Shanghai has been a place that we have wanted to visit ever since we arrived on this side of the world. Taking less than 3 hours by plane from Tokyo to Shanghai, it seemed silly not to go but, honestly, we had not heard great things about visiting China and so we kept putting it off and putting it off.
Now that we have made it official we are leaving, we are very aware that time is moving very quickly and so it feels like a race against the clock to fit everything in before we move.
With that in mind we finally closed our eyes and took the plunge booking 3 nights in Shanghai over the long weekend in January. It turns out that it was the perfect time to go arriving in between the winter holiday and the Chinese New Year so we could enjoy all the celebratory decorations but without all the crowds.
British citizens need a visa to enter China unless you are transiting through. We didn’t have time to do that so a trip to the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre was in order. It is pretty expensive costing 9000yen (around £63) per visa and requires you to go twice, once to hand in your application with your passport and another to pick it up 3 days later. It is a lengthy process, mainly because it is painfully slow. Our first visit took over 2 hours.
With visas in hand, the entrance into Shanghai was pretty smooth (as far as immigration processes go) and we hopped into a taxi to our hotel, the Radisson Blu New World. We arrived after midnight so a taxi was our only option but we were pleasantly surprised that the 50min trip only cost us 300 yuan which is around £30.
Needless to say that our 3am arrival at our hotel meant we hit the pillows hard and fast, waking up late morning to meet our tour guide for the day, an old colleague of ours who had moved to Shanghai.
He took us to a range of places, some pretty unusual and some more touristy but it was the perfect day. We started with a trip to a park just across the road from our hotel which is relatively famous amongst the locals for one very special reason. When you enter, the first thing you notice are the rows of open umbrellas lining the sides of the park. Each one had a piece of paper pegged to it containing the paper version of an online dating profile.
According to our friend, people from the countryside can often find it difficult to find a husband or wife so they advertise themselves (or their parents do) in this way. It was incredibly interesting to see some people as young as their early twenties already trying to find a partner. There was even a foreigner section too.
After, we made our way to Yu Gardens, which for those who know Tokyo well, is Shanghai’s Asakusa. It has an old world charm with plenty of shops and a great place to pick up your souvenirs. Apparently is can be packed full of people but as the weather was pretty miserable we lucked out and could explore stress free.
As the Chinese New Year was just around the corner, we got to enjoy all the decorations and Yu Garden’s were big. Can you guess what year 2020 is going to be?
Amongst the shops was the actually gardens which costs 30 yuan (£3) to enter. It was everything I expected old China to look like and it was beautiful even if the weather was a little grey.
There is not a lot of information available but it is pretty and worth the 30 minutes of distraction was you wander around at your own pace.
Our penultimate stop was the famous shopping district called Tianzifang. It is a network of tiny streets filled with boutique shops, restaurants, bars and street food. You could easily spend hours here and that is exactly what we did. We accidentally spent 4 hours drinking, eating and catching up with friends. It has such a great vibe and relaxed atmosphere.
Our final stop was just by our hotel… the famous Nanjing Lu shopping street. What makes this stand out, is the bright lights at night. What I found almost equally as impressive was that all the main lights turn off at 10pm when the shops close which is something Japan could learn from if it is to become more eco friendly.
We had an excellent first day and managed to fit in a lot of sightseeing in a short space of time whilst catching up with our old colleague. Shanghai proved to be nothing like I expected, it was clean, friendly, easy to navigate with cash and actually quite quiet. It is true that the lack of queuing can take a little getting used to and I am ashamed to say that I competed with a 60 year old for the toilet when she walked straight past us in the queue and smirked. But I got used to it and once you accept it is going to happen and that pushing is just common practise, it’s easy to deal with. It’s not aggressive nor hurtful, it’s just part of the everyday.
Day 2 was the day we had been planning for, for months. Shanghai Disney. It was a huge milestone for us because it was the final Disney. When we arrived in Japan back in 2014, we had done Paris and Florida and just visited the California Disney parks that summer as part of our honeymoon. We were 20 minutes down the road from Tokyo Disney and that left Hong Kong which we visited in 2016. But 2016 was also the year that Shanghai Disney opened and so we had it in our sites. Day 2 was that day.
We got up early and decided to get the metro instead of taking a taxi. It turned out, it would be the same time but a fraction of the price. 200yuan for a taxi or 16 yuan for three metro tickets. It took three trains and 50mins to get there and it was super easy. Everything here was done through the Shanghai Disney app which I would recommend downloading before you arrive. We were able to purchase our tickets through the app weeks before and we were able to get Fast passes whilst monitoring ride times through it too. The park has free wifi so it was really simple.
There is only one park here and it is really big in terms of land size… or at least it felt it. The rides were busy but not unbearable but the park never felt crammed. Food was easy to buy with little queues and there was plenty of snack stalls around. The castle seems much bigger and it looked stunning at night.
The main rides we were desperate to go on during our trip was the TRON ride and the new version of Pirates of the Caribbean. Both were amazing and well worth the wait. TRON is a rollercoaster similar to space mountain but on bikes and much faster. Pirates of the Caribbean is nothing like any of the the others across the parks. It mixes the old style boat ride with the newer surround screen technology, similar to that used in simulated rides. Both were impressive.
We did everything that we wanted and of course sampled some of the themed food.
Even the popcorn flavours were different. We came across crab flavoured, steak flavoured and cherry flavoured as well as the expected and delicious caramel flavoured. I greatly enjoyed my Olaf pretzel too.
Our last evening we decided to have a meal in our hotel’s rotating restaurant so we could enjoy the view. We were hoping to make it to the Bund we were exhausted after a long day and unfortunately got back too late. However we did get to enjoy some of the views from the 45th floor.
On our last day, we had to head back to the airport early but this time we were able to use the public transport. We decided to get the metro to Longyang Road station where we picked up the MagLev train to Pudong airport. The MagLev stands for Magnetic Levitation and it travels at approximately 301km per hour. We were able to travel from Longyang Road to Pudong Airport in under 10mins and we couldn’t believe how smooth it was. As you can see, Rob was the most excited out of all of us.
We loved our whirlwind trip to Shanghai and we’re glad we made the effort to go with the time we have left. Surprisingly my travel anxiety was none existent during this trip and a lot of that has something to do with how safe we felt the whole time. If you are thinking of going, we could not recommend it enough. Do it!
With only 7 months left in Japan we have only one international trip left before we head home. We are finally heading to Australia in March to visit Rob’s sister and her family and we cannot wait. We just hope the bush fires in Australia will have died down by then but until we go, we will keep informed, send our wishes to those suffering and hope that our donation to the NSW fire service will help in some way.
Until then we will be counting down the days.