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A frenzied, almost manic explosion of people, culture, money and city living, as well as an ample supply of magic, mystery and absolute mayhem, Shanghai always delights. A madam of transformation, she’s had more image renewals than Madonna, and possesses just as much sass. Probably more. Welcome to the most captivating city on the Orient.
1. Explore Old Shanghai before it’s lost to skyscrapers
A microcosm for China as a whole, in Shanghai, ancient China sits aside its super modern alter-ego. With the turn of a corner you can switch from skyscrapers and business suits to dusty hutongs and elderly men playing mah-jong in the rubble. Temples, grandiose in their day, cower beneath an imposing Shanghai Tower, which at 632 metres looms over the traditional architecture. Take a tour of the atmospheric but fast-diminishing old areas before the cranes move in for good. You’re looking for a triangle of land between Xiaonanmen metro station, the Lujiabang fabric market and the Cool Docks, where you’ll stumble across a ram shackled labyrinth of back alleys, and decaying houses. There may be stray dogs and little wealth, but the welcomes are always heartfelt.
HOT tip: The best plan is to get completely and utterly lost, before taking respite in a family-run eatery. For huge plates of egg fried rice coming in well under two dollars.
2. Shanghai shopping. You ain’t seen nothing like it.
In Shanghai, you really are encouraged to shop until you drop (a big wad of Yuan that is), and with department stores – and Starbucks’ stores – not closing their doors until 11pm, it’s also the perfect activity after a full day of activity. The L+ Mall in Lujiazui boasts all the usual draw cards; the biggest designer names for one, but also Galeries Lafayette. The upmarket French retail giant with more drool-inducing French niceties than you could throw a bottle of Chanel No.5 at. Covering 23,000 square metres of the mall, Parisian fashion just got a few hundred air miles closer to your fingertips.
HOT tip: The Shanghai Dream Center opened in 2018. Aptly named, it resides in the West Bund area on Longteng Avenue. Better described as a dream 'lifestyle destination', and is split into seven districts. A mecca of shops, restaurants, an IMAX multiplex and even a 'Broadway-themed' area. Dubai, watch yo’self.
3. Enjoy magic and madness at the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel
It’s the Marmite attraction of Shanghai, you either love it or you hate it. And even those of you that hate it, love it really. If not for its excessive cheesiness, then definitely for its absolute madness.
What are we talking about?
Well to be frank, we’re not quite sure. It’s called The Bund Sightseeing Tunnel and it’s a ride of sorts. A five-minute below water joyride in automated cars, traversing the 647 metres between The Bund and Lujiazui under the Huangpu River. With visual effects, sound effects, trippy lights and garish props along the way. Makes sense? No, well that’s okay because there’s very little to make sense of.
The enjoyment is in the eccentricity. Can you easily cross the river by other means? By boat? Or taxi? Why of course, but where’s the fun in that? You don’t go to The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and actually expect to be served tea.
HOT tip: Current admission: one-way: 45 RMB and round-trip: 55 RMB.
4. Say hello to vertigo at Shanghai’s World Financial Centre
Not one for the faint hearted, or those who’ve just lunched, the observation deck on the 100th floor of Shanghai’s World Financial Centre sits 474 metres above the ground and towers above The Bund, Shanghai’s Old Town and even the iconic Oriental Pearl – and that’s not exactly a titch.
Visually, the World Financial Centre is the building that cuts into Shanghai’s glittering skyline like an over-sized bottle opener, and the 100th floor, complete with 55m viewing gallery sits on a linear walkway made of nothing but glass. You’re effectively tight-roping the edge that pops the lid of your Tsingtao.
HOT tip: You’ll need nerves of steel and a strong disposition, or you might need something strong and highly distilled to get you through. Good news, because the Park Hyatt’s 100 Century Avenue Bar is situated just nine floors below, with floor to ceiling glass windows and enough G&T to steady those shaky hands.
5. Boost your wellbeing
In a city that throbs with both culture and commerce, let alone 24 million inhabitants, take a break from the maddening metropolis at The Living Room by Octave. A hybrid of both eastern and western therapies (as well as aesthetics), exercise with yoga, tai chi, Pilates and Thai boxing, or zen out with a four-hour ‘Mindfulness Journey Bootcamp’. With a wholesome organic restaurant and onsite childcare facilities for six months to three years, take care of yourself, even with the kids in tow.
HOT tip: Beijing roast duck is just as delicious in Shanghai as the capital, we know, BUT vegetarian restaurant Zao Zi Shu in Jing’an is clean-eating at its most moreish. Plates are loaded with fresh, seasonal ingredients sans meat, seafood, alcohol and MSG. How’s that for a health kick overload?
6. Cycle Shanghai's former French concession
Where east meets west and you could be in both France and China, the leafy streets of Shanghai's French concession are distinctly Shanghainese, but built with French and Belgian money. European shutters and colonial street lamps collide quite beautifully with tuk tuks and dumpling bars. This elegant neighbourhood is flush with bijou boutiques, live-music venues and wine bars, while Luwan's Huaihai Road is a busy shopping street oozing with indie fashion shops and European delis. A very pleasant afternoon can be spent here either on foot, or by bicycle, stopping at the tapas bars, French bistros and the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum.
HOT tip: Also home to Fuxing Park, head here early morning and you’ll discover a hive of activity: meet-ups of every genre, from singing troupes to dancers, card players and tai chi artists. Grab a coffee, find a bench and people watch to your heart’s content.
7. The world's largest Starbucks is in Shanghai
The world's most colossal Starbucks opened in Shanghai in 2017. Boasting a staggering 400 employers it can accommodate a 550 customers. With one hundred different beverages and a bar that runs an almighty 26 metres, you could spend an entire day in this coffee emporium.
HOT tip: The giant coffee house is also home to the world's largest coffee bar, so pull up a pew and grab a cup of Joe, there's plenty of space!
Know before you go: Shanghai
Getting there: Both Air New Zealand and China Eastern fly direct from Auckland to Shanghai in just over 12 hours. Indirect services are also available.
Weather: June is rainy while July and August are sweltering. Visit December through to March and you’ll need your woollies. The best times to visit is arguably April to May and late September to mid November.
Getting Around: Uber boasts its own English speaking driver tab – a welcome add-on. Choices range from Uber Black to People's Uber. And there’s also Uber’s Chinese nemesis 'Didi Chuxing', which has recently launched an English version of its app. You can also exchange real-time translated messages with the driver. Both services are good value.
Tipping: Not expected, though some places will add a service charge.
Drinkable water: Tap water is only safe to drink in certain tourist sites such as Shanghai Disneyland. Be safe and buy bottled or pop some water purifying tablets in your luggage.
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