Shanghai – the old and the new
Shanghai is where China first met the west. Since then, it’s galloped off at a pace that the rest of the world is finding hard to keep up with. This bustling, thriving and ever growing metropolis is at the forefront of technology – the city continues to grow and develop at a rapid rate. Sky high buildings dot the skyline and are some of the city’s most iconic landmarks – along with shopping centres, modern architecture and designer bars and restaurants.
You might be wondering what the attraction is for backpackers seeking culture, experience and good times – let alone on a shoestring budget. But Shanghai is a city of contrasts. On the surface, it might look like Shanghai has left Oriental or the ‘old China’ behind. But amongst the megaplexes and shrines to technology are pockets of beauty and the cheap and fast thrills that backpackers thrive on. (It’s affordable to fly there too, on the cheap flights to Shanghai from a number of major international airports). The best way to experience Shanghai is to sample some of the old, and the new.
The old Shanghai
There’s no better way to experience a place than through its food – and in Shanghai, some of the best food can be found on the streets. Makeshift stalls and street food vendors can be found on almost every corner selling Shanghai’s classic snacks and meals, such as dumplings, egg pancakes and meat and vegetable buns. Locals choose the corner of Changle Lu and Xiangyang Lu in the French Concession for the best street food.
After getting your food fix, there are also Shanghai’s beautiful religious buildings. Taoism and Buddhism remain the country’s most prominent religions. The City God Temple is the heart of Shanghai’s old walled city. Restored in 2005, the temple has resident Taoist priests. Buddhism’s main shrine is the Jade Buddha Temple, which houses a 1.9-metre-high white jade Buddha.
Amongst the hustle and bustle of the city, the Yuyuan Gardens are more than 400 years old and a pocket of tranquillity in a very busy city. Believed to have been built in the Ming Dynasty, the gardens are located at the centre of the Shanghai Old City. The gardens are quite extensive, and include a few cultural relics as well – inscriptions, sculptures, paintings, etc.
View from the Bund
Just a few blocks away is The Bund, Shanghai’s waterfront area that dates back to Shanghai’s beginnings as a shipping port. Along the Bund, which lines the Huangpu River you’ll find historical buildings that once belonged to banks and trading houses from countries all around the world. There are also some modern buildings, but this area still gives you a feel for what the city was like before it adopted the bright lights.
The new Shanghai
Of course, these bright lights are one of the main attractions of Shanghai, along with the technological and architectural feats of the city. Tourists could spend days in the amazing shopping centres and ogling at the impressive structures. Most of ‘new’ Shanghai lies across the Huangpu River in Pudong, but scattered throughout the city are sci-fi-esque and upmarket restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment centres.
On the left Shanghai World Financial Centre and on the right the Jin Mao Tower
Many of Shanghai’s most iconic landmarks are the sky scrapers. The Jin Mao Tower is the second highest at 421 metres and blends traditional and Western design. From the public viewing deck on level 88 there are breathtaking views of the city below. Next door sits Shanghai’s highest building, the Shanghai World Financial Centre. With 104 floors, the building is 492 metres high. The viewing pavilion on the 100th floor has a 55 metre long viewing gallery with 3 glass floors (not recommended for those who experience vertigo!).
Much of what Shanghai has to offer – both in the new and old parts of the city – can be experienced on a budget. Sample some of the best street food in the world, take in the amazing views and visit the city’s historical sites and modern landmarks.
Shanghai is a great advertisement for China’s future, and it’s an exciting time to visit the city. See it for yourself!