During our second week of traveling through China (during the Spring Festival), Jess and I have stumbled upon a different China than we have seen up until this point. In our first week of travel we ventured out of the rural farmland of Henan provence towards China’s southern capital (Nanjing). From there we discovered the tea fields of Hangzhou and meandered along the coast line of West Lake.
Week 2 began by checking out of the hostel in Hangzhou, then drifting north to a city called Suzhou. We only spent a couple nights in Suzhou but the atmosphere was exuberant and had a “western” feeling or sorts. Suzhou is called the “water town” and lies on the far outskirts of Shanghai. Canals and walkways work their way through the heart of Suzhou and it was easy to relax and enjoy the comfortable surroundings.
From Suzhou we were a short train ride from the largest city on the planet and our excitement had been steadily increasing as we city-hopped out of rural China and into the metropolis supercity of Shanghai.
When we got off the train in Shanghai we were silent in anticipation. Shanghai stood as a slow heartbeat for us in the previous weeks and we had been almost subconsciously gravitating towards it since the beginning. Now that we were there we were excited to check into the hostel, drop of our bags off and venture into the city! We stayed at a hostel called Rock & Wood and it is one of the best hostels I have stayed at in China.
For the next 5 days we explored Shanghai! We hung out with people from all over the world, saw the Bund, the Pearl Tower and Shanghai skyline, the Shanghai Museum (not super exciting), Jing-An Temple, Jade Buddha Temple, East Nanjing Road, Han City (a fun place to barter for cheap knock-off brand names, clothes, souvenirs, and electronics), and ate a ridiculous amount of awesome dumplings! Shanghai is a jaw-dropping city in many ways and if you are traveling to China, Shanghai should absolutely be added to the itinerary.
During our visit we also decided to take a day trip to Zhujiajiao (pronounced something like Joo-jih-jee-ow). It is a small city about an hour and 15 minutes west of Shanghai by bus and well worth the trip. The city is sometimes called the Venice of Asia and fully lives up to its reputation! Street vendor rancor, chinese smells of food, fish, and “stinky tofu” fill the narrow cobble-stone streets, while you dance and weave with the canals and bridges that intertwine through the town. It is quite quaint, for lack of a better word, and a great way to spend half a day outside the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
Top 8 things to do in Shanghai:
1. The Bund and City Skyline. One of the greatest skylines in the world. It is impossible to take a bad picture and well worth it to take the ferry across during the sunset.
2. East Nanjing Road. Packed with tourists, shopping, and places to eat! If you can stand the crowds and have some money burning in your pocket; East Nanjing Road is a shoppers paradise!
3. Zhujiajiao (Venice of Asia). An hour and 15 minute bus-ride west of Shanghai is a small price to pay (9 RMB) to discover this sleepy water-village. There is no shortage of tourists, souvenirs, boat rides down canals, and places to eat authentic Chinese food. It’s a perfect place to wander and meander, while picking up some unique souvenirs and working on your bartering skills.
4. Jade Buddha Temple. Temples are like castles in Europe… it’s easy to start saying, “once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all” … but the Jade Buddha Temple has a flair about it that is well worth the 20RMB (+10RMB to see the actual Jade Buddha).
5. Han City. Fun way to barter and buy cheap things! I personally hate shopping, but Han City is rather entertaining. When you find something you like start at 10% of their asking price and be willing to go up to 30% … be careful though they are experts in the world of bartering!
6. Jing’An Temple. A mediocre temple, but holds the unique appeal of being crammed between a major metro station, a mall, and an urban sky rise. It’s usually free but cost 50RMB when I was there in January (most likely due to the Spring Festival – Free is worth it; 50RMB probably not).
7. Shanghai Museum. If you are a Chinese history enthusiast and love Ming Vases and Qing dynasty relics then you will love the Shanghai Museum. Otherwise it is a rather boring museum but well worth the entrance fee of, nothing.
8. Former Residence of Mao. One of the residences of Mao during his reign of power. It’s now a center of blind patriotism and propaganda; but it is rather interesting and worth poking around for half an hour or so.