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July 26, 2008

A Long Weekend in Shanghai

After several weeks in Beijing, I was ready for a change of scenery. Some friends and I decided to take the Z5 overnight train for a few days in China’s largest city. There are about a dozen overnight trains serving the Beijing to Shanghai route, but for 499 CNY (about $73), the Z trains provide direct service and a soft sleeper bed that was surprisingly more comfortable than the bed in my hotel. The train itself is luxurious, and offers four full-length beds in each room, a dining car serving Chinese food and a variety of drinks at reasonable prices, and most importantly -- peace and quiet for the 11.5-hour ride.


Like Beijing, Shanghai is plagued with hazy smog, making it difficult or even impossible to see from one end to the other of this metropolis of 18.5 million. Much of the city is ultra-modern (the famous Pudong skyline was almost nonexistent 15 years ago), and offers all of the conveniences of home without leaving China. If you want to spend your off days touring temples and other historic sites, you may want to save Shanghai for another time, but if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Beijing, a couple days in the “New York of China” should do the trick.


If you decide to visit, stay in Puxi, on the older side of the Huangpu River. My friends and I are staying in a three-bedroom apartment near the Jing’an Temple -- the location is great, and at 780 CNY per night (about $115) for the entire apartment, the price cannot be beat. Our host, Salo Homes, can also arrange a tour guide (300 CNY per day) and Chinese cooking lessons in your own kitchen (four-hour lessons cost 150 CNY plus ingredients).

Pudong, Shanghai’s modern business district, is definitely worth a visit. While pricey at 150 CNY, a visit to the top of Shanghai’s famous Oriental Pearl Tower will provide a spectacular view from 1148 feet off the ground, even if somewhat limited by the city’s dense smog. This is the best way to get an idea of the city’s enormity -- hundreds if not thousands of colossal buildings seem to continue on for miles in all directions.


Because Shanghai is the international business capital of China, far more Chinese speak English, including taxi drivers, so finding your way around can be much easier than in Beijing. Round off your day with a Japanese Teppanyaki dinner (all you can eat and drink) and a drink in the world’s highest bar (at the Grand Hyatt in Pudong).

A note on the photos: smog is just as much of a problem in Shanghai as it is in Beijing, but after applying auto levels in Photoshop, added contrast causes images of the skyline to inaccurately represent the dense air.


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