Monday, 8 April 2013

A Guide to Shanghai

Shanghai is a city that really can assault the senses after a long flight and so it proved this time. Straight off the plane I was hit by the utter chaos of this fascinating place. I would advise anyone travelling here to get to your hotel and just take a minute to breathe. The other thing you must do is pick up a map which is written in both English and Chinese. That way if you get lost you need only hail one of the many taxis and show the driver the location you are trying to get to.

Shanghai is a real Russian doll of a city with wonders hidden inside wonders. It is also a very friendly place, even walking the streets late at night there was never any feeling that I was in any danger. I was staying at the Zhao An Hotel, which is near the financial centre. The hotel represents good value for money with prices ranging from around fifty pounds a night for a standard room, with breakfast added for as little as four pounds. The staff were very helpful and more than happy to assist me. A tunnel to the metro line is located right next door, but I found the easiest way to get around was by using the very reasonably-priced taxis, which the staff will order if you ask.

Recovered from the flight I felt far better equipped to take on the city. Visibility was poor so I headed down to the famous Nanjing Road, which is walking distance from the Bund River and acts as Shanghai’s equivalent of London’s Oxford Street. The next day I was craving something a little more cultural and headed for the wonderful Jade Buddha Temple, which is hidden deep within the skyscrapers of the city.

Fully in use, the temple was busy with worshippers and filled with unique smells of burning scent. This was the kind of place I was hoping still existed in China. Finding such delicate beauty within the Shanghai sprawl was a welcome sight. Its unique architecture and atmosphere should be explored by everyone and it remains a remarkably calm location in a such a busy city.

Continuing my search for the ancient I headed to the Old Street area. Much of Shanghai looks European having been owned by various nations over the years but Old Street is irrepressibly Chinese. Amid the trees filled with red wishes and lanterns, street musicians provided a suitable movie soundtrack. It was still raining but there’s something about water and Chinese style roofs that go together. I stood and watched as the rain drops fall from the ornate rooftops in the way they can only do in the East.

Hidden inside the Old Street area is the lovely Yu Garden. Reached by crossing a zig-zagging bridge that passes by an ancient tea house, the garden is made of many different sections. The theory behind it is that evil spirits can only travel in straight lines and dividing up the garden safeguards against them. It also allows for observers to take in and appreciate each small area. The Yu Garden really is a master work and the use of stone, water, buildings and plants create something incredibly delicate, peaceful and subtle, yet painstakingly detailed and enthused with an essence that could only be Chinese.

Chinese gardens are unlike any others in the world and the Yu Garden is one of the best examples. As the sun set the rain stopped and for the first time I was able to take in Shanghai without my hood up. The rain had also cleared the smog and it seemed a perfect opportunity to take in the city by night.

The best place to see the city lit up is from the Jin Mao Observation Tower. The tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world and offers perfect views. To get into the tower you need only turn up and buy a ticket on the ground floor. Make sure you check before heading for the tower that the lights are on. Due to the electrical drain the skyscrapers have on the power grid, the lights are only turned on at weekends and specific days. They are also turned off at around 10pm. At the top of the tower the neon stretched far into the distance and left me awestruck at the scale of it. With the air now much clearer I decided to head down to The Bund for an alternative view of Shanghai’s lit up financial district.

The next day is was time to leave. Instead of getting a taxi to the airport I took the Maglev Train. This is no ordinary train and reaches 433 Kilometres an hour at top speed. Understandably, it didn’t take long to reach the airport.

If you feel you need a little help exploring China I would recommend going on one of Travelsphere’s excellent guided tours of the country. They are a class apart when it comes to these tours and excellent value for money. The first time I went to China I went with them.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this post: searching for the ancient within the modern is certainly an interesting way to explore any city, and given the rate of change in China over the past few decades, it seems particularly appropriate for Shanghai.