Sightseeing in Shanghai
There is enough to entertain you in Shanghai for more than the four days we had here, with the 30 day countdown ticking on our visa we had to get a move on. The things that kept us entertained for our limited time were:
The Jing’An Temple is a fully restored (adorned throughout with Myanmar teak and jade as John discovered from the monks) temple which sits in the centre of the city. If you want to know more about its history go to the wiki source here. It is a beautiful structure, which had managed to maintain its position and architectural dominance amid the skyscrapers and shopping malls that surround it. Well worth a visit, although a few of the monks are little diva esque if you want to take their picture.
The French Concession is an area sometimes known as the ‘Paris of the East’. I can’t help keep wanting to pronounce this French Connection, damn you Gene Hackman.
We found it a bit tired on the whole, but beautiful in places with the best buildings behind the high walls of the embassies which seem to be concentrated in the area. So there are lots of good restaurants and shops in the area.
At times you could easily mistake the place for a French city street with roads lined with plane trees, ornate balconies and entrances adorning many of the apartment blocks in the area. You need at least a couple of hours to wander round these streets. I tried in vain to find a decent walking tour online to search out the best spots, but alas one was not to be found. Our route was interesting but I am certain we missed out on some of the best treats. In retrospect we should have hired bikes for a couple of hours and got a map or audio tour on our phones, that would have been the best thing to do.
National Museum, Peoples Square and Peoples Park
We left half of one of our days to explore the National Museum and the surrounding parks and squares and we reckon this is just about right, We knew that we would not be doing the whole of the museum’s collections as we have recently been spoiled with the Taiwan National museum and we knew that a lot of what was here is done equally as good (or better) there. If you haven’t had that luxury you may want to add an extra hour or two to explore the whole collection.
When we arrived we found that we had an unexpected bonus, there was a Fabergé special collection on show. We made straight for this special exhibition, and we were not disappointed. The collection was simply stunning, the intricacy and the beauty of these pieces has to be seen to be believed. There was a ‘no pictures’ rule in place, but it was the weekend and the place was packed so myself and most of the other Chinese in there took great pleasure in the fact that the number of guards on duty could not control the mass of people so we took pictures aplenty. Even when they caught you they were too busy to make you delete them.
From the museum you exit into Peoples Square (from where all distances are measured in Shanghai) which has a large fountain and we spent an hour just people watching and cooling down with the breeze from the public fountain. The weekend brought lots of families here and shrieks went up when the fountain burst into life and the children all swarmed into the water. A really nice way to relax and rest your tourist feet.
From here we made the short walk across to the People’s Park. The park houses some museums and galleries either inside or nearby but for us on this day the most fascinating spectacle was the marriage market or matchmaking corner. Here you will find expectant Chinese mothers and fathers with their adult children’s essential details (age,weight, job, language skills and property ownership) written on placards in the hope of finding a match for their still single offspring. It seems like big business, some have added their children’s portfolios into professional looking directories. The place was very busy, with ‘sellers’ and potential ‘buyers’ along with long queues to see the matchmakers. Bizarre to us in the West, but a long standing tradition here, which is still popular today it would appear.
Nanjing Road is just a shopping hell hole for me, so after stepping onto it we quickly made a getaway to some much more interesting places. But if you want to do designer shopping (real or fake) this is the place to come. To be fair, John wanted to stay longer and it is a great place if you like that sort of thing – I don’t. This is place you’ll find the swanky expats, rich Chinese and followers of fashion.
Yu Yuan Garden Market
While this market is also a tourist centred show piece it does have a certain buzz and energy which make it well worth the visit. The old buildings have been restored perfectly, a bit too perfectly in my view. It all looks a bit plastic, as are most of the items on sale in the tourist souvenir stalls that surround it, they are also expensive for China. What is pretty is the old tea house and pond that sits at its centre very picturesque if you can use your elbows to find a spot to take a snap from the bridges.
Up a tower and on a boat
On our final day we checked out of the hotel and stored our luggage and made our way to the financial district to squeeze in a trip up one of the towers and a boat trip down the river. As you will see from the images from our first few days here we had not been blessed with good weather in Shanghai, but the last day more than made up for it with clear blue skies and a face warming autumnal sun.
We headed to the skyscraper district and decided upon a trip up the Oriental Pearl Tower. There were a mind numbingly confusing array of combination tickets that you could choose from. The bizarre thing is you couldn’t choose any of the ones that looked like a good deal, apparently none of those were available, we know not why! In the end we simply decided on the trip to the second highest point (not cheap at 120 Yuan (US $18). For this you get a trip up to the observation deck and also the chance to walk around the next level down which consists of a glass floored deck which you can walk, lay and if you are in a mood to scare those too frightened to step on it, jump upon.
I am not one for heights, and at first I clung to the edge of the glass floor, but eventually I made to to the edge for the irresistible photo opportunities. John tried to help by jumping, laying and running on the glass floor, which I suppose did in the end. The sun was shining and for Shanghai the pollution did not seem too bad, so we had some pretty good view across the whole of greater Shanghai.
John, who has the sea in his blood really wanted to take a cruise. The boat tour came in two flavours, the 100Yuan version for a seat on the lower deck with a small open air bit at the back where you could stand, or for an extra 20 you could sit aloft the boat on an open seated deck sipping a beer watching the Shanghai skyline go past. As all good flashpackers do, we paid the higher price and got the treatment. With the weather and the breeze from the river it really was a beautiful way to spend the last hour of our time in Shanghai.
The Bund at Night
While the Bund by day is an impressive enough mix of modern and old colonial architecture, turn down the sky and ramp us the electric bulbs and it becomes a whole new world as darkness falls. The sky-line has to be one of the most impressive evening sights we have witnessed (Hong Kong and Singapore still remain in the running though). The buildings old and new all offer their own light show. The old architecture lit up with basic flood lighting while the modern buildings on the opposite side try and outdo each other with colourful changing light shows and large screen displays. The boats plying the river, not to be outdone, also try to get in on the act with their own luminescent levity
There are characters aplenty to sit and watch as photoshoots for magazines and for forthcoming weddings take place around you. Just dodge the tour groups as they are hauled off tour buses for their 20 minutes Bund experience and photo opportunity.
Getting the train tickets was relatively easy apart from the fact that our first choice of night train was fully booked so we had to get a slightly more expensive one which gets us into Beijing a little earlier than we had planned. There’s an English speaking window at the train ticket office who were very helpful, unlike the ladies at the tourist information office.
Not sure what to make of Shanghai, it s a great modern city and at times it felt like we could be in any one of the Asian capitals we have visited on this trip. There are very few of the preserved areas of old Shanghai, the ones that are left have been restored to a crispness which makes them feel at times a little Disneyland-ish.
The city does have a certain charm and it has served us well if only to dispel some of our own prejudices or impressions others have given us of their time visiting China. Maybe these things will change over the next few weeks as we explore and tour more of China.