Last night, while driving to the hotel, Charlie suggested that he could organise an optional half day city tour for today, as the hotel is quite a long way out of the city and with little of interest around it. Most of our group of 16 were interested so, after a lazy morning around the hotel, a dozen of us joined Charlie and set out for Shanghai CBD.
The ride into town took an hour and our first stop was at the Jade Buddha temple. This Buddha, along with a smaller one, was brought back to Shanghai from Burma by a local monk and a temple has been built up around it over the last 130 years or so. The temple is beautiful and meticulously maintained, while the Jade Buddha, standing around 1.95 m tall and carved from a single piece of jade, is quite remarkable.
From ancient Buddhism we experienced something of the culture clash that is a feature of China today, and moved straight to one of the icons of modern Shanghai - the Jinmao Tower. A central part of ‘New Shanghia’ Jinmao Tower commands a stunning vista over the city and excellent views of its nearby, taller cousin, the Shanghai Tower - the second tallest in the world. This part of Shanghai has experienced explosive growth over the last 30 years - it has the population to prove it and is a glittering facade for modern China.
We returned to Old Shanghai and walked through the Pet Market. This is not a pet market most westerners would relate to, as the main ‘pets’ available are mice, tiny turtles, birds and fish, as well as crickets and other insects. Apparently, these ‘pets’ are assessed and priced according to their perceived fighting abilities! It was a fascinating glimpse into ‘Old Shanghai’.
A short stroll from the Pet Market brought us to the French Quarter. The building facades have been retained and, in recent years, the residents and old businesses have been moved out. The area has since been repurposed as a nightlife centre with restaurants, bars and chic shops providing a very lively and attractive place to spend an evening. We, along with half a dozen others in our party, chose the Wolfgang Puck German Bar for our evening meal - curiously, there does not seem to be a French restaurant in the French Quarter!
For the final part of our tour, we travelled to The Bund (Riverside Promenade) for an hour-long cruise on the Huangpu River, to take in the famous bright lights of Shanghai. After battling - not too successfully - for a good observation position on the top deck, we decided to pay the extra $16 for a seat (and beer!) in the VIP area. That was a very good investment as we had a much more relaxed cruise with uninterrupted views of Shanghai’s spectacular riverside cityscape.
The evening cruise was an excellent way to round out a brilliant start to our Odyssey around China and, at 500 Yuan (~$AU110), it was very good value for money. The itinerary had this as a ‘free day’, while waiting for passengers who were flying in overnight. Without the tour we would have either spent a boring day around the hotel, in an isolated part of Shanghai, or spent at least the same amount of money to achieve half as much. Charlie is an excellent guide and he really made the whole afternoon and evening very enjoyable. After an hour’s drive back to the hotel, we were very ready for a good night’s sleep before the tour proper kicks off tomorrow.