Shanghai, China (officially The People’s Republic of China) is the country’s biggest city, while not the capital, it is a global financial hub. The city is located on China’s east coast about halfway between the Chinese capital of Beijing (Peking) and Guangzhou (Canton). Shanghai’s urban center is crossed by the Huangpu River, where the Yangtze river empties into the East China Sea. Originally a fishing and textiles town, it was opened to foreign powers by a treaty in 1842.
On the west side is the mile long Bund (an embarkment), which is filled with over 50 buildings from the colonial era, which housed many banks from Europe and the U.S., and was originally a British and American settlement. It features a large pedestrian walkway along the river and you can catch ferries to cross the river. On the river’s eastern side is the Lujiazui zone in the Pudong district with it’s incredibly futuristic skyline featuring some of the tallest buildings in the world. The area’s skyline started being developed in 1992 with the construction of the Oriental Pearl Tower, initially China’s tallest structure which houses a TV and radio tower. Later in the 1990’s and beyond other even taller Shanghai buildings have surpassed it, most notably the 101 floor Shanghai World Financial Center, the 88 story Jin Mao Tower, and the Shanghai Tower at 128 stories and currently the second tallest in the world.
Together they form the world’s first adjacent grouping of three supertall skyscrapers. At least seven other 40 and 50 plus story buildings, including the 58 story Shanghai International Finance Center add to the Pudong skyline. It is quite an impressive sight both day and night, especially from the Bund across the river. Not to be missed is visiting one of the observation stations in any of these humongous towers, the views, especially on a clear day are incredibly spectacular. If you like modern cities, you’ll absolutely fall in love with the Pudong area like I did.
Besides these tall building there are some quite impressive shopping centers such as the Super Brand Mall, which has 13 marbled floors full of retail stores and a variety of restaurants. You can find not just Chinese food venues, but almost any western brand restaurants in many areas of the city center.
The Shanghai International Finance Center, also known as the IFC Mall, consists of 2 towers and features a hotel, multi-screen cinema, and an Apple computer store in it’s sunken exterior “forecourt” as well as access to the Shanghai Metro Line 2, Lujiazui Station. All of these buildings are easily reached via an incredible elevated people walkway that meets in a large circle above a flower filled traffic circle round-about below. It is quite spectacular.
There’s also the Shanghai Aquarium which has a large variety of aquatic life including some mesmerizing jelly fish and a tunnel with sharks swimming over you. The Shanghai Metro is also the world’s largest rapid transit system in the world by length and the 2nd largest by number of stations and by ridership. It is by far the most modern, cleanest, safest and cheapest Metro I have ever experienced anywhere I have travelled. It is used by over 10 million people on any workday. The Metro made being a tourist in Shanghai very easy, especially since you can’t find an English speaking taxi driver anywhere. If you need to use a taxi, you should get your hotel’s concierge or front desk attendant to write in Mandarin on the back of a hotel business card your intended arrival location; then you can present it to the driver. You can later use the same hotel BC to help you get back to your hotel the same way.
Of course not all of Shanghai is made of huge steel and glass structures. The sprawling Yu Garden, just west of the Bund in the old city, has traditional Chinese pavilions, towers and ponds. Originally built in 1559, it occupies 5 acres and is divided into 6 areas which are separated by dragon walls. It also features a large Koi pond and crooked bridge, a temple, and a famous tea house. It is adjacent to the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, a large retailing area with department stores, numerous jewelry shops, souvenir shops and restaurants. It’s surely an area to visit and enjoy.
Another area known as the “French Concession” is an irregular neighborhood that is a foreign residents favorite. The area is characterized by tree-lined streets with French-style villas, hotels, cafes, bars and boutiques that are not typical of most of China. With enough days to sight-see, you might want to take in The People’s Square area located south of Nanjing Road West, it has a mix of modern architecture and lovely parks. It houses both Government Building as well as several Art Museums and Performing Concert Halls.
Additionally just south of the The People’s Park and near Huaihai Middle Road, the small Xintiandi area has some very high end shopping and dining stores along with a small park and lovely pond.
Although you should feel extremely safe in these tourist areas, there are a few things you should be aware of as you wonder the streets. If you’re a westerner, and specially if you have a nice beard or blond hair, you will be approached by locals who might innocently want to take a photo with you, which happened to me daily. However less innocent tourist scams include being invited to join one or two locals for tea at a nearby restaurant; eventually you’ll get stuck with a large bill.
The same can be said of street scammers asking you if you want to buy a cheap watch or similar item or even a massage by showing you a flyer of photos and trying to get you to their store, sometimes paying before receiving anything. Do not fall for any of these scams, there are plenty of stores for you to shop all on your own.
Shanghai is China’s richest city and a leader in design, fashion and the arts. All the central tourist areas near the river have signage in both Mandarin Chinese and English, as well as very friendly people who speak english as well. This makes it easy to get around and get whatever you might need in the many stores or restaurants. However as you move a bit outside these touristy areas of Shanghai, the English signage and the bi-lingual help disappear and you’ll be on your own. If you speak no Mandarin Chinese, a couple simple words go a long way into getting someone to help you or to be gracious… I can suggest to memorize them: “Ni hao”, meaning Hello. And: “Xiéxié”, it simply means Thank You.
The city of Shanghai, is exactly 12 hours ahead of our Eastern Time Zone, which makes it easier to communicate with people back home. After spending more than a week there, I can definitely say, it’s both a modern metropolis and a traditional Chinese city that you should not miss when Discovering Dream Locations to visit.