The Chinese economy might be suffering a mild downturn in the current global economic crisis but you would hardly notice it when visiting the financial capital of Shanghai.
Smartly dressed businessmen in suits and busy female workers (they all seem to carry shopping bags with designer labels) hurry along the streets and the pace of development does not seem to slow. In fact amazingly Shanghai has over 4600 buildings (including apartment blocks) over 25 stories high. Hotels, bars, restaurants and shops and places of entertainment all seem to be busy.
Shanghai has much to offer the visitor at all times of the year.
Some of the ‘older’ attractions in Shanghai are still a must for every visitor including a stroll down the Bund, the famous promenade along the western bank of the Huangpu River. The word Bund comes from the Indian word for waterfront. The promenade along the Bund provides panoramic views augmented by the bustle of barges and pleasure craft passing by on the river. Family groups and couples stroll along pausing to watch exponents of tai chi, shadow boxing or even a colourful fan dance. At night the illuminations are a visual ‘wonderland’.
It is fascinating to watch the street hawkers in action. They line up along the Bund selling a vast range of goods, scamper away when the police come past only to appear again shortly afterwards – it is like a continuing game.
Dominating the skyline on the eastern bank of the river across from the Bund is the 468m high Oriental Pearl Television Tower. The views from the Observation Deck, especially on a clear day, are stunning. While there don’t miss the Shanghai Historical Museum in the basement, a wonderful evocation of life in Shanghai through the ages. Another great view is from the observation deck on the 88th floor of the Jin Mao Tower (also houses the Grand Hyatt Hotel)
Many of the famous historic buildings from Shanghai’s 1930’s heyday still remain close to the Bund although name changes and different uses sometimes make them hard to identify.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank was possibly the most important bank in Shanghai during the early years of the century 1996 the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank took over and have restored the marvellous marble columns and interior, the crystal mirrors and the frescoes that represent the overseas offices of the original owners and the ceiling painted with the signs of the zodiac.
The famous Peace Hotel (once called the Cathay) situated on the corner of Nanjing Road is reopening in July 2010 as the five star Fairmont Peace Hotel.
Further down Nanjing Road you come to People’s Square in what was once the racecourse. The futuristic Grand Theatre is on one side while the superb Shanghai Museum crammed with priceless porcelain, pottery, jade, furniture, calligraphy and other traditional crafts is on the other. At least half a day is required to even scratch the surface of its treasures. Some of the designs on the ancient pottery and porcelain are as fresh and modern as today’s designs.
Centuries ago the centre of Shanghai was dominated by the lovely Ming Dynasty Garden now called the Yu (or Yuyuan) Garden. The approach to the entrance is past the ornately decorated Huxingting teahouse, featuring upswept eaves and red lacquer panelling. Inside the gardens (built between 1559 and 1577) is a tranquil oasis of bridges over small pools, artificial mountains and many pavilions. Every step reveals a different scene.
You can visit the residence of revolutionary hero Sun Yat Sen and also the house where his widow Soong Ching Ling (1893-1981) lived after his death in 1924. In the garage of the latter are two old limousines, one a Russian Jim presented by Josef Stalin in 1952. These buildings are found in what was the French Concession area of Shanghai and some of the stylish original buildings still exist.
Another popular attraction is the Jade Buddha Temple, a symmetrical complex of prayer halls and ornamental roofs. The centrepiece is a huge white jade Buddha, carved from a single piece of jade in 1882. It survived the Cultural Revolution because a statue of Chairman Mao was placed in front of it.
The facade of Shanghai may be of tall new buildings but you don’t have to go far to find the pulsing heart of the city. Tucked away in side streets close to many of the popular hotels for tourists the daily life of thousands of people living in huge housing complexes goes on as it has for decades.
Early morning is the best time to explore especially the produce markets with dazzling displays of fresh vegetables, meat, fish and delicacies such as crab and eels. The small shops sell everything imaginable – whole shops devoted to door handles or bathroom taps.
Shanghai is a real mix of old and new, East and West especially in its shopping, bars and restaurants.
The best shopping streets are Nanjing Road with top end shopping malls such as Plaza 66, Shanghai Centre and City Plaza. For real fakes at great prices (be prepared to bargain hard) try 580 Nanjing Road (West).
The choice of restaurants is endless from those at all the top hotels to some unique Shanghai haunts. If a ‘Hairy Crab Banquet’ takes your fancy make a booking at the Central Hotel for their signature dish while Ye Shanghai has great Shanghai cuisine.
The night scene is explosive with new properties opening all the time. Try Glamour Bar, newly renovated, creative drinks, very retro or New Heights Bar, on top of 3 on the Bund, relaxing with panoramic views from the terrace…Both are located close to the Bund
Not to be missed is a performance by the amazing Chinese acrobats at Shanghai Circus City. I still can’t work out how they managed some of the acts including 8 motor cycles at one time in a large ‘globe.’
A great way to get to and from the international airport at Pudong is by the new fast train – 30km in 7 ½ minutes reaching a speed of 431kmph; costs about $10.
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