6 Emerging Asian Neighborhoods

6 Emerging Asian Neighborhoods

Michael Weber A customer listening to music at Playground!, in Bangkok's Thonglor district. Michael Weber
Michael Weber
Michael Weber A customer listening to music at Playground!, in Bangkok's Thonglor district.
Michael Weber
Before the tourists descend and the big-name retailers pave the streets with gold, Rob McKeown checks out six emerging enclaves from Singapore to Shanghai.

HONG KONG
Causeway Bay
A creative hub of café and consumer culture

THE SCENE Neon-lit and dense with high-rises, Causeway Bay fuses the essences of New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo into one bubbling urban stew, with teenage punks, media types, and celebrities all moving to the frenetic pace. Fashion magazines and filmmakers like Wong Kar-Wai (In the Mood for Love) have had offices here for years amid monster malls (see the skyscraping Times Square complex). But it was the arrival of the hotel JIA (1–5 Irving St.; 852/3196-9000; www.jiahongkong.com; doubles from $198)—with its discreet rooms outfitted in spunky white sofas and bright daffodil detailing by Philippe Starck—that established a permanent beachhead for the style set in 2004.
THE EPICENTER Get swept into the crowd under the towering SOGO department store sign.
SHOPPING High-end retail centers (including the newly renovated Fashion Walk, where Vivienne Westwood and Agnès B. have shops) and tucked-away boutiques make conspicuous consumption here a satisfying adventure. G.O.D. (Leighton Center, Sharp St. E.; 852/2890-5555) takes iconic Hong Kong scenes and pastes them onto notebooks, bamboo-trimmed sofas, and an enormous range of home accessories. At Island Beverley (1 Great George St.; 852/2890-6823), the four floors of boutiques no bigger than closets are filled with hand-painted and repurposed clothes crafted by young Hong Kong–bred designers. Going for that classic retro-chic fifties look?Browse the vintage-inspired skirts and blouses of Azalea by I'sis (G/F, Po Foo Building, 3–5 Foo Ming St.; 852/2808-4183).
RESTAURANTS Eating is serious business in Causeway Bay, where you can sample beef noodles in Swiss sauce at Tai Ping Koong (6 Pak Sha Rd.; 852/2576-9162; dinner for two $30) and even taste some great Italian at Da Domenico (10–12 G/F Sunning Plaza, 10 Hysan Ave.; 852/2882-8013; dinner for two $148), a miniature trattoria where every dandelion green, white bean, and branzino is flown in from Italy daily. Pumpernickel Café (G/F, Shop B, 13 Cleveland St., Fashion Walk; 852/2576-1668; dinner for two $35), a smoky hideaway for the literary crowd, serves rocket-fuel espresso and house-baked breads and pulses with great jazz tunes.
NIGHTLIFE At the salon-style café and lounge After School (2/F, 17 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2983-2130), procrastinating stylists and writers gather around old grammar-school desks for citron tea and gin-and-tonics. Across the street and 27 floors up, film stars and business tycoons commingle on the gray couches of Shelter (27/F Henry House, 40–42 Yun Ping Rd.; 852/2577-1668) to watch the animated short films projected on the wall and take in the views of Hong Kong.

SEOUL
Samcheong-dong
An artists' colony and collectors' haunt

THE SCENE The enclave first began to develop when a handful of
GALLERIES opened in the early nineties along with an oddly placed hat boutique, Lui Elle (100 Hwa-dong; 82-2/720-0309). In the past two years, a younger generation has moved into the area's streets—which wend past gable-roofed houses and the east wall of the magnificent Gyeongbokgung Palace—forcing Samcheong-dong to expand up the hill to the foot of Mount Bukhansan. Now you'll find writers scribbling quietly, Japanese and Korean tourists, and brooding artists and scholars sitting notepad to laptop in the ramshackle noodle shops and modern cafés with glassy new façades while sipping green-tea lattes and Shiraz.
THE EPICENTER The Café at Kukje Gallery (59-1 Sokyuk-dong; 82-2/735-8449; dinner for two $30) is an oasis of blond wood and lazy afternoon conversations. Regulars usually include Korean politicians hiding out and conceptual artists planning their next exhibition.
GALLERIES Art is the raison d'être for Samcheong-dong; the neighborhood's Kukje Gallery and Gallery Hyundai (80 Sagan-dong; 82-2/734-6111) continue to raise awareness not just of emerging Korean artists but of global ones as well. (Kukje plans to show the work of installation artist Lee Bul and has also exhibited Bill Viola's videos.)
RESTAURANTS have even gotten in on the art scene: Cook 'N' Heim (63-28 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/733-1109), a pocket-sized café and restaurant, has a gallery in the small rooms surrounding a courtyard, and Gallery Café (110-220 Palpan-dong; 82-2/734-9466; lunch for two $34), a wine bar lit by hanging paper lanterns, showcases rotating exhibitions of Korean painters.
RESTAURANTS Bar 0101 (124-2 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/723-1259; dinner for two $40) keeps its orange bucket seats full by serving simple Italian pastas and foamy cappuccinos. It's also a great place for people-watching. Quo Lai (110-230 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-3368; dinner for two $32) has Leonardo da Vinci–style frescoes on one wall, dark floors, and spicy dishes from all over China. Prefer something Korean?Ji Hwa Ja (11-8 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/733-5834; dinner for two $72) presents lengthy multicourse affairs of marinated meats, bamboo salads, and other Joseon Dynasty food.
SHOPPING Bring home earthenware vases, plates, and urns by celebrated ceramist Yang Gu from the artist-owned Boinhang (63-47 Samcheong-dong; 82-2/720-4421). First Flag Shop (28 Samcheong-dong; no phone) lays out its primary-colored, hand-sewn leather pumps, boots, and sneakers on circular rugs and low-lying shelves. And the pioneering milliners at Lui Elle are still the reigning retailers, selling out of velour top hats and flowery sun chapeaus in every size, shape, and color.


SINGAPORE
Chinatown
A 21st-century take on the old-world trading post

THE SCENE Chinatown was once infamous for Keong Saik Road, a hub of debauchery (there are still a handful of brothels today). It's better known now as a tangled and narrow collection of streets lined with Sino-British storefronts, colonial-era apartment buildings, and the occasional hawker center. The first chic property to claim the area: Hotel 1929 (50 Keong Saik Rd.; 65/6347-1929; www.hotel1929.com; doubles from $85), which opened up in a set of Chinese Art Deco storefronts last year. Guests staying in the hostelry's tiny rooms (with museum-quality pieces by Charles Eames and Verner Panton)—as well as local Chinese traders and a newly arrived crowd of artists, yoga practitioners, and marketing professionals—now have restaurants and boutiques to visit nearby.
THE EPICENTER So trendy it almost hurts, Club Street counts a modern Oriental furniture outlet, a hipster wine bar, late-night lounges, and dozens of cafés and bistros in its mix. There's an almost Mediterranean ease in the air, with most visitors strolling from one destination to another.
RESTAURANTS A labor of love by husband-and-wife team Sebastian and Sabrina Ng, Hotel 1929's Ember (dinner for two $50) has black-stained wooden floors and a tight reservation book. If you can secure one of the bistro's 45 seats, order the tempura oysters "six ways" and the banana tart with lavender ice cream. Ambitious Singaporean chef-owner Vincent Teng crafts modern European dishes with a Japanese twist (try the oven-baked smoked duck with five spices) at My Dining Room (81B Club St.; 65/6327-4990; dinner for two $90). Steven Hansen's Broth (21 Duxton Hill; 65/ 6323-3353; dinner for two $60) serves up inventive European dishes with a dash of Australian flair.
NIGHTLIFE Both W Bar (11 Club St.; 65/ 6223-3886), which has low-lying couches and hazy red light, and the brick-walled Union (81 Club St.; 65/6327-4990) bring in a mélange of corporate executives and fashionistas; they're hip without being loud or overbearing.
HOTELS Hotel 1929 now has competition: the Scarlet Hotel (33 Erskine Rd.; 65/ 6511-3333; www.thescarlethotel.com; doubles from $90), a plush boutique retreat that has a teak rooftop bar called Breeze and a lively restaurant, dipped in red, named Desire (dinner for two $80).
SHOPPING The shelves of Eggthree (33 Erskine Rd.; 65/6536-6977) are heavy with linen pillowcases, glassware, and lacquer in contemporary Chinese styles. If you're looking to pick up some well-priced woks, steamers, and other Asian cookware, save time for Sia Huat (7–11 Temple St.; 65/6223-1732). You can secure some limited-edition sneakers, bags, and even toys at Asylum (22 Ann Siang Rd.; 65/6324-8264); the concept store also sells contemporary art, books, and experimental music in addition to hosting workshops and discussions with local and international artists.

BANGKOK
Thonglor
The definition of Thai Modern (known here as 'dern)

THE SCENE Humid sidewalks heaving with satay hawkers quickly give way to steel-and-glass shopping developments teeming with music executives, models both foreign and Thai, and body-conscious youth. As recently as 2003, this corner of Bangkok was mostly residential; a couple of decades ago, there were rice paddies steps away. But the opening of H1 (998 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-9578), a striking Modernist reimagining of the mini-mall designed by starchitect Duangrit Bunnag two years back, ushered in a quirky collection of locally owned boutiques that are now drawing a steady stream of customers, who arrive via the newly extended underground system.
THE EPICENTER In the skylit central hall of Playground! (818 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/714-7888), shoppers lie for hours on yellow, green, and blue beanbags beneath a giant hot-pink dinosaur as DJ's spin lounge and ambient music. The open-plan space has racks of small-run, cultish Thai labels like the unisex clothing line Sunshine Headquarter, the bohemian Rabbit Habit, and ethnic Kit-Ti jewelry. On the top floor, there's even Planet 2001—a shop that sells contemporary furniture made from water hyacinths. You could spend days in this place, and many people do.
SHOPPING H1's shops and restaurants are best visited at night, when the buildings are illuminated. Eclectic outlets run the gamut: GEO (66-2/381-4324) displays house and garden gadgets, handmade picture frames, and leather binders—most of them chosen by celebrated editor Sakchai Guy; Basheer Graphic Books (66-2/391-9815) is a top-shelf design bookstore; To Die For (66-2/381-4714; dinner for two $49), owned by fashion designer Bhanu Inkawat, has become the city's hottest table. Late-night (and daylight) browsing is also possible at the recently opened shopping center J Avenue (323/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/381-3218), which has every kind of boutique—along with a handful of see-and-be-seen cafés.
NIGHTLIFE Face (29 Sukhumvit Soi 38; 66-2/713-6048) is the only address you need to know for a night out. Strewn with opium beds and veiled in dusky, sensual light, the bar is an ideal prelude to the northern-Indian restaurant within, Hazara (dinner for two $35). If you have the energy after one of Hazara's filling dishes of pomfret curry, hit the dance floor of the hip-hop club Escudo (289/1 Sukhumvit Soi 55; 66-2/712-5335) after midnight. For a sweeter nightcap, head to Buono Gelato Italian (5 Sukhumvit Soi 63; 66-2/662-0415) to sample tropical sorbets, or stop by J Avenue's Greyhound Café (66-2/712-6547; dinner for two $15), where high-society wives and film stars gossip over spaghetti stir-fried with Thai anchovies, chiles, and holy basil.


TAIPEI
Da-An Road
Taiwan's designer enclave

THE SCENE The narrow lanes shooting off of Da-An Road every 20 yards or so are dotted with dilapidated buildings from the 18th century and the 1895–1945 Japanese occupation. This is where a fashion-forward crowd (clad in imported name-brand jeans), television stars, and young Taiwanese on shopping tears all take a break from the motorcycle-clogged streets of Taipei.
THE EPICENTER The tiny, weekends-only lounge Eden (11th Floor, 98 Zhong Xiao E. Rd., Section 4; 886-2/6638-9988) is stashed inside Bistro 98, a steel-clad building and nightlife hub. On the first Saturday of every month, the club hosts one of Taipei's best parties, called Deep Inside.
SHOPPING Jamei Chen (132 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2776-4235), who crafts flowing ready-to-wear pieces, moved her studio and store here 10 years ago amid the noodle shops and run-down flats. Now her neighbors include Isabelle Wen (118 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2771-9021), the Betsey Johnson of Taipei, and Shiatzy Chen (140 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/ 8773-1729), who makes delicate, feminine women's wear. Newcomer  Gray Area (3 Lane 116, Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2711-8891) sells furniture and colorful silk-sheathed pillows. At Gallery Su (19–21 Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8773-1108), the glass shelves are chockablock with elegant, hand-painted ceramics from Europe and the Americas, much favored by the local style set. There's also Bella (85 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2751-0117), one of a handful of tiny specialty shops that carry hard-to-find labels such as Nude and Barbara Bui.
RESTAURANTS Isabelle Wen has taken the same playful sensibility she uses in her store and applied it to her Old Shanghai–inspired restaurant and lounge, Fifi (Second Floor, 15 Ren-Ai Rd., Section 4; 886-2/2721-1970; dinner for two $40). The glamorous crowds that alight from the bistro's green-neon escalator often come straight from their studios, launch parties, and runway shows to pair earthy Taiwanese braises with Veuve before heading to the bar.
NIGHTLIFE Coffee is a newfound passion on the island, and Chicco D'Oro (135 Da-An Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2777-2366) serves lattes to the Mac-toting graphic artists who sit beneath the aluminum pendulum lamps. Health-conscious ladies who lunch head to Acqua (4 Lane 238, Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/8771-8069), a water bar with a list sourced from across the globe.
GALLERIES The Side Flower (First Floor, 38 Tun-Hua South Rd., Section 1; 886-2/2773-2733) artists' studio is housed in a semi-derelict storefront with a teak terrace where lovably iconoclastic Ming-Hsing Wu paints his Lucian Freud–like portraits. Though it's technically private, visitors (and potential collectors) are welcome.

SHANGHAI
Julu Road
A new-world spin on Old Shanghai

THE SCENE In the twenties and thirties, before the rise of Communism, Julu Road was known as Rue Bâtard—an address highly sought after for its stone row houses and its gardens, which you can still glimpse near the corner of Hanshan Road. The strip fell into disrepair as Shanghai slumped through the eighties; until just a year ago, it was best known for the beer-soaked girlie bars—which are finally being pushed out, one by one. Restaurateurs, besotted with the magnificent buildings, are now luring architects, creative media types, and an increasingly diverse group of foreigners to this burgeoning restaurant row, which has helped spark Julu's second golden age.
THE EPICENTER Weekend brunches at Mesa (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6289-9108; brunch for two $36) have become an institution, thanks to the terraced outdoor seating (reserve a week in advance). Black-clad Chinese women and expats crowd the former bank cafeteria for Steve Baker's daily-made sausages and eggs Benedict. After hours, the adjoining Manifesto Bar (748 Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 6289-9108) pours Shanghai's best caipirinhas in a warm space with lipstick-red walls and banquettes.
RESTAURANTS Julu Road's ethnic diversity is best experienced through its food. Rich clove-infused curries, a Himalayan answer to gougères (Burgundian cheese puffs), and a mutton-and-chile stir-fry are the signature dishes at Nepali Kitchen (819 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-6281; dinner for two $40). Spicy noodles and galangal-scented Thai curries are presented in a leafy garden at Coconut Paradise (38 Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6248-1998; dinner for two $45), and fiery Hunan cuisine draws an A-list crowd to Guyi (87 Fumin Rd.; 86-21/6249-5628; dinner for two $20). Perhaps the most memorable spaces in the area are Shintori Null 2 (803 Julu Rd.; 86-21/ 5404-5252; dinner for two $65), a Japanese food palace with soaring ceilings, and People's 7 (805 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-0707), the glass-encased bar next door that looks out on an enclosed bamboo garden.
SHOPPING Spin (758 Julu Rd., Bldg. 3, first floor; 86-21/6279-2545) sells the same Japanese-inspired earthenware that gives Shintori Null 2's table settings such a distinctive minimalist style. The well-edited textiles at Brocade Country (616 Julu Rd.; 86-21/6279-2677) are dyed with indigo and have simple graphic patterns; they're made by the Miao people in Guizhou province.
PAMPERING Hidden among nameless boutiques peddling vintage silk qipao you'll find Magpie (685 Julu Rd.; 86-21/5404-3867). Try to time your aromatherapy massage or Chinese pedicure so that you emerge from the salon at sunset, when the street lanterns shine on the Parisian-style plane trees and dim yellow lights flicker in the pre-war brick apartment buildings.

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