Houston Community News >> Explore Shanghai in a Few Days

8/6/2006 Shanghai (by TREBOR BANSTETTER)-- It was the trip of a lifetime, but I had to squeeze it into just. I was in Shanghai covering a story for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where I work as a business reporter, so I didn't have much time to explore one of the world's great cities.


My situation is increasingly common for American business travelers. China's red-hot growth has drawn the interest of nearly every U.S. industry, and more road warriors find themselves taking the 14-hour flight to Shanghai to either try to tap the world's fastest-growing economy or learn how to survive it.

"Everyone is rushing into China," said Albert Tan, an attorney with Haynes & Boone in Dallas who specializes in companies doing business in China. "It's an absolute frenzy." But just because I was in Shanghai dogging airline executives and interviewing Chinese business officials didn't mean I couldn't fit in some sightseeing. The city is ideal, in fact, for short bursts of tourism between meetings or sales pitches.

Here are some of the best bets for sneaking in some amazing sights a few hours at a time.

Shanghai's most famous stretch is the Bund (which means "embankment"). It's a riverside collection of buildings from the city's European colonial period and has long been the city's heart. Once dominated by banks and shipping companies, the Bund buildings today house trendy restaurants, high-priced shops and bars. It's also a magnet for tourists, and not just foreigners.

"If you don't have time to visit rural China, just take a stroll down the Bund, and you'll see it right here," said Patrick Cranley, an American Shanghai resident who co-founded the Shanghai Historic House Association to help preserve the city's history.

Indeed, when I visited the famous street, it was full of Chinese tourists from outlying provinces clutching maps and snapping photos of each other in front of the gorgeous European-style buildings. The stretch houses about 50 structures of various architectural styles.

At the northern end of the Bund is Huangpu Park, which is the site of the Monument to the People's Heroes, a concrete obelisk dedicated to Chinese patriots. If you're up early enough - perhaps before that morning business meeting - you can spot locals gathering at the park for exercise and tai chi


China's most famous spot for tea is the Huxin Ting Teahouse, which dates to 1784 and sits on a small lake in the city's Old Town. Its customers in recent years have included Bill Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and even Fidel Castro.

The tea ceremony is an intricate, complex affair that produces tiny cups of tea. Don't expect more than tea and dumplings at Huxin Ting, but it's obviously more about the atmosphere and the presentation of one of China's most ancient traditions.

The teahouse is in the city's Old Town, just southwest of the Bund. Nearby is the Yu Garden, a gorgeous maze of landscaping and water that was completed in 1577. It's a must if you're in the neighborhood.


The French Concession neighborhood, built by French merchants in the 1920s, is a breathtaking collection of mansions, bungalows and buildings that was home to a small but thriving community that wanted to create the "Paris of the East." Today it's filled with trendy shops, restaurants and nightclubs.

One can visit the Xiangyang clothing market, an outdoor shopper's paradise where cheap remainders and knockoffs abound. The Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts is also in the neighborhood in a gorgeous restored mansion that once was home to the director of the French Municipal Council.

Wandering a bit off the beaten path, one also finds traditional Chinese dwellings in walled and gated sections, many of them hundreds of years old.


Deep in the French Concession, one stumbles upon a perfectly preserved dwelling from the early 20th century. In a small room facing a courtyard, a simple table is laid for about a dozen people, complete with teacups and ashtrays.

It's no ordinary room, which is evident from the armed guards present. It's the site where Mao Zedong and other revolutionaries founded the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921, and everything is presented as it was then.

The house is part of a larger museum dedicated to the legacy of the Chinese Communist Party. It's a mix of history and propaganda, a fascinating experience for American visitors. It's also a potent reminder that China retains its Communist government - something that can be easy to forget in freewheeling, capitalist Shanghai.

But even the museum isn't immune from the economic fever that permeates the city. A gift shop sells watches, bags and even clothing emblazoned with Mao's smiling face. The items are hugely popular with Western tourists.


This famous plaza is a perfect spot for a few hours of sightseeing at the city's major museums. It contains the Shanghai Museum, the nation's largest collection of historic artifacts. To look toward the future, walk to the square's east end and check out the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center, which includes a massive scale model of how the entire city will look by 2020.

The Shanghai Art Museum is as famous for its building, on the square's northwest end, as its art. The building, with massive clock tower, was once the end of the grandstand for a racetrack in the 1930s. Its broad art collection ranges from historic paintings to modern masterpieces.


Once you've explored Shanghai's history on the Bund, in the Old City and the French Concession, it's time to rocket into the future in Pudong. Just across the river from the Bund, the city transforms into a scene from the film Blade Runner. Futuristic glass buildings dominate the skyline, and neon corporate logos burn everywhere.

Towering over it all is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, one of the tallest structures in Asia.

The distinctive tower, with three giant pink globes that narrow into a skyward-pointing needle, has an observation deck that provides dazzling views of the city on a clear day. It's a remarkable spot to take photos.

And you can prove to family and friends back home that you did indeed escape the boardroom and sales meetings, if just for a few hours.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE: You'll need a current passport and a visa. Most travelers will want a single-entry tourist visa, good for 30 days. This can be obtained only at a Chinese consulate - not through the mail. Several firms will act as an agent on your behalf. I used the Houston-based China Visa Service Center, which got my visa in about a week for $93. You need to send your passport to the agent, so be sure it's a reputable firm.

The Chinese government demands a current photo with visa applications. A passport photo works.

The Chinese government demands a current photo with visa applications. A passport photo works.

GETTING THERE: American Airlines has nonstop service from Chicago's O'Hare Airport to Pudong Airport in Shanghai. The flight from Chicago is about 14 hours. United Airlines also has nonstop service to Shanghai from O'Hare.

GETTING AROUND: Travelers can hop on the magnetically levitated train ($6 for a one-way ticket) for a high-speed ride from Pudong Airport to the central city.

Taxis are plentiful. Most drivers don't speak English. Carry the name and address of your hotel and your destinations written in Chinese. Drivers typically don't expect tips.

Much of Shanghai is pedestrian-friendly, particularly in the districts west of the Huangpu River.

(Contributed by TREBOR BANSTETTER)