China: Shanghigh

Thank goodness Shanghai is such an incredible city because it was one hell of a pain to get there.

In theory, it should have been easy. A 3 hour direct flight from Hong Kong to Shanghai Pudong, the city’s biggest airport, from where I could easily get the metro or a bus to the city’s central train station which was where my hostel was located. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

The plane was boarded, luggage stowed, awkward exchanges with airplane neighbours given, safety demonstration carried out, doors shut and then… nothing. The plane was ready to go but just wasn’t moving. It wasn’t until about half an hour later that the pilot made an announcement to say that, due to foggy weather in Shanghai, the plane couldn’t take off and we would have to wait onboard until clearance was given.

3 hours later the plane took off. It seemed odd to load us all onto the plane, prepare for take-off and then announce, “Oh by the way guys, we’re not actually going anywhere!” By the time we landed in Shanghai the fog still hadn’t cleared but the plane made its descent anyway, making for a pretty bumpy landing.

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The knock-on effect of this was that I arrived at 1am rather than 9pm. I didn’t think it would be such a big deal – this is the largest airport in one of the biggest, most metropolitan cities in the world. Finding transport should be easy right? Wrong. I couldn’t believe how limited the night-time transport options were at this gateway to Shanghai. There was one airport bus running through the night which more or less traversed one road through the city. Beyond that, the only option was an extortionately priced taxi. It really made me appreciate Hong Kong’s fantastic transport system. If you land in the middle of the night in Hong Kong, you’ve got more than a dozen buses to choose from which cover pretty much anywhere in the city. If you land in the middle of the night in Shanghai, you’re a little bit screwed.

Of course I could have taken the bus into the city and tried to get a taxi from there but it was the middle of the night and I didn’t want to end up stranded in the middle of a new city. Instead I opted to hang round the airport until morning and then take the metro which would reopen at 6am. 5 hours at Pudong airport overnight involved me feasting on Burger King, reading my Shanghai guide book from cover to cover and trying to be polite as a friendly local excitedly told me about his Tokyo trip whilst I struggled to keep my eyes open.

Anyway, eventually I escaped and by 8am, after being up for 23 hours with no sleep, I was finally tucked up in bed in the hostel. 3 hours later, I was up and about again. The fog had cleared, it was a beautiful day in Shanghai and I wasn’t going to waste it.

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My first port of call was the centrepiece of Shanghai, People’s Square. The mega metro station, with 20 different exits, sits underneath a fantastically huge park which was the perfect tonic to my stressful journey. The spring cherry blossoms were particularly photogenic and the park was adorned with nooks and crannies to get lost among. China manages to blend peaceful parks into bustling urban centres seamlessly. It’s one of my favourite things about the country.

From People’s Park, I walked up along Fuzhou Road towards Shanghai’s most iconic attraction, the Bund. I knew the skyline would be impressive but it still blew me away when it rose up in front of me. And where Shanghai has the upper hand on Hong Kong is in its ability to use space. The Tsim Sha Tsui promenade in Hong Kong is a nice place to stop and take pictures, whereas the Bund is a sweeping, multiple kilometre-long, wide pathway that you can spend hours meandering up, down and around. I didn’t expect it to be so big. The sheer size of it means that even on a sunny weekend such as this, it never felt too crowded. There were always spaces to sit or to lean out and admire/photograph the iconic skyscrapers. My tiredness still showed though – after taking a photo of a friendly Chinese lady on the promenade, I responded to her invitation of “let’s walk together and be friends!” with an awkward “nah”. My brain couldn’t seem to catch up fast enough to come up with an excuse so I’m not sure I came across particularly well! Hopefully she clocked the massive bags under my eyes and wasn’t too offended.

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The road along the Bund is filled with colonial buildings which are just as impressive as the modern towers across the river. It’s easy enough to see these buildings from afar to – walking south along the Bund brings you to a ferry pier from which you can hop on a boat across to Pudong for a mere ¥2.

On the Pudong side, the walking opportunities continue with yet another winding promenade snaking its way along the river – the skyscrapers now looming awe-inspiringly close and the silhouettes of the older buildings across the river glowing as the sun sets. Oddly, the Pudong side is more commercialised which surprised me given the more famous view is on the other side. Still, both sides are relaxing and spectacular and are a treasure chest of incredible food – definitely try xiao long bao at least once.

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