I’d go even so far as too say it’s probably all one gelatinous substance that they mold into looking like various forms of food. But hot damn for 40rmb I’ll play along. Just make sure to drink a full bottle of baijiu and around 10 “Cheer Beers” before going for that third round of fish heads.
Now that dinner is done it’s time for the main attraction: Jiaxing nightlife, over 30 bars to choose from with so many options for entertainment. Half of the bars are karaoke joints, half are livehouses with cover bands playing Chinese bangers, half feature a DJ blaring bootleg Russian EDM mixes. That math checks out. Nearly every bar is busy with young 20-something kids looking to cut loose. From my understanding Yuehe is the only bar district serving over 5 million Jiaxing residents.
We made a random stop at Mad Jack, which features cheesy EDM with a stage show of Singaporean flair bartenders — lots of fireworks and bottle juggling. It's nothing but tables (no dance floor), and right upon entry we were asked by a group of friendly young locals to join them. Jiaxing bars basically only sell beer by the case. You order a 12 or 24 Tiger beer at a time, and the table shares throughout the night. All the beer is warm. I'm told there is no cold beer in Jiaxing.
That bunch of locals we met at Mad Jack basically set the tone for the rest of the evening. People here are just super friendly. En route to the next bar, another group of punters invited us to join them at a bar called Fashion club. This place actually has a good vibe, with a live band playing Chinese pop songs and a rowdy crowd singing along with them. The place seems a bit more legit, with a fully stocked bar and cocktail menu. I took a gamble with a Mojito, though, and for about 15 minutes I watched the bartender looking up the recipe on his phone. The final result was basically a glass of window cleaner with no mint and, again, no ice. My suggestion: just do shots or stick to the warm beer. All told, we hit a total of seven bars, even a few karaoke joints, which are great, because the people there are bananas.
All the bars in Jiaxing finish at 1am, so that leaves you ample time to get up early for breakfast. The town is famous for its zongzi, which are great after an evening of room temperature beer. And they're better than the ones I've had in Shanghai. You can get zongzi with pork, duck eggs, red bean, mushroom, and more. Zongzi is the traditional food eaten during Dragon Boat festival, which plays a big part in Jiaxing culture. Right across the alley from the zongzi dealers is an informal dragon boat museum.
By day the Yuehe Old Town Area doubles as Jiaxing's main tourist attraction. They have a bird and flower market, antique dealers, street merchants, and cafes. You can get a brass opium pipe or a jade sculpture — basically all the staples at most tourist traps in China. One spot the Old Wood Café is of main interest as it built all of its own furniture from wood reclaimed from boats and old buildings. On display inside are historic wood carvings and all manner of knick-knacks.
There's even this guy who will take you around the canals in his boat, but screw that 20rmb scam.
So there ya go. One night in Jiaxing. You’re welcome!