I stayed in Shanghai longer than Beijing (consecutively). There is a lot to see and it is just as big as or maybe bigger than Beijing. I also celebrated Chinese New Year’s (CNY) here or New Lunar Year. I picked Shanghai for this special holiday for several reasons:
- I was told that all the cities were going to be dead and so I wanted to be in a big international city
- It is a big international city
- A friend, H, lives now in Shanghai (we met in Prague)
However, I think for Shanghai itself, 6 nights is too much (what I stayed). Of course, there are a lot of things to do here, but I didn’t find enough things interesting for 6 whole days.
H met me at my hostel. He actually came the day before at the hostel and waited an hour because he got the days mixed up, but finally we met after about 3 months.
It was nice seeing a familiar face in a strange country.
We wandered around going on the big shopping street of East Ninjang Road and seeing the Bund- a riverside promenade with great views of the Shanghai skyline. It was cloudy, but the clouds were high enough we could see all of the buildings. I went later at night when it was raining and foggy and though the lights were still cool, the skyline was cut in half.
We went to the Jade Buddha Temple, which we arrived in time to see a ceremony by the monks. They were going around one of the altars (are they called that?) and chanting. We also got in for free, not sure if it was because of Eve or not. I am not 100% sure we saw the Jade Buddha, but it was a very tranquil and lovely temple.
When we were walking around, we came across the biggest Starbucks in the world. It is a big oval building with two floors. Upon entering, the smell of pastries and coffee hit you. It is quite pleasant, but the few prices we saw were very expensive. A slice of cheesecake was 80 yuan and like I said in my Beijing post, you can get a decent meal for about 15 yuan.
Speaking of prices, Shanghai is a bit more expensive than Beijing and definitely more expensive than other places in China. It is still relatively cheap and again, if you find the right spots you can eat a lot for a little.
In both Beijing and Shanghai I found myself shopping in the convenience stores a lot more than normal. I would have preferred a supermarket, but only one day did I see any and it was in a smaller town outside of Shanghai (will discuss later). It makes sense that the supermarkets wouldn’t be in the city center, but near where the people lived on the outside.
However, my normal lunch food while traveling are sandwiches and comparing prices of making my own sandwich at that one supermarket or buying it made at a convenience store- it was better to buy it premade.
Some of them also sell hot food like those steam buns for less than a dollar and I did that a few times. For dinner, I also sometimes had basically ramen.
This was New Year’s Eve and many food places were closed. There is a lot of closures for the holiday, but in general, specifically in Shanghai, life goes on and all major places will be open. I think most places were closed on the Eve because it was the Eve. Most places in the Western world are closed on the Eve.
We ended up at KFC, but when H returned to the table from the counter,
“They said all the chicken was gone.”
“Yeah, I know. This is KFC- CHICKEN is in the name, how can they run out?”
We parted ways, planning on meeting the next day for the official day of New Year’s.
I was expecting fireworks nonstop every day for the whole week and was prepared with ear plugs. I was also expecting parades with dragons and such. Apparently, due to past chaos, the government has been restricting celebrations and so I have not seen any fireworks or dragons for Chinese New Year’s.
We did go to the Yuyuan Garden and Bazaar, which held a light festival meaning that different colored lanterns and light sculpture/art structures were everywhere and in the streams as well. It was packed with people.
Actually, this whole week I felt like my time has just been standing in a snake line and being jostled about. Those who said the cities would be dead and there would be no one was seriously wrong. Many families and tourists have flocked to the big cities. Granted, I’m sure more left the big cities, but it was by no means dead.
H, A (from Beijing), and I stopped in a cafeteria in the Bazaar for food. I got some dumplings that looked really good- it turned out they were about 56 yuan! We were splitting it 3 ways, but I owed H and A basically their share so I covered the whole thing.
They were rather delicious and upon looking around the majority of people had them, which made me feel better for ordering them because it meant that this was A if not THE thing to get.
Some of H’s friends met up with him and A and I broke off to see the rest of the lights.
I was a bit sad because I invited a woman from my hostel to join us, but due to the crowds and lack of data/phone service we couldn’t meet up. However, later, she told me that she still had a great time and wouldn’t have gone unless I invited her so it still worked out well in the end.
This was basically the most Chinese New Year’s activity I experienced while in China. A lot of places around the holiday were of course decorated, but to be with this many people and have all the lights around me was pretty cool.
During this day, A and I went to a place called Qibao. It’s an area of Shanghai (there is a metro stop called this) that has small cute lanes around some canals. There are a lot of these small streets near canals in the Shanghai area. Anyways, this place offers also a lot of street food and it looked delicious!
So a typical China sweet are fruits on a stick covered in sugar glaze. The most popular is Hawthorne berry. A warned me to be careful with the seeds and there are several in one berry and they are quite hard.
Thing with Chinese culture is they have no boundaries when it comes to spitting in public and so I would just spit the seeds out. Sometimes the spitting even continues indoors like in the metro station.
We also got a little box full of spring rolls and some other delicious fried goods. While we were sitting on a wall, a man came over and sat next to A. Alright. However, we both noticed his wife taking a picture.
Well, she was taking a picture of her husband with foreigners. This is quite common in China and even in the big cities where white tourists are all the time. H is half black and gets a few more pictures and stares than I think white people do. Sometimes they ask to take a photo, but often it’s “sneakily” or just blatantly obvious/they don’t try to be sneaky.
I haven’t really noticed any stares or photos of me, but I knew I might not receive them as much due to how I look. However, it wasn’t until this moment that I fully realized that I don’t get any attention at all- to them- I am Asian- I am not exotic. I was thinking due to how I move and dress they would pinpoint me as a foreigner, but I guess they just judge based on your face and skin color.
The woman came over and just took a selfie with A and then had her kids over to just take a photo with A.
In the long run, I prefer not to have photos of me as who knows where those photos will end up, but it is very interesting because I don’t consider myself Asian at all. I’m American who happens to have ancestors from Asia. This is also the same in Europe (for those who think I’m Asian and not Latina)- however, I’m apparently more exotic looking to them.
Another situation was with food. I was given food fresh from the pan while H was permitted to take a colder plate (still warm, but not like mine). They were giving me the Asian to Asian treatment I guess and helping each other out. No idea, but not complaining with fresher food!
Another lovely treat I had in China was bubble tea. I’m not sure if it originates in China or another Asian country, but it was delicious either way- these little stores are everywhere. They are about 11-20 yuan depending on your flavors. Coffee, on this note, is actually relatively expensive. I’m used to Europe being only a euro or two, but here it is close to three to four dollars.
A and I made plans to meet the next day to do a day trip to Suzhou because it was the only sunny day we had in Shanghai. Suzhou is known for their canals and apparently Marco Polo called it the Venice of the East. Also, in the Summer Palace in Beijing, there is a small canal with shops all along it and we read that the Emperor made it for one of his concubines because she was feeling homesick for Suzhou (it was a replica of her home basically). Fun fact, she was a Buddhist nun!
So, I, for some reason, woke up really early and decided to take advantage of the sunny morning and went across the river to that’s side “bund” or just riverside promenade. There is not much on that side of the river as it is more of the business district and the great skyline views are on this side aka you can’t see anything.
There were a lot of people in line for the Orient Pearl Tower and many children were heading to the Aquarium that were on that side. Also, I saw a Disney store there, which I constantly forget there is a Disneyland in Shanghai.
When we got to the train station, there was a pretty long line to get through security and we were originally thinking of getting the 11 train, but due to the line we were nervous we would miss it. So we booked the 11:17 train giving us a bit more time. As foreigners, we need to book with a person because they need to see our passport information- our passport number is on the ticket. Make sure to keep the ticket all the way through because you will need to scan it on the way out as well.
Suzhou is lovely, but was extremely busy with tourists due to the holiday- and by tourists, I mean Chinese. There were some non-Chinese tourists, but very rare. I heard it has many gardens- 2 out of 4 of the most beautiful gardens in China are in this small town. One of the gardens, Humble Administrator’s Garden, is a UNESCO site so I wanted to go to this one.
It is a bit pricey to enter- 70 yuan per adult and the reduced ticket is 35 yuan. Luckily, my student ID card doesn’t have a year plus with my age and the fact that I look a bit younger helps me get by using my student card for those discounts.
To get the ticket we had to wait in the snake line again. That is really just my China experience haha.
Upon entering the garden- it was beautiful….without all the people. It was packed. I felt like I was in an ant farm. Someone bigger out there was watching this and tapping on the glass for sure. Crossing the small bridges was a risk of being shoved into the water or being bumped that I would drop my camera or phone when taking a photo. I proceeded to keep them in my pockets whenever possible.
We walked around for 30 minutes and we couldn’t take it anymore. From last night’s crowds to this one, we were tired. I never realized or rather never thought that being in a crowd can be so draining, but it is- mentally and physically. Especially here in China were it is culturally acceptable to push and have no personal bubble space.
Part of this problem is that they tend to link arms and hold hands. This is really sweet and lovely and perhaps Westerners can take a lesson from this, but when you are crossing a bridge meant for 1 person in each direction- linking arms isn’t practical. But they refuse to let go of each other which results in a shoving environment- not efficient at all. Things would be a lot smoother if they released each other for several minutes to cross the bridge or tight space. But I suppose they just like rubbing their bodies against strangers.
Just big tip: Don’t do major tourist sites during Chinese New Year’s if you want to avoid the tourist crowds. You will still have Chinese crowds in regular life like metro and walking streets, but they will be working and not being a tourist.
We managed to get on a little shopping and eating street near a canal and bought some treats. We were seeing these bright colored small balls. They were being sold on carts with other berries so we assumed they had to be fruits as well. We decided to try a little of each color. True to their color- that’s what fruit they tasted like. We tried finding out what type of fruit they were- we think maybe hybrid kumquats? Someone else told me they are Chinese olives. If you know or have a better idea, please do share it with me!
Finally, we made it to the river and saw the sun set. It was a big red ball in the sky, which was ironic because for New Year’s the color is red. It was like the sun was even celebrating.
Speaking of the environment- China and the major cities are known for the bad environment- bad smog. Many people have invested in some sort of mask, but my time in Beijing and Shanghai- things were quite clear. I also used to think when I saw Asians wearing masks in Europe and America, it was because they were sick and didn’t want to spread it, but now that I’m here, I think it is still for the smog, which makes me laugh because Europe and America are not even close to the levels of Beijing and Shanghai. For example, H told me the worse Los Angeles, which is known for being bad in the USA, has experienced was like 40% while Beijing and Shanghai are like 300%.
The next day, A and I wanted to escape chaotic city center, so we went to Zhujiajiao Water Town. It is on the metro line 17- from People’s Square it took about an hour or so to get to. But, the town or suburb rather was very nice. The old town with all the small streets and canals are North of the city so upon exiting the metro head North and you should reach it.
Once we got on the main small roads, it was quite packed. It didn’t help that is was the lunch rush so people are buying foods from the stalls. Chinese are very particular about their eating times. I suppose most people are, coming from Spain, they are very particular about eating dinner around 9 or 10, but I feel like there are still people who fudge those times a bit. But here in China- it is like as soon as the clock strikes 12 until like 2, everyone is eating.
We wanted to go to the Jewish Refugee Museum, but by the time we would have gotten there, it would have been closed (it was actually closed for the holiday anyways) so we went back to A’s hostel and had some coffee from the little coffee stand next door. It was great and pretty reasonably priced. It’s called Habit Coffee by the metro stop Dasije. I also recommend her hostel. She stayed at Phoenix hostel and it sounded like they were geared to more foreigners and had activities for people to meet each other. When we were sitting there, there were a lot of people from all over coming in and out. Meanwhile, I stayed at Etour International Youth Hostel from the international brand Hosteling International. Mine was a bit cheaper, but it was mainly filled with Chinese and the few foreigners were traveling in groups and didn’t want to socialize since they already had people to talk with. And for being HI group, were they have age standards- they were letting children (ok fine…..) and grandparents (like 70’s, this is not ok!).
Actually, I got into an argument with one grandma about the shower. She had her stuff in the shower and the first time I let her win (she can’t speak English and I can’t speak Chinese). I figured she is 70’s and uses a cane, ok fine. I will go outside and use the shower that is outside the building (yes, this is bad too about this hostel). However, when I finished and got back to my room and was relaxing etc, about 40 minutes later was when she finally got into the shower.
The second time, I wasn’t putting up with that. It is not right for her to hold the shower for 40 minutes because EVENTUALLY she will go. I quickly went into the shower and calmly told her as she was screaming in Chinese that I would be fast and here was her cane. I took at most a 3 minute shower. The whole time she was complaining. When I exited, again after maybe 3 minutes. She stared at me in disbelief. I tapped my wrist indicating the time and how fast I was. She didn’t say anything and walked away.
She didn’t take her shower for another 20 minutes.
Yes, on one hand I do feel a bit bad because she is elderly and uses a cane. At the same time, she shouldn’t be in a YOUTH hostel nor taking up a shower that is inside the building when she isn’t using it.
So, moral of the story, don’t stay at Etour Youth Hostel.
After the coffee, A, a woman from her hostel, and myself went to the Radisson Hotel in People’s Square. At the top they have a revolving restaurant. Luckily, tourists are allowed to look around with no fee or purchase. I would suggest to go during down times as to not upset the restaurant to the point where they will incorporate a fee. The views were really nice even with the fog of the rain.
I had to say goodbye to A after almost a week of being together. I hope to see her again soon!
The rest of my time, I ventured around by myself. I went to the Longhua temple and it was heavily decorated for the holiday and many people were burning incense.
They had different temples/altars than the ones I had seen previously such as hundreds of golden Buddhas. Next, I went to the Propaganda Poster Museum as it was recommend by several people. It is hard to find as it is in an apartment building complex. My guide book told me to get off at Metro statin Shanghai Library (line 10), but it is a bit of a walk from the station. Make sure to find the apartment complex that says President Mansion. I ended up wandering around a complex that was next to it because I didn’t realize, etc. From here, find building 4B and it is in the basement.
There is a small sign that says the fee is 25 yuan, but there was no box and no one/no further instructions for paying so I went in and walked the 2 rooms. A man came after me and didn’t pay anything either so I have no idea. There is a gift shop, maybe you are to pay there, but like I said, it didn’t have instructions.
It goes in chronological order from about 1912 to modern day. Most of the propaganda is anti-American during the cold war. After Mao died, and his successor, the next person changed the attitude to more of a continuing in the future and growth and to get rid of negative propaganda, which, according to the museum, is why there are barely any posters left because they were all destroyed.
I tried going to the Jewish museum, but this is when I found it was closed and decided to go before my flight to Xi’an.
My last full day in Shanghai, I got up early and went to the Shanghai museum as I also heard good things about it, but also that it would take several hours. My standard museum time is 2 hours and it took me 2 hours.
It is free to enter and of course you need to go through security. However, due to the holiday, there was a long line. I was told it is about an hour wait, so I decided to go before it opens and I won’t have to wait so long. Well, I still waited an hour (but at least it was only 12 minutes from when the museum was open).
It is more of an art museum, but within the art there is history of China, which is cool. They had a lot of pottery, porcelain, bronze items as well as furniture and traditional outfits. The sections that were the most popular and I too enjoyed were the jade rooms and the currencies of China. They even had an exhibit on Russian painters from the group “Wanderers.” The paintings are lovely, but I found it a bit strange when it is next to how to make porcelain.
I met a new friend in my Beijing hostel and he lives in Shanghai so he met me for the rest of the day and we walked around and went to the fake market. He was looking for a new phone case and so we headed to one of the stalls. We went to the metro stop with the Science and Technology museum. The fake market is underground with the metro.
The woman vendor was the cutest. My friend is from Turkey and likes speaking in English first and then switching over to Mandarin. There was another friend couple there and apparently he piggy-backed off my friend. I wasn’t paying attention, but apparently he saw that my friend got a deal and said he was with us. But, what I did pay attention to was hilarious.
“I’m from here, I know the price.” My friend said. The woman was getting frustrated and finally gave him the price. Then the second guy,
“I also live here. I know how much this should be.”
“You live here, you live here, I’m the only one who doesn’t live here!” She was the only Chinese person in the stall….”Where am I from?”
“America.” I said.
“Yes, you all are from China and I’m from America!”
I had to take a photo with her, she was too cute!
After the market, my friend accompanied me to my hostel and I told him I wanted to try the rice alcohol so we bought some.
Solo, it was alright, but he told me to mix it with the beer (Chinese)- it was worse.
I also bought some instant noodles for dinner and felt like a college student with my instant noodles, beer, and alcohol.
Unfortunately, he missed the last metro and paying a taxi to his apartment would be more than staying a night at the hostel so he came back to the hostel.
There was a bit of a problem with my hostel. The staff doesn’t speak much English and on this regard, the English “service time” is 7 am until 11 pm. It was 10:30 pm meaning service time should apply.
The guy at the desk spoke no English and finally after 10 minutes of arguing he called someone.
“What? I’m not supposed to be working.”
I told him the situation and finally managed to reserve a spot for my friend.
After having mainly Chinese locals in the rooms, having to deal with a language barrier in an international hostel really ticked me off. I wasn’t set up to handle my next hostel, please see post on Xi’an.
But it all worked out and he was able to stay. We got breakfast the next day and parted ways at the metro station.
I made my way to the Jewish Museum. I was meeting H there. It was still closed, which was a shame because I really wanted to see it. Instead, we walked around the area and then took the ferry across the river.
My flight was at 8 pm so I made sure to leave my hostel around 4:15 pm (one hour metro ride to the airport plus any checks that might make me a bit late). I managed to get to my gate with plenty of time.
As I was sitting there, there was an announcement in Mandarin and several people went running. I assumed it was for a new gate change. I waited for 10 minutes and then decided to look at the board. It was my flight that changed!
I gathered my things and headed to the new gate.
I was a bit worried for my arrival because I was going to land at 11 pm and there is only the shuttle to the city center or a taxi. If I missed the shuttle, I didn’t want to pay for a taxi.
I saw a white person aka foreigner and started talking with him. Instantly, I started getting creepy vibes. It turned out he was from Romania and works in Xi’an. Not going to lie, I was a bit glad we sat no where near on the plane and I made sure to run ahead to the shuttle so I didn’t have to be with him.
Shanghai and Beijing are very different. They are both big cities of course, but the atmosphere in my opinion were different. Shanghai is very modern while Beijing, I thought, was trying to be modern, but holding on to their traditions. Nothing wrong with this, but for being 2 of China’s biggest cities, I found them very different.
I wanted to also go to Nanjing and Hangzhou, but I realized these deserved their own trips and decided to save it for later, but if you are thinking of spending a decent amount of time in this area, I suggest these places. Also, this is a good jumping off point to Hong Kong.
If I had to re-do my whole trip, I would have saved Shanghai last and then went to Hong Kong from here.
See you later!
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Loved reading your detailed account of the trip to Shanghai, one city I haven’t been to yet in China but hope to be there in March. Its good to know that 6 days is too much, I would probably do 3 days at least after reading your account. Didn’t know Shanghai had the biggest Starbucks in the world (not sure if I would still be interested to see it as I hate coffee, however I have been to the original one in Seattle) and how the hell can a KFC be open if it hasn’t got any chicken to sell! That is just messed up! 😀
I hope you have a good trip! Let me know your thoughts! Maybe 6 days is perfect for you 🤷♀️ and yes haha KFC?!?! Lol
I love Shanghai. It is by far my favourite city in China. I completely agree with you that being there for 6 days straight is a bit much. Being there during Chinese New Year would be an amazing experience. It looks like you had a great time!
I did! And thanks, good to know others think 6 days is too long 😅
Great to know 6 days is too long in Shanghai. I get 2 weeks’ vacation a year and need to be very aware of the amount of time I spend in a location. It would be awesome to observe a ceremony at Jade Buddha Temple. I would have been so disappointed to not see fireworks or dragons for Chinese New Year’s. The decorations are very pretty though. I’m not sure I could spit out seeds in public, even if it’s socially acceptable and I laughed that the biggest Starbucks in the world is in Shanghai, who would have thought???
You could do Beijing and Shanghai and Xian! I have a Chinese suggested itinerary for your 2 weeks 😊
Fascinating cultural differences! Thank you for shedding light on these so I am prepared for a trip to Beijing, Shanghai, and Xian. As you were, I was very surprised by some of the high costs (hello…Starbucks?). I especially liked the colorful decorations for Chinese New Year; the characters are so playful! This was a good reminder to check my cultural expectations at the gate when traveling. Thanks!
Have not yet been to Shanghai but it seems to modern and yet rooted in tradition. The Jade Buddha and the ceremony adds that heritage touch to it while the whole city ambiance it contemporary. The one time that I definitely want to get there is the Chinese new year. With those lanterns and decor, I bet I would have some very interesting sights to check out. Nice to read your account
Let me know when you go!
Thanks for bringing back memories of Shanghai. We stayed for 6 days too. We were actually surprised that Shanghai was less busy than we expected. But we did not visit for a celebration. Too bad the fireworks and other festivities were limited. I do remember being photographed a lot of time while we travelled in China.
That must have been so exciting to celebrate Chinese New Year in Shanghai! It would be fun to see all those lights. It’s too bad you couldn’t connect with the one woman you invited. I travel without phone/data service so I have the same problem many times.
That’s crazy that you can get a meal for around 15 yuan, but a piece of cheesecake is 80 yuan at the Starbucks. Starbucks is overpriced all over the world I guess.
It also has to do with “exotic” and specialty items. But yes, starbucks is expensive!
Its always nice to know that a familiar face lives in a new city that we’re visiting. Its indeed kind of Mr.H to host you in the city. I would have assumed celebrating Chinese New Year in China should have been quite an experience, but it does feel a bit not-so-hyped as done in the west.
Biggest starbucks in the world is in Shanghai? Wow, I didn’t know that!
The lanterns and the traditional lightings are just gorgeous. I should learn more about their traditional lights, its intriguing.
Yes! Mr. H is a good friend
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