Shanghai is so irresistibly exotic. Think of 30’s art deco Shanghai, the women in the posters, cigarette holders, the western concessions creating a mix of east and west with potent exoticism.
Today’s Shanghai isn’t quite like that, but it’s a great city to explore. It’s Beginner’s China. Great food, great shopping, and a buzz about the place.
There are tons of hotels to stay in. All the international hotel chains are here, as well as local ones, and boutique hotels. Most of the attractions are close to each other, on the northern side of the Huangpu River. You’d likely only stay in Pudong for business.
I really enjoyed the Hyatt on the Bund. It has a great view of the Bund (pollution allowing), recently renovated and gorgeous rooms with fabulous bathrooms (my weakness) and a really wonderful spa. I had a 2 hour session of a body massage, a head massage, and a steam in the fabulous steam/sauna area. I think at the end of it I couldn’t even remember who I was. The really strange thing I remember about the massage was that they clean your ears with cotton buds. It felt really weird.
The only downer is it’s not on any main drag, so taxis are necessary and a bit of schlepping.
The Portman Ritz-Carlton, on Nanjing Xi Lu, is really handy. You are right in the middle of Nanjing Lu, Shanghai’s main shopping drag. It was OK, a bit blah – you could be anywhere in the world – but the location was fantastic. And there’s tons of foreign-businessmen food around too – CPK, Paul’s, and a supermarket. In fact, that complex is expat central.
In the French Concession, the uber-hip 26-room boutique hotel, URBN is gorgeous. It’s really chic, with simple modern lines, nods to traditional Chinese feel, and eco-friendly. It’s walking distance from Nanjing Lu. Lucy recommends it highly.
What to do
There are great areas to wander round, shop, chill, eat. Nanjing Lu is the main shopping drag with the malls, international brands, like you never left home. Lots of high street shopping too on Huaihai Lu.
Friend Lucy lived in Shanghai for 4 years, in a gorgeous lane house in the French Concession. She creates really cool wrapping paper and notecards using Shanghai and China as themes. See story here. She schlepped me round Shanghai.
A must is the French Concession. The area is preserved pretty much as it was when it really was the French Concession. Low villas, narrow, tree-lined streets, and ‘lane’ houses. Think shophouses in Chinatown.
There are some cool shops in the area, so while wandering around aimlessly, stop in these places.
Platane is a really interesting shop with a collection of cool homewares, accessories, designer-y things. 127 Yongfu Lu, Xuhui districtnear Fuxing Xi Lu.
Head to Madame Mao’s Dowry for really cool collectibles from the Mao era. It’s so cool it’s not even kitschy. Great graphic t-shirts with communist iconic art. There are also clothes for sale here, tailored by a seamstress. And if you see something you like, but it doesn’t fit quite right, they’ll tailor it for you. I got 2 tops made, not cheap, at about US$100 each, but great fit and great tailoring. 207 Fumin Lu
Eat at the little and hard to find “Jessie” – that’s the name on the sign board. In Chinese it’s Lao Ji Shi on Tian Ping Road. It’s across the street from the gay bar “Eddie’s”. It’s not much to look at but wow, the food! It’s local cuisine, unpretentious and really delicious. I love the stuffed dates, the Shanghai noodles, and the crab and egg thing. But most of all I really love the dates!
For real Szechuan, try South Beauty. There are several branches in the city, but I ate at the one at 881 Yan’an Zhong Road, near Shaanxi Road. This is Szechuan food that is totally different from the Szechuan we get in Singapore. There’s the fish dish where they drop hot stones into the dish at the table, great dan dan mian and the shredded chicken with peanut sauce and a note of warning – when they say spicy, it is SPICY. It’s a good-looking place, lots of glass and good lighting.
If you are not staying at URBN, and need respite from Chinese food, drop in there for a great Sunday brunch.
Lucy also recommends:
“Bull Noodle – (Corner of Fumin Lu and Chang Le Lu at the A Mansion buildling, 291 Fumin Lu) Good Taiwanese beef noodle place, set in a minimalist environment featuring center communal tables for parties or singles wanting to meet other people – or more private tables for 4 on the sides. Don’t miss the sour plum juice. Portions are hearty.
Located in the new Mansion building that also boasts Coffee Tree café, Cantina Agave for Mexican, Tsui Wah for Cantonese fare and La Dolce Vita for Italian. So if Taiwanese beef noodle isn’t your thing, check out these other places. This building is just down the street from Madame Mao’s Dowry, so worth checking out Madame Mao’s and then grabbing a bite at either of the above restaurants.
After you’re done stuffing your face, walk it off by going around the corner to Xinle Lu—the street known for independent boutiques featuring off- the-truck designer stuff – copied and real (I think), Frangipani Nail Salon, Dragonfly Massage and Spa and more.
Le Passage – 299 Fuxing West Road - down the street from Platane on Yong Fu Lu is Le Passage—a small collection of small boutiques, galleries and Ginger Café, housed in a historic building in a very quaint part of Fuxing Lu.”
Another great area to wander around in is Taikang Lu. Its narrow alleys are quaint and quite sweet, and doesn’t feel over-cleaned. There are some really cool shops in the area, and really trendy interiors. It still has interesting little shops rather than chains, so definitely worth a wander. Check out the hip little shop Nest, a design collective with a range of clothes, accessories, homeware. I found a great dress in there, locally made. I really regret not buying it. 2nd Floor, Lane 210, Taikang Lu.
XinTianDi is the upmarket, cleaned-up, scrubbed-up version of Taikang Lu…it’s a pedestrian area of older Shanghai buildings converted to swanky stores and restaurants. There’s a big Shanghai Tang here, lots of restaurants (including a Zen and South Beauty) and an outlet of Haley’s favourite pastry shop, Paul’s (best croissants, brioches and yummies). Justin Quek has recently opened La Platane here. You’ll find international brands like Nine West, Miss Sixty.
Touristy things to do: Wander on the Bund, take a boat down the river, visit the historic YuYuan Garden, (where the famous xiao long bao restaurant is – prepare to queue…and great sweetie and kana-kana stores, tea shops everywhere too, ask to taste). Round the corner from the Yu Yuan Garden, the buildings are full of shops selling pearls and jade. There are floors of the stuff! There’s also Hongquiao Pearl Market. Around YuYuan (‘Old Town’) is also worth a wander – antiques and all manner of cool and strange things.
What they don’t tell you
- beware the local tourists in the touristy spots like Yuyuan and The Bund. There are so many, they move in large groups and have little sense of personal space – it can get really overwhelming…
- You can’t get by in taxis without Mandarin. Get addresses written if you can’t speak it. (I lose all Mandarin when in China)
- If you can’t live without them, Starbucks and McDonald’s abound
- The pollution can really suck
- the cheapest place to buy silk purses and pouches (that everyone does once as gifts) is at the airport – I paid nearly double at YuYuan
- it’s China, there are lots of people, duh