Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shanghai Nights and Chinese Promises

And so we go full circle back to Shanghai. We get in and get out of China through this city. Squeezed inside our itinerary was our two-day trip to Beijing via sleeper trains. Given this hectic schedule, we did not get a chance to explore any night life whatsoever. We had one night in Beijing but we were too tired from walking around the city all day to even think of going out that night.

Fortunately, our flight from Shanghai to Manila leaves a few minutes after midnight. So we had a few night-time hours to kill. We took that opportunity to see head to the Huangpu River again. I am quite glad we did. The Pudong Skyline at night was just spectacular. It's an icon of modern China. You see it on postcards, on travel magazines, and on posters. It is fulfilling that I was now getting to see it for myself. Then, if I look behind me, there's the Bund to see the old colonial-era buildings buildings again. At night, they seem to take on a whole new persona.

Pudong Skyline, Shanghai
Iconic Pudong skyline viewed from the Bund across the Huangpu River in Shanghai

The Bund at Night
Art Deco to Neo-Classical. Impressive.

Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Chartered Bank Building & North China Daily News Building on the Bund, Shanghai
From right to left: Swatch Art Peace Hotel, Chartered Bank Building, North China Daily News Building

When we came here to the Bund in our first morning in China, I was very impressed with the architecture of the buildings. Much more impressed, I think, were my two travel companions, as one was an architecture graduate, the other a licensed interior designer. From what I read, the Bund showcases the greatest hits of western design, from Neo-Classical to Gothic to Art Deco. They were beautiful in daylight, but I think I like them more at night.

The Bund at Night
Heritage building after heritage building on the Bund in Shanghai

North China Daily News Building, The Bund
North China Daily News Building

The Bund at Night
From left to right: Yangtze Insurance Association Building, EWO Building, Glen Line Building

Each of these beautifully-designed buildings along the Bund have numerous lights on them, installed very orderly along their little nooks and crannies. They illuminate a small portion of a wall, a pillar, a cornice, or an arch just right, not too dark and not too bright. In doing so, the design of each building is accentuated by a play on light and darkness. It's chiaroscuro, really. Maybe that's why I like them so much. The buildings here on the Bund look like paintings at night.

HSBC Building, The Bund
Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) Building

Customs House, The Bund
Customs House

The Bund though was not our last stop in our last night in China. There was one more thing to see in Shanghai. Plus, it was dinner time and we were hungry. It was the perfect stop—Nanjing Road. It is easy to get to from the Bund. The Bund literally passes by it. However, since we had extra RMBs to spend and did not want to bring out our city maps in the dark of the night, we simply took a cab going there. That was a very short ride.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Super busy shopping district Nanjing Street at night

Nanjing Road is a pedestrianized street in Shanghai considered to be the city's main shopping destination. And where there's shopping, there was dining. The street was full of local and international shops. Some brands we recognized, some we did not. The street was full of people, too. The chaos wasn't stressful though. In fact, it was invigorating. You suddenly find yourself feeling the full energy of Shanghai in this six-kilometer strip.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Odd shape. Hmmm.

For dinner, we ended up in a very "local" hole in the wall Chinese restaurant in one of the smaller streets jutting out from Nanjing Road. It was the kind of joint we normally see in the Chinatown of my city Manila. Tiled floors ran a bit dirty from grease and other food residue. Faded walls are decorated with traditional Chinese charms and dust-gatherers. Basic chairs and tables covered in plain white cloth. And though the food was greasy, we liked them. We had fried spring rolls, fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, and stir-fried pork. It was probably the first and only time we actually liked what we ate in China.

Nanjing Street, Shanghai
Saying goodbye to China on Nanjing Street and promising to come back

When I first got to China, I found it hard to penetrate the culture and the landscape, that I began to doubt if I could actually have a great travel experience here. For one, the language barrier hit me straight in the face. Plus, navigating through the country, I find myself questioning if I am on the correct street, if I got off the correct subway stop, if I exited the correct gates, etc. There is just too much of everything around you. You sort of got to stick it through and trust your instincts, and your companions' at that.

It gets easy along the way. And the pay off, well, I got to see first-hand how a country steeped in thousand-year old traditions has moved forward and how it is continuing to move forward. Needless to say, China is a very rewarding travel destination. And I know I just scratched the surface. There are more things to see and discover in this vast vast country. Which is why it is only fitting that I make a promise to come back. And I will. I most definitely will.

For more photos in this set, please visit my Flickr set: China: Shanghai Nights

Have you been to China? What impressions did the Middle Kingdom leave you?

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Friday, March 18, 2011

China: Great Wall at Mutianyu

You could not really find a more iconic image of China better than the place we were going to next. It is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the planet, a living testament to the might and power of the Chinese empire in a time when most of the world were all but primitive societies. Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Cambodia has Angkor Wat, Sydney has the Opera House, and China, China has the Great Wall.

Great Wall, Mutianyu

The Great Wall is an extensive fortification made of stone stretching from Hebei province in northeast China, where the wall literally touches the sea, to the marshlands of Lop Nur in northwest China. It roughly runs the southern border of the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, which was essentially why the wall was constructed in the first place, to protect the Chinese lands from the invading nomadic tribes of the Mongolian steppes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

China: Beijing, Olympic Green

There was one more stop we had to go to before we called it a full fine day in Beijing. We had to see the setting of one of the biggest organized global events in recent years. We had to go to the Olympic Green, the Olympic park in Beijing constructed to host the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Beijing National Stadium, Bird's Nest

I specifically scheduled our visit to the Olympic Green at night. I figured we wouldn't really be able to fully appreciate the Bird's Nest Stadium and, more so, the Water Cube Stadium, under broad daylight. That's because at night, they light up the nest a bright red-orange and the cube a brilliant blue. I was right.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

China: Beijing, Temple of Heaven

After visiting the Forbidden City, our feet were a bit tired from all the walking we did in that huge, huge palace complex. We needed a bit of respite. I was glad that our next destination provided just that, a relaxed atmosphere, amidst the fast-paced capital city, on that cool Sunday afternoon. This was the Temple of Heaven.

Temple of Heaven

To get to the Temple of Heaven, take the metro to Tiantandongmen Station on Line 5. When you exit the station, you will see a long, tall wall. That's the wall enclosing the temple complex. Walk south towards the nearest road intersection. And there you will find the park's east entrance.

Monday, March 14, 2011

China: Beijing, Forbidden City

You really haven't been to China if you haven't been to the capital, Beijing. So I was decided to include it in our itinerary. Since we get in and get out through Shanghai, I realized we could take China's high-speed, long-distance, night-time trains to and from Beijing within our five-day stay. Besides, train travel in China is in itself an authentic Chinese experience. And hey, it would save us considerable travel time and hotel accommodation costs.

Forbidden City

We boarded a sleeper train in Shanghai at around 9 p.m. Saturday and arrived in Beijing at around 7 a.m. Sunday. Immediately upon arrival, we checked in our hotel, conveniently close to the city center, and went straight to Tiananmen Square. We chose to take the metro because the Beijing Metro is very efficient, and at 2 RMB a ticket, no matter the distance nor the number of connections, amazingly cheap.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

China: Gucheng Park and Yuyuan Market

The next destination we had on our itinerary was the Yuyuan Market and Garden. Yuyuan is located in the old city area of Shanghai. Yes, buildings along The Bund are old but here, buildings were older. The traditional Chinese structures in the old city area date back to the 1500's, all fully restored into their original grandeur.

Yuyuan Market and Garden

Yuyuan has a metro stop. So that's a no-brainer. But, if you're like us, who has Yuyuan on their itinerary right after The Bund, then we recommend just strolling along The Bund north to south until you get to Renmin Road. Take that street and to your left, you will see a park—Gucheng Park. Cross the park to get to Yuyuan Market.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

China: Old and New Shanghai

After a year of planning, researching, saving, budgeting, hotel booking, and visa applying, finally, this five-day trip to China happens. There were so many road blocks and unfortunate events along the way. Still, we pushed through. And I could not be happier. It was the first time I was packing for winter. We don't really get to experience that kind of cold in my tropical country. So I was really excited. First stop: Shanghai.

Pudong Skyline, View from The Bund

To be honest, I was not really that excited to see Shanghai. I live in big and bustling Manila, so the thought of traveling to yet another big and bustling city didn't really appeal to me. It should have. Shanghai, being a first-world city and therefore, worlds away from my city, surprised me in more ways than one.