Illustrated Adventures » by Alli Campbell

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While nothing beats that buzz of a new place, I love returning to a city I’ve explored before. It’s an opportunity to do what you want to do, rather than what everyone breathlessly insists you have to. This meant a zero-museums pact, and skipping pretty much everything in the Lonely Planet ‘Shanghai in Two Days.’ Except walking down East Nanjing Road to the Bund, which we did several times. I’m a little bit addicted to people watching.

On that note, our favourite stop this time was Fuxing Park, which feels like a summer camp for retired Shanghainese. There were dance and exercise classes, choirs, chess and card games, music practice, performances, men tending to pet birds and people sitting around chatting, laughing at treasured grandchildren. There’s a lot to criticise about China, but this kind of set up would combat so many of the challenges older people face at home.

If you’re a sewer (I wish there was another word for that) don’t miss Xin Yong An Road, which is full of shops selling zips and ribbon for prices that may make you cry. The Dongtai Antique Market is interesting to explore (but be prepared to haggle hard), and if you want to make sure you experience the turtle-in-a-bucket China moment head to the intersection of Jiangyin and Chongqing North Roads. We were underwhelmed by Tianzifang in the French Concession, but it had many of the same souvenirs as the Dongtai Market for cheaper (and fixed) prices if you’re after some shopping. Just don’t plan to eat there. We tried (and failed) to find the Flower and Bird Market in Huangpu, but the area is really interesting even if you never manage to find the market itself.

Last time we also took in the Shanghai Museum and the amazing buildings on the Bund (don’t miss the mosaic zodiac in the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank), and the Yuyuan Gardens. I’m neither here nor there on Yuyuan, which is interesting but ridiculously crowded. The Chenxiangge Nunnery is  nearby, with virtually no visitors.

WHERE TO STAY We stayed at the Mingtown Etour International Youth Hostel, which was CNY180/$AUD31 for a private room/shared bathroom. In a  traditional residential building around a courtyard, the hostel is walking distance from the main sights. Our only complaints were the mouldy and ordinary bathroom, and that our booking was changed from double to twin because I had inadvertently noted it was for two females. Overall we still preferred it to the Rock&Wood Youth Hostel where we stayed last time, because the location is so much better.

FOR HOW LONG We stayed 3 nights, which is probably enough for the city itself. If you’re wanting to include day trips to surrounding areas, plan more time.

GETTING AROUND We walked pretty much everywhere this time, but we also love the Shanghai metro. The trip from the airport costs CNY7/$AUD1.20 per person, and individual trips are CNY2-4. You can buy a travel pass, or individual tickets as you go – just make sure you collect CNY1 notes because the machines often don’t give change. The taxis are good value and well regulated, and the drivers usually switch on the meter without being asked. Download Explore Shanghai Metro App ($1.99) for an off-line train travel planner.

EATING You can’t miss Shanghai’s soup dumplings (xiao long bao) – we particularly love Yang’s on Huanghe Road (CNY6/4 dumplings), which has extra seating upstairs. Don’t be afraid of places without English menus – just point at what other diners are having, or ask for the house specialty. We spent CNY62/$AUD11 per person on food, from a mix of restaurants, street vendors, snack shops etc. 

BUDGET We spent CNY170/$AUD29 per person per day, including hostel accommodation, a couple of restaurant meals, a couple of admission fees and limited shopping. This was less than last year, I think because we were staying more centrally and didn’t use any cabs.

AVOID Anyone who is too forward. There are exceptions, but foreigners are common in Shanghai and propriety dictates that locals will usually wait for an introduction. If a group of young people approach you and won’t stop chatting, they’re probably buttering you up for the tea ceremony scam. Enjoy chatting to them, but don’t be afraid to politely decline their invitation. As an older Chinese man told us after we had extricated ourselves from a long chat, “look around at all the Gweilo! Why would they want to talk to you so much? It doesn’t make sense.”