A Visit to the Center of the World & its Newest City Shanghai
China has captured my imagination. During a recent business trip I spent 3 weeks in Shanghai during which time I also had the pleasure to explore Zhouzhuang as well as a sensational trip to Beijing and Si Ma Tai Great Wall. China, literally translated to mean “The center of the world” is a pulsating machine bursting with ambition and innovation. The true essence of the progression is captured in the boundaries of the growing city, Shanghai. Housing 22 million people Shanghai is not a city that one can see in a day; however, the following summary should provide you with ample opportunity to get a glimpse of what makes Shanghai truly unique from other cities in China and why every westerner should plan a trip to Shanghai. If you have a few days to spare try some of my recommendations and let me know your thoughts.
- The Bund
Each city has its highlights and to many the primary tourist destination for Shanghai is the magnificent walk way, namely The Bund. If you only have a few hours to spare I recommend going to The Bund first as it offers a great view over the newest portion of Shanghai, Pudong. Pudong, only developed over the past 6-10 years, houses sky rises such as the Jinmai tower, the World Trade Center and The Pearl Tower. Walking The Bund is the best way to experience it however if weather does not permit view the skyline of Pudong from New Heights Bar or M on the Bund & The Glamour Bar, restaurants/bars located in Puxi just off The Bund. Even though I don’t recommend dining at either of these restaurants the view/drinks are great and truly worth a visit.
- Old Town & Tianzifang
For the history lovers make the next stop Old Town, and specifically make sure not to miss Old Street and Yuyuan Bazaar & Gardens. Even though heavily populated by local tourists this is still worthy a visit as it is one of the last areas where traditional Chinese architecture is captured in the city. Make sure to try the local Shanghai dumpling – a large dumpling with soup inside that you drink with a straw, which makes it an experience in itself. The Tea House is worth a stop for the weary traveler but make sure to sit upstairs as it offers a view over the Yuyuan Bazaar and a much better atmosphere. After a morning’s exploration (go early, this place gets busy!) head over to Tianzifang and explore the alley ways of this little treasure. This is a must see, as it is a perfect combination between East & West yet has more character than Xintiandi. Art Galleries cover the old, Chinese streets and around each corner the gems of another local photographer will capture your imagination. This is a great location for a light lunch late brunch and a favorite of many expats of the city. I was amazed at how many expats in general live and work in Shanghai and it is truly worth a visit to this district to experience it for yourself. In addition the photography in the galleries in Tianzifang is quite impressive.
- The Chinese Massage
A visit to Shanghai is not complete without a massage. Head over to Jade Spa for a massage (I recommend the traditional Chinese massage – a perfect blend between the deep Tissue massage and the magic works of a chiropractor .. heavenly).
A view over Pudong from The Bund is a must see; however a view of Puxi area from Pudong is just as beautiful. Puxi is much older and represents the original Shanghai. The architecture is rich and old and the view of Puxi captures a scene which view is almost a paradigm shift from the opposite side of the Huang Pu river, Pudong.
A morning in the Shanghai museum is a morning well spent in Shanghai. Situated on Renmin (also called People’s) Square, entry to the museum is free of charge so beware of long lines accumulating after 11 am. The Shanghai museum offers a glimpse into the history of China & the Chinese culture. The four story museum is well laid out and not overwhelmingly full. Everything is translated into English & I walked away feeling informed, impressed & inspired to learn more. Exit the museum onto People’s Square and take in the breathtaking view of the city sky rises as well as the Chinese Opera House, The Chinese Government and the Shanghai Urban Planning Center.
If you have time grab a taxi (round trip 450RMB) and head over to Zhuozhuang, China’s little Venice. This ancient village, built around water canals and former living quarters of the Shen family is a hidden gem and worth the trip. Make sure to sample the traditional meal of the town, Yen Shen Pork and walk around the streets taking in the history, aroma and atmosphere. Zhouzhuang is approximately one hour outside of Shanghai and the deep contrast of character of this village is welcoming after exploring the busy streets of the city for a few days. This is the perfect day trip for those who yearn for a bit more of the original character of the East or needs to get away from the city buzz.
Food lovers have limitless options in Shanghai. The restaurants are affordable, the service generally good and the dishes exotic. The French Concession houses Sophie’s Restaurant, which situated in an old house, specializes in traditional Shanghai cuisine. Note that the menu is unfortunately only in Chinese so if you or your travel partner speaks Mandarin make this stop on the trip. The service is impressive, the food divine and the atmosphere warm and welcoming.
If you don’t have the luxury to communicate in Chinese then 1039 represents a wonderful alternative. This restaurant is the favorite of many locals and I could see why. 1039 is a restaurant that I will visit during every trip to Shanghai and truly captures the essence of the local cuisine. Make sure to taste the jellyfish salad and leave space for dessert.
For the most part Shanghai has the ability to perfectly blend East & West and welcomes both with open arms in certain areas such as Xintiandi. Xintiandi, meaning “New World” offers a variety of local & European options. As a traveler to Shanghai one cannot miss Xintiandi. Known as the most luxurious (and expensive) area to live in Shanghai Xintiandi is a new development that provides options to all cultures and is a local expat and business traveler’s escape to international cuisine, music and culture. Walking through the area felt more like walking through the streets of a European city and I truly couldn’t believe that I was in China. That is until I tasted the food in both Zen Chinese & Ye Shanghai restaurants in Xintiandi who both serve traditional Shanghai cuisine.
JC Chinoise of Nouveau Chinese Cuisine is another restaurant to worth visiting. JC Chinoise of Nouveau Chinese Cuisine was the most beautiful restaurant that I visited in Shanghai. Most importantly the food complimented the atmosphere. The ceiling of each booth represents an aquarium filled with turtles while the remainder of the restaurant is sleek modern & vibrant. I had the opportunity to try frog for the first time which resembles a light flaky & moist white fish and is delicious.
The traditional Chinese hot pot is an affordable option to those on budget. The experience resembles a fondue setting in which a bowl filled with flavored broth infused with herbs and spices is placed in the middle of the table. The party at each table chooses the ingredients and is responsible for cooking the ingredients in the hotpot. In general the seafood is super fresh, but beware, the shrimp that we ordered appeared to be so fresh that one of its legs was still moving! Don’t be put off by this however as our overall experience made this a frequent place to visit during the busy work week. The location that we frequented close to our hotel was called Lai Lai Hotpot. We stayed in the Huanqoui district, an area of the city that houses a blend of eastern cultures including Japanese, Korean & Taiwanese. As such we had the opportunity to sample a variety of excellent types of food including Taiwanese, Korean among other. Check this area out for good alternatives to the traditional downtown favorites.
Shanghai has unlimited options for the traveler or business professional. Hopefully my summary above provides you the opportunity to experience some of the city & its luxuries.
A few key travel tips to keep in mind:
1. Always have a travel guide book with Chinese translations of each area that you want to visit with you. The taxi drivers and locals do not speak nor read English and you will be lost without this.
2. Have the address and cross street of your hotel written down in Chinese. Taxi drivers require the closest cross street to locate most places.
3. Keep your valuables close and your purse zipped up.
4. Keep a cell phone with you and a number that you can call to reach someone fluent in Chinese for emergency scenarios. I am not joking when I say that in some areas you will not hear a word of English.
5. Carry local currency with you at all times. Most places do not accept credit cards.
6. Do not pay more than 40% of the asking price on street markets. As a tourist you are the target and if you are not careful you will grossly overpay for goods.
5. Try the local cuisine and don’t be shy! You may be pleasantly surprised.
PS. A special thanks to my friend Lucy who was a great tourist guide during this trip!