Of all the destinations we’ve covered so far on Hack Your City, Shanghai might have the most surprises for Western visitors, as many readers described in Monday’s comment thread. This ancient city, now a technological and financial hub and popular travel destination, is full of unexpected juxtapositions.
Tips are lightly edited. Almost all of the comments we quoted have more tips inside, so read the original thread of featured comments.
If you read one comment about Shanghai, make it Shanghai local Clark Wang’s guide to the city. Wang points out unusual destinations, gives tips on getting around town, and desribes the quirks and history of Shanghai and China at large. Some highlights:
Local color, Lifehacker style: “If you are into IT/Geeky stuff, there is a market in Shanghai on QiuJiang Road, and it’s full of old PC specs and second hand hardware stuff, but it’s going to be torn apart very soon. It’s not that chaotic but you will find tons of knock-off IT stuff there.”
“There is a Disneyland here but it’s always busy. Try the Happy Valley instead since it’s closer and cheaper, also quite new and full of arcade-type things.”
“Internet in Shanghai is the same as the rest of China. Most sites you use daily can be blocked: Google, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram. So definitely buy a VPN here.”
“If you live here longterm, really learn Chinese and how to use WeChat/Alipay, it makes your life easier. JD/Taobao are like Amazon/eBay, orders usually arrive on the 2nd day.”
Planning and Getting Around
You can’t use your credit card most places, says reader crspddh. And some metro stations don’t take cash. Reader keyuze explains how to deal with money: Open a small bank account at ICBC in fifteen minutes to get a debit card, and plug that info into the apps for bike shares and car shares, and to pay people with Alipay and WeChat (which you can even use at food carts).
Osvaldo has tons of tips for getting around and staying out of trouble. For example, cancel your phone and bank account after you leave. And only buy your metro card through official channels. “People will offer to buy back your public transport card, or ask you to buy tickets for them, etc. DON’T. Some citizens are banned from buying tickets.
Your card is associated to your passport and you might get in trouble.”
The language barrier can be tough for Western travelers, so flyersfaninhiding suggests keeping your hotel’s “visiting card” handy to show cab drivers your address in Chinese. (Or just use Didi, the Chinese Uber.)
Shanghai is hot and the tap water isn’t always safe, so this seems useful: “Stay at The Sofitel on The Bund. They filter all of their water, which means that you can have ice. They also have Hong Kong internet, so you won’t be behind the Iron Firewall.”—Just Try This
Ying M has another long guide, with tips for vegetarians, warnings about health and hygiene (“If you’re a little more off the beaten path you may run into some squat toilets,”) and street food recs. This particular warning is nightmare fuel: “DO NOT assume that elevator doors will open if you put your hand in them. Also be careful on escalators. They may have fixed this recently but if you are in the subway be very careful about running to get in. I almost got trapped between the two sets of doors one time and def would have died soooo.”
Another warning from Mixeddrinks’s extensive guide: “There will be security checks at subway stations, train stations and any popular places. Make sure you have nothing in your pockets that might trigger the x-ray machine, and have locked bags!”
Where to Eat
Ask your hotel or host about local food markets (not supermarkets), and get to one around 7 a.m., says Osvaldo. “A typical breakfast is DaBing YouTiao, sweet or salty (sweet is better). Grandparents usually buy these for visiting grandchildren.”
Some readers say to avoid the expat spots, but if you want to try them, Nathan recommends Heaven on Earth, M on the Bund, and Element Fresh.
Mixeddrinks recommends Xiaoming tea. “Comes in this funky looking colored bottle and in most vending machine. So amazing.”
Where to Go
Kate S links to her list of 25 things to do in Shanghai, including “a trip to cosy hole in the wall Records ‘n Beer for a late-night music record and speciality beer.”
Ying M recommends the M50 art district for unique gifts and keepsakes. “There are many interesting graffiti murals, with prints/pottery/other art objects available for purchase.”
“My favorite place in Shanghai is easily 猫的天空之城 (Momi Cafe): a cute shop that has walls filled with postcards and art supplies, as well as a nice cafe. It’s off the 10 subway stop at Xintiandi in the mall.”—wojiaoaixing
“The propaganda poster museum was a really cool ‘off the beaten path’ kind of trip.”—chicknsoup
“The Bund Historical Museum has some fascinating documents from when the the British, French, and Americans all had ‘concessions’ in the city. The museum is underground by a large monument.”—Tarquin Shrapnel-Carruthers
Lord Bobbymort recommends several specific destinations; here’s our favorite: “Zhujiajiao Ancient Town is full of canals and little walkways, neat shops and nice people. It has a very nice garden, Kezhi. It’s awesomely quiet compared to the city proper.”
“The Ferris wheel attached to the side of Joy City Mall is cute couples thing to do. Inside each pod you can set the lighting and connect to a Bluetooth speaker as you go around and see views of the city.”—guchsingh
“Don’t go to the fake items market, unless you want to prove yourself at haggling (you’re going to lose anyway). Go to the fabric market instead.”—Guido
“Lujiabang Fabric Market: sleep in full silk sheets for less than a hundred bucks. And the walk back towards People’s Square after that is through some very cool traditional neighborhoods. The walk is a bit long, and this being China, there’s the possibility that everything could have been destroyed since to make way for modernism.”—Franzouse
“Visit the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Many Jews trekked across Asia to escape the Nazis during WWII.”—Outtacontext