Look at a map of Shenzhen, and you’ll notice that it’s a “skinny” city. A sprawling town from east to west, Shenzhen doesn’t have much space to work with going north to south. But that hasn’t stopped developers from squeezing in fun and interesting neighborhoods between the coast and the hills. Indeed, there is something for every expat’s taste: from Hong Kong culture to beach life, the skinny city has it all. Read on for detailed options.
Literally “snake mouth”, Shekou is a very nice neighborhood built on the edges of the Shenzhen Bay, just east of Bao’an where Shenzhen starts sprawling into factory towns. Originally the only place where foreigners were allowed to live in Shenzhen, Shekou is now full of Western restaurants, bars, clubs and even apartment complexes, and couldn’t feel more removed from the factory district a few miles down the highway. Many of the apartments in Shekou are built for foreign families of four or so, complete with more luxurious amenities than a typical Chinese apartment.
There are at least two international schools in Shekou, which adds to this neighborhood appeal to the young expat families that call it home. Another major attraction in Shekou is Seaworld. But don’t expect Shamu – this Seaworld is just a surreal complex of Western restaurants and nightlife hotspots full of expats, all centered around a giant ship that has been converted into a fancy hotel.
It’s a bit isolated from the rest of Shenzhen, but there is a metro under construction that will eventually get to Shekou sometime in 2011. Hong Kong, Macau, and Zhuhai are also just a ferry ride away from the port in Shekou as well.
Nestled in the new central part of Shenzhen’s central Futian district between the Futian Kou’an and Fumin metro stops is a neighborhood commonly referred to as Huanggang. At first glance, it might not look like much, but surely there is no other neighborhood in mainland China quite like this one. Partly because it is so close to the Futian border (easy access to Hong Kong), Huanggang is alive with Hong Kong-style culture at all hours of the night.
Fancy a massage and bathhouse in the middle of the night? No problem. Craving some chashaofan? Just pick one of the dozens of Hong Kong diners. Not many expats live in Huanggang, unless you consider Hong-Kongers expats. Many Hong Kong people have second homes there (including second wives, shh…), many live there full time, and many more come just for the massages.
It might not be for everyone, but Huanggang is definitely unique to Shenzhen. You can literally walk to Hong Kong from this neighborhood, or hop on the metro and get to other parts of Shenzhen conveniently.
The major drawback to living in Dameisha is that it’s quite far from everything – everything except for the beach! Out west past the suburban limits of Shenzhen, this place is literally on one of the biggest beaches in Shenzhen, and strolling around the salty-air streets sometimes makes it feel like a real beach town. Most people prefer to come to Dameisha for the day, but it actually offers some very affordable living options. And if you have a car (or a driver), it’s only about 30 minutes from the heart of Shenzhen.
When it gets too crowded on the summer weekends, you’re just a bus ride away from even more secluded beaches. So try something most expats don’t get to do – live on the beach in China!
Overseas Chinese Town 华侨城
Weird name, right? Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) was built by a group of rich real estate developers, and modeled after a more Western-style community. OCT is one of the only neighborhoods in Shenzhen with nice walking and bike paths, and it’s also conveniently located on the main metro line – huaqiaocheng station.
OCT is more upscale than most parts of Shenzhen, and your neighbors will mostly be affluent locals. But the environment is beautiful, full of trees and close to parks, and also some of the best dining in all of Shenzhen.
Another interesting attraction in OCT is Windows of the World. It’s basically a Chinese amusement park with replicas of global landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall. There is also a performance (almost?) every night complete with fireworks. But the most attractive aspects of OCT are the abnormally clean surroundings, delicious food and great views of Hong Kong if you live high enough!
Luohu is actually an entire district in Shenzhen, but it’s impossible to leave it out of an article about where to live in Shenzhen. The train station and the city’s first skyscrapers are here, and Luohu is basically Shenzhen’s original downtown, full of great food and shopping. If you’re coming from other cities in China, this old (for Shenzhen) district offers the most familiar typically Chinese neighborhoods. A very young city by China’s standards, Shenzhen doesn’t have a whole lot of the “real China” that many expats are looking for. For those of you who take comfort in that, Luohu is for you.
From living with rich locals to beach bums, Hong Kong residents and expat families, Shenzhen has a neighborhood for every expat taste and lifestyle. Don’t over-think it – every one of these areas has benefits and drawbacks, and if you’re in Shenzhen for a couple years, why not try more than one neighborhood?