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A weekend in...Shanghai
One of the world’s largest and most dynamic cities, Shanghai is a city with bags of eastern promise. At the forefront of China’s progressive march, the city is famed for its shopping, impressive skyline and dim sum to die for. If you’re fortunate to be stopping over, here’s how you can make the most of it.
Shanghai is extremely well connected; flights go directly from the UK with British Airways, Virgin and China Air and it’s also a popular stop over option for travellers going on to Thailand or Australia.
The quickest and most exciting way to get into downtown Shanghai is to take the Maglev. The bullet shaped magnetic levitation train, zooms into Shanghai at about 267 miles per hour.
Cutting through the Shanghai suburbs, the train takes only eight minutes to travel the 18 miles from the airport to the city. If you weren’t excited already about visiting Shanghai, hurtling towards the city at over 200 miles an hour will certainly heighten your anticipation.
The Maglev runs between Long Yang Road in the east of the city and the airport terminal, so you may still have to take a taxi, but taxis are inexpensive and plentiful, taxi fare starts at 11yuan (£1.90) for the first three kilometres.
Take a stroll along The Bund, Shanghai’s iconic riverbank to take in a futuristic horizon of skyscrapers, monuments and the relatively new district of Pudong. The Bund is also known as Zhongshan East No 1 Road, and it’s here that you can see Shanghai’s old colonial past, juxtaposed with its vibrant future.
The Bund (photo: Benita Adesuyan)
On the western bank of the Huangpu River that winds slowly through Shanghai, you’ll see grandiose reminders of China’s old European connections; the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank and the Customs House have classic European architecture.
The Customs House has a four faced clock and clock tower that was built in England to resemble Big Ben. Meanwhile across the Huangpu on the east side is Pudong, Shanghai’s business district, with its skyline of glass and glittering lights.
Pudong is home to rows of staggering skyscrapers such as Shanghai’s tallest building - the Shanghai World Financial Centre that looks distinctly likes a bottle opener and gives you the best views of the city - the bulbous Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and the elegant pagoda style Jinmao Tower.
If you’re an early-riser or suffering from jet-lag, walk along the Bund promenade around 7am and you’ll see scores of elderly Shanghainese residents practicing Tai Chi in the open spaces along the Bund, or performing traditional Chinese fan dances underneath the statue of Chen Yi that looks down on the Bund as the sun rises. It’s a sight that shows how despite the skyscrapers and emerging wealth of Shanghai there is still a sense of community that values its senior citizens
Shanghainese residents practicing Tai Chi (photo: Benita Adesuyan)
You can’t come to China and not shop. As the manufacturing capital of the world, anything you could wish to buy, you can get in China, and in Shanghai, serious shoppers head straight to the Nanjing Road for 10 kilometres of sheer shopping heaven.
The road is awash with international designer brands, boutiques and counterfeit designer bags, watches, and even golf clubs to purchase. Shanghai is also great for tailoring - suits, coats and dresses can be custom made in a few days -so head straight to Shanghai Shi Liu Pu Cloth Market on Dongmen Road, on day one, and you can leave Shanghai with a new season wardrobe.
Shopping in Shanghai requires bartering. In China it’s the norm to haggle for goods in shops were the prices are not displayed and in markets, so don’t feel that it’s impolite – you’ll be doing yourself out of a bargain. As a rule start with offering 10 per cent of the asking price, and let the vendor start the process, haggle with a smile and you’re on your way to bagging a bargain.
If you prefer to prefer to avoid the neon lights and shopping malls, head to Yu Gardens and bazaar this charming Chinese styled market is charming – it appeals to tourists with its traditional red ‘ flying eaves’ roofs and the shops here sell everything from souvenirs and T-shirts to tea and gold watches. There also some trendy boutiques offering some creative designs.
But tucked away behind the square of shops is a beautiful Ming dynasty Chinese garden. On our first visit we actually missed the temple and the gardens through the myriad of shops but once you get past all the vendors a stunning five acre garden with arced bridges and lily-lined ponds await, and the Exquisite Jade rock are sights to marvel.
Shanghai sights extend beyond the central districts. If you have a free day in Shanghai get out of the city and take an excursion to the water villages. These can be booked with Viator and cost around £70 for the day including lunch and transport.
Water villages (photo: Benita Adesuyan)
We visited the towns of Suzhou and Zhouzhuang, where canals have carved a network of waterways through these towns, and the waterways provide a livelihood to these towns where fishing and tourism are the main sources of income. This makes a great day out and a chance to explore rural Chinese life.
Back in the heart of the city is The Jade temple. Situated on Anyuan Road, in the Northwest of Shanghai the temple houses two gleaming jade Buddhas, one lying on his side known as the Reclining Buddha, and another sitting, both are carved out of white jade – a precious mineral that is regarded as lucky and healing in Chinese culture.
China has a deep and rich cultural heritage and the Shanghai Museum displays some of its best ancient arts, calligraphy, and silk work. It’s easy to lose yourself in the five floors of artefacts of ancient history of China, and it can easily warrant more than one visit, but if time is short you can do whistle stop tour in about an hour and a half.
Food & Drink:
Shanghai with its cosmopolitan inhabitants has a varied palate, and there’s a plethora of restaurants all over the city offering Chinese and European food.
One of the Chinese specialities here is Hairy Crab, small freshwater crabs with hairy claws. Autumn is crab season and it’s the female crabs that have the sweetest meat. I dined at the Dragon Phoenix at the Fairmont Peace Hotel, and tried the steamed crab with ginger, the small crabs initially intimidated me on my plate, but our waiter happily donned gloves and helped me crack the crabs and get the sweet succulent meat out – delicious.
Hairy Crab (photo: Benita Adesuyan)
For sophisticated cocktails and night-time views over the Bund, head to Char Terrace at the top of Indigo Hotel – they also serve amazing steaks; the friendly staff even let you choose your preferred steak knife. Then head to the French Concession for late night drinks, and lively bars and clubs.
Check in to the luxury Fairmont Peace hotel on The Bund, to be immediately transported back to the roaring 20s, when Shanghai was at its most romantic and glamorous. The sound of laid-back jazz from its famous bar wafts through the beautiful art deco octagonal atrium and whisks you away to another time, and you can envisage the chic Shanghai ladies in their silks and rich foreigners stepping off sea liners, meeting here for ballroom dances.
This hotel is a landmark in Shanghai, with its emerald green pyramid roof, and is regarded as the mansion of Shanghai. Built in 1929 by Victor Sassoon a Jewish businessman, the hotel originally called The Cathay, played host to the most lavish parties of the time, and today the Peace Hall is still used for banqueting today.
The rooms are smartly styled, many with views over the bund and prices start at £180 per night. If staying here is out of budget, it’s worth visiting for dinner at the Dragon Phoenix Restaurant or taking afternoon tea at the Jasmine Lounge, and then enjoy the live music from the house band at the jazz bar.
By Benita Adesuyan
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