Monday, June 11, 2018

Shanghai Travel & Tourism Guide

In April I embarked on a dream trip to Asia which has been on my bucket list for years. I visited Shanghai, Singapore, Phuket, Bangkok and Hong Kong for a total of 8 flights and a time difference of about 14 hours. A trip like this takes planning, coordination and preparation - both mentally and physically. You have to do a lot of research, coax your body out of exhaustion and embrace a plethora of cultural diversity.

As I geared up for the 17 hour flight and nestled into my personal pod, I was excited but a little weary of the journey ahead. Did I pack enough clothes? Can I survive the jet lag? This was the furthest I’d traveled since Dubai but I knew it was worth it.

We chose Shanghai because it is the largest city in China with an impressive skyline, beautiful promenades, sprawling gardens and fantastic shopping. This energetic metropolis is also a global finical hub and a leader in futuristic architecture and cutting-edge technology. 

Bund River, Skyline & Promenade

Visa Requirements and Immigration
Flying first class definitely helped ease the discomfort and misery of being trapped on an aluminum tube for so many hours but by the time we touched down I had slept well and indulged in a few cocktails. I was ready to collect my suitcase and breeze into China with diva-like confidence but the immigration process at Pudong International Airport took 2 hours! Visitors staying more than 72 hours require a visa which can be obtained online prior to arrival and those passing through for 3 days or less must apply for a temporary visa upon arrival. Make sure to have all your documentation printed including hotel information and departure flight.

Travelers Note: The government of Shanghai has placed many bans on websites and search engines including Google. If you plan to get some work done or update your itinerary, keep this in mind. Access may be limited or restricted.

One of the fastest ways to get from the airport to the city is by taking the Maglev Train. By comparison, the metro takes approximately 60 minutes while the Maglev takes just 8 minutes with a maximum speed of 430 km per hour. This magnet propelled train is one of the fastest in the world making it a popular tourist attraction and an exhilarating ride! A one way ticket cost 50 Yuan or $10.00 CAD, round-trip is 80 Yaun/$16.00 CAD.

The Maglev only travels to and from the airport so once you reach your destination, the quickest way to get around is by metro. You can purchase a travel card for consecutive days and use it to get almost anywhere in the city by tapping in and out at each station.

Taking the subway in Shanghai at any hour of the day can be an overwhelming experience. Sharpen your elbows, stand your ground and prepare to be pushed into strangers. If you think you’re getting a seat, think again! There is little regard for personal space so your best bet is to move with the crowd and avoid getting trampled in the constant sea of commuters. One lady even used my back to prop-up her novel...I was literally a human table.

Nanjing Road (Shopping Area)

Travelers Tip: Be prepared to have your bags scanned at security check-points each time you enter a metro station. Safety is top priority in Shanghai’s underground network.

Sightseeing Tours
I like taking sightseeing buses while travelling because they allow me to see much of the city with guided commentary. The Shanghai Sightseeing Bus (located at the Pearl Tower) costs 90 RMB per person or about $18.00 CAD. The ticket includes a free cruise and ferry ride across the Bund River.

Bund Ferry

Travellers Tip: Check currency conversion rates to get the best exchange when you arrive. The currency in Shanghai is known as the Yaun or Rem-min-bi (abbreviation RMB or ¥).

It is always best to stay central to the downtown core but Hotel Dorsett is conveniently located directly above the Century Subway stop and across from a beautiful park. The staff speak English relatively well and they upgraded us to a chic loft featuring 2 bathrooms (one on either floor), floating glass walkway from the office to the bedroom, patio space and a trendy chandelier. I liked the modern design but this particular room may not be safe for young children or elderly travelers.

If you are staying close to Century Park or at Hotel Dorsett, there aren’t many restaurants within walking distance other than a delicious bakery that serves scrumptious cheese and walnut bread. Super Brand Mall might be your best bet for food and it is only 4 stops away by metro (Lujiazui Station).

Century Park

City God Temple

Travelers Tip: Many people in Shanghai do not speak fluent English (or any English at all) so for daily travel and ordering food, it is a good idea to download an offline translation app. The main language spoken is Mandarin.

Century Park

Financial District

City God Temple

Temple Artwork

Attractions & Sightseeing
One of my favorite things about Shanghai is the unique blend of architectural styles. You will notice a strong European influence as you stroll along Parisian-like streets but there are also futuristic towers like the iconic Oriental Pearl.

The most outstanding structures (in my opinion) can be found around Yu Garden and Bazaar (the old town). The classic Chinese buildings are constructed with outstanding historical detail reminiscent of ancient times.

Yu Garden and Bazaar 
The Yu Garden Bazaar is a bustling village of maze-like streets, flocks of tourists, pointed roofs and local treasures. The scent of savory foods and sweet treats waft onto the street and you can haggle for souvenirs.

Oriental Pearl Tower

Travelers Tip: In April the weather in Shanghai was quite chilly so pack warm clothing if you are visiting in early spring, fall or winter.

Yu Garden Tea House

Nanjing Road Shopping District
Whether you are looking for high-end shops or budget-friendly deals, Nanjing Road offers many options. Wander into adjacent alleys and indoor malls, they usually have several floors of merchandise. The sales people on the street can spot a tourist a mile away and tend to be very pushy (some followed us for blocks trying to lure us into their shops). The best way to avoid being harassed is to completely ignore them. 

Culture Shock
I am going to discuss a subject that many travel blogs and guides rarely mention. Traveling to countries unlike your own may come with certain challenges so it is a good idea to be respectful and adhere to local customs. One aspect I found extremely exasperating was the tendency of the general public to shove, bump into you and elbow through without saying excuse me or sorry. No one seems to think twice about being physically intrusive or cutting lines and it wasn’t easy to tolerate. That being said, the Chinese government did publish a guide to teach its citizens how to “avoid being a terrible tourist” so the behavioral issues are acknowledged.

Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world but in Shanghai there isn’t much diversity unless you spot a few expats. It was quite evident that tourists stick out in a crowd but I wasn’t prepared for the incessant staring, gawking and pointing. The locals literally stopped in their tracks and turned around in the streets to get a good look. A few even asked to take photos with us. I think their unusual reaction was most likely fascination and curiosity rather than negativity. My advice - go with the flow and try not to let it bother you.

Yu Bazaar

Science and Technology Museum

The Bund at Night
One of the best ways to see the city is at night. Skyscrapers along the Bund light up the shore with cool graphics and sailboats decked out in colorful lights glide along the water.

People's Heroes Monument

I consider myself to be somewhat of a foodie. I watch The Food Network, enjoy cooking and visit a lot of great restaurants while traveling but I am picky when it comes to meat. I don’t like seafood (including fish) and the only meat I do like is chicken breast (boneless and skinless with no fat). These restrictions didn’t leave me many options in China so I can’t really provide an insightful culinary perspective or food recommendations. The chicken I did consume (even at McDonalds) was chewy and fatty so I went out of my way to find Pizza Hut on Nanjing Road. If you are an adventurous eater, the soft meat-filled dumplings and fried crab on a stick seems popular.

Thankfully fruit was in abundance and this mango smoothie topped with chunks of ripe mango and whipped cream was divine!

Mr. Durian and Mango on Nanjing Road

Stay tuned for my Travel Guide on Singapore!

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