The one problem with family travelling is that my family and I have different ideas of travel. While my mom is into landmarks, I’m mostly about mingling around local areas and getting the true “vibe” of the city. You can’t not do some of the latter when doing the former, it’s just that in my opinion, my mom doesn’t really put heart into actually getting to know how living in the city is like. (If you’re reading this, mom, I still love you, I’m just saying.)
This was one of the good things about this trip. Travelling with my aunt, I realised that she also likes being on the road and getting a feel of the city, so we had fun doing that.
After we settled into our hotel, we left for a little afternoon walk around the area, and wanting to visit the Bund at night, we went for a walk in the other direction. Not wanting to get lost, we quickly did a U-turn and had dinner at a pretty good hole-in-the-wall restaurant.
After that we walked out into the Bund, where the views were spectacular.
As I said earlier, we joined a tour to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang on the second day. The tour guide was there for us sharp at 7 in the morning, and we set off, passing through the Jing’an Hotel and the Holiday Inn before going off into Suzhou.
My first impressions of Suzhou was how bland it was. Unfortunately that feeling never went away.
The tour brought us to a museum where we had a look.
After the museum walk we were brought out to the streets of Suzhou. I mean, the level of vibrance was so high, one of the tour members was grabbed by an old man trying to sell children’s toys…awesome!
We were then driven to Suzhou Lion Forest, which was…interesting.
The “forest” was just a series of gardens, and apparently the rocks were meant to look like lions’ heads. Okay…
I’d say that the cultural significance of the place were a thousand times more significant than the rocks themselves.
We learned the difference between male “hangout rooms” and female “hangout rooms” back in the past. While that doesn’t sound exciting at first, I was actually very surprised to see the difference.
After we left, we wandered around the streets for a while, before taking a ride to a silk factory nearby.
The city was intriguing, though not overly so. The colours were all bright, and stood out in the fog.
We then visited the silk factory, which was pretty interesting. We got to know how silk clothes were made, and how cocoons were separated, and at least I got to buy some silk underwear. 😉
After having a basic lunch at a cheap hotel, we took the bus over to Zhouzhuang.
The place is completely stunning.
We walked around between little houses in alleyways, and got to a bridge (where allegedly a painter had stood and painted the picture that got this place famous). There, we watched passing boats go by with the captains singing while rowing the boat.
More of exploring Shanghai
We left ourselves one full day of exploring the city, and we made the most of it.
We spent the morning walking over to Yang’s Fried Dumplings, a recommended dumpling restaurant.
Walking there took twenty minutes, and we went through a few minor roads, which were interesting.
We passed through the glamorous Fish Inn (I originally intended to make fun of it, but it isn’t actually half bad based on the pictures).
I found the city very vibrant. When exploring Singapore in April, I found it a little less action packed than Hong Kong. On the contrary, I found Shanghai similar to Hong Kong, except there was slightly more action and less sterility (in contrast to Singapore).
I found Yang’s Fried Dumplings to have the best fried dumplings I’d had anywhere in the world, though I come from Hong Kong where meat is imported from dry Europe, so don’t take this way too seriously.
In all honesty the meat dumpling, their signature dumpling, had a lack of soup and it had all absorbed into the meat, but the shrimp dumpling was dreamily amazing.
Yang’s Fried Dumpling
We then went near Yuyuan and had a few buns. It’s an awfully touristy place, but they do manage to sneak in a Häagen-Dazs and a Dairy Queen.
The Shanghai Metro can be incredibly packed, and it did really feel like a pig sty after rush hour. Even during non-peak hours, there were lots of people on trains, and it took a lot of energy and saying “excuse me” to move around.
After lunch at Yuyuan, we took the metro over to Pudong, which is the newer area of Shanghai. It’s new, it’s glitzy, and it’s completely different from Puxi, the “original” part of Shanghai. The area has only been built within the last twenty years, and it’s been the iconic skyline of Shanghai.
Of course, the sky colour didn’t help with our original impression of the city…
I always knew that many mainland Chinese cities were trying to “copy” Hong Kong, but I never knew that they’d have followed Hong Kong’s structure so similarly. I’m impressed why Hong Kong didn’t sue Shanghai for copyright infringement.
After a short walk around the area, we decided to have afternoon tea at the Park Hyatt, looking down at the Grand Hyatt and Puxi. While prices for staying at the tallest hotel in Shanghai are up and away, afternoon tea prices are quite reasonable.
The view from the Park Hyatt was phenomenal, and if you’re not staying, I definitely recommend you have some tea there for a friend. While it does say CNY 280 per person, the food makes enough for two people, and really, the view is just a tip.
The sunset was gorgeous, though unfortunately my phone ran out of battery so I had to switch to my camera, which is anything but HD.
After that we went back to Puxi for dinner, and set off to buy some books so I could add to my piano repertoire.
Apparently China can only afford republications of these thick, expensive books, but they’re perfectly functional and cost an eighth of what the book would cost in Hong Kong, so I grabbed a few.
I actually wanted to stay at the Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai when the trip was first planned, but it was completely booked out. Xintiandi was an area that really intrigued me before the trip.
It was a modern area almost torn off from the Shanghai vibe, and was almost similar to most places you’d find in suburban Europe.
Even the road signs were classic.
From Xintiandi we took the metro back to the Hyatt on the Bund and took the hotel shuttle back to the airport.
Bottom line on Shanghai
Shanghai completely intrigued me and exceeded my expectations in terms of diversity in every way. In Puxi, you have “actual” Shanghai, kind of like Mong Kok, which is completely chaotic and cramped, though in the best way possible. Then you have singled out places like Xintiandi (a European-influenced area) and Pudong (a modern, spacious working district), which are special in their own ways.
I need to drag my parents back to Shanghai sometime.