Impressions of Shanghai, China
An informal guide for visitors
Written by Paul Bourke
based upon a personal visit.
Please note that details in the following may
be out of date by the time you read this. This
is especially so for any prices quoted here.
Or in the standard legalise: "I provide no warrantee
that the information is correct or that it should be
relied upon in any way."
My recommendation when visiting a new city, especially one with a different
culture, is to take one of the standard city tours. Sure these can be a
artificial and "touristy" but they generally go to places you would like to
see anyway and they give a feel for how things work. The downside, at least,
in Asian countries is they also tend to go to so called factory shops
where they obviously are hoping you'll buy something. The day tours in
Shanghai are no exception but so far are a little less commercially
orientated than say Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or Bangkok. The standard day
tour went from 9am until 5pm, included a tea ceremony and lunch, all for
250 yuan which I figure is a fairly good deal.
Getting around by taxi
Taxis are easily the best way to get around, they are very cheap and almost
always airconditioned. However, the drivers rarely speak English, the trick
is to plan your days events and have your host or hotel staff write out
the names of the places you wish to visit in Chinese. Present this to the
driver as soon as you enter. Getting taxis from the hotel is no problem,
hailing them on the street can take a bit of getting used to. The best
strategy is to find a busy street and make sure you position yourself in
a place where they can easily stop. Remember to always take the card from
the hotel which will direct the drivers where to go for your return trip.
The first thing you will notice when driving in the taxi is the rather
haphazard driving style. In particular, the way drivers cross in front
of moving traffic (cars, busses, bikes, pedestrians) when turning
left (they drive on the right hand side of the road). I was greatly
surprised that there weren't more accidents, one part of the reason
is the generally low speed everyone is travelling at.
The taxi fare starts at 10 yuan and rises quite slowly in 1 yuan increments.
15 minute trips seemed to rarely go above 25 yuan.
These are clean, airconditioned, and reasonably priced. The only slightly
frustrating thing is that while the maps within the train are
labelled in English (as well as Chinese), the ticketing stations at the
stations were not. Hopefully this will change soon. Be prepared for a push
and shove if you go during peak hour and also note you don't get given
much time to get on and off. The frequency was incredible, there seem to
be a train coming along about every 2 minutes.
The buses are certainly easy to jump on and off but working out where
one is going isn't so easy if you can't read Chinese. They are very
cheap, 2 yuan if it is airconditioned and 1 yuan if it isn't. I believe
this takes you as far as you want to go in one direction. As expected
perhaps, buses can get rather crowded at peak times. One feels rather
self-conscious of personal hygiene when crammed in among other bodies
especially during the hot humid summer days. (I've been told the best
time of year to visit is Spring, around October/November.
River Cruise (Huangpu River)
There are a couple of inexpensive cruises that run for about an hour. They
are good way to rest after strolling up the Bund and if you travel at the
hot part of the year, they are airconditioned if you sit inside. They
typically go to the Nanpu bridge before turning around. There is a dinner
cruise in the evening aboard a lovely traditionally decorated ferry.
Jade Buddha Temple
This is one of the most popular temples and contains two jade Buddhas,
the larger one is
cross-legged (sitting) and the other smaller one reclining. The temple
was built in 1882
in the Song Dynasty style. Photos of the main Buddha are not allowed by
visitors but you can pick up postcards for a few yuan from one of the
eager street vendors, I paid 20 yuan for a dozen different postcards
and was still probably paying more than I needed.
Oriental Pearl Tower
By far the best way to get an idea of the size of the city and to get your
bearings is to visit the observation deck of the Orient Pearl Tower, one of
the tallest towers in the world. This is a rather popular spot it seems even
for the locals so expect a bit of a push and shove into the elevators. On
a clear day the views are spectacular and the full extent of the city
is dauntingly obvious as the tall buildings stretch for
as far as the eye can see.
The Bund is the name given to a long strip of classical European buildings
on the Huangpu River, on the opposed side to the Orient Pearl Tower. The
old buildings look like the architects were trying to outdo each other
with the grandeur of their designs. Most of the buildings now seem to be the
Shanghai headquarters for international banks. This is where the main river
cruises leave from. There seemed to be a number of very reasonably priced
clothing stores on the opposite side of the road from the river.
This is a good place to spend a day, it includes the museum, art gallery,
and theatre as well as being at one end of a major shopping strip. It is
also conveniently located above a railway station.
The main Shanghai museum is located in the Peoples Square and is well worth
the visit. It is a traditional museum, by which I mean it is full of real
exhibits, typically of a traditional/historic nature. I recommend hiring
one of the phones which delivers an English (and other languages)
commentary on most exhibits.
Yu Yuan (Yu Garden)
This is probably the best place to pick up gifts and souvenirs of your
stay. Note that the shop keepers here will quote prices as high as they
think they can get away with
because it is a common tourist destination, so be prepared to
bargain aggressively. One third or less of the initial asking price
is standard. The trick then it to find out the real price, my technique
was to express a genuine interest in what you want in a couple of shops
before actually buying (possibly from another), as you walk away they will
generally shout out something close to the lowest they will accept. Of course
the idea here is not necessarily to get the lowest price
(unless you enjoy the chase) but rather a price you're happy with.
The usual pestering by "Rolex" watch sellers will occur here as at many
popular visitor locations. No strategy I found reduced their persistence
so you will need to try your own technique.
White House Gallery (French Concession Area)
This small gallery has some exquisite pieces and some of the artists
still work on the premises,` which among other things means you are
not supposed to make a lot a noise. Some of the items are for sale
but don't expect bargain prices for they are mostly quality products.
Eating out with the locals can be a bit daunting at first, there is often
a rush to order/collect the food and rarely is there any English
description, fortunately there are generally English numbers indicating
the price. Faced with the choices of MacDonald, KFC, or a local place
try and resist the easy options and choose the later. It is certainly
going to be cheaper, more interesting (even if you aren't sure what it is), and
probably much better for you. After a few, perhaps stressful experiences
you will find it isn't so hard to point to what you want, perhaps after
observing what other people are ordering. 15 to 20 yuan should get you a
fairly good meal.
Going up a notch to the local restaurants and you will find there are
usually English names on the menu
but even if there aren't there are usually pictures which give a fair idea.
If you or your kids are into science and technology museums then this is
an amazing place and at the time of writing it is just stage 1 of the
eventual complete project.
It would be hard to find it's equivalent anywhere in the world. It has
8 very large galleries and the only disappointing one is perhaps the
natural history which consists of largely unnatural models of the
plant and animal kingdom. The museum also includes a couple of IMAX style
theatres. The food alley in the basement serves surprisingly good
cuisine, mostly for 15 yuan per dish.
As you can imaging there are shopping opportunities aplenty. Personally,
it wasn't what I was interested in but I would suggest getting off the
main streets and exploring some of the smaller alleys. These have the
shops the locals use and the prices seemed to be a fraction of those
in the main shopping areas. While I was told that prices of name brands
were considerably cheaper I didn't consider the prices anything special.
It isn't my intention to make recommendations but I stayed at the
Galaxy hotel, it is 4 star, reasonably priced and very comfortable. If
you ask for it the rooms have internet access in the form of broadband,
they provide cables and instructions. The cost is 1 yuan per minute
which is not cheap but about the same price as I've encountered elsewhere
It should be noted that even though these are high quality international
standard hotels, the staff will generally only have a very limited grasp
of English. I am not putting this forward as a complaint (after all, even
a trivially limited English skill is better than my Chinese vocabulary)
but this is something a visitor needs to accept.
Not unique to this hotel (I have heard from others)
is the service at the reception desk which is somewhat less than
one may be used to in other hotels internationally.
Certainly not rude but the staff
don't seem to go out of their way to attend to customers, I suspect this
is a cultural effect as I also found the airport staff bordering on surly.
If you have never travelled fast on land then I recommend taking the
magnetic levitation train to the airport, it will whisk you along at
a brisk 430 km/hr. Unfortunately it doesn't leave from the city centre,
you need to take a taxi to the station first, but it does deposit you
inside the airport terminal in airconditioned comfort. Cost 40 yuan.
The airport itself is fairly plain but huge both in length and internal volume.
It's roughly divided in half, one for domestic and the
other international. In summer the airconditioning doesn't have a chance
of keeping up with the solar gain through the large windows that run
the length of the building on both sides. My main complaint is that
it is definitely not as comfortable as most other international airports,
I wouldn't want to have a long stopover there, for example, there are
now shower facilities.
If you happen to fly out at night, keep an eye out for fleets of squid boats
(they are the points of light). As the flicker in and out of clouds, and given
the lack of any depth perception, I am fully prepared to imagine they form
the basis of many UFO sightings from air planes.
Oriental Pearl Tower
City View from Orient Pearl Tower
Yu Gardens shopping area
Yu Gardens traditional building
Tallest building in Shanghai, Jin Mao Building
Museum, Peoples Square
Theatre, Peoples Square
Art Gallery, Peoples Square
Shopping, Pu Dong
Jade Buddha Temple
Miscellaneous city view
Miscellaneous city park