Last year we embarked on an EMU Travels the World adventure, the next stop on our tour was Shanghai. Now we’re sharing what we discovered when we explored the Pearl of the Orient, a city known for its history, excess, glamour and mystical exoticism.
If you’re flying into Shanghai, the only way to get into the city in our opinion is on the world’s fastest train, the Maglev. Travelling at up to 350km/h, the train literally levitates over the rail lines and gets you into the city centre, 30 kms away, in 7 minutes and 20 seconds.
Spend some time getting lost in the maze of streets in the Old City. Small pockets of temples and architecture still exist and will give you a glimpse of ‘traditional China’. Once the core of Shanghai, a fortified wall surrounded the neighbourhood to keep out Japanese pirates. Today only a small section of the old city wall remains and old shikumenstone gate houses are making way for modern apartment blocks, so see it while you can.
Despite redevelopment around the city, the area known as the French concession will transport you back to 1850. The then French consulate built a French settlement with western-style homes where foreigners shopped, drank and dined. Today you will still find many boutiques and cafes to wander.
Shanghai’s culinary scene is massively cosmopolitan, with food options from around the world easily available, however if you’re looking for local eats, these are our favourites.
One of our Shanghainese favourites is the Xiaolongbao, a delicately steamed dumpling that encases a tasty pork and soup filling. Available throughout the city in high-end, mid-priced and budget eateries you’ll have to try this more than once to decide your favourite. Look our for more adventurous flayour combinations including crab roe, foie gras and black truffle.
Food stalls line street corners offering cheap, tasty treats throughout the day.For breakfast a typical local dish is Jianbing, a soft crepe like pancake folded around egg, a crispy wonton cracker, spring onion, sweet hoisin and salty soy bean paste. It’s a humble meal packed with flavour and texture.
A hole in the wall must try, is one the city’s many la main joints. Order a bowl of savoury noodles and your meal includes a masterful performance of skilled noodle making. Once you’ve placed your order, a thick ball of dough is stretch, twisted and pulled effortlessly resulting perfectly fresh noodles.
The Bund is Shanghai’s most recognisable site. When you look over the Huangpu River at the Pudong financial district, a high rise, futuristic metropolis, it’s hard to believe it was farmland only 30 years ago, a testament to China’s massive and speedy growth.
Back on this side of the river the Bund showcases the city’s colonial history of the 1800s.
The mile long stretch is home of 52 buildings in various architectural styles. Be sure to check out the Peace hotel, which has a museum housing memorabilia of the hotel’s past, and the former HSBC building to admire the mosaic ceiling.
Shanghai’s Yuyuang Garden is massively touristy, but we love the little alcoves, pavilions and pools of fish. Finish of your visit via the zig zag causeway and a leisurely drink at the Mid-lake Pavilion Teahouse, which has been visited by Queen Elizabeth II, Bill Clinton and notable others.
For some calm and serenity (apart from during a festival) the Jade Buddha Temple offers some peace and tranquillity. Housing a 2 meter white jade Buddha originally brought to shanghai from Burma, the temple managed to survived the Cultural Revolution when the monks pasted portraits of Chairman Mao on the exterior walls which the Red Guards were unable to destroy.