Landing in Shanghai is quite an eye opener. Pudong airport is state of the art, sleek and efficient and, contrary to many expectations so is Shanghai itself. Shangahi has a wealth of histrorical sights and attractions for the tourist such as the famous Bund Waterfront, the stunning Shanghai Museum and the colonial French Concession. Shanghai is the birthplace of the Chinese Communist Party and the city where Mao first came to prominence. It is also a great place in which to enjoy all of the wonderful regional varieties of Chinese food.
The “Paris of the East”
China’s biggest city is modern and frantic and in a rush to become even more modern and more frantic, whereas life in rural China goes on much as it has for centuries with the vast population engaged in peasant agriculture. Unfortunately the Chinese, in their headlong rush for modernisation, have irretrievably obliterated huge amounts of their history, particularly in the cities.
Shanghai, once known as the “Paris of the East,” now has more of an American feel than a European one and has more skyscrapers than New York (and is still constructing them). Large parts of the city resemble a building site and it is sometimes easy to forget that this is China. Even so, there is plenty of historical interest here.
Waterfront – the Bund
The area next to the Huangpu River, which runs through the City, is known as the Bund. This has historically been the centre of the city’s trading activity and consequent wealth. The best time to see it is at night. A spectacular view of the river is afforded from one of the many restaurants on the upper floors of the shopping centres on the North side of the river (Pudong).
The Shanghai Museum – Three Thousand Years of Chinese History
For culture buffs the Shanghai Museum is a must. Admission is free and it is stuffed full of stunning exhibits documenting China’s incredible history. From furniture and ceramics to calligraphy and coins, the museum has artefacts from every dynasty in China’s long history.
The French Concession – a Glimpse of the City’s Colonial Past
With its tree lined streets and numerous bars, restaurants and shops, the French Concession gives a glimpse into Shanghai’s colonial past. In parts it is very elegant and at odds with other parts of the city. The cream of Shanghai’s old residential buildings are in this area as is the site of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP was founded in 1921 in an unprepossessing building which is now a small museum. The actual room where the first meeting took place has been recreated and is worth a visit. There is a small shop where Communist Party memorabilia, including replicas of Mao’s little red book, can be bought.
Huangzhou – A Walk around the Most Famous Lake in China
Just two hours from Shanghai by train, Huangzhou is a big city in its own right but feels very different from Shanghai, with far fewer western tourists.
Huangzhou is home to the famous West Lake. It is said that every Chinese citizen wants to visit West Lake in their lifetime. It is easy to see why as it is stunningly beautiful even on a misty and cold day. All life is here with locals doing their Tai Chi as the sun rises and families simply out for a leisurely walk. There are numerous options for taking to the water itself with boathouses dotted all around the lake. It is all perfectly kept – almost a little to neat and tidy. There are opportunities to linger over a pot of green tea in one of the many lakeside cafes or just walk – there are a variety of routes to take – and absorb the majesty of the lake.
The National Museum of Tea and Longjing Tea Village
Just a short bus ride south of Huangzhou is the National Museum of Tea and Longjing Tea Village. There are plenty of photographs and explanations in the Museum but not many exhibits. Anyway, an hour can be spent here before catching the bus again outside the museum and going on just a few kilometres to a traditional Chinese tea village where it is possible to see acres and acres of tea plants that produce the famous Longjing variety of green tea.
Families involved in the tea business will offer a tasty and inexpensive lunch as well as plenty of tea! The village has been completely restored and has an affluent feel – certainly not typical of rural villages in other parts of China.
So that’s China – but only a very small taster. There is plenty more to see of this fascinating country.
Travel – British Airways fly from London Heathrow non stop to Shanghai. There is an express train service from Shanghai to Hangzhou which takes about 1hr 20 min.
Accommodation – there are plenty of basic but clean and comfortable tourist class hotels in Shanghai and Huangzhou. The Shanghai Classical Hotel is a good example.
Getting around – The easiest way to get around the cities is by taxi. They are numerous and cheap. The metro system in Shanghai is not that extensive and the buses, though cheap and reliable, are always overcrowded.
Eating Out – There are numerous restaurants in both cities that provide an amazing meal at a bargain price. A lot of restaurants have photo menus so the language is not usually a barrier to ordering.
Language – without some knowledge of Mandarin it is very difficult to travel independently in China so most tourists go on organised tours.