Shanghai’s original signature skyline, and the first stop for any visitor, is the Bund (外滩, wàitān), a strip of grand colonial edifices on the west bank of the Huangpu River, facing the flashy skyscrapers of Pudong on the opposite shore. Since 1949, it’s been known officially as Zhongshan Lu, but it’s better known among locals as Wai Tan (literally “Outside Beach”). Named after an old Anglo-Indian term, “bunding” (the embanking of a muddy foreshore), the Bund was old Shanghai’s commercial heart, with the river on one side, the offices of the leading banks and trading houses on the other. During Shanghai’s riotous heyday it was also a hectic working harbour, where anything from tiny sailing junks to ocean-going freighters unloaded under the watch of British – and later American and Japanese – warships. Everything arrived here, from silk and tea to heavy industrial machinery. Amid it all, wealthy foreigners disembarked to pick their way to one of the grand hotels through crowds of beggars, hawkers, black marketeers, shoeshine boys, overladen coolies and even funeral parties – Chinese too poor to pay for the burial of relatives would launch the bodies into the river in boxes decked in paper flowers.
Today, it’s the most exclusive chunk of real estate in China, with pretensions to becoming the nation’s Champs-Elysées; the world’s most luxurious brands have set up shop here and there are a clutch of ritzy hotels and celebrity restaurants (though if you just want to eat, rather than have a gourmet experience, choice is rather limited).Read More
World Financial Centre
World Financial Centre
Historically, Pudong (浦东, pŭdōng) has been known as the “wrong side of the Huangpu” – before 1949, the area was characterized by unemployed migrants, prostitution, murders and the most appalling living conditions in the city. It was here that bankrupt gamblers would “tiao huangpu”, commit suicide by drowning themselves in the river. Shanghai’s top gangster, Du Yuesheng, more commonly known as “Big-eared Du”, learned his trade growing up in this rough section of town. In 1990, however, fifteen years after China’s economic reforms started, it was finally decided to grant the status of Special Economic Zone (SEZ) to this large tract of mainly agricultural land, a decision which, more than any other, is now fuelling Shanghai’s rocket-like economic advance. The skyline has since been completely transformed from a stream of rice paddies into a sea of cranes, and ultimately a maze of skyscrapers that seemingly stretches east as far as the eye can see.
The best views of the city are from the observation deck at the top of the 492m Shanghai World Financial Centre (环球金融中心, huánqiú jīnróng zhōngxīn), China’s tallest building. In contrast to its elegant neighbour, the Jinmao Tower, its lines are simple: it’s just a tapering slab whose most distinctive feature is the hole in the top. Locals call it “the bottle opener”. That hole was originally meant to be circular, but was redesigned as an oblong when the mayor complained that it would look like a Japanese flag hovering over the city.
The entrance and ticket office is in the southwest side. There are three ticket prices, depending on how high up you want to go; the top level is by far the most impressive and now you’re here you may as well bite the pricey bullet and go all the way to the top, where you’ll be greeted by a magnificent 360-degree view across the city. Hardened glass tiles in the floor even allow you to look right down between your feet. Landmarks are pointed out in the booklet that comes with your ticket, and you can get a photo printed for ¥50. The view is at least as impressive at night.
Huangpu River tours
Huangpu River tours
One highlight of a visit to Shanghai, and the easiest way to view the edifices of the Bund, is to take one of the Huangpu River tours (黄浦江旅游, huángpŭjiāng lǚyóu). These leave a wharf near the end of Nanjing Dong Lu.
You can take an hour-long round trip south to the Yanpu Bridge and back, but the classic cruise here is the three-hour-long, 60km journey to the mouth of the Yangzi and back. On the tour, you’re introduced to the vast amount of shipping that uses the port, and you’ll also be able to inspect all the paraphernalia of the shipping industry, from sampans and rusty old Panamanian-registered freighters to sparkling Chinese navy vessels. You’ll also get an idea of the colossal construction that is taking place on the eastern shore, before you reach the mouth of the Yangzi River itself, where the wind kicks in and it feels like you’re almost in open sea.