Romanticising The Bund
The Bund requires no introduction. Without a doubt, I am referring to The Bund in Shanghai, a waterfront area found in central Shanghai and is singularly the most famous tourist attraction of Shanghai. It was an eleventh hour decision to make a trip out of monsoon-rainy Singapore with not a single idea as to where we should head to. Hang on, that wasn’t quite true; I had wanted to revisit Tokyo or Seoul, but the mister struck them off the list because we would certainly be making our way towards those two cities next year. He was trying to hold true to a promise we made to ourselves sometime back – to diversify our travelling.
Our destination was determined simply by means of how deeply we have to reach into our pockets for the air fare, and the 6 days we could afford to be away was sufficiently long for us to get to know Shanghai rather intimately. Yes, it was our first time to Shanghai – it was in fact the mister’s first trip to China (not including Hong Kong). And, we had less than 5 days to plan for the trip. To this end, I wasn’t entirely sure if we were being spontaneous or suicidal but whichever the case, we were about to find out!
How We Got There
Shanghai reminds me a lot of Hong Kong, especially in the options we have for traversing from the airport to the city. Unlike Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo, taking limousine buses from the airport could not get us anywhere near our hotel situated near The Bund. We were left with 2 options: take a taxi, or the train. Or a combination of both. Did I mention we were attempting to be on a shoestring budget? Yes we were on a self-imposed tight budget, hence taking a taxi directly from the airport was something we wanted to avoid (although a friend living in Shanghai advised that it would cost less than 160RMB from the airport to Shanghai city centre). Furthermore, Shanghai’s Maglev (上海磁浮列车) Train is quite a legend in itself, so we should experience it at least once.
And once is enough because it was really nothing spectacular apart from the speed. It took about 8 mins from Shanghai Pudong International Airport (上海浦东机场) to Longyang Road Station (龙阳路地铁站). From there, it’s supposed to be another 20 minutes to city centre by train. We opted to switch to a taxi here simply because we did not relish in the thought of taking the train during morning peak hours. A note of caution from a friend and lots of reading material: be sure to queue in the official taxi queue (look out for the policeman at the beginning of the queue) because like in many other cities, there are bound to be errant taxi-drivers who like to pry on unsuspecting tourists, especially more so if you don’t speak their language.
Except that we couldn’t identify the official queue. We looked left, and then right. And then left again. Both taxi queues looked as official, or unofficial as the other. Finally, the mister decided to follow a taxi-driver that was attempting to get us onto his taxi. Because we speak Mandarin Chinese, communication with our taxi-driver was a piece of cake. Even then, we did have some difficulty locating our hotel because roads in Shanghai (I’m not sure about other parts of China) are typically very long and are usually divided into East-West or North-South to make it slightly easier to pinpoint an exact location.
It cost us 250RMB to get to our hotel. Our friends in Shanghai joked that the taxi-driver must have taken us on quite a tour of Shanghai before getting us to where we wanted to go to. In conclusion, the Maglev is really not quite worth the ride because it stops you in the middle of nowhere where you are more than likely compelled to hail a cab, only to find yourself fleeced by the taxi-driver. It is much more convenient to take a taxi from the airport. And remember, it should not cost more than 160RMB to get to Puxi (浦西) near The Bund.
Where We Stayed
We spent the most time on this during the planning phase: for several hours the mister and I sat side by side, glued to our individual macbooks, trying to decide where we should stay. On the one hand, we didn’t want to splurge since we would only be returning to the hotel to sleep but on the other hand, the high-end hotels that offer rooms with the river view beckoned to the photographer in me. We agonised a lot over this dilemma although I would say it was a happy problem and I wished it lasted longer – for once, the mister and I were seated side by side discussing travel plans. This rarely happens because he usually doesn’t bother himself with the planning. And I relished in the moment. Alas it ended too soon.
The hotel we finally selected was Shanghai Baron Business Hotel (上海宾龙商务酒店), within walking distance of East Nanjing Road Station (南京东路地铁站) and The Bund. It was a no-frills business hotel that made us wait almost 2 hours for our room to be ready without even once offering to take our luggage so we could go on our way to explore the city. That was a big fat minus for a complete lack of initiative. Not that I would have taken the suggestion; I was in such dire need of a bath after the red-eye flight.
Granted, the more senior-looking reception staff who took over the shift did periodically check on the housekeeping staff for status of our room. And I knew that because I had planted myself on the sofa right in front of the reception desk, slouching on my suitcase and taking a nap. By then I was just feeling too sticky and tired to mind the wait.
Finally, the room was ready for us. It was quite a decently spacious room, albeit coming without a view at all (we faced a wall) and scratchy sheets. But at approximately 400RMB a night, we were not expecting much. In more ways than one, it actually exceeded my expectations: there was still ample walking room after opening up our 29″ Rimowa flat on the ground, the toilet looked well-maintained, there was a PC in the room (with very slow WiFi but still…) and it was quiet enough for quality rest. What more could we ask for, considering we only came back to the room for bathing and sleeping?
We did however check out of this business hotel three days in advance (and forgoing two nights’ worth of stay, which they did not question about) to move over to a boutique hotel. This, I would talk more about in a later post.
What We Did
Why, visit The Bund of course! For the uninitiated, The Bund refers specifically to a stretch of road facing Huangpu River (黄浦江) called East-1 Zhongshan Road (中山东一路) and encompasses all buildings and wharves on this road. While many of us know The Bund as 上海滩, the actual name is really 外滩. In total, there are 26 buildings on The Bund, apparently all different in architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance. Just don’t ask me which is which… apart from Gothic and Baroque, I really can’t tell the last 3 apart.
Compared to night scene of The Bund, I found the night skyline of Pudong across Huangpu River much more interesting. I have to admit this is in part due to the spectrum of colours illuminating the buildings as opposed to simply boring yellow lights on The Bund. I am such a kid sometimes.
We walked down The Bund on the first night right about where The Bund started till Fairmont Peace Hotel (中国上海和平饭店), the landmark Shanghai hotel with its origins dating back more than 80 year before turning in to walk down Nanjing Road (南京路), one of the busiest roads in Shanghai. The Bund and this stretch of Nanjing Road (南京路) leading up to People’s Square (人民广场) was swarming with local and overseas tourists alike. And this was on a cold, windy wintery night. I cannot visualise how much more crowded this place must be in good weather.
And so we decided to settle our dinner near the metro station closest to our hotel. Odd as it appears to be, we decided on Korean cuisine although Shanghai is renowned as a Chinese Cuisine paradise. We are not so adventurous with foods since the mister has a lot of palate restrictions we have to adhere to.
We patronised Hannashan Korean Barbecue (汉拿山南京东路店) on the 5th storey of Henderson Building, right beside the metro station. Judging from the exterior of the restaurant, we thought that food might be good there. To be honest, it was not too bad (although we were expected to pay for Banchan – isn’t that supposed to be provided for free in Korean restaurants)? However I have a major grouse with this restaurant: the mister asked for two bowls of rice at first instance when we ordered off the menu, asked for it again when all our foods have arrived, and then asked it again while we were midway through dinner. All three times the (different) service staff told us it would be served shortly. Throughout our hour-long dinner, they had ample opportunities to serve us our rice, or inform us that they were unable to fulfill our order. Any of these options would have been better off as opposed to keeping mum. We found this incredibly unacceptable for a restaurant as such. And so, we paid for our 325RMB dinner without leaving any tips for the service staff.
After dinner, we took a slow stroll back to the hotel, fully intending to keep to an early night since we had to rise early for a train out to Hangzhou the next morning.