Shanghai is a place that’s mentioned in movies. It’s not a place you actually believe exists but I’m so glad it isn’t just a figment of writers imagination but a delicious, bright and exciting city.We had two days to explore so the second we dropped our bags off at the hotel we hit the streets. We headed to The Bund (the famous water front) and were happy to see that our walk to The Bund lead us through the main shopping street , and an incredible market with the best/cheapest dumplings I’ve ever tasted. It was as if tiny villages were isolated within these streets.
After we took in some beautiful views we were kind of lost. We had made such a huge to-do list for our Chinese and Taiwanese trips but most of the things we had written were about Beijing and Taiwan so it was lovely to not have a schedule and just play the day as it came.We decided we wanted to head over to the Pearl building (the tall red bauble Christmas tree type tower) so followed the signs for a sightseeing tunnel since we couldn’t see any bridges. We mainly wanted to go there to understand how a tunnel under water can be a sightseeing trip. We were intrigued to say the least.
Lee and I were silent for a good ten minutes after we travelled the tunnel just because there isn’t much you can say to each other after you experience something as random as a inflatable flailing arm man dancing to dinosaur sounds with multicoloured fairy lights hung everywhere. People have asked me if I’d recommend it and I think the truth of it is, I would never recommend it but I’d never tell you not to do it.
The island that houses the Pearl building is made up of extremely fancy shopping malls as well as beautiful hotels. We were going to travel to the top of the Pearl but it was extremely costly and the lines were stupidly long.
The rest of our day was spent eating our way though the city. For a big city it is such a cheap place to eat. We tried peasant pork which was like someone had marinated pork belly in caramel for days. It was fantastic.
There is one thing we should point out at this juncture in the story. When Lee was booking our hotels (he’s addicted to booking.com) he showed me a few options. A cheap hostel with a shared bathroom and bunk beds…or for 3 dollars more a 5 star hotel in central Shanghai. Can you guess which one we choose?
Our room was incredible. We had a living room AND a bedroom. We had a super duper incredible shower and a HUGE BATH. In Korea a bath can only be had if you go to a special building called a Jimjilbang so I was a happy bunny. We also had a view. I’ve never had a view in a hotel room (in fact in New York our view was a wall). The name of the place was Salvo hotel and if you are heading to Shanghai we’d recommend it.
We dragged ourselves out of the room and hit the town. First stop was something I’d recommend for everyone who heads to Shanghai, The Shanghai Circus. This was the most incredible show I’d ever seen. I still have no idea how most of the things were done but if you think Circ Du Soleil is good then wait until you see this. We paid about 30 pound for our tickets and were in the 3rd best seating section. All the seats are good so I wouldn’t advice paying more than 30 pound for your ticket, if you are on a budget the 15 pound tickets are still great but you get a fantastic central view of all the action in the 30 pound section. Please go because it is was definitely my Shanghai highlight. The show is on every night and starts at 7:30 so there’s no reason to miss it. After some delicious burgers near the circus at a place called ‘Blue Frog’ where it was BOGOF Monday (woohoo) we hit the town. We hadn’t been able to go for drinks in Beijing since we could never get a taxi and we feared being stuck in Beijing for the night but in Shanghai Taxi’s were everywhere and we hit a bar called Phebe3d.
Now let me tell you about this little place. Phebe3D is like no place I’ve ever been. It is a nightclub that has two ways to enjoy it. You can go in and pay a lot for drinks, get a private champagne party with your own concierge or you can pay 10 dollars and have all you can drink spirits and beer as well as two cocktails to choose from. They will also give you vouchers for three Jagermisters, tequila or Budweiser. If you are like us then this isn’t really a decision. We paid those 10 dollars so fast the bartenders head was spinning. It seemed that this rule was put in place for Westerners since no Chinese people seemed to be partaking in the champagne cocktails and all you can drink rules. We had a blast and danced the night away, we were propositioned by some extremely beautiful escorts and had to pass a table of either celebrities or gangsters to get to the bathroom. Their table looked out onto the toilets and their very large bodyguards made going past them a scary proposition. Oh did I also mention that the bathroom was just stalls surrounding a giant glass white grand piano with a lady in full evening dress playing classic music. The jux-tu-position of this next to a chinese man throwing up in a sink was one I won’t forget in a hurry. Oh Shanghai!
A few hours of dancing and laughing and we headed outside only to be pulled into the neighboring basement bar by the alluring sounds of a Latin band. Inside we found a real Brazilian bar with all manor of dancing taking place. I’ve never seen so many people moving so beautifully. Shakira would have been proud.
My favourite part of the night was watching poor girls get grabbed by Brazilian men and dragged spinning onto the dance floor in a whirlwind of sexy moves. The funny thing about this wasn’t the confused and lustful looks of all these ladies but of the glares of their two left footed boyfriends watching from the side lines as their girlfriends basically become pregnant on the dance floor with these smooth latin strangers. It was amusing.
Lee held onto me tight and we skirted the edges of the dance floor, finished our drinks and headed to get a taxi home, which was cheap and easy. This shocked us after the debacle of trying to find any available taxi’s in Beijing.
The next day after a obligatory 6p dumpling breakfast we headed out into the city and made our way to the traditional markets. The buildings that housed the markets were old traditionally designed feats of genius. I assume they are all modern fabrications but unlike Beijing they felt more authentic. The markets were lovely and Lee dragged me into a shop and forced upon me some beautiful Chinese traditional silk dresses (oh poor me!). The main issue with this area was the sellers pushing their wares on you. Every street had men and woman with laminated cards running at you trying to sell you silk and watches. Kindness can be mistaken here, it’s probably more likely they are trying to trick you into entering their shop. We did encounter a couple who asked us to take a photo for them. They seemed pleasant enough and wanted to practice their English. Unfortunately it soon became apparent that they were just trying to get us to go to a tea market and there were other couples all around us accosting westerners doing the same thing. It was a little insulting and became a little awkward when they were so forceful but we luckily worked out what was happening and moved on.
The next thing we did in Shanghai I will always regret. We went to the Shanghai zoo. I had read quite good things online so I was hoping to see a Panda and well looked after animals. This is not what we found. It was awful to the point that I was almost was in tears. The cages were small, the people that worked there beeped their horns loudly as they drove trucks around startling and annoying the animals constantly, people had no idea how to behave around animals and would bang the glass and flash lights in their eyes as well as smoke all over them but the worst part of the day was when we entered the crocodile enclosure to see people throwing money at these poor beasts as well as litter. I don’t mean just throwing litter in their cage, I mean actually at their heads. One animal must have been hurt since he was un-moving and bleeding profusely from his eye, the wound was the size of half his face and yet people still threw coins. When we saw this we ran to find help only to find that no one gave a crap (sorry to sound so angry but it really upset us). No one cared the animal was bleeding and possibly dead. After that I filmed it as a last resort to show the world what was happening and we left. We saw about 5% of the zoo so the rest of it could be wonderful but we’d seen enough. We vowed to never go to a zoo again. Animals definitely should be in the wild, large nature reserves or at the very least in a zoo where the people care about them.
Anyway I’m sorry to be so negative in this post but it shocked me and I can say I judged the people of China a lot more harshly because of the experience. Mistreating animals to that extent makes you look bad as a nation and as a people.
When the sun started to dim we jumped on a ferry for 30p and headed across the water and back just to see the lights. The ferry was packed and it was uncomfortable at times but we did get great views of the Shanghai skyline.
That night we got dolled up and headed to the Peace hotel. Lee had read about this hotel because it had a famous Jazz bar. Now you guys reading this may not know this but I LOVE jazz and swing. I could sit and listen to the 1940 crooners till the cows come home so I got dressed up and took a seat in this little bar. A word of warning is that there is a drinks minimum which is about 15 pounds per person which is a shame because we saw a lot of westerners walk away because of this but the wine was good, the music was incredible and the atmosphere was beyond romantic.
Once we sat down Lee explained that this Jazz band had been playing together for over 60 years. These little old men in their white tuxes blew me away with their skills. There is in fact a documentary about them called ‘As Time Goes by in Shanghai’. Give it a watch. They are legends.
When we left the bar we stopped to look at the hotel around us and realised the history here. I approached a piano with a gold sign and read that it was a Steinway that had been played by Charlie Chaplin and Cole Porter. I lost my little mind (and sneakily opened it just to touch the keys). I headed home on a cloud of good music and wine but was maybe a little too lost in my happy moment as I grabbed onto Lee as I slipped on something. My mind jumped to what everyone’s mind jumps to ‘I’ve just stepped in poop’ but fear not, it was just a dead RAT!!! AHHHH even writing that sentence sends shivers down my spine. But I think this evening explained Shanghai perfectly. Surprising romantic talent, colourful skylines and slipping on rats. The new and wonderful mixed with a very busy and sometimes dirty city.
Don’t let this put you off though after all, it’s not a city without a few rats. Even dead ones.
We rested up and were fresh and ready to head onto our next destination. It is rare on a holiday that one thing on your check list is the form of transport you take to leave a country but in Shanghai this was definitely the case for us. We had read a lot about the Maglev train and couldn’t wait to try it out.
What is a Maglev you ask? Well Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation and it does exactly what it says on the tin. This new technology has been around for a while now but its full potential is only now starting to be utilised. This train has no moving parts so can reach up to crazy speeds in a matter of minutes. We went from zero to 300 mph in about 5 minutes and we were going at the conservative daytime speed since the Maglev in Shanghai can easily get up to 465 mph. The reason this was so fascinating to us both (apart form the fact we are massive geeks) Is that this should be the future. Theoretically if you placed a maglev in a vacuum tube there is no limit to the speeds it could reach because of the lack of friction. The only limit at the moment is the human ability to withstand these forces but theoretically you could have a maglev train go around the world in two hours. It’s an exciting technology and really exciting to see it being used in China. Maybe one day (and I’m going all Isaac Asimov on you now) we could stop air travel all together.
Anyway I’ve gone off on a Steven Hawkins type tangent. It was a perfect end to our two lovely days. Shanghai is a lot more alive than Beijing. It felt as if a kid and combined all his different Lego sets to give you a landscape of varying yet beautiful buildings. The word I’d use to sum up Shanghai would be jux-tu-position (that’s one word right?). Everything in this crazy city is fighting against each other. The new modern beauty with the dirty side streets, the advanced technology with the simplistic markets and very forward thinking people mixed with rudeness like I’ve never experienced (except in Beijing). But we were only there for two days and we did love the place. It felt alive (and the food was divine).
Have you been to Shanghai? What did you think? Are you planning a trip? What are you planning on doing? Let us know and if you have any questions about this fabulous city feel free to send them our way.