It’s time to bust out your yuan – The shopaholic’s guide to China!
China has certainly hopped onboard the global consumer treadmill and is thrashing it like a maniacal gym junkie. Across the country, high-end boutiques, bustling markets, retail-soaked shopping malls and brand-spanking-new department stores are popping up like mushrooms after a spring shower. A shopaholic? Then China is your new BFF.
Firstly, a brief rundown of the types of mega-retailers you’ll come across as you begin the somewhat harrowing experience of shopping in China.
No, you won’t find a new travel buddy here … these state-run stores carry ‘export quality’ goods, but they’re certainly not the best in terms of value. But they’re useful for getting an idea of pricing before you get your ‘spree’ on and also a wise choice for those that don’t like haggling.
Often found in luxury shopping malls (just like home), prices are fixed and relatively expensive as imported goods (like your designer handbags) are dangling, proverbial carrots to China’s nouveau riche who have insane appetites for luxury brands, especially the la de da European ones.
Watsons, a popular chemist chain, is a base-level choice if you’re a cosmetic junky and they also offer a decent selection of toiletries and over-the-counter medicines. And you’re sure to stumble across a foreign mega-store or two such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, which offer a mix of random stuff from electronics to clothes.
Yawn, yawn, yawn. OK, forget the amateur run down. Let’s fast-track to the stuff that will enable you to swiftly blow a lot of yuan in a very short space of time. In a (pea) nutshell, the Big Three destinations for retail addicts are Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. But prepare yourself dear shopper, because there’s a world of wallet-opening RSI to be endured (if you’re up for it). And I know you are.
Oriental Plaza (Wangfujing Street) is a shopping, dining and entertainment centre, occupying a total area of 120,000 square metres, making it one of the largest commercial complexes in Asia. Divided into six themed shopping malls and spruiking everything from high-end international fashion to big-name electronics brands, you might want to pack a sleeping bag, as you’ll be here for a while.
Panjiayuan Market (3rd Ring Road) is best sampled on the weekend and is a sprawling, open-air market covering over 48,000 square metres. Renowned for its arts and crafts (it’s one of the largest antique markets in both China and Asia), here you’ll find every curio, fake Tang dynasty statue and dust-laden artefact imaginable.
Silk Street Market (Chaoyang District) attracts over 20,000 visitors daily (not ideal if you’re claustrophobic), covers 5 storeys and sells everything from clothing and carpets to antiques, electronics and traditional Chinese handicrafts. Just remember, if you’re looking to buy ‘genuine’ luxury goods and the price is fantastic, it’s likely to be a knock-off!
Yaxiu Market: (Chaoyang District) is a carbon copy of the Silk Street Markets (although probably cheaper still), but its point of difference is a retail offering of Chinese silks and satins. Hankering for a hand-made Qipoa (one of those traditional, body-hugging dresses) for your next fancy dress party? Stalk down one of the on-site tailors and it’s yours.
Hongqiao Market (Chongwen district) is perfect if you’re channelling your inner Aunty Beverley and need a statement piece for your next cocktail soirée. This is your one-stop shop for pearls of all shapes and sizes. Whatever your flavour – seawater, cultured, pink, freshwater, black or the traditional ivory – you’ll be swishing your tail in ecstasy (like the Little Mermaid’s Ariel) in no time.
Nanjing Road (Huangpu) is another one-stop shop for currency purgers and at 5.5 kilometres long, is the world’s longest shopping district, attracting over 1 million visitors daily. Apart from satiating every possible form of retail hunger, it’s a hub for fashion seekers. Embrace your Pretty Woman attitude and prepare to delight in some of the most famous names in fashion, including Chloé, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Armani.
Dongtai Road Antique Market (near Hua Hai Park) is a renowned outdoor market, peddling everything from porcelain to paintings, jewellery, furniture and a mishmash of other curios and trinkets. Fancy an imperial robe? Done. After a walnut-faced luóhàn statue for the mantelpiece? Sorted. Feel free to haggle, but with a hint of caution. Most of the stuff is fake. But all will be forgiven once you immerse yourself amid the cacophony.
Shíliùpù Fabric Market (Zhonghua Road) is one of several fabric retailers in the city, but this one offers far cheaper bargains. If touchy-feely experiences are your thing, you’ll be in sensory nirvana here. Imagine swishing about in a one-of-a-kind, tailor-made silk shirt, velvet dress or cashmere coat. Actually don’t imagine. Just splash the cash, measure up and you’ll have your fashion pièce de résistance in no time.
Old Street (Middle Fangbang Road) is lined with touristy trappings, but of a slightly, well, unique kind. If jade jewellery, kites, chopsticks, calligraphy manuals or shadow puppets (you get the drift) float your boat, you’ll be sold. Regardless, the architecture is beautiful (think pink walls, black roofs and upswept eaves reminiscent of the Ming Dynasty) and is perfect for a leisurely, bargain hunter’s wander.
Pacific Place (Admiralty) is where you’ll find the pinnacle of conspicuous consumption and it’s renowned as Honker’s fanciest and priciest mall. Here in Swanky Town get set to devour offerings from the fashion elite (there are over 130 top-end retail brands) including Gucci, Hermes, Prada, Jean Paul Gaultier, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Versace and Emporio Armani … and I could go on and on.
Hollywood Road (Upper Lascar Row) is a smaller specialty area filled to the brim with antiques and art. From eclectic items that will scare the pants off your modern-décor-loving mum to jade carvings, Mao memorabilia and pricey Ming vases, you can also pick up a might-be-valuable-one-day piece from China’s booming contemporary art scene.
The Ladies’ Market (Mong Kok) is on the other side of the harbour and is actually not a sexist affair as it does sell some bloke’s stuff as well. This open-air bazaar has hundreds of stalls where you’ll pick up a plethora of knock-off goods like watches, handbags and accessories, but also useful stuff like electronics, toys and gifts. Keep your smarts on here though as veteran sellers love a decent haggle.
Mongkok Computer Centre (Mong Kok) is also known as Geek Land (jokes). Considered one of the best spots in Honkers for lower-end electronics gear, three floors of gadgetry house more than 70 retailers selling computery stuff like laptops, hardware, batteries, cables, software and chargers plus individual parts for customers who like building their own creations. Cool.
Temple Street Night Market (Mong Kok) is one of Hong Kong’s liveliest markets with literally hundreds of stalls running for several blocks selling cheap-and-cheerful wares like sunnies, pirated (not pirate) DVDs, cookware, handbags, toys and all manner of souvenirs. A great spot for atmosphere, with a truckload of roving songbirds and fortune tellers egging you on to buy more stuff.
So chalk up those leave days, check that passport and prepare to buy another suitcase. Which will remain empty. Until you’ve checked in for your return flight from China. Aka Retail Nirvana.