23 May 2016
Shanghai sightseeing using the Big Bus tour; City and Temple tours; French Concession; Jing An Temple; and an Evening Cruise and City Lights Tour.
On a nondescript morning but not actually raining, I head to the Big Bus (Hop on Hop off bus) starting point by People’s Square to buy my 2 day pass. They are just starting a new activity and offer it to me for free as part of my ticket: a river trip on a Sunseeker ‘yatch’ (sic) as used in the Bond movie Die Another Day. It goes at 3.00 in the afternoon from quite a distant location so I’m not sure if it will fit my programme either day as I have to be back at the hotel for about 5.45pm. Still it is an exciting option to have – and who knows?
My closest bus stop is stop #1, so I set off on the Red Route City Tour that circuits around People’s Square, down Nanjing Road to the Bund (all areas I had explored yesterday but with an interesting commentary along the way), then back past the old Chinese area of Yu Yuan and a new development making the most of the old traditional houses. I plan to visit these in a couple of days’ time so don’t get off now. The full circuit takes about an hour.
I go into the New World Shopping Centre to find a bathroom while I wait for the Green Route bus to come around. It is a designer department store such as can be found in many countries of the world, passing through the fragrance and cosmetics area on the ground floor, ladies fashions on floor two etc. I was particularly taken by the beautiful outfits that were on display – very fashionable but unlikely to be available in my size.
The Green Route Temple tour also takes an hour to do the full circuit complete with an excellent commentary that tells you about religion and history as well as the sights. I decide to stay on board for the full circuit and then get off at the French Concession area at Huaihai Road on the next go round. The French Concession (as the name suggests) is the area that was made available for the French people in the 19th century and early 20th century. It is a quiet area with lovely tree lined streets and all manner of villas, terraced houses, apartments and mansions hidden behind trees, walls and fences. It is fascinating to walk along waiting for a glimpse of grandeur or a peek through an open gateway into courtyards beyond. It was also a hot bed of revolutionary action in the 1920s and 30s with the formation of the Republic of China.
I visit the Former Residence of Sun Yat-sen – a European cottage-style house at No.7 Xiangshan Road (No. 29 Rue de Moliere at the time) – it is well sign-posted. Sun Yat-sen was the first president and founding father of the Republic of China – the forerunner to the democratic revolution. First you enter a museum (which is an interesting house in its own right) housing all manner of memorabilia along with furniture of that period. Next door is the actual residence. It is kept temperature and humidity controlled, and you must wear plastic overshoes to protect the floors. No photography is allowed. The house is preserved pretty much as it would have been when he lived there.
Along some of the streets there are little shops interspersed along the way that look very quaint. I see one named Antiques Garden Café and decide to have a look inside. It was absolutely delightful, stacked full of antique furniture and curios with tables and places to sit amongst it. There is a wine rack full of wine. Then I notice a little door leading outside and am transported to a charming little walled courtyard area with more antiques and tables under trees and umbrellas. A man started talking to me – it turned out that he now lives in Melbourne but this area is where he grew up. These little shops were originally the garages for the large houses behind them but the owners are capitalising on the tourist trade as well as the locals’ penchant for eating. I sit at a table under a shady tree and order some wonton soup and a pot of their special Garden tea. The tea comes out in a clear glass teapot – it is a bright golden colour with rosebuds floating in it, and has a delicious citrusy flavour.
Suitably fortified I head back to the bus to go to the Jing An temple: a quite spectacular gold-roofed Buddhist-Daoist temple that is well frequented. Jing An District is the most upmarket in Shanghai and this is the city’s richest temple. The name literally means Temple of Peace and Tranquility and originates from 247 AD. The main temple has a giant silver Buddha but there are several temples to different deities around the complex. There are Drum and Bell towers at the front although you can only peer through the gaps to see them. A giant Tibetan Stupor was built there in 2010.
Whilst waiting for the next bus I explore a park on the other side of the road. Again it is beautifully designed with lots of shady trees and a lotus pond in the centre. It is full of older people and families enjoying the gardens. There is a beautiful sound of flute music in the air and I am surprised to discover an old man standing just inside a cave on the side of the garden playing the flute. Perhaps it is cool there, perhaps there is some historic significance of the cave, perhaps his wife won’t let him play inside the house?
Nearer the street is another musician, this time playing Chinese tunes on a saxophone. I sit for a while and listen, and watch the most interesting dead-heading of flowers that I’ve seen. Two men in a cherry picker were trimming the flowers off the tops of the trees. I take the bus back to the starting point and walk back to the hotel for a rest before my evening adventures.
I have booked a City Lights & Evening Cruise tour and my guide Jamie is waiting for me in the lobby at 5.45. It turns out that I am the only one on the tour as it is not particularly nice weather. Our driver is waiting outside and takes us first to Nanjing Rd East. This is the main pedestrianised shopping street that seemed to be full of upmarket shops. Jamie takes me to a central part that has more old Chinese buildings and some more interesting shops. This whole area was previously the British Concession area (hence the prevalence of European style buildings) but things changed with the Opium Wars in the mid 1800s.
In this area there is a giant food mall, specialising in all sorts of different foods in different sections of a multi-storey building. Jamie shows me the sticky rice parcels wrapped in bamboo leaves that are in preparation for the Dragonboat Festival next month. Further down the street are a traditional Chinese pharmacy (where I see the popular Golden Worms selling for USD50 per ounce) and a Chinese bakery (where we get a red bean ball each). Jamie is a delightful young woman and we are soon chatting away as though we are friends on an outing (with bonus knowledge of the area). The neon lights are just starting to come on as we walk down the street. Neither of us have had dinner so we grab a bite to eat on the way. We don’t have long before we must meet our driver and head to the cruise terminal.
It is an extremely busy place with tour groups everywhere. Getting the tickets seems a very complicated process: Jamie has to register, then get the tickets and then go to another queue to get the receipt. Then we join a long queue heading for the boat. As we board, Jamie says they will all head to the top deck but she knows the perfect spot to stand. Sure enough we are the only ones on the second deck and I stand as directed looking at the cruise terminal but trusting my guide. Once we leave the dock, the boat turns around so that I have prime viewing of the Pudong Financial district where the building lights are just coming on. It is absolutely magical. Jamie tells me about all the different buildings and points out all the local land marks. Particularly impressive is the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower which has an ever changing range of colours from blue to purple to red, yellow, green, sparkling and various combinations.
Jamie is also a whizz with cameras and is able to show me all sorts of tricks with my camera even though she hasn’t seen that model before (and now she wants one). At just the right point she leads me to the back of the boat so that we can take panorama shots of the city lights and then back to our original spot to see the buildings of the Bund area. The city looks just amazing lit up at night.
Our driver meets us as we disembark and we head across to the other side of the river through the tunnel to have a close up view of the three tallest buildings: the Jin Mao tower, the Shanghai tower and World Financial Centre. Jamie shows me a spot where I can look up and see all 3 towers above me – they are dizzyingly high – and then we head to a raised pedestrian walkway high above the road, linking many of the buildings. With all the workers coming to this busy financial district, they recognised that the streets would be chaos so they needed to keep them up out of the traffic. This gives us more good views of the area. Then we need to head back (particularly so that Jamie can catch the last train back home that evening). It was a magical evening.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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