Chinese delight

By on April 29, 2009
As travel prices fall out of the sky, take your young emperors and empresses to the new Shanghai and let them feel the energy and savor the style of this mega-city. Over the last two decades Shanghai has transformed itself into a real Gotham City; futuristic shimmering buildings punctuate the decaying edifices of decadent times gone by. Now the hedonism has returned and a new breed of émigrés and home grown tycoons  are giving the new Shanghai its contradictory mix of unbridled consumerism and aging communism. A science fiction, science fact world where the pace of change is remarkable, the scale breathtaking and the experience unique.You could be forgiven for thinking that Shanghai has got seriously ‘lost in translation’ with its blatant commerce and mini-bar palaces. However tucked between the skyscrapers and super sized hotels lie small vibrant alleys and street markets. The ancient rhythm and charm of the city remains intact with beautiful tree lined boulevards and cobbled streets where  the old residents sit on the curbs  watching and ranting.What could be a more fitting way to enter this great city than by the Maglev train as it hurtles at 267 miles-per-hour, just millimeters from the ground. In eight swift minutes you’ll find yourself in this city of contrasts. Shanghai means “on the sea” and is divided into east and west sides by the Huangpu River. On one side is the super-futuristic area of Pudong with the omnipotent Pearl TV Tower, Pudong’s riverfront promenade is ideal for early morning strolls, flying kites and views of the Bund. Neoclassical buildings line the west bank and house swanky restaurants and swish fashion dens.

Home to over 18 million people, the city is enormous but the centre is the comparatively small area of Puxi. Easy to navigate, it’s divided into neighborhoods each with their own flavor.  The French Concession is a beautiful area full of sycamore lined avenues and old colonial mansions housing cool eateries, boutique hotels and trendy stores. Yu Yuan with its beautiful Ming Dynasty walled garden of pavilions, and willows has been out staged by its busy market with its maze of stalls and stores selling everything you expect from the world’s biggest  manufacturer. If you have a strong stomach try walking Dajing Lu’s sidewalks for the livestock market, fish, poultry and others of more dubious origins. Culinary adventures can be had on every corner from Cantonese dim sum to skinned frogs. Check out the artists’ quarter on the banks of Suzhou Creek where the contemporary art scene flourishes. Former warehouses and factories exhibit  work on a dramatic scale.

Amidst all this urban chic and market life, the kids are bound to get restless. Century Park allows them to let off steam and you can rent bikes and row boats. At Aquaria 21, a huge aquatic theme park full of marine life, the kids can even go scuba diving. A trip up the Oriental Pearl Tower which houses the history museum below will let you cram in a little local knowledge. For cutting edge displays and prying hands the Science Technology museum with its IMAX screens and chess playing robot is a winner. The very communist sounding Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall gives an insight into Shanghai’s evolution and has great displays, interactive exhibitions and a fantastic walk around model of the city. Then there is the Bund Tourist Tunnel, a strange but somehow appropriately odd attraction that takes you on a psychedelic journey under the river.

Stay at the Park Hyatt and feel like a star, on floors 79-93 of the Shanghai World Finance Tower, the world’s highest hotel. It also happens to house the world’s highest pool, restaurant and bar; perfect statistics for back to school reports. Take a nighttime river cruise and check out the barges with their huge advertising TV screens, completing the surreal picture unfolding in front of you. If the 101 floor SWFT with its iconic bottle opener style roof is out of reach, try the Peace hotel or the Astor with its fading grandeur and Munster mansion features. For the style conscious family, Shanghai’s boutique hotels get it just right. Ultra contemporary hotels, nestled in the trendy backstreets offer yet another fitting contrast. Whether you are returning to this great city or coming as a first timer, the intoxicating Shanghai mix is guaranteed to surprise and delight. To the Batmobile….

Official Languages: Mandarin & Shanghainese
Access:  Approx 3 hours from Tokyo
Time difference: -1 hour
Currency: The Renminbi, the basic unit is the yuan
Climate: Subtropical maritime monsoon climate, with four distinct seasons. Best times to visit Shanghai are May, September, October and November.
Transport: Don’t forget to buy a prepaid transit card and use on the metro and taxis
Favorite boutique hotels: URBN hotel & JIA Shanghai
Airfare flights from around ¥25,000

About Carl Williams