Thursday, 11 December 2014

A quick return to China...Shanghai !

One of the many benefits of a cruise holiday is that you get to see lots of different places without moving hotels. Of course there are downsides too ! They don't tend to be cheap holidays for starters, and as previously mentioned, organised trips can be very expensive (and there are a few other costs to consider too!).
You can however, go DIY once you land in port. In Nagasaki I spent less than £30 all in and took in all the sights that were on a similar ship organised trip which for the two of us would have cost about £90. No problem in Nagasaki but Shanghai was an altogether different proposition. To be fair to Princess Cruises they gave a lot of information on how to go about visiting all the stops without taking a tour. In some places the shuttle buses were free ( and I suspect paid for by the local port) in others there was a charge. Of course one of the big question marks over DIY tours is "What happens if I don't get back in time for the sailing time ?". The answer is tough luck, you are on your own unless you are on an organised tour when they would would wait. This of course helps push people towards the ships tours.
In another part of the world I can well imagine that the ship may well leave you behind but I have a feeling this is highly unlikely in the Far East. Why ? I think immigration would have something to say if they did.
One of the brilliant things about our cruise was you didn't have to think too hard about the necessary forms for each country. Princess did it all for you although for China we had to pre arrange our own VISAs.As we were returning for one more day a double entry VISA was required and this worked out at around £190 for the two of us. Not a cheap add on !
Anyway, prior to leaving on our cruise holiday I had already researched destinations, decided where was easy and where was not. Shanghai centre was at least a 45 minute road journey from the international cruise terminal we were docking at, our ship much too large to use the much closer one up the river Huangpu. We were all but resigned to taking the ships tour at I think $89 pp which took you in to the city centre and included a visit to the Bund and the famous Yu Gardens. It did allow 3.5 hours to wander. My attempts to find a local guide and private tour had drawn a blank when I was quoted £525 ( yes I'm not joking) by a resident non _Chinese. Anyway, through the internet I had made a contact who offered to share their trip at a far more reasonable cost which was less than the ships tour when shared. What a brilliant decision that turned out to be !
We were met as planned at the cruise terminal by the lovely Jean Liu and soon we were on our way in to Shanghai centre.
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We passed through the suburbs of endless high rise flats which house the vast numbers of the biggest city population on earth. There was no way I would want to drive in that traffic !
Our very comfortable vehicle dropped us off on the embankment of the river on the Bund.
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In years gone by this area was the foreign concessionary zone and you can tell by the buildings that there is a big European and American influence.
Further down river you have the modern building of the last few decades.
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Across the river is the remarkable sight of the new financial centre, it didn't exist in 1990 !
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and it's still very much work in progress. 
I very quickly drew the opinion that when it comes to China, where there's a will there is a way.
Roads, railways, buildings, you name it.. this is a country moving forward at an amazing pace. 
Considering Shanghai was the birthplace of modern communist China the signs are quite contradictory. Wealth seems to be displayed ostentatiously, expensive cars, expensive designer shops, it was all there and being enjoyed by locals as well as foreigners.
A visit to the luxurious Peace Hotel, one of the most famous in the world, revealed that after having spent a few decades as a government property it was now returned to it's past splendour.
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While the dining room was being cleared after breakfast the banqueting hall was all set for the next big function
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Underneath all the glitter though there were signs that life was as unequal here as anywhere else on the planet.
We visited the old Jewish Quarter which is in the shadows of the high rise  buildings surrounding it. An apartment here with little space cost's around £100K.
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Conditions are not exactly modern
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Kitchens are shared and don't offer the latest technology which explains why so many people eat out.
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One of the benefits of our personal tour was that we got to see things other tourists probably don't. Not a single foreign face in this area.
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It was fascinating looking at what was on offer
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All sorts of ready meals waiting to be cooked
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Great pots of stock bubbling away
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I don't think our guide wanted us to try anything here as there was possible issue with hygiene so we just looked.
Not all the food was for consumption on the spot, there were butchers,greengrocers, fishmongers etc all for produce to take home.
A more unusual ingredient were these Bullfrogs.
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I told Jean that I hadn't eaten frogs legs since I found out they were chopped off the live frog, the rest discarded, so a painful horrific way to die. Missing the point she said in China they ate all of it!
Anyway, she guided us to an area popular with tourists and locals alike.
Again, it was unlikely a large group could be managed in places like this.
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Although it looks authentically old it's all recent reproduction.
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We went past the most famous dumpling place in Shanghai, somewhere I would have loved to have tried but the queue was huge and you can wait for at least an hour to be served !
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Next door there wasn't a wait at all !
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As we were heading to a restaurant for lunch we just tried a quick niblet of sweet pastries which were excellent and inexpensive.
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A visit to the Yu Gardens was for me a bit underwhelming.
Yu Garden Shanghai
Far too crowded for my liking and really not a suitable habitat for much wildlife. I did manage a couple of Bulbuls though but they were out of my lens range.
After the gardens a visit to another interesting spot !
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Guess what they are doing ?
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They are advertising their children for suitable matches in marriage ! They weren't necessarily desperate either, some of the demands in exchange were quite high !

Our day was soon over but not before a final treat. We went over to the financial district where we went up to the 91st floor bar to take in the views from the second biggest building in town.
To be surrounded by these skyscrapers was just awe-inspiring.
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The view from the top of what is affectionally known as The Bottle Opener  jaw dropping.
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but next door was even taller. Amazing constructions.
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Well my China bird list wasn't exactly impressive, confirmed species were a mere 5 ! Well, it's difficult to positively ID things without binoculars and from a speeding vehicle.
I did manage one snap earlier in the day though, a Little Egret right in the middle of the city !
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That will have to do ! Still we had had a brilliant day out. Jean Liu had proved a very able guide and 100% reliable. Most professional she maximised every minute of our day and it's the little things that go unnoticed. Our vehicle was always waiting at the spots pre-arranged and we hadn't even noticed Jean informing the driver.
We were safely back in time for sail away and as we once again sailed in to the night escorted by two tug boats I wondered if we will return to China one day.
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The answer was of course yes ! Although they have a different currency our next stop, Hong Kong, is very much a part of China now.
First though we had two days at sea to make our plans.


  1. Hi Dave,

    Is there a link for Jean Liu?
    That seems like a very useful bit of information if any of your readers get tempted to follow in your footsteps.

  2. Private tours of Shanghai from:-