Arriving at Shanghai main railway station on an overnight sleeper train from Xian it was good to see easy access to the main concourse and directions to the well organised taxi stands that were simple to follow, after spending time in a few Chinese railway stations over the past weeks we knew this was not always the case.
After Beijing and Xian, Shanghai, even given its size and vast population, seemed less frenetic. Crossing the road while still dangerous was less of an ordeal, queuing was more organised, the crowds in the metro were not as daunting and the interchanges between lines short, unlike Beijing.
You immediately feel that while this is obviously still China there is more of a Hong Kong feel, less police and more relaxed security. There is so much to see but not the huge sites that there are in Beijing just the enjoyment of selecting an area getting a feel of that part of the city, the architecture, the eating, the shopping and perhaps chilling out in a café or bar.
I had wanted to visit Shanghai for a long time and had read much about the Bund, the famous riverside area with grand buildings from the colonial time of the city when the British, Americans and French had their settlements. It did not disappoint, particularly at night when looking at these fantastic old buildings and the brand new skyscraper buildings on the other side of the river in Pudong. The brand new Shanghai Tower is still to be completed but will soon look down on the Shanghai Financial Centre with its futuristic bottle opener top and the beautiful pagoda style Jinmao Tower. Given the queues for the observation deck at the Jinmao I would suggest the Hyatt Cloud 9 bar one floor below, opens at 5pm and gives you staggering views of the city on a clear day.
Close to these towering buildings and with easy access to the metro is the IFC Mall, possibly one of the smartest malls I have ever seen, the range of designer shops is incredible but much more fun is choosing where to eat from the huge selection or choosing a bottle of wine from Enoterra a wine shop where there is no corkage if you choose a bottle from the huge range and drink it in their bar area.
Shopping and food seem to be the main pastimes in the city and as you would expect these both range from very expensive to incredibly cheap (and good). We booked lunch in advance at Table No 1 which is part of Jason Atherton the UK Michelin starred chef’s expanding Asian empire. This is in the Cool Docks area of the river and is part of the industrial chic Waterhouse hotel. The set lunch is a bargain at the equivalent of £18 for 3 courses, the food was outstanding and the service excellent, a really great experience.
At the other end of the scale we had one of the great food streets of Shanghai on our doorstep. Close to the Shanghai Concert Hall and Peoples Square is Yunnan Street, it contains everything, roast duck and pork stalls, dim sun, kebabs, hotpots and seafood places. The best seafood place is on the corner of S. Yunnan Rd. and E. Ninghai Rd., we found it when searching for a cool beer late at night and discovered a place packed with locals eating plate upon plate of delicious looking food. The beer at £1.20 for a large bottle of chilled lager was a winner and we came back regularly afterwards to eat from the huge menu and nothing ever disappointed. Four excellent dishes and four beers cost on average the equivalent of £16. The translations on the menu were wonderful including dishes described as sexual harassment dried bamboo shoot and German groping, neither of which we tried. There were lots of other choices apart from seafood.
Still on the subject of food, we also sampled Hot Pot in Shanghai, although perhaps more associated with Beijing and further North there were a huge number of options in the city and we opted for Hai Di Lao, a national chain renowned for the best service possibly in China – it is used as an MBA study model. In the busy times you get snacks, drinks, shoe shines and manicures while you wait. We went at a less busy time and it was excellent, menus are on IPads and we chose a split hot pot, part tomato broth and part mushroom broth, with half portions of meats and vegetables to cook in the broths. Great quality and good fun and there are many pastes and spices you can add or dip into to suit your taste.
The last must on our food list was the “to die for” dumplings at Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain with places in all the main cities, and yes they are more expensive than other places but boy are they worth it and you don’t get black truffle in your dumplings in most places. The choice and the service were truly top notch.
We managed to fit in some culture as well and the highlight was without a doubt the Shanghai museum, it is said that the citizens of the city do not look back and tend to disregard tradition, an exception being this marvellous museum, designed in the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel. The bronzes on the ground floor of the building were truly stunning, some dating back to 21BC, the intricate work and design was jaw dropping. The other galleries particularly the ceramics were fabulous but the bronzes I can still picture.
There will be lots of details on places to eat and visit on the Shanghai page on the web site but sadly it was time to leave the city on another overnight sleeper, this time heading to Hong Kong.