Travel: Shanghai’s Wow Factor
Shanghai’s shopping, sight seeing and fine dining scenes offer a wonderful blend of east meets west, writes Sophie Loras.
From the leafy narrow streets and laneways of the French Concession to the glitz and glamour of the Bund, and the jaw-dropping pinnacles of some of Asia’s highest buildings in the Lujiazui Financial District, there is no doubt that Shanghai leaves a marked impression on all of its visitors whether in town for work or pleasure.
The Shanghai checklist
A wonderful way to start any trip to Shanghai is to spend a half-day exploring the city in a 1950’s Sidecar Changjiang 750cc tour. French-born Thomas Chabrières founded Shanghai Insiders after quitting his advertising job to become a “tour guide.” In addition to organizing tours around Shanghai, the business also does tours in Lijiang, Xi’an and remote parts of China.
Pictured: Enjoy a Shanghai sunset and take in all the history of Shanghai’s cosmopolitan past, as you whiz through the French Concession, Suzhou Creek and the Bund on an old motorbike. (Aurelien Chauvaud).
Shanghai tours start from RMB 800 (A$135) and can include the city’s French Concession, Art Deco, Shanghai Old Town, the Bund and Suzhou Creek areas as well as giving an intimate look at the city’s underbelly. The tours include a running commentary of the city’s history and anecdotal tales of times passed, from the Insider’s drivers who hail from a wide array of backgrounds and have their own personal tales to share of how they came to be living in one of Asia’s most exuberant cities.
Get amongst it as the drivers / guides take you through the living communities of Shanghai’s disappearing lilongs, and hold onto your hat as they maneuver through the peak-hour traffic.
In winter, Insiders offer mulled wine to warm the senses and for special occasions, a bottle of Champagne can also be included. It’s a great way to get a first hand introduction of the city in a condensed time frame, and gives newcomers to Shanghai a whole new perspective of the city’s Chinese and international past and present. Bookings are essential.
Pictured: Exploring Shanghai’s Art Deco past with a Shanghai Insiders tour. (Courtesy Shanghai Insiders / Aurelien Chauvaud)
Brunch at M on the Bund
Not much beats brunch on the terrace of M on the Bund on a blue-sky day with the colonial architecture of the Bund stretched out below and the iconic view of Shanghai’s towering skyscrapers of the Lujiazui Financial district. Australian restaurateur Michelle Garnaut was a pioneer when she opened M on the Bund in January 1999. Her aim was to create “a dining experience as exciting, as sophisticated, as delectable as Shanghai itself.”
Located on the top floor of the 1921 historic Nissin Shipping Building, M overlooks Shanghai’s most famous sight: the Bund. In opening M on the Bund, Garnaut set the scene for the other entrepreneurs to come in and revitalize the area. A period of redevelopment of the Bund strip during the 2000s, including restoration of much of the colonial architecture of the various former shipping, banking and customs houses, has encouraged the arrival of a number of Michelin star chefs and restaurants and luxury brands. Book a table on the terrace and enjoy one of the most magnificent dining views of the Bund, the spectacular sky-scrapers of Pudong and the non-stop commerce travelling up and down the Huangpu River.
Pictured: The spectacular view of Shanghai’s iconic Bund and Lujiazui financial district from the M on the Bund terrace. (Courtesy M on the Bund)
For reservations at M on the Bund: +86 21 6350 9988
A walk up the Bund should include a look inside the original Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation branch building – a six-floor neo-classical building at Number 12, the Bund, completed in 1923. Today, the building houses the headquarters of the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank. The bank’s foyer houses a beautiful octagonal dome decorated with frescos depicting the twelve signs of the zodiac, which were covered over in stucco and paint to save them from destruction during the Cultural Revolution – then rediscovered in 1997 during renovations.
Bund18 is also worth a look. The 1923 column-fronted building is built in the popular neo-classical style and was designed by British architectural firm, Palmer & Turner. Extensive renovations completed in 2004 earned Bund18 the 2006 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award of Excellence for Culture Heritage Conservation. The foyer hosts the Ailing Foundation which promotes up and coming Chinese artists and art projects related to China.
The elaborate Fairmont Peace Hotel on the corner of the Bund and Nanjing East Road is a piece of Shanghai’s colonial glory days. Built in the Gothic style of the Chicago School and completed in 1929 by British businessman Victor Sassoon, the Peace Hotel was the “it” place for business and pleasure during the 1920s and ‘30s. The hotel’s Old Jazz Bar was a favourite with the city’s expatriate community and even toured the US at one point.
Drinks and Dinner on the Bund
Dress up for a night on the town at any of the many 5-star dining options along the Bund. There is no end to the international gastronomic options on offer in the glitziest part of town – from modern Italian at three Michelin star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercato and David Bassan’s Bocca at Bund 22 to French fusion at Paul Pairet’s Mr & Mrs Bund. Bar Rouge, with its spacious rooftop terrace and spectacular view of Pudong is the place to go for a quiet pre-dinner drink, or go late and kick on into the night dancing with the whose-who of Shanghai.
For Chinese, Lost Heaven on the Bund specializes in fresh and delicious southwestern Chinese cuisine – a great option for large groups. The restaurant has a quiet roof top bar and its sister restaurant, Lost Heaven in the French Concession, is just as lovely.
Glamour says it all at the Glamour Bar – another of Michelle Garnaut’s projects. The perfect setting for a Bund nightcap.
The French Concession
The Tianzifang art precinct, while often crowded with Chinese tour groups, is still a fun place for a wander. Get lost down its quaint alleyways and potter in the many quirky shops and art galleries. Kommune café in the central courtyard was one of the earliest restaurants to set up shop in the area and is still one of the best.
The beer garden at Sasha’s, on the corner of Hengshan Lu and Dongping Lu, is a chilled spot for a drink while soaking up the history of one of the French Concession’s most famous families – the wealthy Soong family, whose three daughters were married to China’s most influential men – Song Ailing to H.H. Kung – one of the richest men in China, Song Qingling to China’s first president and founding father of the Republic of China, Sun Yat Sen, and Song Meiling to Chinese Nationalist leader, Chiang Kai-shek. The home of Sun Yat Sen and Song Qingling on the corner of Xiangshan and Sinan Lu is open to the public, as is the former residence of Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People’s Republic of China, at number 73 Sinan Lu.
Xintiandi, a hip and affluent strip of redeveloped shikumen lanes, houses western cafes, restaurants and groovy retail shops. The mall at the southern end of Xintiandi has a Crystal Jade (delicious Cantonese dim sum) and a Dintaifung – famous for its delicate, succulent xiaolongbao (Shanghai dumplings).
The many little bars and restaurants which make up Yongkang Lu (between Xiangyang Lu and Jiashan Lu) is a laid back spot for an afternoon drink on any day of the week or weekend.
After years of taking friends and visitors to all their favourite shopping spots in Shanghai, New Zealand duo Suzy and Lynn turned it into a business – forming Shopping Tours Shanghai. Tours include friendly local expat guides, street food sampling, air-conditioned transport, a delicious Shanghainese banquet lunch, bargaining tips and pricing information, and inside knowledge of Shanghai’s best shopping spots for everything from silk to pearls to antiques.
The team receives no commissions for their recommendations and all vendors are selected from Suzy and Lynn’s 16-years of Shanghai shopping experience.
First stop is to the fabric market where you can have all your favourite suits and shirts and skirts and dresses and any other costume you can dream up, made to order and then delivered direct to your hotel. Suzy and Lynn have handpicked the best tailors in the multi-storey building, even inviting a New Zealand tailor to test out the quality. In adition to visiting a number of secret shopping haunts, the guides give an insightful commentary on shopping and bargaining tips but also the city’s history, culture and of course invaluable additional information on what else to see and do and eat while in Shanghai.
For more information: www.shoppingtoursshanghai.com
For antiques – real and not so real, check out the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market.
For ceramics – One of Shanghai’s hidden gems – Spin – is a ceramics store specializing in hand crafted works that make the four floors of home wares feel more like an art gallery than a shop.
Pictured: Spin specialises in hand made ceramics from the Jingdezhen area but feels more like a visit to a gallery than a shop.
For pearls – the Hongqiao Pearl Market where you can shop until you drop while your jewellery is made to order. ■