Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city in every sense, with much to offer
Text and pix by Marianne David
Shanghai never sleeps. Land there even at the most ungodly hour, and the bright lights will surely captivate. Everywhere you turn, neon fairy lights and the like greet you - even the rooftops and façades of buildings are lit up as part of its Lights Project, giving visitors a warm welcome.
As we hopped aboard the vehicle taking us to our hotel that night, not even the toll of the two flights and many hours in the air could take away from the thrill of setting foot in Shanghai.
A city born from the sea, Shanghai is a fascinating mix of the old and the new, as we soon discovered. What used to be a small fishing village is now a cosmopolitan city in every sense - and one of the most dynamic cities in China today.
In fact, the city has been crowned 'Paris of the Orient,' 'London's Twin City' and 'Europe in Asia' - labels that certainly aren't far off the mark at all, which one realises when walking through its streets. Boasting many firsts, Shanghai is prosperous indeed.
Interesting, Shanghai is also known as the 'Rain Forest' - the vast majority live in high rise apartments and hang their clothes out the window to dry them, which results in drops of water falling on the heads of those walking below!
Flying on award-winning airline Cathay Pacific to Shanghai with a stopover in Hong Kong as part of Cathay's Media Familiarisation tour last week, we were able to thoroughly enjoy a few days in Shanghai and experience its many delights. The tour was planned in such a manner that it showcased some of Shanghai's best tourism destinations and products.
First stop - Hong Kong
The first stop in Hong Kong after a comfortable albeit long flight on Cathay on our way to China was a sign of things to come - we had the opportunity to relax at the luxurious Cabin lounge, exclusive to Cathay passengers. In addition to The Wing and The Pier, The Cabin is Cathay's newest departure lounge at Hong Kong International Airport.
Ultra modern in design, it features brand new seating and dining concepts and offers much comfort to weary travellers. It boasts an impressive IT Zone, a new dining experience with The Deli, a Health Bar and the unique Cathay Solus Chair.
When our time to leave arrived, we boarded a Dragonair flight to Shanghai. Dragonair is a part of the Cathay Pacific Group and an affiliate member of oneworld. Offering a very satisfactory flying experience, Dragonair is surely going places, having clinched many awards in the recent past.
Landing in Shanghai at the Pudong International Airport, our first stop on the itinerary was the Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel, in order to check in. It is located about an hour's drive away from the airport. Freshening up in a few minutes, we then went over to the Regal International East Asia Hotel for dinner, which consisted of a splendid seafood buffet.
Set amidst the Shanghai International Tennis Centre, the luxurious five-star Regal International East Asia Hotel is ideally located and beautifully appointed, ensuring that guests are satisfied in every sense. What was most impressive was its Health Club, featuring a well-equipped gymnasium, seven outdoor and four indoor tennis courts, swimming pool, squash courts, billiards, table tennis, golf stimulator, 12-lane bowling alley and much more.
The Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel, where we stayed during our tour, located in the heart of the Xu Jia Hui commercial and shopping area, is equally luxurious and offers a fully-serviced Business Centre, sophisticated meeting and conference facilities, Premier and Regal Club Floors, five restaurants and bars, 349 well appointed rooms, state-of-the-art Health Club and indoor heated swimming pool.
Dongtai Road Antique Market
Around 8:30 the next morning, we leave for the Dongtai Road Antique Market, wrapped up to ensure warmth in the early morning autumn cold. On our way, our Tour Guide Yo Yo warns us that while there's plenty of shopping to be done at the antique market, there are barely any antiques there!
And remember, when shopping in China, bargaining is compulsory. What's marked at 300 yuan or even more, for example, can be bargained right down to 20 or 40 yuan. What's priced at 1,200 comes down to 500 or even less.
The antique market was a pleasure to walk through, although the shop keepers can be quite insistent and pester you if you so much as look at something with interest. Still, the experience is one that shouldn't be missed and you can pick up some lovely mementoes and gift items along the way.
After we finish up at the market, we take a stroll along the Bund, a beautiful corridor in the former foreign settlements. According to the 'Absolute Shanghai' book, which was gifted to us by Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration Deputy Director Patrick Chen, the bund "has undisputedly remained the most salient landmark of Shanghai through more than a century of vicissitudes and was once described as the captivating eyes of Shanghai". Next it's time to visit an ancient garden and the bazaar.
Ancient Chinese Garden
Strolling through the Yuyuan Garden is like strolling through a book of pictures of ancient China. With a history of more than 400 years, the Yuyuan Garden is the most celebrated classical Chinese garden in Shanghai.
The buildings in the area are of traditional Chinese design, featuring eaves and a black roof with a window up there, to let in cooling air.
The garden is located to the northeast of the old town, not far from the Bund. It is typical of the gardening art south of the Changjiang River and is famed as 'an architectural miracle in the region south of Yangtze River'.
It was built in 1559 during the Ming Dynasty by a Government officer named Pan Yuanduan. Although he constructed the garden for his parents, he enjoyed the area himself since his parents passed away soon after the garden was finished in 1577.
An interesting aspect of the garden that stayed in my mind is the 'borrowed scenery' effect, where for example, the shape of a vase is cut into a wall and when one looks through it, the scenery behind looks as if it is the decoration on the vase - an ideal picture opportunity, where you get to be a part of the design.
The exquisite Jade Rock
The exquisite Jade Rock is a true treasure of the garden. The rock is 3.3 meters high with 72 holes as clear as jade. It is said that if you burn a joss stick just below the rock, the smoke will magically float out from all the holes. Similarly, if you pour water into the rock from the top, the water will flow out from each hole.
It also features a huge rockery, artistically designed and piled up by famous architect Zhang Nan-yang during the Ming Dynasty, using the yellow stones excavated at Wu Kang in Zhejiang Province. It is protected by the Government as a historical relic.
Exhausted from all the walking, we stopped for lunch at the famous Lvbolang Restaurant, which has hosted many foreign governmental leaders and famous people. The cuisine served mainly features the local food and cooking styles. Famous diners include Fidel Castro of Cuba and Clinton of USA, as a result of which some customers even request the set meals which were served especially for Clinton or Castro.
Shanghai World Financial Centre
Towards evening, having done a whole lot of shopping, we walked through the narrow and beautiful Tian Zifang area, where many artists and local designers have set up boutiques and laid-back cafes which draw crowds of fashionistas, designers and expatriates. The shops here feature beautiful, handmade items that never fail to captivate.
We then travel back to the Pudong area, in order to visit the Shanghai World Financial Centre. An impressive skyscraper, it consists of offices, hotels, conference rooms, observation decks, and shopping malls on the ground floors. Park Hyatt Shanghai is the hotel component containing 174 rooms and suites. Occupying the 79th to the 93rd floors, it is the highest hotel in the world, surpassing the Grand Hyatt Shanghai on the 53rd to 87th floors of the neighboring Jin Mao Tower.
On 14 September 2007 the skyscraper was topped out at 492.0 meters and became the second-tallest building in the world; as well as the tallest structure in the People's Republic of China. It features the world's tallest observation deck, featuring a view from three levels. The highest view is at 474 m (1,555 ft) above ground level. It continues to have the tallest observation deck in the world surpassing even the Burj Khalifa.
The view from the observation deck is sensational, to say the least. The hundreds of high rise complexes in Shanghai meet the eye in every direction and the view of the river from above is simply breathtaking, especially as the city lights up in the evening.
We have dinner at the Seagull Palace, located along the Huangpu River - a silent witness to Shanghai's development - and then it's time for a cruise on the Oriental Pearl. A must for every visitor, the view from the cruise ships when the sun sets is amazing, with the glittery lights reflected in the river and the buildings glowing incessantly. With a beautiful ending to an eventful day, we retire to our hotel filled with the sights and sounds of Shanghai.
Zhujiajiao Ancient Town
In the morning, after a sumptuous breakfast at the Regal Shanghai East Asia Hotel, we head for a suburb of Shanghai city, Zhujiajiao. An ancient water town well-known throughout the country, it has a history of more than 1,700 years. Covering an area of 47 square kilometers, the little town is landscaped with lakes and mountains.
Shopping and sightseeing here is a pleasure and easy on the purse - and the street food looks scrumptious! - after which we take a boat ride to an old Buddhist temple. As we step inside, the hustle and the bustle of the streets fade away, leaving a soothing silence and bringing a sense of serenity. Then it's lunch at the Yue Zhen Xuan restaurant and time to visit the famous Nanjing Road.
Boasting the title of being the 'No. 1 Street in China,' Nanjing Road is a shopping and entertainment paradise frequented by foreigners and locals alike. According to statistics, over 1.7 million people visit this bustling road every single day. As expected, it's packed with people when we visit and the malls are simply amazing.
We also stop for a brief hour at the Cyber Mart, which features a very impressive range of phones, accessories, music player, computers, laptops and so on - a tech lover's dream come true. Before we know it, it's time for dinner at Xiao Tian E and then we're off to enjoy the ERA Show.
The 'ERA - Intersection of Time' acrobatic show is put on by China's best acrobatic troupe and it features around one-and-a-half hours of spellbinding entertainment. The acrobatic extravaganza had us pasted to our seats until the very end. The audience is not allowed to take pictures or video the show but can take pictures with the performers once it is over.
This innovative show, which attempts to redefine the Chinese formula of acrobatics and performing arts by blending it with high technology and the employment of multimedia, is an absolute must watch when visiting Shanghai.
On our last day, we take the Maglev Train to the airport. A magnetic levitation train line, it is the first commercial high-speed maglev line in the world and quickly reaches its top operational commercial speed of 431 km/h (268 mph).
We get to the airport in no time at all and after we step down from the train, our guide points out the specks of splattered blood on the front - little birds and insects are the victims of this train's astonishing speed.
The train's top speed of 431 km/h is also faster than the top speed of any production automobile (except for the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport, which has roughly the same top speed), Formula One car, or MotoGP super bikes.
As we board our Dragonair plane, a surprise awaits: we are lucky enough to be on a craft that features the new flatbeds - the ideal way to relax while up in the air after a thrilling tour of the city that never sleeps.
Our transit in Hong Kong lasts around five hours, giving us the chance to visit CX City, Cathay's Head Office. Checking out the flight stimulator and cockpit there, in addition to visiting the Cathay museum, was an experience in itself. When the time comes to return to the airport, we board the Cathay bus and go straight to Cathay's Pier Lounge. We unwind for a while and board the plane back to sunny Sri Lanka, all smiles about our tour in the splendid city that is Shanghai.