China itinerary for Frugal Travel Guy, part 5: Shanghai

Part 1 covered general China tips, Part 2 covered hotels in Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai, Part 3 covered Beijing, and Part 4 covered Xi’an and Huashan.

Shanghai:

Must-sees:

  • The Bund (west bank of the Huangpu River)
  • Lujiazui area of Pudong (east bank of the Huangpu River), with Binjiang Dadao Park and the Grand Hyatt in the Jinmao Tower
  • Nanjing East Road (between The Bund and People’s Square)
  • Yu Yuan (Yu Garden)
  • Shanghai City Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (in People’s Square)

Nice to see, depending on interest:

  • Shanghai Museum (in People’s Square)
  • Fuzhou Road book street and Foreign Language Bookstore (running east of People’s Square)
  • Xujiahiu Cathedral and shopping overload in Xujiahui
  • Xintiandi & Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party
  • Yufo Si (Jade Buddha Temple) (don’t bother with Jing’an Temple or Longhua Temple)

Day 7 (cont.): now in Shanghai, the afternoon is a good time to crash in bed from jet lag. Shanghai does not have the monumental must-sees of Beijing, some dislike it as only a crass commercial center, but there is plenty to enjoy.

The evening is a great time to head over to Lujiazui, the cluster of skyscrapers on the Pudong side of Huangpu River. A metro ride to Lujiazui stop (metro line 2) or a taxi, stop first at the waterfront park Binjiang Dadao to view the colonial Bund from across the river, enjoying one of the cafes. It is located behind the Pudong Shangri-La and Super Brand Mall (Zhengda Mall).

Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone

Photo by Suvcon

Then walk back past Super Brand, perhaps stopping for dinner, with all range of cuisine and budget.

Head to what is now the 2nd-tallest building in China, the Jinmao Tower. The tallest, the nearby, gray Shanghai World Financial Center with the hole in the top has less character but a Park Hyatt at the top. I love the Jinmao, with its steel exterior suggesting bamboo. Give the expensive viewing tower a pass and head for the Grand Hyatt’s dedicated entrance on the south side, with express elevators whisking you to the lobby on the 54th floor, with wraparound views of Shanghai. Continue on another set of elevators to the restaurants on 56, heading to Patio Lounge in the center and look up at the cylinder of the building, with rooms wrapping around the outside. For more views (but with a cover charge), there is an elegant bar, Cloud 9, way at the top of the tower. Pudong also has the gaudy Oriental Pearl TV Tower but you have already had the views for free at the Grand Hyatt. There is a Bund Sightseeing Tunnel, but I list it in day 8 because the entrance is easier to find on the Puxi (Bund) side of the Huangpu River. Call it a night; the rest of your activities will be on the Puxi (west) side of the river.

Day 8: head first to Yu Yuan (Yu Garden) in the old city (line 10, Yuyuan), but easier by taxi). The perimeter is shopping insanity, where you can find all manner of gift and snacks. Avoid the ‘art students’ and their ‘galleries’. The garden itself is a grand example of southern Chinese gardens, in stark contrast to the monumental proportions of the north.  First visit the garden before it gets too crowded, then explore the surrounding bazaar. The famous restaurant overlooking the garden, Lu Bo Lang has better reputation than food, but is a good setting. If you fall in love with the garden and have an insatiable appetite for more, then see the sidebar for Suzhou and make Suzhou your day 9 trip, otherwise, continue with Shanghai.

DSC01094

Photo by lyng883

A long walk west through twisting lanes, or a two stops on metro line 10 away from Yu Yuan, is Xintiandi, a collection of faux-shikumen colonial-era stone houses filled with upscale shopping and dining. If you walk from Yu Yuan, you can go through the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market on the way to Xintiandi, picking antique-looking ‘antiques’.

Dongtai Lu Antique Market

Photo by widakso

Xintiandi is good in the day or evening, the day has the advantage of being able to see the Site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, in an unassuming building between Xintiandi and the artificial lake on its eastern side.  It is a tad dull for non-Chinese history buffs but the irony of the surrounding, engulfing capitalism makes it worth a peek if you are in the area. Two blocks north of Xintiandi is the long Huaihai Road, running east-west, the main road of the French Concession, lined by office towers and shopping, and connects you to the metro line 2 at Huangpi Nan Lu stop, which is one stop from People’s Square (you can also take line 10 directly from Xintiandi to People’s Square).  The tree-lined side streets of the French Concession are good for aimless strolls. If not interested, you can go straight from Yu Yuan to People’s Square.

People’s Square, a few blocks north of Huaihai Road, is the former horse racing track from the colonial era.  For lunch, one of the best Chinese restaurants in town is Shun Feng, light Hangzhou cuisine (a city two hours to the south), which is in Central Plaza’s 3rd floor (Zhongqu Guangchang), which has big EverBright Bank signs outside, situated on the west of People’s Square, across from the modern, white Shanghai Grand Theater. Behind the Shanghai Grand Theater is the old rail station, now the so-so Shanghai Art Museum.

Shun Feng: Salted Fish and Eggplant in Clay Pot

Photo by Adam Freidin

You can walk in front of the Shanghai Grand Theater, heading east across the square, the three massive buildings on the north side are the Shanghai Grand Theater, the Shanghai People’s Government (people not welcome) and the superb Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. The south side of the square has a large park and the huge, round Shanghai Museum. The Shanghai Museum has excellent pieces for the enthusiast but presentation is a bit staid and repetitive. The gift shop is excellent for nice pieces, but unless you buy museum admission you can only access it from the south, rear entrance, which is a long hike.  Instead, visit the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, heading up to the huge, constantly updated, scale model of the city. Across the street, in Raffles City there are tons more places to eat, including a modern Cantonese restaurant called Charme.

central Shanghai

Photo by Payton Chung

Leaving the Exhibition Hall, continue east, choosing either Nanjing Road, running east-west on the northern side of the hall, which is the overwhelming, pedestrian-only shopping street, or you can take Fuzhou Road, which runs parallel to Nanjing Road, a couple blocks to the south, and is lined by bookstores and arts supply shops, culminating in the excellent Foreign Language Bookstore. If you take this route, once past the Foreign Language Bookstore head north to join Nanjing Road and continue east to the Bund, passing the newly restored Peace Hotel at the final intersection before the waterfront.

The Bund is a wonderful stroll. Take in the contrast of the colonial and modern eras. There is a goofy Bund Sightseeing Tunnel with laser light show that can take you to Lujiazui in Pudong. You can stroll south along the Bund. If you want to splurge on a superb dinner, M on the Bund is the classic, at the top of the building at Guangzhou Road, and still beats the many competitors that have recently opened.

Electric Dreams

Photo by trioptikmal

Day 9: On your last full day, follow your fancy for some disparate choices or any stops that were missed.

In the north of downtown is Yufo Si (Jade Buddha Temple) (line 7, Changshou Road). More seriously religious and elegant than Jing’an Temple and Longhua Temple, it is bustling and has good vegetarian restaurants inside the temple and nearby. Chinese vegetarian dishes strive to emulate the taste and appearance of meat dishes; see if you are fooled.

In the southwest of downtown, at the end of the French Concession is a major traffic intersection surrounded by huge shopping centers, called Xujiahui (metro line 1). A few blocks to the north are the elegant brick buildings of Jiaotong University’s original campus, one of China’s top universities. The malls to the south of the intersection are choc-a bloc with electronics (negotiate at these stands). And perhaps why I recommend this area, also to the south of the intersection (west side) is the Xujiahui (St. Ignatius) Cathedral, where my wife and I used to meet on dates in our student days. The long-broken stained glass windows are being replaced by a Chinese nun in Chinese paper-cut style (supposedly the first cathedral stained-glass windows in the world to be made by a woman). Across the road to the east is the Old Station Restaurant, formerly the nunnery, and in the backyard are two historic rail cars, available for dining, one the personal car of Sun Yat-Sen’s wife Song Qing Ling.  There are also tons of restaurants in Grand Gateway (Gang Hui) Shopping Mall at the northwest corner of the intersection. A particular favorite is Charme for modern Cantonese, is you didn’t try it around People’s Square.

Judas' kiss

Photo by Micah Sittig

If you didn’t get enough of the knock-off markets in Beijing, Shanghai’s grand old one, Xiangyang, has been demolished, but where one tree was felled, two saplings grew.

The Fenshine Fashion & Accessories Plaza is along Nanjing Rd, west of People’s Square, in the office tower just west of the elevated road over Chengdu Road (right in the middle of the metro line 2 People’s Square and Nanjing West Rd stops, but a long walk from both).

The Yatai Xinyang Fashion and Gift Market is way out in Pudong, in the warren of hallways at the Science & Technology Museum stop on metro line 2.

And if gifts for teenage girls are your thing, the similarly sprawling warren underground at the People’s Square metro stop (multiple lines) should be your target.

Day 10: departure.  I hope you had a great trip!

Your international departure will almost certainly be from Pudong International Airport, which is quite far, especially in rush hour (see here for ground transport details).  Even in early morning or late night budget an hour to an hour and a half to get there, depending how far your hotel is.  Check-in and immigration can get overloaded in economy if you don’t have elite status because the counters are understaffed by contractors who are not always good at problem-solving.  Being a little late sometimes avoids huge lines but check-in at least an hour before departure.

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