Our trip to Shanghai was incredible! From start to finish I felt like I was in a National Geographic documentary with all of the sights, sounds and smells that you’d expect in such an exotic locale! I could almost hear Sir Richard Attenborough narrating as we walked. Yes, it was that cool!
Shanghai itself is spread over some 6,340 square kilometers (2448 sq miles) and home to 24.3 million people, and so one of the true mega cities of our time. We stayed in an area called the “Bund” which is situated along the Huangpu river, and the heart of the International settlement which has been the traditional home of all the foreign powers since China opened itself up to the west back in the 1800’s.
The Huangpu is a tributary of the mighty Yangtze and given its proximity to the sea has made Shanghai into one of the most important trading centers in China. It was plainly obvious with its constant flow of river traffic including barges, freighters and container ships all plying their trade along this muddy waterway in a non-stop, 24 hour a day cavalcade of traffic – so cool!
Anyway, the best part about our trip were the early morning walks (for me) along the Bund toward the Suzhou creek. Although I didn’t participate it was great to sit and watch the groups of people doing their morning Tai Chi or exercising along the boardwalk. Not sure why so many people like to walk backwards though…such a funny phenomenon. 🙂
Sam and I wandered until we got lost in the Laoximen and YuYuan Garden residential neighbourhoods that surround the International settlement. This felt like the true China with their narrow streets and alleyways, the unfamiliar smells and teaming local markets…as a reminder there are few english street signs evident and so use your phone to navigate.
I must admit it took a bit of getting used to as people would stop and stare at you like we were animals in the zoo. I suppose its no wonder given that we were literally the only westerners we saw in these areas. To find any tourists at all, you had to go to the Nanjing Road pedestrian street and shopping area, but even then there weren’t a lot of foreigners in the crowds which I suppose is rather normal given the time of year.
Sam and I wanted to share with you some of the “must-see’s” on your trip to Shanghai.
- Accomodations – finding a hotel along the Bund or within the International Settlement area is definitely the place to stay on your visit to Shanghai. The Bund is home to a plethora of gorgeous Victorian buildings that adorn the Huangpu and have been fully renovated to serve the accommodation needs for the ever burgeoning tourist flow. We stayed at the Les Suites Orient on Jinling Road which was very reasonably priced and that provided an excellent breakfast (both eastern and western options), a view of the river and adjacent Pudong and easy access to the Bund, boardwalk and ferry services.
- Pudong – is considered the face of modern Shanghai with its brightly colored skyline and tall towers. This area is home to many of the world’s most prestigious companies and financial institutions including the Shanghai Stock Exchange. Separating the old and new Shanghai is the fast moving Huangpu. Incredibly it wasn’t until 1993 that Pudong, which up until this time had been mostly farmland, warehouses and run down wharves that the Chinese government decided to create a special economic zone called the Lujiazui Finance and Trade zone. Every structure you can see has been developed in the past 25 years and truly has become the face of Shanghai. Take the ferry across the Bund to Pudong and walk to the Oriental Pearl Tower – 468 meters (1535 feet) for the best views in Shanghai.
- Yu Gardens – is a traditional walled city within the city full of authentic buildings and temples and definitely worth a stroll early in the morning before it becomes too busy. Unfortunately you know it’s touristy when you find a Starbucks…, that being said it led us to the more off the beaten path neighbourhoods as I mentioned above. These neighbourhoods were definitely worth wandering into, but always remember to bring the card your hotel gives you upon checking in as it has the hotel’s address in both English and Shanghainese plainly printed so if you need a taxi you just need to provide this to the taxi driver and he’ll bring you back. China is relatively safe so no need to be afraid of getting lost.
- Haggling – the price you see is never the price that you should consider paying in the markets that abound. The general rule is to offer half the price and be prepared to walk away if the shopkeeper is unwilling or unable to budge on price. You’ll find one that is prepared to haggle for your price but it may take some patience and often the use of your fingers, or the calculator that they’ll most often use to show you the price. A great example is that Sam and I found some tea cups that we wanted for home. We saw them priced as high as 220Y, and we ended up getting them for 40Y. Even at this price the shopkeeper still made money on them. Dive in and give it a go!
- Transportation – pre-booking your airport transport in advance is well worth it as very few locals, nor taxi drivers speak English and so it can be a bit of an issue getting in from the Shanghai International airport (which is situated some 45 minutes outside the city) to your hotel . I had arranged for the Shanghai Eastern Taxi service to pick us up and drop us off – both reasonably priced at $55 USD each way. Although once in the city we tended to walk everywhere, and over the course of the three days we were in Shanghai we walked some 40 kilometers (25 miles). Shanghai is flat and so very much a walking city, as was Hong Kong. In total we walked 110 Km (68 miles) over the course of the nine days and not a word of complaint from Sam – awesome for a teenager, actually awesome for anyone and although a little foot sore she managed like a trooper.
- Culinary delights – we had a couple of fantastic meals during our stay in Shanghai. And each so different! The first restaurant was called Lost Horizon is Tibetan/Eastern Chinese (think Silk Road) with its mix of vegetarian and noodle dishes along with more traditional dishes of chicken and pork. All equally yummy (Definitely try the spring rolls and lamb samosas) and very casual, situated only a block from our hotel this large and busy restaurant was amazing! The other increible dining experience we had was very upscale and as close to an Michelin star restaurant as I ever eaten. Incredibly beautiful plates, with tantalizing dishes and courses between courses – as an example the chef prepared Duck Egg soup whisked in an actual duck egg and served at room temperature absolutely delicious between our courses and not on the menu. We generally shared out meals, but at this restaurant we both decided on the New Zealand lamb which was cooked to perfection. NAPA Wine Bar and Kitchen was one of the high culinary points of our trip to China.
As you can tell, we had an absolutely fabulous time in Shanghai and would definitely recommend it as part of your itinerary in China.
Zä wēi! (Goodbye in Shanghainese)