My Chinese-Malaysian church family frequently used the phrase “look-see, look-see” to refer to quick trips to a place. Then again, you will hear many things repeated in SE Asia so as they say here, “Why say it once when it sounds more convincing twice?” I recently returned from my own look-see (x2) to Shanghai, China. I’ve wanted to travel to China for sometime now and was finally able to coordinate it with my husband’s schedule.
Having been in Singapore for the last few months, I forget how the rest of Asia isn’t as proficient in using English. I should have started my Mandarin lessons earlier. =( My other half arrived in Shanghai a few days before me for a business meeting so I was given instructions on what to do when I landed at the Pudong (PVG) International airport; Buy a 3G SIM card and get a taxi from the same airport counter. Easier said than done, as even at the international airport the use of English was limited. Still, I managed to sort it all out and was on the way to our hotel, about a 1-hour drive away.
We stayed at a Renaissance hotel in the Yu Garden area of Shanghai which is a good location for travel as it’s less than a 10 min walk to the Metro station and taxis come frequently to the area. The staff was really nice and the best part was the breakfast buffet that was included with the cost of our stay. I am a huge fan of breakfast and it really is the one meal I have a hard time functioning without, even if it’s just a piece of toast with jam/Nutella. Their breakfast spread was definitely much more than toast so I skipped a real lunch most of the time!
Since this wasn’t really a planned family trip we didn’t have much of an agenda for the few days we were there. On day 2, the weather was nice so we took the Metro around the city and eventually went hunting for a Mexican restaurant we read good reviews about. Leave it to us to look for good Mexican food in China! We did a good deal of walking only to find the place was closed down and a new business was starting up. My husband tried to use his (very basic) Mandarin to ask one of the girls about the restaurant and she responded in flawless English (she was from the US). You should’ve seen the look on his face (and hers)! He says her expression was saying “please stop mangling my Chinese language and stick with your English”. Anywho, in the end it was a good thing because she redirected us to another Mexican place about 15 minutes away by walking, Cantina Agave. It was hard to miss, with the lively music and all the expats/tourists hanging outside. We shared a light lunch and agreed the food was excellent and definitely worth a try if you’re ever in the area. We walked around some more and realized that it’s a nice city to be walking outside, except for the chain smoking that’s prevalent in China (reminds me of being back in Kuala Lumpur) and the pollution. =( We made dinner plans to meet a friend living in Shanghai so all our walking was further rewarded with more food and good company.
My overall impression of Shanghai was that it’s similar to many large cosmopolitan cities in the world with multiple options for shopping, dining, and travel. When possible, we usually like to get away from all that and see where else we can go to give us a more complete picture of life wherever we’re visiting. This time, that meant a day trip on Sunday to Hangzhou, which is in the Zhejiang Province.
We decided to take a train from the Shanghai Hongqiao Station. Note: **If you’re a foreigner, bring your passport with you.** We left ours at the hotel but luckily we were able to get by with providing both our US driver’s licenses. The trip took us one hour and we planned to attend the Sunday morning church service at an International church there. By Chinese law, admittance to any International church is only for foreigners and you must show your foreign passport/ID. All guests had a chance to introduce themselves and we discovered the local pastor and his wife call Dallas their “home” in the US. How awesome is that?! They’re associated with the Christ for the Nations International (CFNI) school. It’s always nice to connect with people from your hometown when you’re far away from home. =)
After church, we found a quick lunch spot (nice hot ramen soup) and then spent the rest of the day trekking up the Wu Mountain, passing by a few temples and pagodas and enjoyed the beautiful views of West Lake which Hangzhou is well known for. We probably could’ve gone around a bit more but I didn’t have the right shoes for climbing so I paid the price in blisters later on. =( We wanted to take a boat tour of the lake but by the evening the temperatures had dropped (in the 50s) so that didn’t seem like the best thing to do. The city is very peaceful and has a lot of natural beauty and doesn’t feel as busy as Shanghai, but still has it’s share of food and shopping outlets as it’s a popular tourist spot.
You might be wondering when I’ll start talking about the shopping in Shanghai. China is well known to be the “copy mart heaven” where near exact copies of luxury, branded goods are sold but supposedly the government has cracked down on these. Having seen these copy marts in other trips across Asia I barely did any shopping (fake or real) this time. I think after having seen the same shopping culture regarding branded goods across most of Asia I’ve become sort of numb to it all. I know that must sound strange, but when I’m on vacation, just give me good weather, a few good places for good food and coffee/tea and I’m usually happy!
The night before we left, we managed to get out and walk around on the Shanghai Bund waterfront near the Huangpu River. It was getting pretty chilly so we managed to snap a few pics before getting back to the hotel.
The next day, our trip ended with a ride to the airport on the Maglev train, the newest and fastest form of travel in the country, with trains traveling at 400 KM/h speeds! For now, the train only travels from the station to the Pudong Int’l airport but I’m sure depending on its success more routes will be added in the future. A 30-40 minute drive to the airport took us about 15 mins on the train! There is sooo much more to see given the size of China but it will have to wait until next time.
Does anyone have suggestions for future trips?