Shanghai, China

Where: Shanghai, China

When: August 2013

Why: Getting a Chinese visa is quite expensive and is quite complicated if being booked from a third country, (i.e. not your home country (i.e. us in South Korea)); so I wasn’t expecting to be able to visit China for a few years. But then, the Chinese introduced a free, 72-hour transit visa for people who are travelling through Beijing or Shanghai to a third country. Suddenly the possibility of visiting China, even for a short time, was there. Add to this the rise of cheap Chinese Airlines – and Bob’s your uncle, the next thing I knew – I was going to China.

I actually just transferred through Shanghai on the way from Busan, South Korea to Bangkok; but the transfer was fourteen hours long and overnight – which meant I had time to see this great city for a few hours.

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Map

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Intro

I didn’t think I’d make it to China for a long time yet – and I could never imagine that I would just stop by for a Saturday night – but thanks to the new transit visa this is exactly what I did and I got to see one of the most modern cities in the world and to visit this fascinating country.

Shanghai totally wasn’t what I was expecting. Living in South Korea, I expected Shanghai to be much like Seoul: busy, bustling, noisy, slightly crazy and neon-lit. I also thought that perhaps being a famously commercial city, that Shanghai might be a little aggressive and unfriendly. Instead, in the short time that I was there, I found the city to be quiet and elegant, fun and dynamic and very friendly.

I was supposed to have an evening and an early Sunday morning in Shanghai, but thanks to a three hour flight delay, I didn’t get to my hostel until midnight – and so only got to explore the city between seven and nine on Sunday morning – but it was lovely being up so early with the tai-chi practitioners, the fashion shoots and the kite flyers. Being up this early, the city was clean and light, silver sparkling and fresh, quiet, dignified and happy in the new morning. I think I got to see the city at its best-dressed.

I really liked Shanghai and it was a great showpiece for the rest of China. It has certainly made me want to come back and explore further. Shanghai is a modern metropolis with a stately heart. It was surprising and interesting and hopefully somewhere I’ll go back to.

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Getting there and getting around

The great thing about being a travel writer, is that when things go wrong you can console yourself with the thought that it’s all material for your website. And this is what happened here.

A few weeks before I flew via Shanghai, I had read a report which said that China was one of the worst countries for airport delays – and Shanghai Pudong airport was particularly bad for delays. My flight from Busan was delayed by three hours. Now normally I don’t mind flight delays too much – I just hunker down and read a book; but I’d already checked in to my flight extra early, so I had to spend six hours at Busan airport – which is only little.

I don’t know if the delay was the fault of China Eastern or Shanghai Pudong, but I suspect it was the airport’s fault as there were a number of delays on that evening and the airline told us that the delay was due to heavy traffic at Poo-dong.

When we got to Shanghai Pudong airport, our plane was parked on the far reaches of the airport and we had to wait 20 minutes on the plane until the buses turned up to take us to the terminal.

Getting through immigration and customs was surprisingly easy and quick – but by the time we emerged from the airport it was nearly 10 p.m. (I was supposed to be there at 18.30) and so the Maglev and the Metro had stopped running and I had no idea how to get into the city.

The lady at the Metro told me to get bus six and pointed where to go. At the bus stop there was a vague route map which showed that though this bus went to the city centre, it didn’t go near to the Bund where I was staying.

Luckily for me, I got talking to some very nice Portuguese people who were going to the same area. In a serendipity of travel moment, it later turned out we were also staying at the same hostel. So we banded together and decided we would work it out between us. Eventually the bus came along and everyone ran for it and pushed us out the way (by this time it was getting on for 11) and we watched as our only transport option looked to be slipping away. Luckily, someone saw our predicament and very kindly let us push in, so we could stand on the bus.

At this point I texted my brother: “I’m on a bus in Shanghai. I don’t know where it’s going and I don’t have a ticket, but hey ho.

The tiny ticket lady somehow squeezed down the aisle and we asked for a ticket to the first Metro station, Longyang Road – which is at the end of the Maglev line. I think the bus ticket cost 30Yen (£3), though that sounds a bit expensive when I think about it. We thought we might be able to transfer onto the Metro at Longyang Road, but we didn’t realize the whole network shut at 10 p.m. Luckily for us, we completely missed this stop anyhow – and so ended up at a stop slightly south of the Bund. Here we jumped into a taxi which dropped us off by the Bund. The taxi driver was great, he used the meter and it cost us 22Yen (about £2.20) for a ten minute journey.

And finally, just before midnight we checked in at our hostel. (Luckily, they had 24 hour check-in, or we would have really been in a pickle (or I would have just checked myself into the Radisson and hang the expense)).

Because of the flight delay, my time in the city was really limited – and I wasn’t able to go out to eat – which is one of the things I had most been looking forward to doing in Shanghai. Jeff was only in the city for four hours and he had three meals! I also didn’t get to see the financial district at night, which I’d hoped to do. Oh well, I’ll have to go back…

Before 10 p.m., Shanghai Pudong airport is very well connected. You can get buses, taxis or the Maglev into the city. Once the metro and Maglev close though, the only option is the very limited bus service.

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Magnificent Maglev at Longyang Road Station

The next morning, to get from the city centre back to the airport, I caught the Metro from Nanjing Road East to Longyang Road (which is where the Metro connects with the Maglev) and then I caught the Maglev to the airport. The Maglev is powered by magnets under the train and it travels at up to 450 km per hour and it is brilliant! I want one for Christmas. The Maglev is the only train of its type in the world (there used to be one at Birmingham airport which I rode on quite a few times – but that was only little). It’s a really smooth ride and you go fast, and then you get faster, and then it kicks up a gear and suddenly it’s like flying, but just over the land. It zooms over houses and roads and cars and trees and lakes, all the way to the airport, 20km, in eight minutes.

The ticket for the Maglev cost 50 Yen each way (£5) and if you show them your flight ticket you get 10% off, so I only paid 40 Yen (£4). There is a special card that you can get to use on the Metro and Maglev and this costs 55Yen (£5.50).

My Metro ticket cost 5 Yen (50p).

Find out more about the Pudong airport, including transport links, at the Shanghai Pudong airport website

For information on Shanghai’s public transport network, visit the Meet in Shanghai website. Here you will find station information and a subway map (in English) and information on buses.

For detailed Metro information (in English), including a route map, timetables and fare finder, visit www.shmetro.com.

I flew to  Shanghai with China Eastern. I flew from Busan in South Korea to Bangkok, via Shanghai. Then I flew back from Phnom Penh, Cambodia to Busan, via Shanghai – for £350. I booked my flights through Expedia.

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What I did on my transfer

Because I arrived very late, I only had two hours on a Sunday morning to explore Shanghai, but this turned out to be a great time to explore the city as Shanghai was fresh and clean and this was before the real heat of the day kicked in (although even at 8 a.m. it was 36 degrees Celsius).

I booked a hostel which was just off Nanjing Road East. Nanjing Road East is a road which runs perpendicular to The Bund, running from the Huangpu River up to People’s Park. Nanjing Road is a road of shopping malls and restaurants – and in many ways it felt like the heart of the city.

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I started off my explore by walking down Nanjing Road East towards the Bund. At 7 a.m. there were groups performing tai-chi in front of the malls, under the huge sales boards. The music that accompanied this gentle dancing was slightly strange and otherworldly, but also very beautiful. I spent a long time just watching this meditation. Even being a spectator was very relaxing and evoked a sense of peace.

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At 7 a.m. the shops were closed, but there was still the beginnings of a queue outside the Apple store (by the time I walked past at 8.30, the queue stretched around the store). The shopping in Shanghai looked fantastic: as well as the interesting Chinese brands there was a Forever 21 and a Marks and Spencer’s – which I got very excited about as I didn’t have access to M&S in South Korea.

I walked down Nanjing Road East to the Bund. Just as I got to the Bund I walked past a very strange looking girl – she was extremely tall and thin and slightly alien like – and then I realized that I’d just accidentally walked through a fashion shoot and she was in fact a professional model. I watched the shoot for a few minutes and I have to say being a model is a really strange job – and I didn’t envy her – she was wearing a thick winter coast in 36 degree heat, poor thing.

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The Bund is the embankment area that runs along the Huangpu River. The Bund side of the river is the classical side, where the old colonial buildings are.

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On the opposite side of the river is the fantastic financial district (Pudong) with the super skyscrapers and the space-rocket Oriental Pearl TV tower. I would have loved to have seen this at night, all lit up – but it wasn’t to be. It was still gorgeous in the morning though – sparkling in the sunlight.

DSCF1150All along the Bund, along the river front, there is a foot path. Here there were more tai-chi practitioners and people flying fantastic kites. I spent a long time watching ladies performing tai-chi with their fans. The sound of the synchronized fan flick is one of the key sounds of China for me – something distinctive that when I hear it, will take me straight back to that time and place. I wasn’t sure if they were ‘performing’ or if they really just liked meeting at this spot – but they were very accepting of my discreetly taking photos and they seemed to be a really friendly bunch of people.

I walked down the Bund to where it meets the Suzhou canal – which is where the first colonial mansions were built in the 1920s. There is a huge memorial statue at the far end.

You can take a pleasure boat trip on the Huangpu River, or get the tourist train over to the TV tower – but I didn’t have time for any for that so I headed back towards Nanjing Road. By this time, there was a crowd of people watching the fashion shoot and the queue at the Apple store had doubled in length.

DSCF1187I walked and window shopped down Nanjing Road until I came to People’s Park. I went to the park as on the map this seems like a prominent place in the city – but it is just a nice park with some trees and grass, cafes and a small theme park – surrounded by interesting tower blocks (the Radisson Blu looks like it has a huge rotating space ship on top (it does rotate) and there was one building which looked like a badly sharpened pencil.

I had a little wander around the park and then stopped for a drink as the heat was getting to me. And then it was time to head back to the hostel to get my bags and move on to Bangkok.

Walking back down Nanjing Road, I passed people doing public ballroom dancing. Couples had taken to the floor in front of one of the huge malls and were happily just dancing away. Everyone seemed to be really relaxed and having lots of fun – which was lovely to see.

Finally, I stopped to buy steamed dumplings for breakfast – and then headed back to the airport.

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It may look like a knitted jellyfish, but this is actually a steamed dumpling – a great breakfast. They can be savoury or sweet. This one had meat in it. 

Incidentally, when we’d arrived the night before, we walked down Nanjing Road at about 11.30 p.m and it was really quiet. I thought this was going to be a crazy, busy area, full of people partying and having fun, but actually it was quiet and a little sterile, not what I was expecting at all. I thought that the centre of Shanghai would be more like the craziness of a Seoul night, but it was the complete opposite. And it was a Saturday night.

We did pass some cool, LED lit tower blocks on the way into the city, which looked like something from a James Bond movie – but mostly it was just very quiet.

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What I didn’t do on my transfer

Because my trip was so limited I’ve done some research on what to see in Shanghai and this is what the internet recommends:

Shanghai Old City. This walled area of the city is based around two roads: Remin and Zhonghua Streets. Apparently there are nice old Chinese buildings in this district, including the Temple of the Town Gods. You can also see a small section of the old city walls. Also recommended is Yuyuan Gardens, which contain many examples of traditional Chinese architecture.

The Shanghai Museum contains lots of Chinese treasures and is located near People’s Park. www.shanghaimuseum.net/en.

Jing-an Temple. Gorgeous, traditional looking temple said to have been built in 247AD.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower. This is the big blobby space rocket that you can see from the Bund – and which has such a prominent role in the city’s skyline. You can go up into the balls, one of which has a glass floor, for amazing views over the city. There are also lots of exhibits inside the tower, including the Shanghai History Museum.  Travel China Guide has more information about visiting the Pearl TV Tower, including transport information and ticket prices, or visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower official website. Find out more about the History Museum at www.historymuseum.sh.cn.

For more information on places to visit in Shanghai, check out the links in the useful links section below. It’s very useful.

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What I stayed

Mingtown Nanjing Road Hostel

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I booked Mingtown because of its central location – and it turned out to be a good choice as it was a really friendly, well-organised hostel which had really comfy beds. I stayed in a dorm for six people. We shared a bathroom with three or four other rooms, though I never had to wait to use any of the facilities.

The beds were like their own self-contained area, with plug sockets and private lights. I also had a lockable locker that I could use.

Downstairs was a cool bar area and reception, with cheap beers and cocktails. It was a friendly space. They also had lots of information leaflets and books etc – which was very useful.

Incidentally, though the hostel has free w-ifi throughout, this is Communist China and so you can’t access certain websites, such as Google, Facebook and the BBC.

To be honest, I was in and out here – only using the hostel for a quick base, but it was a nice place to be and very central. I would definitely stay here again.

The Mingtown is a Hostelllng International hostel, but it can also be booked on hostel world and hostel bookers.

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Useful links

www.meet-in-shanghai.net

www.shanghai.gov.cn/shanghai

www.shanghaihighlights.com/shanghai-transportation

www.travelchinaguide.com/cityguides/shanghai

www.lonelyplanet.com/china/shanghai

www.roughguides.com/destinations/asia/china/shanghai-around

wikitravel.org/en/Shanghai

DISCLAIMER

Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.

If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.

All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.

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