Pearl of the Orient
Leaving behind South Korea, we moved into our next destination; China. A new country visited in our already busy list, currently occupying the 67th place (as of 2014). Knowing there are 196 official countries in the world then this is quite an achievement so far! Not an absolute “new” country let’s specify in this note as we’ve been to Hong Kong and Macau before which belong to China under special territories though surely first time in the mainland.
After visiting Seoul some days before now arriving to Shanghai, there’s not too much difference between them in the sense of architecture. This is after all, the financial heart of China. And that title comes with an obvious outcome: the already thousands of skyscrapers the city has. More shockingly to know that all you see today has been built pretty much over the past 25 years only. Unfortunately (or fortunately), depending which kind of person you are and what interests you have behind, most of the traditional old architecture is lost on behalf of this frenetic construction and development.
Still good to know and see that the waterfront, what is named “The Bund”, has been spared and retains almost in full and intact the heart of the colonial city that Shanghai once was, in this area, the British Concession. A massive and beautiful collection of buildings from the 19th and 20th centuries with special attention to the 1930s when the city bloomed and so the art-deco new architecture embellished the city with grand constructions, most of them financial institutions like the HSBC headquarters (also shared with the Hong Kong headquarters).
Other areas of historical interest can be found within the city, in its parks, little canals and temples but for the real feel and look of how Shanghai used to look centuries ago there are great news here! Barely 1 hour by commuter train it’s Suzhou, an entire ancient canal city, UNESCO World Heritage Site for obvious reasons, but don’t get too high in here as we got a bit disappointed as you can read in the separate guide I will create for it since it’s well worth it. You can check it here.
Navigating yourself around the city is pretty simple. Though be aware and prepared that getting lost could also happen to you. Going through the small alleys in the night markets and you might easily lose the orientation, but don’t worry nor be scared. It is not a dangerous city from the perspective as a tourist though certainly communication can be a struggle. Finding English speakers is hard. Worst is signage, specially for directions or restaurant menus. At points this has been a guess and matter of good or bad luck choices pointing with the fingers. After all, anyway, it’s part of the fun. Just take it easy and relaxed, not the frustrated way.
One of the 10 points mark is the transport system. It will take you wherever you will ever need it in an extremely efficient way. And hey yes! Signage is also in English, but be advised of having with you a map of the metro and railway systems with the names of the stations in both English and Hànyǔ. This will facilitate enormously should you need to ask anyone for directions or the nearest station as they can read Cantonese but probably not the English translation.
I came with friends telling me there is really nothing to see in Shanghai and that 3 days is already much for it. Honestly, I can truly tell you something in here. And I can really do from own experience; I’ve visited 67 countries ahead of me remember. Don’t listen to it or don’t even consider such. It’s not true and you should count with enough days. Not only that the size of Shanghai means time to move around the sights, but the many other places worth to visit in the outskirts, as before mentioned for example, Suzhou.
Now, looking for a place to eat? Or let’s focus this question as, what could I eat and more important trust? You don’t have to worry about this. The amount of places is countless and specially at the many shopping malls. Only a downside, finding an English translation… Well you can always trust your senses while basic English is still understood (vegetable, chicken, pork, rice). In any case, with dumplings it is unlikely you would go any wrong. You are in the city where they were born! They are delicious and with so much varieties, and will be easy to spot the places where they are sold as they tend to be family run little businesses.
For more information about Shanghai check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. China’s currency is the Renminbi (¥, CNY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Shanghai
- The Bund District Running from Yan’an Road in the south to Waibaidu Bridge in the north along the west bank of the Huangpu River facing Pudong district is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city containing a rich collection of early 20th century architecture from the initially British settlement. Those buildings were banking institutions, trading houses, newspapers, consulates, etc. The nearest metro station is East Nanjing Road.
-Huangpu River Ferry From Jinling Road wharf, near the southern end of the Bund, to Dongchang Road wharf, at the southern end of Lujiazui across the river in Pudong.Takes 15 min and costs only ¥2, and offers great views.
-Pedestrian Transit Tunnel Basically orientated for tourists, it is another way of crossing the river from the Bund to Pudong but will set your cost at ¥50 instead of the ¥2 for the ferry. Those are glass pods on rail tracks and projection of lights and sound on the tunnel walls.
-Buildings There are in total 26. You can get a wider description on each on the Wikipedia page for the Bund here. Below is a more simplified listing.
-Asia Building At number 1, from 1916 originally fot Royal Dutch Shell’s Asiatic Petroleum division.
-Shanghai Club At number 2, from 1910 was for British residents. Now the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
-Union Building At number 3, from 1916 formerly housing insurance companies, now a shopping centre.
-Mercantile Bank of India, London, and China At number 4, built between 1916 and 1918.
-Nissin Building At number 5, housed a Japanese shipping company.
-Russel & Co. Building At number 6, was the China Shipping Merchant Company, currently Dolce & Gabanna flagship store.
-Great Northern Telegraph Corporation At number 7. Site of the first telephone switch in Shanghai in 1882.
-China Merchants Bank At number 9, housed the first Chinese-owned bank in China, now Shiatzy Chen’s flagship store.
-HSBC Building Number 12, from 1923 was once the Shanghai headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. When built it was said to be the most luxurious building between the Suez Canal and the Bering Strait. Its famous ceiling mosaics have been fully restored, and can be viewed inside the entrance hall.
-Customs House Number 13, from 1927. The clock and bell was built in England and in imitation of Big Ben.
-China Bank of Communications Number 14, was the last building to be built on the Bund. It now houses the Shanghai Council of Trade Unions.
-Russo-Chinese Bank Number 15, now the Shanghai Gold Exchange.
-Bank of Taiwan Building Number 16, now the China Merchants Bank.
-North China Daily News Number 17 housed the most influential English language newspaper in Shanghai at the time. Today it houses AIA Insurance.
-Chartered Bank Number 18 housed the Shanghai headquarters of that bank now housing designer shops and a creative exhibition space.
-Palace Hotel Number 19, today forms part of the Peace Hotel.
-Sassoon House Number 20, with the attached Cathay Hotel, was built by Sir Victor Sassoon. It was, and still is today, famous for its jazz band in its cafe. Today, it forms the other part of the Peace Hotel.
-Bank of China Number 23, were the headquarters of the Bank of China.
-Yokohama Specie Bank Number 24.
-Yangtze Insurance Number 26, today branch of the Agricultural Bank of China.
-Jardine Matheson Building Number 27, today the Rolex Flagship Store, the largest wine cellar in China, three restaurants and a private club.
-Glen Line Building Number 28, today the Shanghai Broadcasting Board.
-Banque de l’Indochine Number 29.
-General Consul of the United Kingdom Number 33, now a private dining facility for government and part of it the Peninsula Hotel.
-Waibaidu Bridge By the northern side.
- Old City Is the area of the former ancient walled city of Shanghai and even by the time of the Concessions it remained solely Chinese. The nearest metro station is Yuyuan on Line 10, or around 10 minutes walk from the Bund which is just to the east. Nowadays you can still find some old buildings and the old flair that once the city had.
-Yuyuan Gardens Traditional Ming-style Chinese garden. Worth to pay the entrance to visit and enjoy the paths, bridges and pavilions, notoriously the zig-zag bridge. ¥40.
-Old City Wall Just a very small portion survives today.
-Temple of the Town Gods This Taoist temple is the biggest example of traditional Chinese architecture in Shanghai.
-Chenxiang Ge Temple
-Baiyun Guan Temple
- Huangpu and Jingan Districts Encircling around the Old Town and to the west from the Bund. This area is pretty much the heart of Shanghai.
-People’s Square Is the most important and largest square in the city, once a racecourse during colonial times.
-Shanghai Museum Cannot be missed for anyone visiting the city for the first time. It houses the world’s greatest collection of Chinese bronzes among one of the finest collections of Chinese art and artefacts. Entrance ¥20, located on one of the sides of the People’s Square.
-City Hall Also facing the square at one of the sides.
-People’s Park Right next to the People’s Square
-Opera Palace An impressive and spectacular piece of architecture, nowadays often included among the best opera houses in the world. To the west of People’s Park.
-Jing’an Temple (静安寺) One of the oldest temples in the city although rebuilt few times during the centuries.
-Nanjing Road by all means the most important street in the city and where to find plenty of shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and thriving life day and night. Aligning are a mix of beautiful buildings from different styles, of special attention the art deco ones, but also many rather ugly constructions in between. It extends from the Bund towards Hongqiao. Metro line 2 runs under it for most of the way.
- French Concession District Directly south of Jingan and west of Huangpu and the Old Town districts. The main metro station for this area is Xujiahui Station. Many shopping malls and up-scale shops are everywhere in this area.
-Fuxing Road (复兴路) One of the main streets in the district with a big offering of restaurant, cafes, shops and night-life. Many classical old buildings still align the sides.
-Sylvan streets Where you can find Shanghai’s Art Deco residential architecture, reputedly the world’s largest.
-Xintiandi neighbourhood Literally meaning New Heaven and Earth is one of the most traditional areas of the city for its Shikumen houses. Those are typical 19th century houses in Shanghainese architectural style combining Western and Chinese elements. Now it’s a thriving area with cafes, restaurants, galleries and libraries. The nearest metro stations are Xintiandi on Line 10 or South Huangpi Road Station on Line 1.
-First Congress of the Chinese Communist Party Is a museum occupying the original building that still survives and fully restored where the first congress took place in July 1921.
-Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea Now a museum on the same building where the Government of the Republic of Korea was in exile during the Japanese invasion of Korea from 1919 to 1945.
-Longhua Temple Literally meaning Lustre of the Dragon Temple is a Buddhist Temple still preserving the architectural design of a Song dynasty monastery of the Chan School even after the many reconstructions along history. It is the largest, most authentic and complete ancient temple complex in the city.
- Pudong District Is the economic hub of China where many of the tallest skyscrapers in the world now stand. It’s incredible to see the transformation of this area in a period of little over 20 years when there were small houses to the hundreds of skyscrapers now. Located at the other side of the river.
-Shanghai Tower Still under construction as of August 2014, and standing at 632 meters, is the tallest in China and second tallest in the world.
-Shanghai World Financial Centre Another of the greatly recognisable landmark buildings with the trapezoidal opening at the top, also standing near the Jim Mao and Shanghai Tower. There is an observation platform at the very top on at floor 100 where part of the floor is glass. Fee is ¥180, but it is absolutely not worth it! Do not spend the extra money for it while for ¥120 you can access a much larger observation deck few floors below with much better glass and still awesome view.
-Jim Mao Tower Literally meaning the Golden Prosperity Building is one of the most iconic buildings in the city for it’s design as a giant tiered pagoda.
-Oriental Pearl Tower Symbol of the city since its completion in 1994 with the characteristic spheres. It is a TV and radio tower with 15 observatory levels, being the highest at 350 meters. In any case the SWFC offers better views.
- Suzhou At little over 100 km from Shanghai to the west is this incredible beautiful canal-city. A glimpse of very traditional Chinese architecture, gardens, temples and all criss-crossed by the many small bridges over the countless canals. A must visit should you have enough time in Shanghai. For a complete travel guide check here in my blog.
Coming from the rather “perfection” on transportation in Seoul, Shanghai has nothing to be ashamed of. Transport system was also really efficient, reliable and super modern; taking you absolutely everywhere you would ever need as a tourist.
There are 2 airports serving the city, being Pudong the largest and principal with international destinations and Hongqiao serving mostly domestic flights. You can connect between both airports either by metro (on the same line) or by train which is the fastest way. Also by train from the airport station you can connect to neighbouring cities as Hangzhou, Suzhou or Nanjing.
Pudong is 40 km to the east of the city and it’s extremely well connected to the city and beyond either by train, metro and buses. One of the best ways without doubt, and fastest by all means is the Maglev hitting top speeds of 430 km/h. It runs daily from 06:45am to 21:30pm and costs ¥50 one way (¥40 if you have a flight ticket) or ¥80 for a round-trip ticket which is valid for a period of 7 days. It connects the airport with Longyang Road (龙阳路地铁站) metro station where lines 2 and 7 meet. People’s Square in downtown Shanghai can also be reached directly by metro from the airport on line 2, still, I would advise you to at least take the Maglev one way to experience it and to openly say you’ve been in the fastest commercial railway line in the world. The only transport mean I would not consider here are the buses, basically because it will take way longer, although are the cheapest option.
Hongqiao Airport is connected by metro Lines 2 and 10 which is the fastest way to reach anywhere in the city centre but of course there are buses should you wish to take them. Various routes go to different areas of Shanghai and you will find them on the arrivals terminals with a cost between ¥4 and ¥7.
Within the city needless to say the metro system is the best bet to move around. There are currently 12 metro lines with many others under construction. Signage is both in Hànyǔ and English but make sure you hold with you a map of the system also displaying the name of the station in both languages as this will facilitate communication should you need to ask anyone for directions. The fare for a single ticket varies depending on distance, and is between ¥3-9. But the best and easiest way is to either get a one day pass for ¥18 which is valid for 24 hours after the first time you validate it.
Should you be in the city for more days then it is advisable to get the a contactless transport card that can be used in the metro and bus systems and money deducted every time you touch in, or even pay the taxi fare. You can get them and top up at any station or some convenience stores, with a ¥20 deposit (refundable if the card is in good state and shape when returning it back). Recharging machines accept ¥50 and ¥100 notes. For less amounts you will need to go to the manned counters.
As for buses, well, as always in a different city not yours, and specially if in a totally different language, can get more complicated to find your way around and destinations. In any case, there is a large network covering all the city and beyond and are cheaper than the metro system. But again, don’t loose too much time trying to find your way around unless you have plenty. The metro will be by far the most direct and convenient way.
As for having a different way of crossing the Huangpu River between the Bund and Pudong neighbourhood, you can take a boat for just ¥2. The views you will get are the best without equal. An alternative way and almost parallel to the ferry service, is the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel that connects between the Bund in Puxi and the Pearl TV Tower in Pudong; but this will cost you ¥50 one way, ¥70 return. For the sake of doing it once, definitely go ahead so you experience the novelty. Those are glass pods on rail tracks and projection of lights and sound on the tunnel walls. Pretty much a tourist trap, but you have to do it once.
Once again and following the same note as I wrote for Seoul travel guide, there is an incredible wide range and vast choice of accommodation in Shanghai. On the good side, prices were definitely much lower than those in Seoul. A good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We wanted again to stay at a nice higher class hotel, with pool, Jacuzzi, sauna; and got a great deal at the Salvo Hotel, on 339 Guang Dong Road, 200001. A tower with great views over the skyline that not only it had every comfort we wanted, great and friendly staff, nice but a bit outdated design still well maintained. Located just minutes away from East Nanjing Road and the Bund, it could not be any better and central location.