We recently took our first trip to China where we spent our time in Shanghai and nearby Zhèjiāng. When we first toyed with the idea of going to China, we had in our minds a trip that would include Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou and we were keen to visit Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and the terracotta warriors. We were even considering a side trip to Tibet or Hong Kong. After a little research we realised this was not going to happen in the fortnight we had to spend in China. So we narrowed our focus to Shanghai (primarily because we snapped up some ridiculously cheap return flights.) Shanghai is the country’s biggest city and when you think about how big China is and how enormous its population, this seemed a little intimidating first. We weren’t entirely sure what to expect from such an enormous city but I’m happy to say that we fell in love with Shanghai on our first day. We spent the first few nights near Madang Road Station close to Liyuan Park. It was such a nice area and we immediately felt a strong sense of community and enjoyed incredible kindness from the locals as we found our regular street food carts and bubble tea shops.
We had arrived at Shanghai Pudong International Airport in the early hours of the morning long after the last train had gone for the evening (no Shanghai’s public transport is not 24 hour). We may have been a tad delirious from our Melbourne – Kuala Lumpur – Shanghai flight but we were on a mission to get to our hotel. Ignore all the people claiming to be taxi drivers and trying to offer you a better deal and make a beeline to the official taxi rank. There were no seat belts in our taxi as our driver sped way above the speed limit while talking on the phone. It was a mildly terrifying experience, but I’m happy to say we made it to our hotel in one piece and we agreed to not take any more taxis if it meant going at high speeds on a freeway. We checked into our hotel, we had specified late check-in but as this had probably got lost in translation as they had determined us no-shows and cancelled our booking. Fortunately they had another room for only a small amount extra. Honestly we were so exhausted I think we would have paid any amount for a comfy bed and a good night’s sleep.
After the interesting night we had, we awoke feeling apprehensive about our stay in Shanghai. But as soon as we stepped outside in the mid-morning light, our concerns were alleviated. Mengzi Road was bustling. There were children on their way to school and street food vendors everywhere we looked. Breakfast was veggie buns and bings. This was our first attempt at purchasing food in Shanghai and of course we shocked to only be paying 10元 ($2 AUD) We ate our breakfast in Liyuan Park where we had several mimed conversations with the locals. People were lovely to us everywhere in China but we really felt welcome around the Mengzi Road area and we remarked more than once that we could easily live there.
Our first day wasn’t going to be jam packed as we were still tired from our trip but fortunately not jet-lagged because Shanghai is only 2 hours behind Melbourne. So we caught the metro from Madang Road to Dashije station. The metro system was easy enough to use, though we had some initial difficulties purchasing tickets at the machines to begin with – it really wasn’t that difficult to figure out in hindsight but it does help to know there’s an English option.
From Dashije we walked down Yunnan South Road where we visited the Ancient City Wall and the Dajing Ge Temple.
We went inside the temple where we discovered the Shanghai Taoist Calligraphy and Painting Centre on the ground floor. After admiring some of the calligraphy we were greeted by a lovely woman who got us to try a little calligraphy of our own.
Further along Dajing Road is the White Cloud Temple.
After visiting both temples, we were starting to feel hungry so we ventured back to Yunnan South Road to a place called Shen Da Cheng. There we ate glutinous rice balls, vegetable spring rolls and fried pumpkin cakes. It was all so delicious. Once again the total cost was approximately $4 AUD. We quickly realised we were in a foodie’s paradise. Dinner was at Lu Chaoshou on Mengzi Road where we sat down to spicy chili oil dumplings, fried duck and rice.
Another day, another amazing breakfast bing. The ones we had were sort of like egg pancakes filled with wonton wrappers, springs onions, pickled vegetables and chilli sauce. We got addicted very quickly.
Today we planned to visit what is probably the main tourist attraction of Shanghai, the Yu Garden. The entrance is a short walk from Yu Garden Station down Fuyou Road. It’s very well signed but we still managed to miss the entrance and walk the entire perimeter of the complex anyway. The first place we visited there was the City God Temple of Shanghai. It was an impressive but also very touristy temple. We admired the sculptures and the architecture before sitting down to a cup of tea in the temple. The tea is not cheap, costing approximately $10 AUD for a cup. The entire Yu Garden area is really geared toward tourists so expect to may a lot for food and drink.
Our next stop was for lunch at the City God Temple Snack Street. The food was delicious but again, not cheap. We tried the Shanghai specialty dish, hairy crab alongside numerous dumplings and some xiao long bao (another Shanghai favourite.)
We browsed the shops before crossing the Jiu Qu Qiao Bridge to the entrance of the Yu Garden. The garden is filled with exquisitely manicured Chinese gardens and temples and the water is teaming with gold fish.
By our third day we were keen to explore some of the museums in Shanghai. I work in the visual arts sector so I rarely visit a new city without exploring at least one museum or gallery.
From People’s Square we wandered over to the Museum of Contemporary Art Shanghai where there was a fantastic exhibition called Shan Shui Within. I don’t have permission to post any of the photos I took of the exhibition so you’ll just have to take my word that it was fantastic.
People’s Square was bigger than I had first imagined but there were some gorgeous gardens to walk through and the odd food cart to buy from. Next up we walked to the Shanghai Museum where we spent the afternoon admiring all the Chinese bronzes, ceramics, sculptures, seals, jade objects, paintings and textiles. All in all we spent a few hours there just wandering through the permanent collection.
After a long day at the museum we spent our evening devouring copious amounts of xiao long bao, shengjianbao and sticky rice.
On our fourth day in Shanghai we left the city and took a day trip out to the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao. You can read more about our time in this village of bridges and canals here.
After a quiet morning in the hotel, venturing out only for a bing and some spring onion pancakes, by the afternoon we were ready to see something different.
We had heart about the Wen Miao Temple but didn’t really know what to expect. The area around the temple wasn’t as nice as everywhere else we’d been in Shanghai. There was a lot of construction going on and constant noise from building sites. The temple itself however was quite lovely. We were the only ones there and it was clear we’d wandered a bit off the beaten track.
In the evening we ventured back to the Yu Gardens as we wanted to see it lit up at night time in all its glory and it certainly did not disappoint. We crossed the Jui Qu Qiao Bridge again and admired all the temples as they were lit up in vibrant blues and greens. We snacked on a delicious little cake that I think may be called xian rou yue bing but I could be mistaken before returning to our old haunt along Mengzi Road for dinner.
This morning we went out to the north of Shanghai to the Arts Precinct, M50. I’d had a couple of friends from home recommend that I pay a visit and I was looking forward to seeing all the contemporary and commercial art galleries in the precinct.
When we got off the metro it was clear we were in arty part of town. Nearby Changshou Park was filled with sculptures. Next we walked along Moganshan Road which is apparently one of the only roads in Shanghai with a decent amount of street art. (I don’t know how true this is so let me know if you’ve seen others.)
Many of the art galleries were closed despite advertising to be open on a Wednesday but even with about half the galleries in M50 closed, we still would have visited over 20. My personal favourite galleries were the Ying Art Centre and Chronus Art Centre where we saw an exhibition that featured a work by Nam June Paik among others.
In the evening we went out to the Bund. It was our first time stealing a glimpse of the Oriental Pearl Tower. We would have to save a walk along the Bund for another day because we were there for a cruise down the Huangpu River and yes it was terribly romantic.
A cruise was the perfect way to end what had been six incredible days in Shanghai. We arrived back at the hotel to pack up our things for an early morning train ride to Hangzhou. We knew we were going to miss the community we’d got to know on Mengzi Road and we were going to miss Shanghai itself. But we would be back in a few days time for more adventures.
Next up: Hangzhou