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Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

May 25, 2015 – May 28, 2015

Full Shanghai Photo Gallery Here.

After our full month of relaxing in one spot in Thailand, we packed again and were off to our next country, China!  We started our Chinese travels in the modern mega city of Shanghai.  Shanghai is well known for its importance in Chinese history and its modern beautiful skyline along the water.  China would become our 25th country visited on this trip, as well as the last.  Other than a long layover in Korea on the way home, China will be our last chance to actually explore a country, and get to know its people and culture.

We took a red eye flight from Chiang Mai to Shanghai, landing around 3 am.  Since the metro doesn’t open until 6am we just waited around in the terminal until it opened, something we have done a few times before.  You could take an expensive taxi, or shuttle ride from the airport into the city, but Shanghai has an excellent metro which will take you anywhere in the city you want to go much cheaper.  You can pay by the trip or better yet just get a 24 hour unlimited card for 18 Yuan (around US$3.00)

Our view of Shanghai from our room at the Phoenix Hostel, about a block away from the Dashijie metro stop.
Our view of Shanghai from the roof top restaurant of the Phoenix Hostel where we stayed, about a block away from the Dashijie metro stop.
The street outside our hostel at night, nearly every well lit shop is a restaurant.  Food options are plentiful in China.
The street outside our hostel at night, nearly every well lit shop is a restaurant. Food options are plentiful in China.

Shanghai Waterfront

On our first day we caught a few hours of much needed sleep after an early check in, and headed out to explore.  We started heading roughly towards the waterfront, for the famous view of the financial district.  Downtown Shanghai straddles either side of the Huangpu River, with the vast majority on the west bank, the smaller portion on the east bank just happens to be the far more photogenic financial district.  So when you see a picture of Shanghai, such as the one below, most of the city and ‘downtown’ is actually behind the photographer.

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The beautiful skyline of the financial district of Shanghai.

Across from the photogenic skyline is a long walkway along the waterfront called the Bund.  It stretches for about a kilometer along the river offering a great place to walk and admire the uninterrupted skyline across the water.

The Bund, Shanghai.
The Bund, Shanghai.
Along the Bund you will find a kilometer long stretch of perfect views across the water, along with thousands of tourists taking pictures.
Along the Bund you will find a kilometer long stretch of perfect views across the water, along with thousands of tourists taking pictures.
A look in the opposite direction, away from the Shanghai's skyline.
A look in the opposite direction, away from the Shanghai’s skyline.
We found lots of people willing to take our picture, and some wanting to take pictures with us.
We found lots of people willing to take our picture, and some wanting to take pictures with us.
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We were surprised by the amount of boat traffic on the river, which was fun to watch.

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Our first impressions of the city were that it was extremely clean and orderly.  There were wide clean sidewalks, lots of well manicured parks lined with cute cafes, shops and restaurants. Everywhere fashionable Chinese are hurrying about their busy day or going for a casual stroll through the park.  The city instantly gives you a sense that it is a modern, safe, friendly city with a lot going for it.  Not knowing what to expect from Shanghai before we arrived, we were both very pleasantly surprised.

Yuyuan Garden – Shanghai

There are tons of tourist hotspots in and around Shanghai, and almost all of them are easily reachable via the well laid out and super clean metro system.  One of our first stops was the Yuyuan Garden, just south of the Bund, near the waterfront.  Yuyuan Garden is a traditional Chinese Garden which has been well maintained, and probably significantly restored, in downtown Shanghai.  Inside the walled garden you will find traditional buildings, rock and plant landscaping and koi ponds.  Outside the garden there are more traditional buildings, all loaded with extremely touristy shops and there’s even a Starbucks.  The whole place is crowded and feels a bit like a tourist trap but if you have time its worth visiting to see the traditional buildings, especially if you are only visiting Shanghai, it might be your only chance to see them.

 

Traditional buildings outside of Yu Garden, loaded with souvenir shops.
Traditional style buildings outside of Yuyuan Garden, loaded with souvenir shops.
Occasionally you can spot glimpses of the old and new city of Shanghai.
Occasionally you can spot glimpses of the old and new city of Shanghai.
One of many large koi ponds, filled with hungry koi.
One of many large koi ponds, filled with hungry koi.
The buildings over the water were the most interesting.
The buildings over the water were the most interesting.

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The gardens are covered in rock and plant displays everywhere, usually near some water features.
The gardens are covered in rock and plant displays everywhere, usually near some water features.

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There's some rocks for the kids to hide in, or travel bloggers.
There’s some rocks for the kids, and travel bloggers, to hide in.

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Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Museum was actually within walking distance of our hostel, in the People’s Square.  It offers four floors of extensive and impressive collections from different regions of China.  Starting with ancient pottery and bronze artifacts and relics, coins and currency, porcelain – including a priceless collection of Ming and Qing vases, as well as furniture, art and clothes.  If you have a few hours and any interest in history it is well worth checking out.  It is also free to visit, and the People’s Square outside is a large park which offers great uninterrupted views of the surrounding skyscrapers.

One of many priceless examples of Ming Vases in the Shanghai Museum.
One of many priceless examples of Ming Vases in the Shanghai Museum.
They also had a great art collection.  My favorite was the ancient scroll paintings, this one was a smaller one at only about 8 feet long.  The closer you look the more intricate details you can see.
They also had a great art collection. My favorite was the ancient scroll paintings, this one was a smaller one, at only about 8 feet long. The closer you look the more intricate details you can see. Date around 1500, artist unknown.
The Peoples Square, outside of the Shanghai Museum.
The Peoples Square, outside of the Shanghai Museum.

Food in Shanghai

Like most cities in Asia, Shanghai has an enormous amount of restaurants and street food vendors, everywhere you look and turn you will find more options to sate your appetite.

Our first meal in Shanghai, Pipa Duck, Crab Meat Lotus and Baked Sixi, along with Tea and Rice for about US$14.00
Our first meal in Shanghai, Pipa Duck, Crab Meat Lotus and Baked Sixi, along with Tea and Rice for about US$14.00.
We also visited ___ street and tried out the famous dumplings.
We also visited Jiajia Soup Dumplings and tried out the famous soup dumplings. Each are filled with pork and a hot soup broth.

Nanjing Road – A Pedestrian Shopping Street

Nanjing Road just off People’s Square is a long pedestrian only street lined with malls, restaurants and shops. It runs from People’s Square most of the way to the Bund waterfront.  If you are looking for a day of shopping with an expensive coffee in hand, this is the place to be.

Nanjing Road, a long pedestrian only street lined with malls and shops. It runs from People's Square to the Bund waterfront.
East Nanjing Road, a long pedestrian only street lined with malls and shops. It runs from People’s Square towards the Bund waterfront.

Shanghai from above

To get a truly lofty view of the city, we visited the Shanghai World Financial Center, which at one time had the world’s highest observation deck (2008-2011).  That’s the building shaped like a giant bottle opener in preparation for the worlds largest bottle.  With the Canton Tower, also in China, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Shanghai World Financial Center observation deck has now fallen to a dismal third.  But it is still enormously high and offers great views from the 94th, 97th and 100th floors.  If you look at the building it has a giant, roughly square, hole near the top, the bottom and top of which are observation decks.  The 100th floor has a glass floor so you can see straight down.

A view from the 97th floor, the bottom section of the square hole at the top of the building.
A view from the 97th floor, the bottom section of the square hole at the top of the building.
The view just before sunset.
The view just before sunset.
The view after sunset when all the buildings around the city are lit up.  Again our camera was not the best at capturing night scenes and doesn't come close to showing how colorful and bright it really was.
The view after sunset when all the buildings around the city are lit up. Again our camera was not the best at capturing night scenes and doesn’t come close to showing how colorful and bright it really was.

Wandering Shanghai

With its abundant parks, pedestrian streets, malls, shops, restaurants and tourist destinations, its easy to just wander around and bump into interest sights around every corner.  The city is also very clean, friendly and walkable.  And if you should ever get tired, there is always a metro stop nearby to take you anywhere you might like to go.

Umbrellas are popular with locals to keep out of the sun.
Umbrellas are popular with locals to keep out of the sun.
Traditional buildings, or modern buildings made to look traditional, can be spotted randomly everywhere.
Traditional buildings, or modern buildings made to look traditional, can be spotted randomly everywhere.
This outdoor street market was a maze of high end boutique shops.
This outdoor street market called Tianzifang was a maze of high end boutique shops.
A man pulling a cart loaded with at least 4 million chairs.
A man pulling a cart loaded with at least 4 million chairs in the French Concession neighborhood, where we visited the Propaganda Poster Art Center museum in the basement of a tall residential building.

One of our biggest surprises walking around Shanghai was the number of foreign cars, and indeed foreign brands of all kinds.  We expected to see roads filled with unidentifiable Chinese cars, but we found quite the opposite, Chinese models were actually few and far between.  The wealthy Chinese in Shanghai have a great appetite for foreign brands and cars.  Most of the vehicles on the roads are European, Japanese and even American, Chevy and Ford, models.  We were reminded of a conversation we had with some Chinese tourists we met in Nepal, who told us that the Chinese are becoming increasing concerned with quality, they are aware of the perceived and often true stereotype of shabby Chinese quality products.  As the Chinese middle class grows they are becoming increasingly picky with where they spend their money and low quality cheap Chinese cars are becoming unpopular.  A good time to buy auto stocks?  We spotted approximately 70% foreign cars on the roads in Shanghai. A number which only dropped to about 60% as we have traveled since to various other cities and villages.  A man in Laos told us, Chinese motorcycles break down after six months, where a Japanese motorcycle can last six years or probably much longer, so it is worth spending more to get quality.   With the rise of the importance of quality, it seems cheap low quality Chinese vehicles are not going to take the world by storm as many people thought they would.

Day Trip to Tongli, China

For a day trip we took a bullet train to the nearby traditional city of Tongli, in neighboring Jiangsu province, which is built along a series of canals.  Called the Venice of China, it offers dozens of blocks of tree lined shops and cafes built along a maze of canals.  We took a bullet train from Shanghai 40 minutes to the city of Suzhou, then hopped on a bus for another 40 minute ride to Tongli.  The city itself has an entrance fee of 88 yuan to visit, but there is a lot to see.  There are several well preserved traditional residences to see which have beautiful gardens and ponds.

China has an extensive and growing network of high speed rail.  This was our bullet train on the way to Tongli.
China has an extensive and growing network of high speed rail. This was our bullet train on the way to Tongli.
The canals of Tongli, lined with trees and touristy souvenir shops.
The canals of Tongli, lined with trees and touristy souvenir shops.
Entrance gate to one of several well preserved traditional residences.
Entrance gate to one of several well preserved traditional residences.
A private garden once belonging to a wealthy city resident.
A private garden once belonging to a wealthy city resident.

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If you want you can even take a canal boat ride up the waterways, just like in Venice.
If you want you can even take a canal boat ride up the waterways, just like in Venice.

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The whole city has a very ‘touristy’ feel and while we had originally planned on leaving Shanghai and staying in Tongli for two nights before moving on we changed it to a day trip instead.  Tongli is nice to see but a single day trip is more than enough as the city feels like a tourist trap and begins to feel much less genuine after several hours, and the chance to spend two extra nights in Shanghai instead could not be missed.  One of our main reasons for choosing to visit Tongli over other nearby water towns was that it offered a Chinese Sex Culture Museum.  Unfortunately it turned out this museum was closed, so on the way back to Shanghai from Tongli, we skipped the bus/bullet train combo, and made the last direct bus, which was actually faster.

Shanghai at Night

Skipping a stay in Tongli and adding two extra nights in Shanghai meant we would have two more chances to see Shanghai at night.  The city is well known for being lit up at night, as nearly every building has some unique light display.  A stroll along the waterfront at night to see the skyline lit up is a must.

Perhaps the most uniquely shapped building in Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl Tower, buts on a light show every night.  Every bit of it is lit up and cycles through various colors.
Perhaps the most uniquely shaped building in Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl Tower, puts on a light show every night. Every bit of it is lit up and cycles through various colors.  While we were on the nice elevated walkway surrounding this roundabout we noticed two car accidents (one at bottom of picture) and some very poor driving!

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Getting around the Language Barrier

Neither of us was really sure what to expect of Shanghai, or China.  We had both heard all sorts of different stories about traveling in the country.  We had both heard that communication in China can be difficult as English is not widely spoken.  In Shanghai, we did find that the language barrier was significant but there was usually someone around who spoke at least a little English, and menus were often in English, so it was not too difficult to get around.  It also helped to get the front desk person at our hotel to right down a few phrases in Chinese, such as “How Much?”  It also helped to get a phrase book with pictures, and English and importantly Chinese characters.  We found that trying to pronounce the Chinese words, even if the phrase book had them spelled out phonetically was quite hopeless.  No one ever understood anything we tried to read to them in Chinese,  it turned out to be much easier to just show them the book and point to the appropriate Chinese characters.  While we could have gotten by in Shanghai with out a phrase book, our future travels to smaller cities, towns and even villages would have been hopeless as we encountered almost no English speakers.

Shanghai turned out to be one of our favorite city destinations in Asia.  While we had more language difficulties here than anywhere else in the world (it seems more English is spoken in remote African villages than in China), it was still a great city and the people are very friendly, patient and happy to try to figure out what you are asking for.  Next we left the big city of Shanghai to explore a bit of rural China.

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