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krisek Shanghai - A travel report by Krys
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Shanghai,  China - flag China -  Shanghai
16554 readers

krisek's travel reports

Legendary, once forgotten, now reinventing itself.

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China's largest city enjoyed marvelous history. It became legendary. It’s now reinventing itself after years of neglect and chaotic development. 2009 wasn’t the best time for a visit as it turned into a giant construction site in preparation for Expo 2010

Pudong at night
Pudong at night
Arriving from the Pudong International Airport was very easy. The 430 km/h magnetic train (¥50 single, ¥80 return) makes the 30 kilometres trip in 8 minutes, and arrives at a line 2 metro station (¥4 single) not far from the centre. The metro was modern and safe, but rather infrequent and no platform information was displayed. Good signage at the other hand seemed sufficient for foreigners to navigate the nine or so lines.

I forgot how strangely China smelled. It was a very particular scent, which I had not felt anywhere before, until I came Hong Kong. And now, it was back. I stepped out of the aircraft and thought uh-uh, I know this smell!

Shanghai was huge! Frighteningly vast! And excruciatingly hot and humid. Had it not been dug out and covered in scaffolding, construction material and ugly fences, including the one at The Bund, which completely blocked the view of the Pudong from one side and the Bund from the other. Utterly disappointing! The only way of admiring the view of Pudong was from a tourist boat, touts of which cruised the riverside streets inviting tourists for the ¥100 ride. As I had that in my itinerary, I decided to go on one but only in the afternoon. But eventually changed my mind and skipped it altogether.

Many Chinese asked me why I had come in the middle of July 2009, while it was sticky hot and the construction work aimed at improving the city image for the Expo 2010 ruined the experience. I told them. But they were right. The cranes and inconveniences created for pedestrians were really offputting. Such a large city with many sights, and yet I wanted to leave right away...

Well, it could have been worse. The fact was that I had really high expectations from Shanghai, and they were ridiculously unreasonable. Had I not hoped to see the total eclipse there, I would have given the city a miss and excluded it from my holiday from the outset. Fortunately, I made a few funny travellers in the hostel, and their company made Shanghai more joyful.

Favourite spots:
Yuyuan area
Yuyuan area
The Yuyuan Garden and the area nearby made the best impression on me. My guess was that the traditional Chinese architecture was a reconstruction but I did not care. It was cute. I did not care for the über commercialism materialised with shops selling souvenirs and a range of useless things, either. It was great to see so many locals there frequenting the teahouses and foodcourts offering dim sum and deep fried insects, animal intestines and things I could not recognise. In fact, I saw few individual, and in couples, tourists in this attractive part of the city. Reconstructed or not, I liked the brown wooden buildings and the narrow alleys between them and the central pond full of colourful carp and turtles. It all looked in its right place and the Pudong skyline with the World Financial Centre (bottle openner) and the Jingmao towers looming ever so slightly in the distance.

What's really great:
Old and new in Shanghai
Old and new in Shanghai
Street names were provided in both Mandarin and English, which made this gigantic metropolis slightly easier to navigate. I like that, it meant that one could use a 'tourist map' as an aid to the city.

The large scale construction work around every corner did not help though. It blocked the best views and the more convenient walkways. However, the Hyatt on the Bund made it up a little with its Vue bar offering spectacular views of the Pudong from the 33rd floor.

I also noticed how the Shanghaians, and particularly men, did not care for fashion. I know nothing about fashion either but I would refrain from wearing pajamas and slippers in the city. I am sure they were pajamas. They could not be anything else. Loose top and pants made from the same material with the same pattern. They seriously looked as if they escaped from, pardon me, a mental institution. I saw them in the metro, shops, and parading in the avenues. Curious sight. Very curious.

Jing'an Temple
Jing'an Temple
At first sight, Shanghai had very much to offer to a visitor. When studying the map, there were a number of interesting districts and parks to be visited, each offering something slightly different than the other. However, apart from its futuristic architecture in Pudong, and the classic one in the Bund, Shanghai appeared to me rather poor for sights after all. I went to one of the Buddhist temples (Jing'an), and was disappointed. Well, I liked that it was being faithfully reconstructed, but the ¥20 entry fee seemed excessive considering that it was only half completed (compared with fees to other attractions around China). Considering all the great films that have been based in Shanghai, in the Chinese districts, which made Shanghai legendary, I expected more of that in the city. I looked, but could not find it. Of course, on the hindsight, perhaps it would make more sense to have a guide (at least a good guidebook) for this humongous city, rather than just wandering on a hunch.

Bund, Shanghai's most famous street. At night photographed from across Pudong.
Bund, Shanghai's most famous street. At night photographed from across Pudong.
The Blue Mountain Hostel (¥180 double ensuite, ¥140 single ensuite) was a great choice indeed. It was very conveniently located opposite the Luban Road metro station, just a few stops from the Pudong and Shanghai Old Town, and the South Train Station. It was clean and well organised. The rooms were good size and had air conditioning. Bathrooms were fairly well scrubbed, hot water all day long, a selection of toiletries (excl. toilet paper, incl. toothbrush & toothpaste), and clean towels. The common room featured a bar serving all types of beverages and a fair selection of good value meals (¥12-¥25), had a pool table (free), free access to 3 computers connected to the net and free wireless internet, playing cards, a few games, and books. And was packed with true travellers!

The front desk staff spoke some English and offered assistance and/or advice in organising trips and booking tickets. I booked it online via hostelworld, but sadly the actual hostel didn’t accept any credit cards.

Clubbing street in Shanghai
Clubbing street in Shanghai
Well, with regard to Shanghai nights, the choice of places to go out was great, and the choice was difficult. Obviously the places ranged from super expensive lounges, bars and clubs located at or near five-star hotels to funky open-air venues attracting young, bold and beautiful to ordinary if drab local bars catering for less wealthy and developed-in-years men.

Cloud 9 at the 87th floor of the Hyatt hotel in Pudong was famous for its jazz and blues nights attracting the über rich and businesspeople. Not necessarily requiring one to take a second mortgage to order a couple of beers, but definitely requiring appropriate attire.

Soho Club with hyper decor and music could be placed on the world scene with its 0.33ml beer for ¥40. But the staff attitude could not!

Wandering along the pedestrianised Nanjing Road and dodging swarms of sellers and touts was fun only for a few minutes, but, thanks heavens, there was open-air Chez l'Ami cafe right in the middle of things. Excellent spot!

View from the Vue Bar
View from the Vue Bar
It was perfect for killing time and watching locals window-shop and travellers confront the local folk trying to sell them knock-off goods. It was really a great hanging out spot. I sat there as the clock approached 7pm and the temperature dropped to about 120 degrees (or about 35C) and chilled myself with a glass of expensive draft beer (Tiger, 0.3l, ¥20).

However, the ultimate hangout spot in Shanghai was the Vue bar and lounge on the top of Hyat on the Bund Hotel. The two level venue offered excellent views of both the new Pudong and the old Bund. The bar and restaurant were on the 32nd floor, and the lounge, including the rooftop open-air section complete with jacuzzi and day beds, on the 33rd. Cooling with a glass of champagne (red wine in my case) in bubble water all over your body and admiring spectacular views of Shanghai, was unquestionably the ultimate chillout! Slightly extravagant, but undeniably superb. DJ played lounge and on-demand music. Credit cards accepted.

Simple eatery in Shanghai, along Sichuan Rd.
Simple eatery in Shanghai, along Sichuan Rd.
Lu Bo Lang Restaurant (131 YuYuan Road, 021-63280602) at the Old Chinese Town, near the YuYuan Garden, Huangpu District, was famous. It had been visited by heads of state, including Queen Elizabeth II and Bill Clinton. It had comprehensive menu, large portion of which were fish and riverfood featuring prawns, crab and eel, and dim sum. I wanted to try their turtle soups (¥38-¥50), but it was taking too long, so I ordered crab meat & bamboo soup (¥15), three spring rolls (¥3 each), and diced chicken with cashews & chilly and rice (¥16). I washed it down with large TsingTao Beer (¥12). The most expensive items on the menu were shark fin dishes and a ¥480 lobster. Fortunately, the restaurant accepted credit cards.

Along Sichuan Road, between YuYuan shopping and Fuzhou Road, there was a small 'fast food' Chinese restaurant serving simple staple food, usually fried rice and noodles, mixed with meat, poultry, prawns or vegetables. It was cheap (less than ¥15) and served cold beer.

Other recommendations:
Maglev train, linking Pudong Airport with the central Shanghai
Maglev train, linking Pudong Airport with the central Shanghai
Despite China's obvious progress in the market economy, the apparent rise in the society's debt levels and Shanghai's status of the nation's commercial capital, businesses still had a long way to catch up with regard to accepting credit cards. The banking system appeared ready for the credit card payments, and the businesses that accepted them had modern equipment, such as the cordless terminals, which accepted chip & pin cards.

Shanghai turned out to be a bad choice for eclipse watching. The sky was covered with grey heavy clouds all morning, and just before the totality, rain started to fall! It was a disaster. It got dark like at night for six minutes and that was it. I knew weather was going to be bad, already a few days back, and I knew I should have gone to Chrngdu, which apparently had only patchy clouds. Many long haul travellers, like me, were utterly gutted. Such a shame!

Published on Friday August 7th, 2009

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Tue, Aug 18 2009 - 01:39 PM rating by bootlegga

A very interesting report and different in many ways from my own experience in Shanghai. I'm sorry the weather didn't cooperate with you during your stay (it was lousy when I was there too).

Good job!

Tue, Aug 11 2009 - 04:32 AM rating by mistybleu

A very interesting report; I think much of China you'll have mixed emotions about, but I'm sure overall you had an awesome time. The Hyatt sounds like a pretty cool place.

Fri, Aug 07 2009 - 12:01 PM rating by porto

Krys, I can rate your reports before I read them,I know that I won't be dissapointed!

Fri, Aug 07 2009 - 11:49 AM rating by pesu

A rooftop open-air section with jacuzzi on the 33rd? Wow!!! So sorry for you because of the missed eclipse! Great report!

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