“Awesome, I have a long layover!” Let’s face it, those are words that are rarely uttered by anyone. Travelers either want to get to their destination or return home as soon as possible. I too prefer direct flights to lower my chances of having any missed connections, unexpected delays, or boring stays in the airport, but don’t scoff at a layover so quickly. It is a golden opportunity to visit a place that you weren’t expecting. These days, I think of layovers as a bonus travel destination. It is kind of like a trip within a trip. On some occasions, like my layover in Amsterdam, I have even gone out of my way to ensure that I have a longer stay to properly explore the layover city. This is the first of what I hope are many posts about layovers I have had on the way to my main destination. This is what I did on my layover in Shanghai.
I have been wanting and dreaming about visiting Komodo National Park for the last three years, and now that I am back from the land of the dragons, I must say that it was worth all the hype. However, when I first clicked “purchase” on that wonderfully scheduled Garuda Indonesia (Airlines) flight, direct from Seoul to Denpasar, Bali, I got the two words no aspiring traveler ever wants to hear (or read), “Sold Out.” Why oh why is it still listed just to tease me!!! The only affordable options were to wait till next year, or take a flight with China Eastern Airlines with a 9 hour layover in Shanghai.
I try to be as positive as possible, but if you read my post about being scammed in Beijing, you will know that I don’t exactly have the best memories of China. That experience was actually just the tip of the iceberg of my run-ins with the People’s Republic, which have included getting scammed in Xi’an, getting 7 hour delays into AND exiting Chengdu, getting sent to the quarantine room in Beijing Airport for coughing once, getting a thorough and very uncomfortable pat down in Guangzhou airport, and of course, my worst travel story of all time, getting stranded for 3 days in a blizzard in Beijing with no money. Needless to say, China and I have a long history. The country and I have a love-hate relationship that isn’t ending anytime soon, despite their $150 visa price.
I wasn’t very excited about THIS particular layover, but since it was unavoidable, I decided to research to make the most of it. By chance, I saw a post by Nomadic Chick, a blogger I follow, about the wonderful Bund area and the food on Yunnan Road. Instantly, I remembered the things I did love about China, the food, the clash between old and new, and most of all, the character. Whether you love or hate China, you can’t deny that is has character and as much, if not more diversity in its people and food than anywhere else on Earth.
We arrived at Pudong Airport on time (for like the first time ever in China) and security was relatively nice and quick. Maybe Shanghai was different after all as my Shanghainese friends have told me for years. After getting through security, I inquired about my flight out of China, which seemed to have the wrong time printed on it. Nope, it was delayed… for three hours. One thing I have to know is, how do they know a 10PM flight will be delayed when it is barely 9AM? Do they plan on being late? Well, this actually worked out for the better since we would have more time in Shanghai, and would arrive in Bali at around 6AM instead of 3AM. We decided to leave the airport in style and take the Mag-Lev, which was supposed to hit 430kph! Unfortunately, it only hit 300 kph, which is equivalent to the Korean KTX or the Taiwanese bullet train. I was a bit disappointed, but it was still pretty cool to get to the center of town in 8 minutes.
From here, we transferred to the subway system. I always look forward to riding the subway in other countries as it is, in my opinion, the best invention for public transportation. I never really figured out how to get a rechargeable card, but since I was only there for a day, I didn’t mind buying my ticket every time I needed the subway. What I found most unusual was the use of x-ray machines at the entrance, but I guess extra security can’t hurt. Off we went, looking for the famous skyscrapers that adorn the Shanghai skyline. Unfortunately, it was 100F (40C), making our scheduled run across this mega city a bit slower than expected. I think my biggest expense was water as I stopped by a Family Mart every hour or so. The Oriental Pearl Building was quite unique, and definitely the prettiest I saw in Shanghai.
Although the Shanghai World Financial Center and the new Shanghai Tower might be taller, the Pearl is really the building to see. We then moved on to the Bund tunnel which I must say, was a total tourist trap. I knew something was fishy when they offered a one-way trip for 50 RMB, but gave a ridiculous discount at 60 RMB if you went round trip. I decided to go with my instinct and just got the one way ticket. After crossing the tunnel, you could see that just overlooking the river where all the new buildings of Shanghai making for a great view. The river also had a lot of those old tugboats going around.
On the Bund, there were quite a few interesting buildings. A mesh of old and new in this historical neighborhood which has tried to preserve its identity by restricting further construction in the area. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side and the intense heat left us running for cover, looking for a small road with shade. Since we were planning on walking to the People’s Square, we took Fuzhou Road and stopped for some more water. My skin was already burning and Sidney was dying of dehydration. That is when we ran into Grandmother Shanghai Restaurant.
I gave this a lot of thought, so I’m going to just say it, this is one of the top 5 places I’ve ever eaten in my life. Now granted that I am partial towards Chinese food (especially the really greasy stuff), but I don’t see how anyone could dislike the food here. For starters, almost every item on the menu has a picture, making it very easy for someone like me, who doesn’t know more than a few Chinese characters, to pick a good dish.
I feel stupid for not writing down the names of the dishes in Chinese, but I fully expected to return on my way back from Indonesia (my flight was delayed or course, and I missed my chance). If anyone has ever been here, please tell me the names of these foods.
After a few more stops at air-conditioned malls and shops, we finally arrived at the Shanghai Museum, only to find out that it had just closed. So, we headed to Qibao to visit the famous water village of the same name.
While it was a bit difficult to find, we did finally arrive and it was quite lovely. We saw a beautiful temple in the distance, but it was already closed.
From the pictures in this blog, it is quite something from the inside too. After Qibao, it was around 8PM, and we were about 90 minutes from the airport, so it was time to get going.
While I do wish I had more time in Shanghai, I am happy with the time I did have. Since I had a scheduled layover in Shanghai again on the way back, I fully expected to see more, but my flight was delayed from Bali (figures), so this was the only time I had in Shanghai. In the future, I’ll make sure to try to force a stop in this wonderful city one more time…maybe two………or three.