Shanghai is one of those places that have always been on my radar, but I’ve never made plans purely for the language barrier. I was able to spend a few hours in the city on my last trip to China, and it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be.
Armed with just a translation app, and with only two definite things on the itinerary (The Bund and Yu Garden), I set out to explore Shanghai with Archie (a Fil-Chi who unfortunately, doesn’t speak much Mandarin).
We took a train back to Hongqiao from Jiangxi after our visit at Hua Quan Village. We learned from our first train mishap, so we were finally able to enjoy our first class privileges on the ride back.
There are direct flights from Manila to Pudong International Airport via all major Philippine carriers. Also, AirAsia now carries a direct flight from Cebu to Shanghai.
Flights to Hongqiao are operated by other international airlines.
A short cab ride from the airport took us to our AirBnB. Our AirBnB is a quaint, minimalist, one-bedroom apartment, located in a gated community of apartments.
The interior basically looked like an Ikea showroom.
We didn’t spot any other foreigners when we walked around the neighborhood.
A tip for booking AirBnB’s: Have multiple options and ask the host if there will be a language barrier. My first option turned us down because they can’t communicate in English.
We settled down and walked around to get a feel of the neighborhood. It was late at night when we arrived and our AirBnB was in a small community, so nothing else was open except for a couple of convenience stores and KFC. With our late dinner-slash-midnight snack done, we hit the sack to get ready for the next day.
The next morning, we set off to explore Shanghai. We skipped breakfast to make room for all the food we were about to have. Our first stop: Yu Garden.
Getting There: Subway Line 10 at Yuyuan Station
Yu Garden is said to have been built during the Ming Dynasty. The first thing I noticed was the impressive Chinese architecture.
We went on a weekend so there was a large crowd of people walking around, but it was still manageable.
I loved seeing all the crafts at Yu Garden. This guy, in particular, made carvings out of olive pits.
Look at that fine detail and craftsmanship!
Lots of Chinese souvenirs were also available in the area.
But we weren’t there just to look around. We needed to get something in our stomachs. There’s an assortment of restaurants and food stalls in Yu Garden, but we had our mind set on the dumplings.
Getting around Yu Garden isn’t too difficult as there were signages like this everywhere.
There was a long, but fast-moving line for this Crab Soup Dumplings Shop.
They’re well-known for the giant xiao long baos.
You can get one giant xiao long bao, or 8 pieces of the regular-sized ones for RMB 20 (~₱ 160)
Archie and I bought one giant xiao long bao each. You consume the soup by drinking through a straw.
Our verdict: It was just okay. Good to try for the novelty of it, but not something we would order another round of.
Walking around, we also saw this ice cream store famous for their funny antics. We didn’t have one though as it was pretty chilly during our time of visit.
This tea shop kept catching my eye the whole time we were there. I eventually succumbed and went inside one of the stores.
Tea Garden has a variety of loose leaf tea, packaged in very cute containers. I couldn’t resist getting my hands on a couple of canisters.
It took a lot of resistance not to buy everything that caught my eye! I managed to walk out with just 3 types.
Left and right were more food shop displays. But we already had another dumpling spot in mind aside from the giant xiao long baos.
As I was doing my research, Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant came highly recommended.
The restaurant was packed full when we arrived. Have one person order and then let your companion secure a table when you arrive.
How do you secure a table? Stand right next to one even if there are people still eating. Sounds intrusive to me, but that was how they did it there. It’s common to share a table with strangers too.
We each had an order of the Crab Meat and Pork Xiao Long Bao. This is where I also learned my first Mandarin word on this trip: shui for water. I still have a long way to go as far as the accent is concerned though. Surprisingly, just one order was enough to keep me full for the whole afternoon.
Afterward, we made our way to the Bund. We made the mistake of booking a cab going there, but you can definitely walk it from Yu Garden. The Bund is a waterfront area that gives you a view of the buildings in the Lujiazui area. This is perhaps one of the most popular tourist spots in Shanghai.
We took our time walking along The Bund just sightseeing and people watching. The assortment of people at The Bund was fascinating to see. There was a good mix of businessmen, teenagers, tourists, and elderly couples.
Of course, I couldn’t leave The Bund without taking a typical tourist photo.
Right in the middle of The Bund is the access to the Sightseeing Tunnel. This is the fastest way to get to the other side – into Lujiazui, the shopping, and financial district.
We bought the tickets for the Sightseeing Tunnel and the World Financial Center 100th floor. It’s much more convenient (and cheaper) to buy your tickets at the Sightseeing Tunnel instead of buying them at whichever building you’re planning to visit.
The combined ticket is priced at RMB 220/adult. If you bought the tickets separately, it will set you back RMB 250.
The trip through the Sightseeing Tunnel is uneventful though; it’s just a bunch of lights through a tunnel. Great if you have kids traveling with you, but I found it rather mundane. It took less than 10 minutes to cross to the other side.
While waiting for the sun to set, we stopped by the Super Brand Mall.
Super Brand is one of the most prestigious shopping malls in East China. There’s 13 floors in total, but I only remember going up until 5 floors.
Archie, ever the millennial, suggested that we drop by Hey Tea. A fast-rising bubble tea brand similar to Happy Lemon, but marketed as a premium brand therefore with higher price points.
There was a line when we got there, but not as bad as the 5-hour lines I read about online. We were just in line for roughly 20 minutes, and the order took roughly the same time to be served.
I ordered the Chocolate Cream Cheese (RMB 27), while Archie had the Strawberry Cream Cheese (RMB 33).
Our verdict: Worth the price, but maybe not worth lining up for hours. A 20-minute line is fine by me, but if you chance upon a long line that will maybe take more than an hour, just come back another day or at a later hour.
Adjacent to Super Brand Mall is the Lujiazui bridge – an elevated circular pedestrian bridge with a great view of the Pearl Oriental Tower. This bridge connects the shopping district to the financial district.
We didn’t circle the perimeter as the night was quickly starting to fall, and we had to start making our way to the World Financial Tower.
We skipped the ticket counters as we already bought our tickets from the Bund Tunnel.
This floor guide map shows just how tall the Shanghai World Financial Tower is. Standing at 492m (that’s half a kilometer!), the SWFC is the second tallest building in Shanghai and 9th in the world.
The number inside the elevator shows how high up we are. I got engrossed watching the numbers go up. The ascent took less than five minutes from the ground floor.
The view from the 100th floor is breathtaking, dirty windows aside. You can see the Bund across the Huangpu River, the Pearl Oriental Tower, and all the other buildings in the financial district.
The view on the other side is much more mellow – just an assortment of buildings, not skyscrapers – but equally breathtaking.
We didn’t notice the time pass by while we were at the top – we spent almost an hour just gawking at the sight below.
Back on the ground, we were greeted with this impressive view of a skyscraper triad. From the left is the Shanghai World Financial Center standing at 492m, the Jin Mao Tower in the middle at 421m, and the Shanghai Tower at 632m. So high is the Shanghai Tower, that the tip is already hidden by the clouds. I could’ve stared at it all night, but we had to hit one more spot.
Taking the train from Lujiazui to East Nanjing Road, we found ourselves in Nanjing.
Nanjing is a 5km stretch dedicated to just shopping. We didn’t walk through the whole stretch though as our feet were already hurting at this point.
Starving and dead on our feet, we looked for a place to eat. We didn’t have any set plans for dinner – I just knew that I didn’t want to eat at a chain restaurant or bother myself with lining up.
We found Hai Ze Restaurant on one of the side streets. With the very little Mandarin that Archie knew, he was able to order a decent dinner for the two of us.
A whole roast duck for just RMB 88, Spicy Peanut Chicken, a side of more dumplings and soup, adding up to just RMB 167.
Bellies full, energy down to zero, and decreasing outdoor temperatures, we decided to conclude our Day 1 and head back to our AirBnB.
With a flight to catch in the afternoon, we decided not to stray away too far from the airport for our last few hours.
Determined to see a different side of Shanghai, we decided to head to Tianzifang. Our friend Bea, a fellow artist, deemed this as her favorite spot in all of China.
We got there rather early so most of the shops were just about to open and there wasn’t much to see.
We found ourselves in a maze of quirky shops.
Thankfully, there’s a map that shows the layout of the area to guide us, but even then, we still kept going around in circles.
One store sold an assortment of Totoro (my favorite Japanese movie) souvenir items.
And another sold resin pendants.
These leather journals caught my eye, but I couldn’t justify the price for an impulse buy.
It’s sad that most of the shops also don’t allow pictures though. What a shame as a lot of them was really nice.
We passed by a store that sold all sorts of buns too!
For some reason, there were a lot of cats in the vicinity! They were like little shopkeepers.
I imagine Tianzifang to be much more alive at nighttime. I wish we had visited this place the night before.
Pressed for time, we stopped exploring and walked to the nearby mall in search of our last meal. Again wandering without a plan, we ended up at Ishin Gyu, a hotpot restaurant.
The menu is pretty straightforward. The prices go up as you get more choices of meat, and you get to choose your own soup as well. All parties on the table should order the same set though.
Good quality meat!
I couldn’t fully enjoy my meal as the thought of missing our flight kept popping at the back of my head. We could’ve gotten our money’s worth had we stayed longer, but for the price of RMB 139/head, the value can’t be beaten.
We took our last bite, headed back to our AirBnB, and made a mad dash to the airport.
This trip to Shanghai was definitely one for the books. I’ve never felt more lost and confused because of the language barrier and general cultural differences, but I managed to stay in high spirits and power through the trip without getting any anxiety.
Shanghai is a city so diverse, it’s impossible to see all that it has to offer in less than 48 hours. There’s a whole food culture and teeming history that I have yet to discover.
Live an Awesome Life,
Monique of Team Our Awesome Planet
Disclosure: We paid for all meals and tickets. I wrote this article with my biases, opinions, and insights.
P.S. Here are some travel tips and travel apps you should install before your trip:
SOME TRAVEL TIPS
- Money – Have your money exchanged at the airport when you arrive. Banks have the best rates, although you have to fill up some paperwork that may take a few minutes. If you don’t like lining up, just activate international access for your cards and withdraw. China also utilizes WeChat Pay – take advantage of it if you have it.
- Getting Around – If you don’t mind taking the train, their metro system is efficient. Cabs in Shanghai start at RMB 14, starting fares differ in different parts of China. For tickets to further parts of China, check CTrip for better rates.
- Conversation – We had a hard time finding English speakers in Shanghai. The extent of my Mandarin knowledge is just numbered so it was only useful when asking prices or catching the train numbers in the intercom announcements. Archie, on the other hand, knew more basic phrases enough to get us around. Learn some Chinese phrases before arriving or travel with a guide for ease.
- Personal Space – Jostling or shoving in queues are part of Chinese culture – it’s uncomfortable for those with high regard to their personal space.
I used these VPN apps to access Facebook and Instagram while in China. I only opted for the trial version though, as I was just staying for less than a week. The caveat is that you have to keep reconnecting every once in a while. If you’re using roaming under Philippine postpaid, you can access Facebook and Instagram without using VPNs.
WeChat is the messaging app of choice in China, so it’s not affected by the Great Firewall. Download this app and setup an account prior to your trip.
Shanghai’s train system has 16 lines and can take you almost everywhere if you have the patience to locate the stations against a map. The Metro Shanghai app is helpful for checking the duration of the trip and the fare.