The glorious bustle of Shanghai
When Best Travel’s Christine Shepherd visited China 18 months ago, it was a wonderful learning experience for one of our most senior travel designers......
My 10-day tour began in Shanghai, which sits at the mouth of the Yantzee River in Eastern China and is one of the most populous cities in the People’s Republic of China.
Once known as the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Shanghai today has emerged again as one of Asia's most influential cities. Before the communists arrived in 1949, Shanghai was a city of European-style mansions and the most important trading port in Asia. Communism brought about radical reconstruction of society, silencing all western and outside influences in its path. Modern Shanghai has been reborn as a buzzing contemporary metropolis, with history, style and vibrancy.
When we arrived at CCECC Plaza Hotel directly after arriving in Shanghai from Auckland, we were treated to a beautiful welcome banquet of traditional Shanghai cuisine, which set the scene for our three-day exploration of this fascinating city and its surrounds.
The next day we escaped the bustle of the city to the charming ‘old world’ atmosphere of Wuzhen, a traditional water canal town in Zhejiang Province.
I loved that Wuzhen provided a distinct contrast to the pace of Shanghai and we spent time strolling around absorbing the atmosphere of this century old Chinese town, visiting the Taoist Temple, which was the former residence of Mao Dun a master of contemporary Chinese literature, and browsing through little stores selling traditional indigo-dyed printed calico.
Wuzhen's network of waterways, old wooden waterside houses, arch stone bridges and narrow paved laneways is the ideal setting for a peaceful canal cruise which I highly recommend, perfect for relaxation.
There is so much to see in Shanghai – three days isn’t quite enough – but there are a couple of ‘don’t miss’ visits I recommend you include in your itinerary.
The historical riverfront area known as the Bund is home to an impressive collection of buildings, from the early trade houses of the 1850s to the glamorous Art Deco modernism of the 1920s.
And don’t miss exploring the Old Town (Yuan Bazaar) where cobbled streets are lined with traditional shops selling herbal medicines, handicrafts, Chinese tea and a variety of tantalising snacks. The smells and sights are truly an experience.
After the colour and noise of the Bazaar, a relaxing walk through moon gates and latticed pavilions in the peaceful Yu Garden is the perfect tonic.
The former French concession zone, Xintiandi, is an extremely interesting place to see traditional ‘Shikumen’ buildings. Like the 'Hutong' areas of Beijing, 'Shikumen' is a style of housing unique to this city and was designed for the many Chinese workers flooding the city in the early 1900s. They are a cross between an English adjoined terrace house with a traditional Chinese courtyard house. A decade ago, the dilapidated strip of 'Shikumen' buildings lay in ruins until film star Jackie Chan purchased and restored them to what you see today.
To round off this day of exploring, we enjoyed a stunning Huangpu River that straddles the two regions of Shanghai, east and west and gives you a great sense of the city’s vastness.
The next stop on our China itinerary was Xian, the famous ‘Silk Road’ city, rich in history and located on the banks of the Yellow River.
I was very excited about seeing the famous Terracotta Warriors and Horses, one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 20th Century that are in Xian.