“Take no shit,” my expat friend calls over her shoulder as she barges her way on to the subway to get us a seat. Barely 10 minutes out of the airport and my experience of Shanghai, China, had begun.
You have to quickly adjust to the sheer volume of people and how different it is from bumbling Britain. If you’re not Asian, brace yourself for some people taking your picture, perhaps even the occasional video. Getting out of the subway, in to the “fresh” air, tall apartment buildings line the streets and you get reminded where sky scrapers get the name from. There is hustle, bustle and the city feels so alive.
What I loved most about Shanghai is the fact you could go from this modern city vibe to ancient gardens, built hundreds of years ago – two cultures collide to create this almost surreal country, which just begs to be explored.
Take, for instance, the Yuyaun Garden
It was first built in 1559. It is beautiful here – you can see delicate blossoms, rockery gardens, koi carps gliding through the water interrupted only by the reflection of a tree branch dipping in to the water. It is only when you see part of a skyscraper looming in the distance that you remember you’re in the middle of one the largest cities in the world.
Surrounding the garden is the Old City of Shanghai, which has the kind of traditional architecture you may expect to find in China. It was packed when we there due to Chinese New Year/ a national holiday. Most places we went to were exceptionally busy (and a lot of local shops were closed) so keep this in mind if you’re visiting China around the New Year.
If you fancy exploring the modern parts of the city, head to The Bund.
This was one of the first Shanghai sights I saw and it was breath-taking. I was lucky enough to arrive on a clear day.
Then the smog arrived for the remainder of the trip – a solid white blanket, which makes you feel like the sky is missing.
The Bund is just as stunning as night.
If you see signs for “The Bund sightseeing experience tunnel” – be warned – it definitely is an experience but perhaps not one worth paying £5 for.
If you’re travelling to China from the UK 10 Chinese Yuan roughly equals £1
The best way I can describe it is a tunnel of glowing glitter and lights. Go with the right people and you won’t stop laughing, go by yourself and you’ll just be baffled.
Near The Bund is a delectable restaurant called Shanghai Grandma, on Nanjing East Road. The food there is wonderful. If you’re visiting Asia for a short time and are unsure about trying street food, this place will be absolutely fine on your stomach. It’s on the pricey side for China but cheap for the UK. A meal consisting of a few dishes and a drink will cost you about £12.
If you go to China to make the most of the cheap prices, Shanghai and its markets have plenty to offer. My friend favours the one near the Science and Technology museum. Here you can find bags, purses, scarfs, sunglasses for a bargain – as long as you’ve got your wits about you and are ready to haggle.
Shanghai has a lively art district called M50 (sadly not so lively when we were there, again due to New Year) but if you want to check out some galleries or even just some pretty impressive graffiti, give it a go and head to 50 Moganshan Road.
If you want to escape the city and see the more scenic sides of China, make sure to take advantage of China’s incredibly efficient public transport. Single subway journeys work out at 30p and train ticket prices can vary depending on when you book them.
Take the subway and head to Nanxian – a lovely, old, water town. If you’re struggling to fill a morning or afternoon, this place is certainly worth a visit.
A personal favourite of mine there was the Yunxiang Temple. We arrived later in the afternoon and it was so peaceful. The only noise was the sound of wooden prayers brushing against each other in the wind. The red and yellow decorations for the New Year added to the ambiance of the place.
Or you could take the train for a day trip or two, depending on the length of your stay.
Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou
This is one of the most renowned gardens in Southern China and it truly is wonderful to walk about in. You can see so much time and effort went in to the design and creation of it. There are plenty of places to perch and absorb the beauty of the place. There is also a bonsai tree garden which is always a plus in my eyes.
Hangzhou West Lake
My friend told me this is known as the Paris of China and with its misty mountains, gentle lapping water and serene atmosphere it’s not hard to see why. For 60 Yuan you can get on a boat and explore one of the islands on the lake. These are so magnificent you will find yourself constantly stopping to try to capture the beauty of the place.
For those who want more details on any of the above place, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below. I’m happy to help in any way I can.
Having your best friend as your tour guide is great for so many reasons, and at the risk of sounding cheesy, I could easily write a blog with an entire list of them. I’ll tell you just one – I got to see the real side of China, as well as all the best spots in and around the city. She lives in the Jiading district. A place you would never normally see if you were on a trip to China. It was fascinating seeing the normal way of life in such a different country. Not to mention, its lovely little market area full of cute bargains.
I would love to go back to China and explore more of the country. Beijing is now definitely on my bucket list! If you’ve been to China, I would love to hear your thoughts about it: what did you enjoy most about it? Or what did you find the most different?
X Marks the Spot
Cloud 9 Bar, Jin Mao Tower, 88 Century Avenue, Pudong, Shanghai, China, 200121
Cloud 9 bar is one of Shanghai’s best kept secrets.
It is located in the Jin Mao tower – the bar isn’t sign posted – you just have to know where to go. Go to the golden elevators on the left and head to the 84th floor. You pay for a cocktail or two plus a service charge and you get to enjoy an incredible view in luxury.
Most tourists exploring The Bund will go pay about £12 to go to a viewing platform in one of the skyscrapers. To go for cocktails + service charge costs about £20 and so, so worth it.
This was one of my favourite moments of the trip. We got the last window table at the bar and had a view of The Pearl. It was one of those times you want to cling on to, it just felt so special.