Shanghai 2012

Day 1 — 7th February 2012

The flight from Beijing was a quick one. Flew in a rather old 777 with Air China. Good enough flight, quite turbulent and had a snotty lady sat next to me who kept giving me evils. I was supposed to fly into Pudong International airport in Shanghai. I deliberately booked this as I wanted to experience the Maglev train from the airport into the city. This is the world’s fastest train reaching 268mph. I’m not a train geek or anything; originally I was going to catch the bullet train between Beijing and Shanghai, but opted to fly instead to speed up travelling and keep costs down.  Thought the Maglev would be a fair substitute to the bullet train. However, as we approached Shanghai the pilot announced that we were being diverted to Hongqiao airport due to bad weather. This surprised me as it had been a beautiful crisp sunny day in Beijing just two hours ago. As we descended through the clouds, the low, thick grey clouds, I realised it was a very rainy and miserable looking day in Shanghai!

Coming through Arrivals, I found my way to the subway and tried to buy myself a Transportation Card. I was very impressed by the technology used in their subway stations. There were these large touch-screen panels that you could find information from and I was enjoying using it when I was offered help by staff. I immediately knew my experience in Shanghai would be much more different to that of Beijing as this gentleman spoke fluent English. There were many, many more English speakers in Shanghai, meaning I was able to communicate much more effectively.

I eventually found my way to the correct platform and got on the correct train. I was feeling quite comfortable when I was suddenly approached by this guy chewing on what appeared to be bird seed. He spoke perfect English and was friendly enough, but he asked too many questions and I didn’t give him any information. I eventually shook him off and left the station to be greeted by a very wet East Nanjing Road. It was full of neon signs and reminded me a lot of Hong Kong from a few years ago. It was raining hard and I had no umbrella, so I waiting patiently for it to ease off before heading off to try to find my hotel.

It was a five-minute walk to the Westin Bund Centre. I had treated myself on this part of my trip to a very plush hotel room and couldn’t wait to see what it was like. Walking into the lobby, the Westin oozed style and there was me strolling in wearing soaking wet clothes looking like a drowned rat! I checked-in and was shown to my room where I then explored to see what the room had to offer. It was very nice indeed and I almost didn’t want to leave it!

The rain eventually eased up by mid-afternoon and I went out to explore the city. Before I’d left home I had done a little research on Shanghai and tried to gain a bit of knowledge about it’s layout. The easily recognisable Oriental Pearl Tower would be like a marker for me to help me figure out where I was. Leaving the hotel, I decided to head for the waterfront to get a look at the futuristic skyline and take a walk along the Bund.


Very impressive architecture and a real mix of old and new with the old colonial Western-style buildings along the Bund and the huge steel, glass and neon across the river in the financial district. It was nice to get a bit of (relatively) fresh air too with the cold breeze coming from the water clearing some of Beijing’s pollution from my lungs.

I hopped onto the ferry and decided to have a gander around the skyscrapers. It occurred to me when I got on the ferry and it started to move that I hadn’t actually checked where the dock was on the other end of the journey and I could be setting sail to somewhere miles away. Note to self: use your brain Paul!! Luckily the ferry docked up not too far from where I was hoping to get off and I set off walking through the skyscrapers. The sun had gone down by now so I thought I would get a proper look at Shanghai and make a visit to the observation deck atop of the Shanghai World Financial Centre. At 1,599 feet tall, it should offer fairly good views of the city! The Shanghai World Financial Centre is currently the 4th tallest skyscraper in the world.

The observation deck was impressive with a partially glass floor allowing you to look down at the gaping hole in the building and the streets far below. Looking out of the windows, even the Jin Mao Tower next door looked tiny and it is currently the 13th tallest skyscraper.

Anyway, after a bit of people watching from the 101st floor I got back in the lift and dropped back down to ground level. I wandered about for a bit and did a spot of shopping before heading back over to the other side of the river to my hotel. When I got out of the subway I thought I might walk up Nanjing Road before going back to my room. This is the road in the picture at the top of this page. It had been the first thing I had seen of Shanghai earlier in the day when it was pouring rain and hadn’t had the chance to see the neon fronted shops properly. I wish I hadn’t bothered really. It was one of the seediest experience ever. Sleazy men come up to you in the street and offer you fake Rolex’s and when you say no, they then offer you “sexy lady massage”. I thought I had gotten pretty good at ignoring the touts and hawkers but these guys were persistent. It might have been because I was by myself, white and looking a bit lost like a tourist, that they targeted me but you couldn’t shake them off. One would give up and then two more would spot you. I didn’t bother going very far down Nanjing Road and turned around to head back to the hotel. I would say that the sleazy people had very good English! Haha!

Day 2 — 8th February

I enjoyed a really long sleep and didn’t get up until mid-afternoon. I think the swap from Laura’s rock hard bed to the sumptuous and cosy bed at the Westin made my body very happy and I really struggled to get up out of bed at all.

When I finally did, I headed out with the intention of going to Yuyuan Gardens, which I was led to believe was a temple of sorts with sculptured gardens and the like. When I came out of the subway I followed the signs and found a massive shopping market instead. My Lonely Planet had misled me! The market was actually kind of fun as it was decorated to the nines for the Chinese Lantern Festival.

There were tacky souvenir shops, traditional Chinese arts & crafts, clothes and food – I didn’t see any of the weird food options that had been on offer in Beijing though. It was quite in your face and I didn’t buy anything but it was interesting to walk about and take it all in. There were so many people it was a bit stressful which made my discovery of the temple (literally) hidden away in amongst all the alleyways of shops and stalls.

Inside the temple was so calming and the grounds are immaculate with ornate bonsai trees, rock sculptures, ponds and traditional-style Chinese buildings. It was very relaxing but also incredibly easy to get lost with its many nooks and crannies to wander through and over.

I spent most of the day wandering around Yuyuan Gardens before deciding I should try to see some more of the city. I didn’t get too far though having decided to walk back down to the Bund to get a view of the skyline at night with its bursts of neon.

I then headed back across the river and tried out the observation deck of the Jin Mao Tower. This wasn’t as good as the the SWFC and it was quite old and grotty with very inattentive ‘youths’ leading the tour and manning the desks. Not very welcoming at all. Still, there were some nice views from the top. In fact I’d say the views were slightly better as you got more of a 360 degree of Shanghai from here, whereas in the SWFC you can only really get a view of north and south with no look at the Bund or the east. One thing that was cool though was the atrium of the Jin Mao Tower. In the centre of the observation deck there is a small wall you can look out over down the centre of the building. The Tower has a cavernous atrium taking up the top floors of which I believe is owned by the Shanghai Grand Hyatt. Looking down is dizzying with the concentric circles spiralling down to what I thought was the ground floor of the building. In fact this atrium shows only the top third of the building, I can’t imagine how dizzy I would feel if it had gone right down the other two-thirds also. It was back to the hotel for me following this where I enjoyed some room service and sunk into that bed again!

Day 3 — 9th February 2012

I had been intending to go to a water village during my stay in Shanghai but unfortunately I wasn’t organised enough to arrange this. Perhaps another visit might be in order at some point in the future to fill in the gaps of places that I did not make it to. Instead of the water village, I decided to spend some time today seeing and experiencing the older, more traditional side of Shanghai (which I bet for the vast majority of Shanghai residents is normal, everyday life. Where Beijing has its Hutongs, Shanghai has its longtangs or alleyways. I spent most of today wandering through these alleys and soaking up the experience. It wasn’t a very glamorous side to Shanghai with a lot of people crammed into very small living space, while hygiene and sanitation is most definitely questionable. But it was an experience nonetheless. Strangely I don’t have any photographs of this, I don’t know why?! Subconsciously, maybe I didn’t feel comfortable taking photos of the poorer residents of the city as if they were a tourist attraction. I don’t know why, but if you search for longtangs on the internet you can see pictures that other people have taken! I wish I had taken some pictures on one alleyway though. I had been trying to find the bird and insect market that my travel guide had recommended seeing. I was so determined to fin it that I missed the opportunity to take some pics in an alleyway selling live food. I made a turning into the narrow alley and was immediately confronted with chickens running around and stalls upon stalls of fish in basins, eels, toads, and all sorts of things which I couldn’t identify. It was a vegetarians nightmare but very interesting to see. I thought to myself that I would come back this way after the bird and insect market. After being unable to find said market, could I remember where this alleyway was? No! I walked down countless streets and alleys and then eventually when I did stumbled across it again, all the market stalls had shut up shop for the day and you would never had known that market had been there at all. What a pity, but I remember what it looked like and it’ll stay fresh in my mind as an authentic longtang in Shanghai!

On my way back to the hotel I passed Yuyuan again and thought I’d take a look around to see what it was like at night. It definitely comes alive after dark! All those hanging lanterns come to life with lights and there is a wonderful buzz about the place, albeit there were ten times as many people there so it was cramped to say the least. Good fun though and I bought a couple of souvenirs from one of the tacky shops.

It was my last evening in Shanghai and the last day of my holiday so I rounded in off with one last trip to another observation deck. I do love me an observation deck haha! I headed back over to the financial district and paid a visit to the Oriental Pearl Tower, the huge and visually striking (it looks like a massive erection!) broadcast tower that sits on the river bank. This was a somewhat disappointing experience as the highest of the building’s observation decks was not open and the majority of the buildings tourist attractions had all closed for the day. I did get there pretty late in the day so I made of it what I could and took some more pics of the city from on high. I wish the windows were cleaned more regularly in these viewing areas as it was damn near impossible to get a decent non-blurry/smudgy photo through the filthy glass!

And so that was the end to my last day in Shanghai. I had to be at the airport by 5.30am the next morning so I tried to get an early night but found myself unable to sleep. I ended up staying up watching tv with one eye open hoping that I would drift off for a few hours kip, but it didn’t happen. This would be the start of a long voyage into jet lag-land!

So there were a few things that I didn’t get round to doing in Shanghai. I never made it to the French Concession or one of the water villages, and I never found out what was at the other end of Nanjing Road (thank you sleazy pimps!). However, from what I did see, I had a really enjoyable and eye-opening experience from one of the most populated cities in the world – and I survived all by myself! I’d definitely like to go back another time in the future, perhaps when they have finished building the Shanghai Tower, I’m sure there will be an observation deck or two in that 🙂

Thanks for reading…until my next adventure!

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