Shanghai is the most populous city in the world. It is also China’s most cosmopolitan city with an eclectic and distinctive skyline. The name Shanghai translates to the ‘city above the sea,’ it is also known as Hu (pronounced who) and Shen (pronounced shoon) in Chinese. The Huangpu River divides Shanghai into Pudong and Puxi. Pudong, is the newly developed part of the city with tall skyscrapers. Puxi, is more culturally astute with heritage buildings and a vibrant nightlife. It is relatively easy to commute between the two sides of the river. Unlike my previous series about Thailand which was a guide to traveling within the country, my series on China will be less a guide, and more focused on my travel experience.
Day 1: Getting into Shanghai and Huangpu river cruise
It was around 3pm when we arrived at the Pudong International Airport after a nine hour flight. It took another three hours to get through immigration, and fight the traffic to get to our hotel in Puxi. After a quick snack at our hotel and a much needed shower, we made our way to the Huangpu river cruise.
At the cruise waiting line we were bombarded by a group of Chinese tourists for photos and selfies. They would pull us aside, and quickly whip out their selfie sticks and strike a variety of poses. This continued when we were on the cruise as well, I was equally puzzled and amused by their behavior. Later, I found out from our tour guide that, these people were visiting Shanghai from a remote village in China, that foreigners seldom visit. The selfies were to show their people back home that “guess what? I just met a foreigner and here’s a photo to prove!”
Coming back to the actual cruise, it lasted for about half an hour. As the cruise gently glides on the river you witness the colourfully lit up buildings of the Pudong skyline unfold on one side. The changing hues and displays are fascinating and are truly a sight to see. On the other side of the river bank are the colonial style buildings of the bund, that gleam golden when lit. I highly recommend the cruise for any visitor to Shanghai. After a quick stop for dinner we were back to our hotel and ready to call it a night.
Day 2: Visiting the Volkswagen factory, People’s square, SWFC, Nanjing road and riding on the Maglev
I haven’t mentioned earlier, but I visited China as part of my college’s yearly International Visit for select final year students, which is sponsored by them. This also meant that there had to be an educational element to the trip. Hence we were taken to the Volkswagen factory, on the outskirts of Shanghai. We watched a presentation on Volkswagen, and were sat in a buggy and given a ten minute tour of the factory’s assembly line.
After a lunch stop we made our way to peoples square. People’s square is a large public space in Shanghai that houses a park, the Shanghai museum, a couple of restaurants to name a few of the attractions. The park is beautiful with well-tended and maintained hedges and flowers.
Entry to the Shanghai museum is free. It spans across four floors with multiple galleries. Each gallery has themed exhibits, for example artifacts from the Ming dynasty or ancient coinage. The museum can be explored at one’s own pace, it also houses a souvenir shop from which gifts can be purchased.
Shanghai is famous for its magnetic levitation train known as the Maglev. Our guide offered us an optional tour to experience the Maglev for an additional price. Most of us opted for it, and we were off to the station to catch the train. The Maglev only runs on one route from the Pudong airport into central Pudong. At around 80 CNY for a round trip it is by no means cheap, however it can do the otherwise one hour journey in just seven minutes. It runs fairly frequently, every 15 to 20 minutes.
The interiors of the train are just like any other train, with large windows and blue seat covers. A digital display mounted above the passageway shows the speed at which the train is traveling. The train gradually picks up speed, peaking at 431 kmph at around 4 minutes before gradually decreasing in speed. Overall sitting on the maglev feels no different from a usual metro train, only maybe in that the scenery disappears a little faster. I would say however, the maglev is very useful for commuting from central Pudong to the airport. Ride on it otherwise only for the novelty factor, but don’t expect a phenomenal experience.
After our train ride we were off to the Shanghai World Financial Center abbreviated the SWFC. The SWFC is the second tallest structure in Shanghai, the building spans 101 floors and houses, company offices, a hotel, some restaurants, shops as well as two observatory decks on the 94th and 100th floors. The ticket price for the 94th floor observation deck, where we were taken was 120 CNY. On a day with clear skies the SWFC offers incredible views of the city.
However on a foggy day do not visit SWFC, I cannot stress enough about this. It will be a waste of your money and time because you won’t be able to see anything. It was foggy when we visited.
All we had to look forward to was blacked out windows and some overpriced souvenir shops. After a stop for dinner we were taken back to our hotel.
The night was young and a couple of my friends and I wanted to explore Shanghai on our own, so we decided to take a cab to Nanjing road. Cabs are fairly easy to hail in Shanghai and not too expensive. I will go into more details about getting around with the language barrier in another post. Nanjing road is the place to be, especially after the sun has set. It has a selection of malls and stores offering everything from designer and luxury stores to dollar stores and everything in between. It also has plenty of restaurants and clubs. My favorite stores on the stretch were Chinese candy stores that sell an assortment of different types of candy and sweets. I also loved a store called Miniso. Originating from Japan, Miniso carries the most random and wonderful things. Everything is reasonable priced averaging from anywhere between 10 to 30 CNY. It is a store where you are guaranteed to buy things you don’t need. After walking through the entire stretch we were tired, and decided to call it a night.
Day 3: Visiting Bao steel factory, The Bund, French concession and shopping in AP plaza
Our morning was filled with a rather pointless visit to the Bao steel plant, which is a Chinese government owned company. Located near a snow capped mountain range, the drive to the factory was picturesque. The tour involved walking through the factory on a raised platform while a factory worker explained in Chinese, our guide was the only person who understood anything. The rest of us were happy to walk along, in hopes of getting out of the factory quickly, as it was extremely hot with pungent smells in the air.
After the factory visit we were taken to the Bund for a photo op with the skyscrapers of Pudong in the background. Then we visited pearl and jade showrooms located right on level two of the Bund, and were given a demonstration about the different types of pearls. After lunch, we were left to explore the Nanjing road area on our own. Since we’d already visited the area on the previous night, we decided to head to Shanghai’s largest fake’s market known as AP Plaza instead
Using the metro in Shanghai proved to be relatively simple with the routes mapped in English as well. The Science and Technology Museum stop in Pudong, directly opens into AP Plaza which made it all the more easier. AP Plaza is a massive market with hundreds of tiny shops crammed together. You can find almost everything under the sun here from clothes to electronics, bags, shoes and cosmetics. They sell very convincing copies of some famous designer brands and goods. The thumb rule in AP plaza is you have to bargain ruthlessly, never pay the first price quoted, as it is always highly inflated. I’ll go into great depth about bargaining in China in a later post.
After the plaza shopping spree, we dropped off our burgeoning bags at our hotel, before deciding to head out to the old French concession, for a taste of Shanghai nightlife. The Xintiandi area is stunning with cobblestone pathways and water fountains, it gives you the feeling of being in Europe and not in the middle of Shanghai. The area is home to many cafes, stores and clubs, it gets beautifully lit up in the nighttime. It is also where the richest and most affluent people of Shanghai descend. It’s a great spot for people watching, as you’ll find a slew of well-dressed wealthy Chinese and expats getting dropped off in their Rolls Royce’s and Lamborghini’s. We even spotted a wealthy Chinese heiress, drive up in her hot pink, hello kitty emblazoned Lamborghini, and only in Shanghai will you see such sights!
After a stroll through the old French concession neighborhood we decided to call it a night as we had to catch a train the following morning to Beijing. It marked the end of our visit to Shanghai!
Two to three days is plenty to visit most of Shanghai’s attractions, since our factory visits took up a lot of time we were unable to visit Yi gardens which was disappointing. Overall Shanghai proved to be an incredible city.