Shanghai is a first-class city where the modern world sits with the old worlds of east and west in a fascinating fusion with flair and vibrancy. Its popular charm rests on glitzy skylines and fancy arts of different mediums widely known from favored Instagram feeds and Facebook posts. Have you seen the sponsored ads of Fashion week? Art museums hosting famous names like Andy Warhol? Dolce and Gabbana’s recent debacle? Celebrities endless parties?
Ancient Asian towns made popular by Chinese Hollywood movies blend with old European quarters in a harmonized urban setting unbothered by the growing flush of modern skyscrapers. These are all within the perimeter of the City of Shanghai that is 60 times as big as Paris, eight times as New York and four times as London.
There’s not much spotlight geared on Shanghai’s old towns, historical avenues and its culinary prowess. I was expecting it to be just like any vibrant capital city in modern Asia. Something like Hong Kong or Singapore. But, there’s more to it than the echoes of millennial feeds and curated posts that one has to see and experience.
We arrived in Pudong Terminal Airport at 6 am, Friday. With not much research expecting it to be a modern city peppered with easy signs and directions, it did not disappoint. We waited at 7am to ride the Maglev train or the so-called floating trains using the technology of magnetic levitation at a supersonic speed of 431km/hr, faster than the Japanese Shinkansen or bullet trains. I wondered why the maglev technology was not widely used considering no wheels, no noise and negligible impact to the surroundings. Why are there handfuls of Maglev trains and not even for long distance routes? Found out cost is expensive than its alternative electric bullet trains.
To get a 20% discount from the regular single fare of 50CNY, just present your airport boarding pass. But, if budget is your limit, no one’s stopping you to try the metro trains at max 9 CNY depending on your end destination.
We arrived in Baron Business Hotel at 9am after few struggles. Maglev ends in Longyang station and you’ll need to transfer to a city metro. We were going to East Nanjing and took Line 2 at 3CNY. Once you step out from the underground station, you’ll be greeted with old architectures from the French colonial periods housing big brands like F-21 and Innisfree.
Always download maps.me application for easy directions but I forgot to download this offline map! Good thing, I screenshoted some google directions before our flight.
I usually pay on arrivals for our hotel reservations to try some negotiations like upgrades and discounts. I use booking.com and agoda but they cut a big chunk so some small businesses prefer walk-ins. However, using these sites would sometimes give you amazing deals! The lowest room per night in Baron Business Hotel is 1,996 CNY (297USD) but we got it at 310CNY (46USD) per night with full amenities and room services! Lucky saver’s deal!
We left our luggages as check-in was 2 pm to find our first venture in the City – Gucun Park. It was the second day of a 15-day-Spring Festival so the cherry blossoms were not yet on display but there were other trees blooming on their own glorious spectacles. See the photos on my other post.
Google and related apps are blocked in China. Download a free VPN proxy before travelling to bypass their firewall.
We went back to the hotel to take a long nap (ummm actually 4 hours should never be called nap hahha) and freshen up before the long night. We walked to the Bund Avenue at 8pm and found it strange that happy hours in most bars were until 8pm only. As a basic traveller, we elbowed our way among the crowds to take that perfect picture of the iconic Bund promenade with colonial buildings overlooking the Huangpu river and city lights. It reminded me of Hong Kong’s scenic Victoria Avenue.
Personally, our hotel location in East Nanjing was just perfect. It’s walking distance to almost great places with nearby metro stations.
From the Bund, we explored the busy streets of Nanjing. We came to an underground night market on a street-style food setting at cheap prices. I don’t know the name but it’s infront of the 1929 Fairmont Peace hotel beside Minisoo. We flocked each stall to grab free tastes until we decided on a local noodle shop.
When in China, don’t forget to taste Tsing Tao beer. It’s always on the top 10 of best local beers in the world rated higher than Thai’s Chang.
After dinner, we stopped by Shanghai’s first microbrewery The Bund Brewery but instead of their known German lagers, we sipped a cup of coffee and tea with English live music playing on the background. I felt it was relatively safe doing night strolls around Nanjing.
At 11 pm, we checked out The House of Blues and Jazz . So, okay, there was a door charge of 50CNY but maybe we were looking desperate, so she let us in for free.
The crowd is of classy, professional folks both Asians and foreigners. At almost 2 am, we decided to cap off the night.
Their live jazz music usually has to end at 12 midnight but it went for another 30 minutes. The restaurant is a replica of old Hollywood jazz bars with wood panels and homage to jazz artists.
On our second day, we headed to the Old Town of Zhujiajiao or the Venice of Shanghai via Line 2 and Line 17 at 8CNY. You’d be welcomed by white walls, red lanterns, rock bridges and canals, stone-cemented alleys and the smell of Chinese delicacies. This town dates back to 1300! There’s so much history with royal families from different dynasties, old ancient traders and just common folks who had become shadows of this town’s past. I posted photos on a different post to highlight some beautiful spots one would expect. However, the photos are just pieces. You have to see the whole town to appreciate its authenticity.
Afterwards, we passed by the largest Starbucks Roastery on our way home. Tasted some freshly brewed coffee, roamed around the area and checked out their overly price merchandise. An hour or so, we decided to head home walking the 2.5 km distance via the People’s Park.
After being well rested (yes, sleep!), we hoped to catch a Lady Gaga Drag Show but it was full! No seats available, only standing option. We opted for a 90’s mini-concert in the old 1931 The Pearl cabaret headlined by the band Red Stars. It was a smash that got Dessa rocking her way infront of the stage. More so, this is a historic building that used to house luxurious cabaret shows during the colonial times. Worth the 80CNY door fee!
Our last day involved walking 10 kms (with breaks) within the old districts of 1950’s French concessions and what they used to call as International settlements. Have you heard about the Opium war between China and Britain? You should! Because you’d understand better and appreciate how western influences were able to seep through their thick walls and local customs and why CNN called it the Greatest City on Earth.
What I love most about this City is you can experience all lifestyles at once. You can drink a German lager while watching a 90’s concert with American music but European singers on an old Chinese theater with crowds from different races. It is like walking and seeing the old times! There’s endless range of diverse activities lurking on every street corner! Surely, Shanghai is an elegant mix of European and Asian ways of life that is definitely worth going back in the next few months!