Two of my favourite places that we visited during this Shanghai Trip must be Tianzifang (田子坊) and Zhujiajiao (朱家角). The former is a small, renovated residential enclave in the French Concession now stuffed with little arts and craft shops selling knick knacks and cosy cafes allowing tired legs to sit down for a short break. It is unfortunately also fast becoming a tourist trap of quaint and cute little zig-zaggedly alleyways. But charming nevertheless.
We cabbed our way there on a Sunday morning when it was drizzling lightly. Despite the rain (which I absolutely loath), I really enjoyed walking around exploring Tianzifang. Owing to the rain, the number of tourists were kept to the minimum and we could walk around with much ease, which I suspect wouldn’t be the case if we were instead blessed with fine weather. The many residents still staying in the narrow alleys must be so thankful for the short respite from throngs of roaming tourists.
As it started getting crowded in the alleyways, we decided to drop by Origin Restaurant & Cafe, a place that came highly recommended by some friends in Shanghai and Singapore alike. Origin prides on serving seasonal fresh cuisine. I don’t know much about that since my pesto penne was as fresh as it could get, but they definitely took pride in the food that came to our table. One of the service staff came up to the mister and apologised before asking him to wait a little longer for his pancakes because the original ones were too burnt to be served to him. That wasn’t the most professional thing to happen at a cafe but a class act nevertheless. We both much prefer honesty to outright deceit.
Wished we had requested to sit on the 2nd or 3rd level at Origin, because the 2nd level seemed a lot quieter when we went up for the restroom. Then again, because we walked in without any reservations, it’s likely they wouldn’t be able to give us a table upstairs. If you are intending to visit, best to call and make a reservation. Not to worry if you don’t speak Mandarin Chinese or Shanghainese because all the staff conversed with us in very fluent English without any discernible accent typical of English-speaking Chinese, which honestly came as quite a surprise to me.
I would have wanted to explore the area a little more in detail but the crowd was coming in, and with no rest in the precipitation falling upon us, the mister decided we should leave to check-in to our next hotel. More about this new hotel in a later post.
Fast forward to the next morning, where we visited the latter – Zhujiajiao (朱家角), a 1,700 year-old ancient water town located on the outskirts of Shanghai. It would have taken us a couple of hours to get there by ourselves with public transportation, and since we still needed some time on our last day to explore Pudong (浦东) area, we decided engage a private taxi recommended by a friend working in Shanghai. He came highly recommended by this friend’s parents who also toured Zhujiajiao with him. After some negotiation, we paid a total of 500RMB for 2-way transport and reached Zhujiajiao in less than 80 minutes. And even had a private tour guide since our very nice driver also walked around the water town with us.
You wouldn’t believe it that we did most of our shopping (of the whole trip) there in Zhujiajiao. Things were generally a lot cheaper there then in Shanghai. And it being a Monday morning, we practically had the whole town to ourselves since it was largely devoid of people save for a tour bus of Korean tourists who went do the touristy thing of a boat ride.
After exploring most parts of the water town on foot, Mr Yu the driver brought us to a restaurant serving delicious local fare known as 农家菜, or referring to traditional dishes prepared with raw ingredients, meat and seafood grown, reared or caught by the locals themselves. In short, the dishes are as fresh and authentic as they can get. And cheap.
We ordered many dishes that only came up to a total of 300RMB. And unfortunately, we ordered too much and had to see some food go to waste, in particular the chicken soup. Should have listened to our instincts and go for 1/2 chicken instead of a whole chicken. As for whether the dishes were tasty, it would be hard for us to judge. For sure we know the dishes were really fresh, but most of them were not served in the manner we were used to hence we didn’t really enjoy all the dishes. If you are more adaptable where food is concerned, you should most certainly try the 农家菜 at Zhujiajiao.
We walked around a bit more after lunch, and took the opportunity to buy all the foodstuff and snacks we wanted to get as we were walking to the heart of the town earlier on. I really loved the neighbourly ambience at Zhujiajiao; all the residents seemed to know everyone else living there. In retrospect, Zhujiajiao was much more like the West Lake I have in my mind (although on a much smaller scale) as opposed to the real West Lake I saw for myself. I guess the weather really plays a part in determining whether I enjoy a place or not.
Here’s a couple more pictures of this ancient water town that I took on our way out. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity, I strongly recommend that you make a trip to this charming little town. In fact, there are several ancient waters towns very close by Shanghai so much so that you will be spoilt for choice. But out of all the ancient water towns, Zhujiajiao somehow comes out tops in terms of popularity. And I think I totally understand why this is so.