Opening my eyes to the Oriental Pearl

I’m finally in Shanghai! I had been eager to get to the city of the Oriental Pearl since we arrived to China. Isma had already been here a few years ago, but for me it was the first time. I think I will never forget our first night, and specially the first time I saw the pearl, it was just magical. We lost no time, a quick shower after dropping the bags at the hostel and we went straight to the city centre. East Nanjing Road was our first stop. We walked along the shopping street spending more time looking up than window-shopping. With flashing neon lights everywhere makes you think you are in Vegas and not China. As we were approaching the riverside, Isma asked me to close my eyes. Then he guided me through the multitude until we reached the right spot and said: now, open. And as I opened my eyes I got the first glimpse of Shanghai’s unique skyline and saw the Oriental Pearl for the first time. In just two seconds I got enchanted by the unusual beauty of the futuristic looking tower, by the elegance of the colonial riverside (The Bund) and by the impressive multi dimensional skyline.

After a great start things only got better. We stayed in Shanghai’s over a week and we didn’t have a chance to get bored… learning about the city’s past, sightseeing, eating, shopping… there were just too many things to do in this city. I even had the chance to have my hair cut, and probably influenced by where we were I went for a different haircut this time… Marta Chang was ready to take Shanghai!

Yu Garden, a tranquil and beautiful classical Chinese garden created during the Ming Dynasty, and Shanghai’s old town were the first two places we visited. The garden is an oasis within the bustling streets of the old town that are packed with souvenirs shops, restaurants and temples. Next it was the turn of Shanghai Museum, which is a museum of ancient Chinese art. And although neither of us is very fond of art museums we found it really interesting, especially the bronzes, ceramics and the calligraphy sections of the museum… when we looked at the time, three hours had gone by and they were closing the museum!

One of the things that surprised me the most was running into Shanghai’s Marriage Market. The name might make you think that it’s some kind of wedding fair… wrong! It’s a matchmaking market!! In China there is still an incredible pressure to get married and specially to do it before turning 30. So many parents come here with what it looks like a CV of their children. Age, height, education, job, salary, whether they studied abroad… everything that can help “selling” their children goes into the CV. Definitely a curious site seeing all the parents examining the hundreds of CV looking for possible candidates. It’s a Shanghai’s institution and it happens every Saturday and Sunday regardless of the weather at People’s Square. Mum, dad please don’t get any ideas from this…

There is little to recognize from the fishing town that Shanghai once was. Since the town opened to foreign trading in the 19th century the transformation has been incredible. Today the skyline of Pudong, the financial district of the city separated from the colonial The Bund by the Huangpu river, is probably one of the most iconic parts of the city. The skyline is dominated by three enormous structures (higher than 400m): Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower. SWFC was the one we chose for a sunset with a view! We crossed the river using the Bund sightseeing tunnel. The 5 minutes underground ride it’s supposed to bring you on a journey from the space to the centre of the earth… flashing colourful lights, blow up dolls, bizarre, futuristic… a baffling ride. Once in Pudong we felt so small in between all the shiny towers, specially at the feet of the SFWC. SWFC has the second highest observation deck in the world (the 1st is in Guangzhou, China) and the views from it are just magnificent. We can’t deny that we felt a little bit of vertigo looking down the first few minutes but we quickly got distracted watching the sun set and the city lighting up.

Wanting to escape from the city for a day we went to Zhouzhuang, a beautiful canal town just 80km outside Shanghai. Very well preserved ancient residential houses, elegant bridges, impressive temples, pretty canals and charming shopping streets… Zhouzhuang had it all. After a few days in the busy Shanghai it felt very nice walking along the tranquil canals of the “Venice of the East” and seeing a bit of the more traditional but touristy China.

Arts and performances have been present throughout history in Chinese culture and society. In particular, acrobatic arts are very popular in China and Chinese are meant to be within the best acrobats in the world. Shanghai has a few shows running all the time, and after a bit of research we chose ERA, Intersection of time. The show tells a love story through stunning acrobatics acts combining it with modern technology and lighting. It was a great spectacle that ended with nothing less than 8 motorbikes spinning at high speed inside a small spheric cage! Crazy! I still wonder how it’s possible that they didn’t collide!

One of the factors that made our stay in Shanghai particularly enjoyable was the neighborhood we were staying at. The hostel we chose was in a lovely quiet area, very local and within very easy access to the city centre. Without a doubt, the best of it was that we didn’t have to go far looking for good food. Every morning we would start the day with a couple of baskets of freshly made juicy Xialongbaos (Shanghai’s special dumpling) from the little stall just around the corner (the best Xialongbaos we tried in Shanghai!) and in the evenings we would just stock up on fresh noodles and wonton soups at the food stall just across the road.

But it wasn’t just xialongbaos and wontons what we ate in Shanghai. We ate stuffed buns, Chinese style flat bread, sheng jian baos… and we even tried roasted pigeon, which wasn’t bad at all! Our teppanyaki night deserves also an special mention. You might be thinking that Teppanyakis aren’t very Chinese and yes, you are right, but Isma had very good memories from this place from when he was in Shanghai so he brought me over to try it. We arrived there around 6pm and we didn’t leave until around 9pm, full as I’ve never been before. 3 hours of watching a live cooking show, flying rice, knife skills, spatula maneuvers and an spectacular flambé finale!

We said goodbye to Shanghai almost the same way we said hello, with a night walk along The Bund and with the beautiful Oriental Pearl waving back at us with its brilliant colours lighting. We promised that we will be back one day!

Visit our flickr gallery for more pictures!



Naza Hostel – Nice hostel just 5 minutes away from Dalian Road metro station. Our room was spacious and clean with attached bathroom. We had A/C, TV and wifi. The best of it the food stalls just around the corner, in particular the Xialongbaos one! Just 5 Yuan for a basket of 10 delicious and juicy dumplings! We paid 150 Yuan per night.


From Guilin to Shanghai by train (20h) – Trains in China do fill up fast so it’s recommended to buy tickets at least a few days in advanced. We went to buy the tickets 2 days in advanced and they didn’t have any hard sleeper left so we ended up buying soft sleeper tickets. After traveling in overnight trains in India, Thailand and Vietnam, taking a Chinese soft sleeper is like moving from a 1 star hotel to a 5 star one. Trains are really comfortable. We paid 528 Yuan for the one way ticket.

From Shanghai to Zhouzhuang by bus (1h 30min) – We had planned to go to Tongli instead of Zhouzhuang, but by the time we got to the bus station there weren’t any seats lefts. We took the tourist bus at the Shanghai People Stadium. We paid 155 Yuan per person which included the return bus fare, the entry to Zhouzhuang and the Chinese tour guide. As our Chinese isn’t very good, we skipped the tour with the guide and we visited the town by ourselves. The only downside of taking this tourist bus is that you are left with very little time to visit Zhouzhuang.


Teppanyaki – We don’t have the name of the Teppanyaki but it’s just beside the Songyuan Road metro station. We paid 150 Yuan per person for a “eat all you can meal” including drinks. Get there hungry to make the most of it!


ERA, intersection of time – Though tickets can be bought online in advanced, we wanted to go to the show the same day so we bought the tickets in a little booking office at No. 272 Fengxian Road. The show runs daily at the Shanghai Circus World. Prices vary depending on the sitting (from 90 to 590 Yuan). We paid 190 Yuan per person.


Express VPN – The Great Chinese Firewall makes it impossible to browse the web freely. Webs such as WordPress, Youtube, Picassa, Flickr, Facebook… and any other pages that use any microbloging engines for their sites are blocked. Even pages like BBC news are occasionally blocked. Our workaround was to use an online VPN service to access the sites we needed (specially wordpress and flickr). We used Expresss VPN and we paid 13 USD for one month. Totally recommended, it worked really well.


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