Last updated on July 31, 2011
Color me pleasantly surprised by days wandering the tidy and tall streets of Shanghai, China. I rarely love big cities; as a product of America’s sprawling suburbia, the busy sidewalks, gridlock traffic and the lack of greenery and earth cause overwhelm within a day or two. Couple this with a penchant toward minimalism and the glitzy and trendy Shanghai was an unexpected pleasure.
You see, Shanghai’s streets are clean and the glass-window buildings scale straight up into the sky, endless reflections of clouds, blue haze, and other jutting towers. My visiting friends from back home splurged on a gorgeous hotel on the edge of Shanghai’s chic walking street, giving us expansive views over the huge open public space, the People’s Park.
For a bit of comparison, our location was a bit like staying a block off of Times Square in New York City if only Central Park were adjacent…and if you eliminate 60 percent of the Times Square tourists but keep in the same level of bright flashing lights, shops, pretty people, and proximity to the touristy sites.
So, with that in mind I spent just a brief time in Shanghai, but I found the intriguing, the weird, the touristy, and the pretty and would go back in a heartbeat to find more!
Get Your Shop On at the Markets!
The smaller cities throughout China are far better spots for finding unique gifts and souvenirs, but there are handful of fun markets in Shanghai. The Yuyuan Bazaar is adjacent to the Yuyuan Garden and worth a wander while you’re there. The bazaar is a maze of Chinese and Western tourists and the food court is the most terrifyingly un-vegetarian-friendly place I’ve ever seen. But it was intriguing and we were the only Westerners daring enough to venture inside for lunch!
The Shanghai insect and bug market consisted of narrow alleys between the tiny stalls and every type of bird, bug and fish you could possibly want to purchase (for eating?!). Across the street is an antiques market with fun bits and bots good if you’re in the mood to sift through junk in the hopes of spotting a treasure!
Shanghai’s city center is a maze of skyscrapers shooting upward alongside the tiniest back alleys and side-streets stuffed full of local life. Never before have I seen a big city with such a close mixture of the supremely modern towering over the traditional wooden and cement dwellings.
Look up when you’re walking and you’ll find a tangled web of clean laundry drying against a sky dotted with tall buildings, then turn the corner and you’re once again surrounded by gleaming windows and the shiny metal indicative of large, modern cities the world over. Wherever you’re headed in the city, take a peak down the smaller alleys and glimpse the locals in conversation just out easy eyesight from the busy city streets.
The Bund by Night and Day
Stepping foot on The Bund immediately brought to mind Malecón in Havana–the same idea here, a curving esplanade on the Huangpu River snaking alongside the city center and assuring pretty photos of tall man-made city versus the peaceful water. You’ll likely want to stop by the Bund twice, once during the day for some shots of the Shanghai skyline and perhaps lunch, but the real magic happens once the sun sets.
Shanghai seems to have gone out of its way develop wacky buildings with odd attributes to sit on its skyline like a nighttime rainbow against the dense inky sky.
The Yuyuan Garden
I wish I had brought a book to the Yuyuan Garden and just camped out for an hour or two. The gardens are undoubtedly touristy but still a great example of traditional Chinese rock gardens set against small lakes and dotted with ornate pagodas.
Trendy Shanghai is Worth a Visit
Shanghai is a city is trendy and buzzing with activity with a unique personality you won’t find in any other huge Asian city. There’s certainly a tendency to only associate “true” China with traveling through the rural regions. And there’s truth in that, the rural areas are an integral part to understanding cultural China, the history and the people and the food from other regions.
Don’t discount the cities though! Beijing has a more historical side of China, but in city-form. Shanghai on the other hand is the shiny and pretty sister to Beijing, fun and a tad glitzy and it’s easy to spend far more money than intended!