Our last stop in mainland China was Shanghai. As soon as we arrived, it seemed different – all a bit shinier and cleaner than Beijing and Xi’an, with more obvious Western influences. This wasn’t a big surprise, we had read all about it being the most modern and forward thinking city in China, so much so we were wondering whether it was all going to be a bit too upmarket for us.
The most famous area of Shanghai is the historic Bund, and as our guesthouse was only a few minutes walk away, this is where we headed first. It’s a fascinating place to take a stroll, always full of people and a nice atmosphere, not to mention the sensational view of the Pudong business area across the river, as well as the beautiful old colonial buildings on the Bund itself.
What we quickly discovered though was that this area was out of our budget for anything but walking. There are countless great restaurants and cocktail bars but they are all insanely expensive for China (and even for Western Europe!) purely because of the view.
Aside from the Bund, we didn’t have too many firm plans for Shanghai before we arrived but after a bit of research found plenty of things to do!
Shanghai is well known for the various water towns which are dotted around the outskirts. It’s hard to choose which one to see but luckily Time Out Shanghai had a great ‘battle of the water towns‘ feature which helped us decide on Zhujiajiao. We went for it because it was fairly easy to get to via public transport, and unlike most of the others, didn’t impose an entrance fee purely to walk around it.
We headed for the Puanlu bus station near People’s Square, and looked for a pink bus with 沪朱高速快线 on it. Obviously this is rather hard for non Chinese speakers (like us!) to remember so write it down or do what I do and download the whole Wikitravel article to your phone!
After about an hour we arrived and it was just a short walk to the water town. The first thing we realised was that we certainly weren’t the only ones who had the same idea, also it was a weekend which we hadn’t realised (the downside of not caring which day of the week it is!) so it was PACKED. Everyone was packed in like sardines down the alleyways. At one point someone pushed me and I knocked over a large wooden fan, which then proceeded to knock over the shop’s whole stock of wooden fans. Thankfully they weren’t damaged and the store owner didn’t try and make me pay for them!
There were areas which weren’t quite so crowded so we were able to relax a bit and stroll around eventually. There are a few small museums and gardens you can enter, as well as gondola rides, but we were happy enough just walking across the bridges and along the water, as it is a really attractive town. We had planned to get lunch there, but unfortunately it seemed to be a THE place to get Stinky Tofu. Before we went to China we thought ‘how bad can it be?’. Well in our personal opinion, it is disgusting. I read somewhere that it’s a cross between burning garbage and body odour, which isn’t far off. The smell seems to travel for miles, and really puts you off your food – so we headed back to Shanghai to have lunch!
Zhujiajiao was a nice easy, enjoyable visit and we would recommend it, though I’m not sure there is enough to spend a whole day there, half a day is enough.
City God Temple
This wasn’t somewhere on our radar at first but when we had nothing much to do on the last day, Katy found it and we walked over. It isn’t just a temple, there are vast numbers of beautiful buildings surrounding it housing shops and restaurants – I assumed at first these were all recently built but in fact most are over 100 years old and just recently renovated. The stores are the usual tourist gift shops, but the buildings are so pretty. There was also a street food fair going on when we visited so we bought a few yummy snacks!
After filling our faces we eventually made it to the temple itself which was fairly cheap to get in. It’s a Taoist temple of fairly modest size, but as with the area around beautifully renovated. As with most temples there was a vast amount of incense being burned!
Next we visited the Yuyuan Garden (Garden of Happiness) which is also within the complex. We were debating whether to actually go in as the fee was 40Y each, however we soon decided we were being too tight and should go and see it. SO glad we did – the gardens are stunning, just what you would expect from a Chinese garden – beautifully manicured trees, colourful flowers and lots of water features. We spent over an hour exploring all the nooks and crannies and I’m still not sure we saw it all. Highly recommended if you visit Shanghai.
Shanghai was a delight for food. I don’t remember having a bad meal the whole time, but 2 dishes stood out for us – fried soup dumplings and wanton soup. We found 2 local restaurants, each serving just these dishes.
The soup dumplings are a Shanghai speciality and they are utterly delicious. Soft dough filled with tasty pork and a mouthful of piping hot soup, they are pan fried to make the bottom wonderfully crispy, then steamed to make the top nice and soft. They’re usually then finished with spring onions and sesame seeds. We both love all types of steamed buns and dumplings but the fried bottom and the amazing tasting soup make these something special, if a bit messy to eat! The most famous place to try them are at Yang’s Fry Dumplings, but after 20 minutes trying to find a branch that wasn’t where it was supposed to be, we gave up. In the end, we found a very good shop very close to our guesthouse. So good, they were always sold out by the afternoon!
As for the wonton soup, I don’t think it’s a Shanghai speciality as such, just that we had the most incredible tasting variety (we went back several times). Instead of just pork, the insides were a mixture of pork, copious amounts of coriander and various other herbs. As we walked past we could see a lady making them all day long. 90p got you a huge bowl with 9 or 10 giant wontons and an incredible tasting broth. The wontons tended to fall apart but the herbs from the inside made the soup taste even better!
It’s no secret that Katy loves the circus and has always wanted to see Cirque Du Soleil. I would love to as well, but the astronomical price and the prospect of sitting up in the rafters always puts us off when it comes to London. So when Katy read and about the Shanghai ERA Circus which had rave reviews saying it was almost as good as Cirque Du Soleil and at a fraction of the price, I knew I had no choice, we would have to spend a night at Shanghai Circus World.
We booked the tickets online for $36 (£21) each which weren’t even the cheapest seats! Sadly the $20 seats had all sold out but even $36 was awesome value compared to what you would pay in the West. When we got there it all felt very western, and sitting at our seats it felt like being at a gig back home, quite surreal.
Needless to say the show was absolutely fantastic. We saw lot of incredible acrobatics, although at least twice it looked like someone was going to slip or fall and get seriously hurt – part of the act or just risks of the job? Who knows. My personal favourite was the finale – the Globe Of Death. A small metal sphere where one by one motorcycles enter until there are 8 looping round somehow not hitting each other. We’d seen a Wall of Death before at Glastonbury which amazed us but this was a different level, with incredible skill involved. Katy was covering her eyes towards the end!
Thoroughly entertained we headed back to our hostel, ready for our flight to Hong Kong the next day. This is normally the point where I finish my posts, but there was something the next morning that I was excited about.
Shanghai is home to the only currently operating maglev (magnetic levitation) train in the world, running the 30km or so between a metro station and the airport. It’s mostly a big advert for the technology as there is little practical point to it, being such a short distance and a lot more expensive than simply staying on the Metro which runs to the airport too. However being a semi train geek, I had to go on it.
Sadly, although its top operating speed is 431km/h (268mph) this is only at certain times of the day. Ours would only get up to 300km/h which is the same speed as the standard high speed trains in China. It was still a worthwhile ride though, the gliding sensation and minimal vibration feels very strange! Katy was unsurprisingly less excited by this ride than I was.
So we arrived at the airport, and despite arriving 2 hours early, the extremely slow check in queues meant we only just made the final call for our flight, leaving us little time to reflect on the fact that we had come this far, 5,700 miles from London, without getting on a single plane until now.