CHINA> Travel in Shanghai
History, luxury meet on Bund

Updated: 2006-03-15 19:20
In the long history of China, the Bund is an infant. Yet in Shanghai, where skyscrapers sprout daily and bulldozers never rest, the waterfront along the Huangpu River retains an air of the past. European building facades offer an untouched glimpse of the city's roaring past, when Shanghai opened up as gateway to the world in 1842 under the provisions of the Treaty of Nanking.

But these days, while still crowded with hordes of tourists strolling the waterfront and posing for photos with the Oriental Pearl Tower in the background, the Bund is quietly changing, even if the building facades remain intact (see the story "Bund appeal" in the November 25 issue). Three on the Bund, a luxury complex designed by architect Michael Graves, houses businesses like the Evian Spa, where massages can run up to 1,600 yuan (US$193), and an Armani flagship store in a neoclassical building dating from 1916.

Across the street, M on the Bund and Glamour Bar - among the first high-end establishments to open on the Bund touting views as desirable as the food and cocktails - are still packed on most nights. At No.5, hipsters dance into the mornings at a new nightclub.

And now, Bund 18 is opening its doors with gourmet Cantonese food and flagship stores for Cartier and Zegna.

"When you think of Shanghai, the first thing that pops into your mind is the Bund. A lot of our tenants look at the Bund as a window to the world," said Sylvia Lee, chief marketing officer for Bund 18 Real Estate Development Ltd. "Investment from overseas has always been interested in getting a piece of the Bund."

Now, it seems, they are getting their wish.

When Bund 18 was in the planning phase, the local government insisted that some of its space be devoted to the waterfront's long-time industry: banking. But then, in September 2002, Shanghai was chosen to host the World Expo, and authorities decided to capitalize on one of the city's most famous tourist sites. "They reconsidered some of the arrangements along the Bund. In addition to banking, they put leisure and tourism functions into the Bund area," said Lee.

But at what cost? Developers say they are just following the wishes of the government in bringing luxury destinations to the Bund.

"They are targeting it to be a higher-spending area (as opposed to middle-market areas like Nanjing Donglu). We're just following the trend," said Lee.