It’s been 2 years since my last visit to Shanghai but every time I come back now, it feels like hanging out with an old friend. The city looks familiar, the features are bring back old memories but at the same time there’s something a little different about it.
This chronicles my 5 day jaunt through Shanghai, during our trip up to see the Terracotta Warriors that was purely spontaneous and not so planned. I’ll be updating it as I go along!
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Old familiar sights and new
Nanjing Road West
Since we’re staying near Nanjing Road West, our first night in the city we just walked along the street lit up by color changing LED flowers hanging from the trees. While not a lot of shopping happened, we glanced in awe at the number of high end stores and malls there were. Everything looked out of our budget until we saw a big sign for the Uniqlo and entered inside for a browse.
Turns out, things have gotten a lot expensive in China over the years. I didn’t find the prices at Uniqlo here that much cheaper than say in New York especially when you factor in the weak Canadian dollar.
There are also lots of restaurants, cafes, bars here so for anyone looking for a bite, there are many to choose from. Lastly, this might also be the only place where there is a Marks & Spencer in Shanghai. Pop up from the subway and there it is.
This is a must-do for guys when coming to Shanghai. I’ve made suits here on previous trips and this time, I wanted to take advantage again so we made another trip to the fabric market.
While the place is a bit daunting with its 3 floors and stalls that all look the same, I was lucky enough to remember which one I went to last time and head straight there (stall 255). The guy working there was different but I’ve always liked that this store wasn’t particularly pushy and was relatively easy to negotiate with.
In the end I landed two 3 piece suits. One with regular wool and the other with a wool/cashmere blend. I customized everything down to the jacket lining, thread stitching, collar width, back slit style, and # of inner pockets. The rest of the suit is more or less same across the board. The hardest part was definitely picking a fabric that I wanted. After flipping through dozens of pages, I eventually found the two I wanted. For the dress shirts, I had to do the same except for these ones I wanted to do a different inner collar and cuff area fabric so I had a chance to pick that out too.
I hope both suits turn out swanky for use at weddings and potentially in professional situations but we’ll see when I pick them up later in the week.
Final price: 1500 RMB for 1 wool 3-piece suit + 1 cashmere/wool blend 3-piece suit. This includes 100×2 for each dress shirt which leaves 1300 for the suit. My guess is that it’s around 600 for the wool one and 700 for the cashmere/wool blend.
You can customize literally everything so don’t be afraid to ask. It also helps to bring in a picture of exactly what you want so they can help figure that out for you. I hastily put together a do that I saved onto my tablet that I was able to show them right on the spot.
Also it’s always a good idea to get them to rush order the suits so you have a chance to try them on and ask for adjustments. I told them I needed it FAST and they ended up having it ready for me in 2 days.
Don’t think that you’re going to get the perfect product when you order it. I would highly recommend you account for additional time to get further alterations. In my case the seamstress screwed up my two dress shirts. For one shirt, the collar and cuff lining had the line pattern of the fabric going in a different direction, and for the other shirt, they swapped the fabric I wanted for the shirt, and collar and cuff lining. As a result, I had to send both of them back to be re-made which meant coming back in another 2 days.
Science & Technology Museum Market
[No pics…too busy shopping]
I think most people that come here know about this market. It’s the easiest to get too and I think the most foreigner friendly. Sure they’ll all start yelling “Sir, watch-a-ma-bags-a-come-inside” when you pass by but you learn to deal when you can get pretty great deals on knock-off gear or cheap electronics.
This time around, I didn’t have a big shopping list. Like the idiot I am, I forgot my GoPro charging cable so I had to look for that and I needed a glass screen protector for my iPhone 6. I ended up picking up the charging cable for 10 RMB and the tapered glass protector for 30 RMB.
China Art Museum
Formerly the China Pavilion during the 2010 Expo, they’ve since then converted the whole building into a massive art gallery, containing works from Chinese artists all around the country.
Originally, I thought I’d just be taking some photos from the outside but to my surprise we found out that the entrance into the grounds and building was entirely free. There were only two special exhibits that required money so we decided to take a look inside.
I’ve always loved this building for it’s architecture so you’ll definitely have a lot of fun shooting here if you’re a photographer. The inside of the museum was well done. Starting from the top floor you make your way down and there are quite a few gallery sections that cover the history and evolution of Chinese art.
The rest of the Expo grounds on the Pudong side of Shanghai have changed dramatically since my visit in 2010. Almost all the pavilions are gone except for the Saudi Arabia one and of course China. The other thing that withstood the wrecking ball was the raised promenade and its giant canopies. While it was more of a resting area during the Expo, it has now turned into a full blown shopping/entertainment area called the River Mall.
Why am I not surprised? Everything in China seems to turn into a shopping mall or area. What I don’t get it is how these places sustain themselves because there’s gotta be a limit to the number of Gucci and high end stores I’ve never heard about. It’s crazy!
In any case, after the China Art Museum, we walked all along the River Mall towards the water. When we reached the end, we noticed a mega food festival happening to promote Taiwan. At this point we were still full from the snacking we had done along the way but we were still giddy with excitement. There were a lot of familiar foods from my Taiwan trip and we ended up with an octopus skewer and also their famous oyster omelette.
Around where we live are a bunch of little communities off of the main street so we’ve just been randomly popping into a few of them to get a glimpse of local life and old architecture.
Taking the train to Jinshan
Family matters had us going out to Jinshan just south of Shanghai and as a result had a chance to take a bullet-esque train. It wasn’t quite as fast as the Shinkansen in Japan but it was able to make it down pretty quick.
How many LVs can there be in a city?
Today we had lunch at a restaurant in a newly built mall in the Hongqiao area. What I don’t get is how many luxury malls does a city need? This has got to be like the 4th or 5th mall I’ve seen with an LV which is crazy I think. After lunch we walked around and realized that there was nobody around. How do these malls survive? The only thing I can think of is that there’s got to be a ton of rich Chinese making big purchases every once in awhile that keep these alive.
Buying international train tickets
One problem we ran into was the purchasing of train tickets. We could easily buy train tickets when in the originating cities but what about if you’re planning further ahead? You’d think you’d be able to do it from any train station in the country but that is not the case. We tried doing that from the South Shanghai Railway Station but no dice.
We did some research and found out that you can buy these type of tickets in the city but you have to go to a special store. There was one right by the Jing’an metro station so we made our way there on one of our days in Shanghai.
Another thing you’d probably ask is, why can’t you just buy it online? Well we tried but because we’re not citizens, the site (Ctrip) seemed to have some major hiccup when we entered our personal information. In the end we gave up because we couldn’t figure out what the issue was.
Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC)
I really wanted to go up the tallest building in China (Shanghai Tower) this time but unfortunately it’s still done so we settled for number two in the SWFC right across the street.
Standing 492 meters tall and the tallest observation deck in the world, we had a chance to go up all the way to the 100th floor to take in the views of Shanghai.
A trip to Shanghai wouldn’t be complete without heading out to The Bund and catch the night lights of the Pudong skyline. Being a Saturday, the crowds were out in full force but still manageable. After waiting a bit, we eventually got to stand right by the railings to take some obligatory selfies. The skyline hasn’t changed all too much except for that behemoth of a building to the right. Just when you thought two buildings was enough, they had to top it off with one more.
There’s a lot of walking and carrying of heavy bags when travelling around China. One of the best ways to alleviate some of that tension and sore muscles is to do a massage and that’s precisely what we did on Day 6. After exploring a bit of Pudong we head over to a nearby massage place (the legit kind) and got an hour session done for 108 RMB which is pretty damn cheap. After the hour was over, I was begging for more as I could really tell a difference in my loosened neck and back muscles but alas we had to go. The great thing about it all was that my tired feet felt fully rejuvenated and I was ready walk another 10K.
Eating lots and lots of food
I’ll be honest, I’ve gone to Shanghai at least 4 or 5 times now and at this point I’ve pretty much seen most of the sights around the city. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m really not sure what else to check out anymore so every visit I make back to the city is all about eating. There’s so much good food here and the best part is that most of it is really cheap if you know where to go.
I never heard of this place but apparently it’s a chain all over China. It’s called The Grandma’s because they serve the type of food that your Grandma (if Chinese) would serve at the dinner table. What this restaurant has done is take that food but allow you to eat it in a contemporary but cozy setting to enjoy with large groups of friends and family. I love how you can have traditional dishes without going to a rundown place. Overall all the food was very excellent (though a little oily). My favourite was definitely Grandma’s Pork (pork belly) which was ridiculously tender and loved how it was paired with salty fish and bamboo shoots. We totally over ordered with our 4 dishes but even still the bill only came out to 111 RMB (~$10 ish CAD/pp). Great value for great comfort Chinese food.
This has got to be one of my favorite 2 bubble tea shops in China. We walked by on our first night on Nanjing Road West and couldn’t say no. I was a very happy camper :) Their kumquat lemon tea is probably the best item on the menu.
If you love egg tarts and Portuguese tarts then you’re going to love Lillian Bakery. An export straight from Macau, these are so delicious, when I studied in Shanghai that summer in 2012, I practically had one every other day. I probably gained a few pounds as a result but when straight out of the oven, the flaky pastry combined with the fresh custard is undeniably drool worthy.
I heard about this place when I went on exchange 2 summers ago and it’s still as good as I remember it. If you’re looking for unique, fresh and tasty western food while in Shanghai, I highly recommend Mr. Pancake. There are several around the city.
Wanting to try something totally wild and different we ordered this “sandwich” which is made of a block of thick toast, cheese, a beef patty glazed with peanut butter, and peanuts.
Memories of Hong Kong in one single restaurant. Amazing that they now have these in Shanghai too. If you’re ever craving a little HK-style cafe food, simply head over to Tianzifang and you’ll see it right across the street on Taikang Rd.
We later found out exploring more of Shanghai that you can find these ina a whole bunc hof other locations including the Super Brand Mall on the Pudong side of Shanghai.
Din Tai Fung
If you love xiao long bao (XLB), this is an absolute must when you come to Asia. While this is franchise out of Taiwan, don’t be fooled because the food they serve is legitimate Shanghainese. What makes their XLB so good is because first they’re freshly made but secondly and more importantly, the skin they make is ridiculously thin. There is no place else in the world that makes XLB as good as Din Tai Fung. Besides specialty pork XLB, I love their shao mai, buns and sweet red been paste XLB. Just be prepared to pay a bit more as this is definitely an higher class restaurant.
Yershari Xinjiang Food
A unique meal you can have in Shanghai is Xinjiang food. The province of Xinjiang is located far north west in China and is very unique in that there’s a large population of Muslims and so the cuisine from the region is quite the eclectic blend of styles. There’s a heavy emphasis on lamb so if you’re a fan and you love spicy food, you’re going to love it here.
Yershari Xinjiang Food is a restaurant we had a chance to try with my friends living in Shanghai, Dany and Lynn. Located just a little west of the Loushanguan Line 2 station on Tianshan Rd., this restaurant is rated one of the top Xinjiang spots in the city.
Personally, I thought the food was okay but that just might be because I’m not too big on spicy. The skewers were pretty good and being a sweet lover, their milk pudding and yogurt were pretty good. Otherwise I wasn’t blown away at all.
Set in an old traditional pre-war colonial mansion, this restaurant serves up all the best traditional Shanghainese dishes. While it was not cheap (most expensive restaurant we ate at during the whole trip), every single dish that we ordered was REALLY good. I’ve had most of these dishes before while I was nodding in approval, my parents gave this the thumbs up too!
Another restaurant out of Hong Kong, I couldn’t say no when we passed by at the Super Brand Mall on the Pudong side of Shanghai. I wrote about this place in my top 20 places to eat in Hong Kong and if you read it, I talk about their White Snow Sago dessert (Item C) but in China it’s called Basil Seed in Vanilla Sauce for 29 RMB.
We didn’t quite have space in our stomachs for more food after a filling lunch but it was on my “To Eat” list so I had to make it happen :)
Fresh fruit juice craze
The latest craze in China seems to be fresh fruit juices. Every food court we went to there was some sort of juicing shop with a team of people peeling fresh fruits and popping them into blenders. I don’t think there was any one particular franchise that was the most popular so you’re safe to go to any one.
As you can see from the menu, the two fruit blend (C2 section) is only 12-25 RMB.
While Happy Lemon is my number 2 bubble tea spot in China, CoCo is my #1. They must put some crack in their milk tea because when I was studying at Jiao Tong University, I swear I had one of these everyday. There really is no reason to say no because it is only 8 RMB for a milk tea with tapioca which is just a little over $1 back home!!! Cray.
The Airbnb experience
You can read about the full Airbnb China experience in another post but I did want to make a point here to say that I don’t know why I didn’t try this earlier!
Located in a hipster-ish area of Shanghai that reminds me a bit of the French Concession neighborhood, our Airbnb apartment is in an uber old apartment from who knows when but our unit is newly renovated, complete with everything you’d need.
Bonuses for sure are that you can fit 4 people, has a full kitchen with fridge and has a washing machine. All this for only $85 CAD a night!
Only cons about the location is that it is about a 10 minute walk from the subway. Since we’re facing North Shaanxi Road and the sound insulation is not the best through these really old windows, you can hear most of the street traffic.
Itinerary developed on the go
A really long Day 1
- Air Canada AC087 from Toronto to Shanghai direct
- Subway straight from Pudong International Airport (PVG) on Line 2 straight to Nanjing Road West (1.5 hours)
- Meet up with Max (friend of Airbnb owner) at the metro station and walked to the apartment
- Settled in
- Had dinner at The Grandma’s – typical home style cooked Chinese dishes without having to go to a hole in the wall restaurant
- Crashed early
- Breakfast at Jia Jia for xiao long bao
- Picked up some butterfly cookies at Park Hotel Deli
- South Bund Soft Spinning Material Market (I just call it the fabric market) to get 2 3-piece suits made
- Science and Technology Museum market (Xiangyang Market)
- Late lunch at Mr. Pancake
- Tianzifang neighborhood
- Dinner at Tsui Wah
- Crashed early (serious jet lag and fatigue from walking)
- Brunch at Din Tai Fung at Shanghai Center
- Walk a bit of Huaihai Road and shopped at Japanese stores Daiso and Miniso
- China Art Museum / China Pavilion during Expo 2010
- River Mall (above ground promenade from Expo 2010 turned into a mega mall)
- Taiwan Food Market by the waterfront
- Dinner at Yershari Xinjiang Food with local friends
- Brunch at a super local restaurant that we randomly walked into along the way to the subway
- Train out to Jinshan from Shanghai South Railway Station
- Afternoon in Jinshan with family
- Dinner at Fu 1039
- Spending time with relatives
- Lunch at Xiao Nan Guo restaurant (Shanghai Min) at the fancy L’Avenue
- Buy train tickets for Louyang to Xi’an at a special shop near the Jing’an station
- Pick up suit at the fabric market
- Dinner at Hope Restaurant near Nanjing West subway station
- Crash early
- Head over to Pudong side of Shanghai
- SWFC Observatory
- Lunch at Hanamaru Udon
- Super Brand Mall – Honeymoon Dessert
- Massage at Gong Dao Massage
- The Bund
- Pack and sleep
Lost in translation
And last but not least is my collection of random sights along the way.