Monday, December 16, 2013

China: Shanghai in day

Nanjing Road Shanghai China
Nihao, Shanghai! Now if you've only got a day to explore the city, what should you do? Hop-on hop-off tourist buses are usually very convenient when you have less than twenty four hours to explore a city, especially since they stop right at the doorsteps of major attractions. Shanghai is one of those cities with hop-on hop-off buses.

Since the bus was recommended by expats in Shanghai, I decided to try it out. I paid RMB100 (US$16.50) for a 24-hour pass (but that's only good for 8 hours of operation) on three routes. I took the bus from the Shanghai People's Square (Exit 7). There were over twenty available stops, including a route that takes you around Pudong. But I decided to narrow down my choices due to lack of time.

The Bund, Shanghai's historical waterfront along the banks of the Huangpu River, was the first stop on my list. It should be! The one-mile stretch is a showcase of architecture from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the buildings are in the Art Deco style.

The Bund Shanghai China
That morning I went around Shanghai was extra foggy (or should I say smoggy). Visibility was very low. But that did not stop me from enjoying the grand architecture of the Bund.

Pudong Shanghai China
Unfortunately, I could not see much across the Huangpu River. When I visited seven years ago, bright blue skies were the backdrop of Pudong's skyline. Much has changed since 2006. But it was obvious I could not make a before and after shot with all that smog!

In downtown Shanghai is a well-preserved traditional Chinese garden with over 400 years of history known as Yu Garden. Despite its modernity, this cosmopolitan city has been able to preserve small pockets of its past.

Xiao Long Bao Shanghai China Yu Garden
Before reaching the garden is one of Shanghai's popular tourist shopping areas known as the Yu Bazaar. This is where you can find most of the local souvenirs a tourist tends to take home. But it's also a place to find local cuisine. Yes, people line up for Xiao Long Bao here! Just find the long line and you'll know you're in the right place.

I actually spent quite some time walking around Yu Bazaar. Waiting for the Xiao Long Bao can take between 25 to 45 minutes. I spent RMB25 for a serving of these popular steamed buns (they're considered buns and not dumplings because of how they are pinched). Plus I made sure to walk around to find the best prices for souvenirs (fridge magnets are sold at RMB5, but other shops will try to sell them to you for RMB20 each).

Yu Garden Shanghai China
After looking for the right route, I finally entered the gate of the garden. There's an entrance fee of RMB30, but worth it. Yu Garden is tranquil and serene, beautifully landscaped with plants, trees, rocks and ponds filled with koi, highlighted by traditional pavilions and towers.

Xintiandi Shanghai China
On the way back to People's Square, the bus stopped at Xintiandi, a pedestrianized area of traditional shikumen or stonegate houses. It's a fantastic example of adaptive reuse and how one can preserve the character of a city by keeping its heritage intact in a modern environment. I walked around and actually had quite a number of drinks the night before in one of the popular bars of Xintiandi, so I stayed on the bus. But if you haven't seen it, better get off and walk around.

Jing'an Temple Shanghai China
Jing'an Temple Shanghai China
I changed buses at People's Square to explore another route which would take me to Jing'an Temple and the Jade Buddha Temple. Jing'an Temple, a very popular Shanghai landmark, was built even before Shanghai as a city existed. But constant restoration (plus so much gold) makes it seem the temple was built yesterday. Entrance fee was RMB50 which I felt was a bit pricey.

Jing'an Temple Shanghai China
Nanjing Road Shanghai China
The Jade Buddha Temple unfortunately closes by 4:30 p.m. And they don't let people in by 4 p.m. I was told. So there was no more time to visit which I regret much. I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting through Shanghai traffic as the bus made its way back to People's Square. I took some photos in Nanjing Road before rushing back to the hotel to get my things and catch my evening flight out.

Nanjing Road Shanghai China
Smog stories
Getting to Shanghai, China last weekend was a really big challenge. My trip primarily was to attend the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit 2013 in Zhenjiang. I had to deal with two flight cancellations due to Shanghai's smog problem forcing me to miss the first day. On the first day, we had already left the gate only to return and deplane after they canceled our flight. On the second night, I had already checked in when they announced the cancelation. I made a spur of the moment decision to catch the flight to Xiamen; and bought a ticket from Xiamen to Shanghai hoping to arrive in the morning.

Xiamen Airport was another story. I was hoping to stay in the terminal and wait for my morning flight. But at 3 a.m., I was surprised they were kicking people out of the terminal. It turns out, they close the airport for two hours and you have to wait outside until it opens. I started to laugh when they turned off the lights of the driveway area where I was seated. Good thing it wasn't too cold and the free WiFi was still running.

They boarded on time, but we didn't take off until and hour and a half later due to the same smog problem. I arrived in Shanghai right before lunch and took a bullet train for the 237km journey from Shanghai Hongquiao to Zhenjiang. But to make the long story short, I made it to the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit.

Back in Shanghai, I had a pleasant stay at the Hua Ting Hotel and Towers which was conveniently located in front of the Shanghai Indoor Stadium Station (Line 1 and 4).
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