Exploring 33 Town, Dongguan’s Newest Creative Hotspot

Across from the ever-popular Dynacity and hidden behind bustling Dongcheng Road is the newest contender for social hotspots in Dongguan, 33 Town.

This creative park was converted from old factory buildings into a modern social hub that caters to international and local communities. They have everything for business professionals, families or those who just want to explore something different. 33 Town was introduced to the Dongguan community three years ago with the opening of Section C and since then have added two more sections.

Fortune 500 real estate developers Guangdong Country Garden Holding Company Limited took on the project in hopes of revitalizing this old industrial park. The company is famous for its township developments across China and this is their first attempt at a commercial area. Locations that have followed the same design have proven successful with examples stemming from Foshan, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. 33 Town is home to the new stars of Dongguan, as well as old.

HERE! has worked closely with Country Garden in the past year to build up the area and have developed our own section with HERE! Square. Since then, there have been notable parties starting with the 2018 Halloween party in the South China Art Museum and Art Space and trick-or-treat through Section C, along with the fourth Dongguan Craft Beer Festival in June 2019.

While still visibly under construction, businesses are starting to pop up like hidden gems being found. Restaurants and bars are getting their footing and individuals are discovering what 33 Town has to offer.

33 town is home to the new stars of Dongguan, as well as old.

I quickly found the cultural side of 33 Town in Section A. This is the ideal place to take the family for a museum trip to appreciate the evolution of the city, along with artistic views, listen to the sweet sounds of classical music or try your hand at creating DIY projects.

The starting point for all 33 Town visitors is the South China Art Museum and Art Space. The museum walked me through Dongguan’s development; from its humble beginnings to taking its place in the world and becoming known as a leader of technology manufacturing. The displays and photographs in the museum cross language barriers and are used as a timeline to educate all ages on Dongguan’s rich modern history.

The adventurous art lover in me explored beyond the first floor and ascended the steps to the second and third floors, where I saw exhibitions that are on rotation throughout the year and change monthly. Though some parts of the building are still under construction, it should not deter visitors from exploring the outer levels of Section A. This is where the magic happens in the artists’ studios. I discovered DIY and arts and crafts centers, such as Fairy Circle Handmade, which is perfect for children and families to show their creative sides.

On the second floor of the museum, I took a shopping detour at Treasures of Hope (TOH), a charity organization that moved to 33 Town in August. The shop sells clothes and home decor items donated by factories, and all proceeds are given to charity.

This is where the magic happens in the artists studios.

“We love 33 Town. It’s the perfect space for us and the location too,” Aaron Burns, Co-founder of TOH, said. He only wishes there is a sign for TOH, so more people know they are there.

I could not help but wonder what was beyond TOH, and I passed more artists’ studios and tea shops before discovering the colorfully decorated walls of Lotus Ink. Let owner and tattoo artist Yoyo Zhong create the perfect tattoo for you. Zhong’s time is split between developing her new location in Dongguan and her established studio and bar in Shenzhen. She is also opening a bar in 33 Town’s HERE! Square with a similar concept to the one in Shenzhen called Bar Ink.

“We are now trying very hard to open on November 2,” she said, in hopes of taking part in upcoming HERE! events.

Returning to the ground floor of Section A, my ears were drawn in by the classical sounds of Steinway & Sons piano shop. Not only do they sellSons piano shop. Not only do they sell pianos, but have a small concert hall. General Assistant Manager at Steinway & Sons, Benson Sze, said concerts are hosted every other week. Some are private events, but others feature piano artists in Dongguan and are open to the public. This month there is a classical concert performance competition that
is open to any piano player.

Once passing through the traffic gate the sidewalk widens on both sides and leads me down the main strip with Reading U bookstore on my left in building 15. Home to a small art museum and three floors of books, Reading U is an alluring introduction to the area. Upon entering the massive building, I was hit by the smell of paperbacks and imagined getting lost in the infinite pages. I followed the book-made columns up, through culture and arts on the first floor, fiction and classic novels on the second and a children’s section on the third. I enjoyed the peace one would find in a library in their café lounge. While the English section is limited to art and design, there are plans to develop this area. On the ground floor an original exhibition hall with indoor and outdoor options will soon be the ideal spot for events from weddings to trade shows.

Behind Reading U is the perfect residential area for 33 Town, Big+ Apartments. This shared accommodation caters to a younger crowd with utilities included. The apartments are studio-style and range from 28 square-meters to 46 square-meters with a bathroom and laundry area inside each. Big+ has a large shared kitchen on the first floor and offers a simple breakfast every morning for free. They also provide housekeeping services. They have a fully functioning bar, gym, recreation and KTV area for residents. If you do not want to be locked into a yearlong contract you can also sign for six months.

Cafes and daytime restaurants are scattered about yet fit perfectly with the brick facades. Men’s and women’s boutiques open in the afternoon offering a fine selection of clothes to choose from.

“There is something for everyone here. It is all in one place,” Stefanie Rao, Uptown 26 owner, said. She said the area is a prime location because of its proximity to Dynacity and New World Garden.

Going from one boutique to the next, I quickly discovered what Rao meant, and tried to resist temptation, and not buy everything I saw.

Gyms and training centers are found throughout Section B. Offering personalized English learning classes to ages six and up is Royal Society English, who had their grand opening in August. The center moved to 33 Town from a residential area and directors Michael Kelly and Totti Tuo agreed that they are more visible in this location.

I was hit by the smell of paperbacks and imagined getting lost in the infinite pages.

“This place is good because 33 Town style is a great place for young people, and children, to gather and have a lot of things to do,” Tuo said.

Soon to be the center for parties in Dongguan, HERE! Square is well on its way, with a Halloween party planned for the end of the month.

The area continues to build a strong restaurant and nightlife environment, with plans to put in a bar street with the international Big Club, which is expected to be finished by December. Fine dining establishments such as Uptown 26 and Ding Feng along with family-oriented locations like LePark are already celebrated in the area.

I soon wished I was a kid again after visiting the child-focused restaurant, LePark, which offers an open play area and jungle-gym designed by founder and owner Anry Cheung. Children can climb obstacle courses, go down slides and jump into ball pits, while parents enjoy a meal. There is a specific flow to the design as the play area gets more advanced the further in you go. LePark is known as the “biggest Dongguan kids’ entertainment platform,” he said. Cheung picked 33 Town as the location because of the space it had to offer.

“I looked at a mall, but a mall is very limiting. 33 Town had the experience and space I needed,” Cheung said.

Uptown 26 and Big River were one of the first to open in HERE! Square last October.

At Big River, taste some of the craft beers that were featured at the Dongguan Craft Beer Festival. Owner Faber Santos knows how to welcome his guests with an at home pub feel. He said the response so far has been great from customers. I highly recommend trying the Big River APA or for the lighter beer lovers, try the Big River Belgian Blonde.

With many restaurants to choose from it is hard to settle on just one, but eventually my taste buds settled on Uptown 26, which is just downstairs from Big River. Chef Enzo Scordo prepared the perfect Italian meal for my palate with the imported wine to match.

“We keep real Italian food, we don’t change for Chinese taste,” Rao said. Scordo and Rao were adamant about keeping authentic ingredients and making real Italian food for customers.

As day fades to night, I enjoyed a cocktail at the ever-popular MR. Barber and Whisky. This bar is a novel idea which combines a traditional barbershop with a whiskey bar. Owner May Lai was quick to welcome me and matched a drink to my taste. She said she wanted to create a club for likeminded people who care about their image and lifestyle, so she teamed up with Street Artist Gangs (SAGs) Barbershop. This is the ideal place to go for a shave and a drink.

I soon wished I was a kid again after visiting the child-focused restaurant, LePark.

I moved on to a mini bar crawl and sampled a cocktail at Tang Chao Wine, Spirits and Cigar, and imagined all the great bars soon to come to the area.

Section C is the oldest part of 33 Town and the first to be developed in 2016. There is an exceptional amount of wedding shops that offer consultations to brides to be. The buildings transform into a flow of boutiques, before becoming office buildings and desks.

There is even a well-hidden secret bar inside the clothing store Y-Concept. If you are observant enough you will see Hidden 110. This secret bar has gained popularity over the past year coming alive during the after-work hours. Taste a deliciously crafted cocktail and become absorbed in the cabaret-style atmosphere or go a few doors down and enjoy a special brew at Someone Special.

Take a cup of coffee or stay the weekend at The Journey Hotel. This is not just a hotel but sets a quiet café feel with two 15-meter high walls of books leading up the inside of the building.

Moving to the upper levels of Section C, this is where business professionals starting out can choose to rent an office space that is fully furnished or design it to their tastes. Those who don’t need a complete office but need a desk can rent in the shared space of the building. The areas include amenities, shared conference halls and meeting rooms.

Taste a deliciously crafted cocktail and become absorbed in the cabaret-style atmosphere

“Around here you have coffee shops, art, the bookstore, gym, everything, they even have a hotel there. It is charming to visit,” Aileen Qiu, with AromaTech Packaging, said, referring to when she shows her clients the area.

Response so far
Businesses throughout 33 Town tote the closeness of the community.

“One of the reasons that we were interested in moving to 33 Town wasn’t just for the location, but also because of the way that all the businesses here have formed kind of a community.” -Michael Kelly .

He said a lot of businesses in the area are interested in cooperating with each other for further development.

“The area is great, with it being right next to Dynacity and New World Garden. It’s easy for people to walk from home.” -Stefanie Rao

Not only does she recommend her restaurant, but shares recommendations based on a customer’s taste.

However, with most converted old buildings there are the quirks to work out. Qiu said there are a lot of water leakage problems in her building due to its age and found it hard to work with the construction going on throughout the day.

“The building itself is very old. It used to be a factory and it was not well maintained, so of course the problem is not only in our office, but a lot of offices are like this. But they (building management) have been working on fixing it.” -Aileen Qiu

Other owners agreed that construction is a distraction.

“Customers complain that people (construction workers) just have no shirt on and are walking around.”

She said this made it difficult for a fine dining atmosphere.

Parking is also a common concern for 33 Town, with vehicles parking on the street or in lots designated for customers only. This problem will soon be alleviated with an underground parking deck, a tollgate and charged parking.

Owners said they want to make more people aware of the location and all it has to offer.

However, with most converted old buildings there are the quirks to work out.

The future of 33 town
33 Town continues to grow rapidly and will soon open more bars, restaurants and shops as well as activity halls for the whole family. Step off the Dongguan beaten path and explore the newest area in town.

33 Town and HERE! are in discussion with big name brands like Budweiser and Pernod Ricard in hopes of coordinating themed parties throughout the year. They are also working closely with DiDi to give visitors transportation discounts.

“We want to run regular events there. And when I say regular events, I don’t mean just Halloween and Christmas. For example, we want to have a 33 Town Ladies Night and get 20 to 30 shops involved,” Billy Lam, HERE! sales director, said.

Lam said other than the big events they plan on having street performers for entertainment during the day and weekends. He predicts this becoming a place where families can go and spend the day, and partygoers can explore the nightlife.

There are 32 official towns in Dongguan, but this creative park is quickly becoming the unofficial 33rd.