The Pudong skyline is constantly changing. What are the latest skyscrapers?
Shanghai seems locked in an arm-wrestle with Dubai. Futuristic Pudong is evolving at dramatic speed. The Oriental Pearl Tower, is the building that looks like a giant grasshopper after ingesting a pair of ping pong balls. Very Battlestar Galactica, and that’s has been Pudong’s leading lady for two decades. But currently the tallest tower is the hundred story high World Financial Centre, which has a fabulous observatory. But next year, leapfrogging that, will be the Shanghai Tower, Asia’s tallest building, and the world’s second tallest. ( The concept image is enclosed.)
Across the river on the Bund waterfront, what are the stand-out bars and night spots?
The Peninsula roof-top bar, directly across from the Pearl Tower, is the only spot where you can get an elevated perspective of the Bund’s gentle curvature, over a cocktail. The curve is the key to amazing photos.
For history buffs, pop into The Peace Hotel, and have a spot of lunch in the historic Cathay Room, where the great and the good would converge a century ago, to dine.
And their favourite haunt for cigars and whisky was The Long Bar, Asia’s longest bar. You will find the splendidly resurrected Long Bar, in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, on the Bund.
Is it still possible to experience old Shanghai, or has it all been bowled?
Thankfully, some generous chunks of old-time Shanghai have been safeguarded. Top sights include the Yu Gardens and the Old Shanghai shopping street, which is a tourist trap, with lots of cheap and cheerful souvenirs…but take a wander through the pencil-thin laneways and you will see pockets of urban living that have not changed in decades. Lots of bikes, carts, food stalls and old men playing card games.
You recommend cycling in the French Concession district?
I adore the French Concession, a lovely leafy inner-city residential district loaded with ornate mansions., Developed over century ago, to house many of the wealthy traders in Shanghai. It is now like Embassy Row. All the streets are bracketed by plain trees. And you’ll see more locals pass by on bike, than in cars. In fact, in a city of seven million cyclists, pedal power is a great way to explore the French Concession. Bike hire is easy. No helmets required.
What did you discover about the massage touts on Nanjing Road?
The 2 kilometre long pedestrian shopping street swarms with humanity throughout the day. But amidst all the glam department stores and luxury boutiques, I was stunned at how many people accosted me, in the hope I wanted what they called sexy time. Maybe they’d been watching Borat. I put Nanjing Road to the massage counting test. Walking its full length on three separate occasions, I was hit up on average 87 times. The funniest thing was the touts included a very dapper-looking older gentleman, impeccably dressed, like a Chinese version of Winston Peters. And he said, Sir welcome to Shanghai. You must want lady massage, sexy time. So yes, the touts are rampant.
What about the ancient water villages surrounding Shanghai?
If you’re looking for a complete change of scenery, and time-out from the teeming crowds, take a day-trip to the divine water villages that are sprinkled on the outskirts of greater Shanghai. They are like little Venice, with canals and bridges, miniature temples and historic buildings. The easiest one to get to is Qiabo. Just an hour east of the city by metro.
Qibao Travel Guide – This town can satisfy your curiosity about ancient water townships without the bother of either long distance or the rush of crowds.As the only ancient town forming part of greater Shanghai, with a history spanning over one thousand years, Qibao is more than just a living fossil of ancient Chinese urban planning. The town was built in Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126) and grew into a prosperous business center during Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). Qibao is the Chinese for ‘seven treasures’ and there are two popular theories about its derivation. The more reliable one says that the name originates from the Qibao Temple, famed for its good reputation. It was this that contributed to the growth of business and culture of the previously unknown town. The other theory seems more popular among the local people who tell folk tales about seven treasures. These were an iron Buddha made in Ming Dynasty, a bronze bell also dating from the Ming Dynasty but said to have mysteriously appeared from nowhere, a Gold Script Lotus Sutra written by an imperial concubine of the 10th century, a one-thousand-year-old Chinese catalpa tree, a jade axe, a gold cockerel and a pair of jade chopsticks. Actually of these seven treasures, the existence of only first four can be verified while only the Scripture and the bell have survived to this day.
A great variety of snacks will attract your eye and tempt your palette when you are walking the streets of the old town. Colourful and appetising, few resist the temptation to try them. Different flavoured cakes made from polished glutinous rice ‘Qibaogao’, dried bean curd wrapped in lotus leaves (Hebao doufugan), roasted sweet potatoes (Kaohongshu), smoked toads (Xunlanhamo), and sugar coated haws on sticks (Tanghulu), etc. can be found on every corner in the town.
By subway – Take Subway Line 9, and get off at Qibao Station. Leave from Exit 2 to the old town.
Further afield, another very popular ancient water town is Zhujiajiao , with a history of more than 1700 years. Check with your hotel about day-trip excursions, or the public bus links.
Is the Maglev magnetic train the weirdest thing in Shanghai?
I think it probably it is. One one hand it is a modern marvel, because it’s the fastest commercial train in the world, travelling at 4 hundred 30k. from Airport into the city. It will throttle you 30kilometres in distance, in just 7 minutes. But the train doesn’t deposit you in the city, but on its fringe, so you then have to change onto a normal huckery metro train, to complete your journey. Very fast, but strangely incomplete.
Fly direct to Shanghai from Auckland, with well-timed overnight direct flights on the award-winning Air New Zealand.
If you’re only in Shanghai for less than 72 hours, you can apply for a transit Visa on arrival, which is far less cumbersome than the standard tourist visa application process.
( Mike’s travel notes from Newstalk ZB’s Jack Tame Show. June1. )