Travel Report: Laowaitan, Ningbo.
August 2017. One of the many challenging things about living in an inconsequential Chinese city like Ruian is the staggeringly limited nightlife. I’m hardly much of a drinker, but you know, it’s nice to have options. There’s no such problem in Ningbo, thanks to the lively Laowaitan neighbourhood. Furthermore, this labyrinthine restaurant and bar district enjoys a lovely location on a bank of the Yong River.
As Ningbo’s premier nightlife hotspot, I hadn’t actually planned on coming here during the day. But then my travel buddy and I found ourselves embarking on a rambling, mid-afternoon walk along the river. Suddenly, we’d arrived! At first glance the whole area was dead, which made for some fun, post-apocalyptic photos.
The word Laowai is an informal slang term for foreigner. Right enough the district dates back to the eighteenth century when Ningbo became an international treaty port following The First Opium War.
On the day of our visit it was a boiling hot August afternoon, hence we were grateful for the shade provided by Laowaitan’s deserted cobbled streets.
Eventually, we came upon one of Laowaitan’s many music clubs. For the most part, these places specialise in the kind of cheesy pop that makes you consider the merits of hacking your own ears off. Amid all the shuttered buildings, one club was actually open, with a group of locals sitting outside drinking and chatting.
Having clocked the obligatory Irish pub and a couple of Belgian beer bars, we were surprised to bump into a pair of local students sitting outside a closed up club. The moment they saw us, the girl came running over to ask if we had time to fill out a questionnaire.
Thus we sat down and gracefully accepted all the usual compliments, with words like “handsome” and “beautiful” being bandied about willy nilly. Some of their questions were worth a giggle:
“What are the disadvantages of Ningbo?”
The students were so happy that we’d helped them with their so-called research. And so came the request for a photo that we’d been expecting from the moment they called us over. “Are you love Laowaitan?” the girl asked me.
Ningbo Museum of Art.
With the majority of the cafes, bars and restaurants closed, we decided to pay a visit to Ningbo’s highly rated Museum of Art at the end of Laowaitan’s main street on Renming Road. The building was designed by Wang Shu, the first Chinese citizen to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2012.
Ningbo Museum of Art is free to enter and focuses on contemporary works primarily from artists based in Ningbo. Special exhibitions from internationally renowned artists also show here for a small fee.
Later that night, we returned to Laowaitan to see the place in night mode. It was really pretty all lit up. Moreover, most of the bars were positively buzzing with a mix of locals and foreigners of just about every nationality.
Islay Bar, Laowaitan.
We stopped by a few of Laowaitan’s pubs that night. I’ll always remember Islay Bar, a low-lit cocktail lounge with stunning Arabic mosaic seating. A pair of impeccably dressed Chinese men tended to the well-stocked bar, while the stylish panel of abstract art could have been lifted from a Radiohead album. It was here that we played out the rest of the evening to the sound of clinking cocktail glasses and soft jazz. A lovely memory…
For more on my time in the city, check out my other articles from Ningbo.
Interested in the region? Have a look at my travel reports from around Zhejiang Province.
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