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Travel to Shanghai and the Southern China

By Amy Adejokun Amy Adejokun Section editor
Discover 21st century China from the metropolises of Shanghai - dubbed 'the Paris of the East' - and Nanjing (or Nankin), the ancient capital of the Chinese Empire and now the capital of Jiangsu Province. Short trains outside of both these cities and you will find yourself in small, tranquil Chinese villages which are also waiting to be explored...

Travel guide

High rise Shanghai

With 23 million inhabitants, Shanghai has gone from 300 skyscrapers in 1996 to over 3000 today, and has become the showcase for China's economic achievement. This is shown by the success of the Shanghai World Exhibition in 2010. It is possible to go up The World Economic centre (nicknamed the Bottle Opener because of its iconic structure) for a meal or a cocktail and enjoy a 360° view of this spectacular city. The huge pedestrianised waterfront area named 'the Bund' is a must-see in Shanghai as it provides a brilliant unobstructed view of the famous Shanghai business district - truly a sight to behold. It is also lined with rows of barges and old foreign concessions dating back to the 1930s. Their authenticity contrasts greatly with the unparalleled modernity on the other side of the river.

Gardens

One of the best ways to get away from the hustle and bustle of Chinese city life is to escape to its many traditional gardens. Often surrounded by skyscrapers but filled with the older generation gambling and playing traditional instruments, they are a pretty surreal experience.

French Concessions

Established in 1846 as an international settlement, this part of Shanghai is wonderful to get lost in. Filled with French style boutique shops and chic bars, this area has (unsurprisingly) the feel of walking around Paris.

Temples

Shanghai, like the rest of China has some fascinating Buddhist temples to get lost in. Jing'an Temple is one of the most famous and can be found on West Nanjing road amidst flourishing downtown Shanghai. A traditional temple shrouded in incense smoke surrounded by ultra-modern skyscrapers is a truly amazing spectacle.

Surrounding areas

To the north of Shanghai you can discover the riches that Jiangsu Province has to offer. Well worth a visit is Suzhou, once donned the 'Venice of China' by Marco Polo due to its extensive canal network. Also waiting to be explored before the unchecked spread of modernity sweeps away everything in its path is Nanjing and its spiritually important Purple Mountain. The area also boasts some impressive Lakes of which Lake Taihu, Wuxi and West Lake, Hangzhou are worth visiting. From Hangzhou you can reach on a 3 hour bus, a set of religious mountains where James Cameron got his inspiration for 2009 film Avatar - spectacular.

Our Editorial team's advice

Beware

Make sure to be careful in Shanghai especially but throughout China too, of people trying to trick tourists. Young English-speaking Chinese will often approach tourists on the premise of practising their English, but shortly after will offer a visit to a 'tea house' at astronomical prices (several thousand yuan), a massage parlour or even a 'lady bar'. Once there, the bouncers won't leave you much choice in paying the bill! In short, organised racketeering. Similarly be careful about getting ripped off in the fake markets: these can often seem to tourists like the best places on earth because everything is so cheap, but walk around and gage prices before entering into a purchase and make sure you haggle well.

Transport

Shanghai boasts a fabulously smooth and regular transport network. Within the large cities of China, transport runs like clockwork but as soon as you get into rural China it's a different story. Beware that it is impossible as a foreigner to book inter-city trains online as you won't have an ID card. Make sure you can get to the ticket offices a couple of days before you need to get a train as they book out early and you do not want to be forced to take a standing ticket.

Language

The variation of Chinese spoken in these parts, like the majority of China is Mandarin. However most of the young people in Shanghai can speak some English so if you have a problem getting around, look for one of them. The older generation are keener to stick to tradition and keep English out as much as possible and therefore most speak barely a word. Try to pick up the basics here and don't be afraid of being laughed at!

When to go? Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Shanghai as the winter here can get very cold and summer, very hot. It is unbearably 'sticky' in the city during the summer heat so try to get out and experience the beauty of rural China. Visa

It is necessary to get a visa to get into mainland China. The application process is quite strict and requires you to propose a plan for what you are going to do when you arrive. Be prepared to go to and from the embassy a few times to sort it out.

pros

  • +Shanghai, the futuristic megalopolis and economic capital and showcase of China
  • +Suzhou, the 'Venice of China'
  • +Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu, with its Purple Mountain
  • +Lake Taihu in Wuxi

cons

  • -Getting used to the local hygiene and cleanliness standards: the toilet and washroom facilities remain an issue
  • -The language barrier is often difficult to overcome as not many people speak English
  • -The pollution in Shanghai
  • -The traffic jams in Shanghai.

Traditions

The plethora of ethnic minorities found in the south of China gives rise to many interesting traditions. These involve the setting off of fireworks (which are thought to keep evil spirits away) during New Year celebrations. Typically days of celebration are very family orientated. Tradition also involves the burning of money or images showing consumer products on the day of the dead to help them pass freely into the afterlife. Early risers will meet local men and women practicing Taï Chi both on the busy Shanghai Bund and in the numerous tranquil parks. Gambling, although technically illegal in China, is very common in parks and on streets where old men and women can be found playing anything from Chinese chess to mahjong tiles to cards, all for small amounts of cash. These games are often fascinating to watch. In south China a lot of importance is given to music and traditional instruments. All celebrations are seen as an opportunity for playing and singing as a group. This does not prevent the youth from being passionate about karaoke (the smallest of towns has one or several halls).

The Chinese also love exchanging personalised (business) cards upon meeting so you can use yours here too. Family names always precede first names and use of the latter is reserved for close members of the family. The Chinese often also exchange presents wrapped in bright red paper. Etiquette requires that the receiver does not open it before the giver, but later on. It is bad form to thank someone profusely. Our advice: if you feel inclined to offer a Chinese person a present, never choose a watch. The homonym of this word means "burial" in Cantonese. Similarly, items that cut (knives, etc) have a negative meaning, such as the end of a friendship.

Food

As proof of how important meals are in China, one of the ways to say 'hello' is "paole ma", meaning "are you satisfied"! Cuisine in the south is spicier than in the north - Sichuan province is known for it's spicy hotpots. Due to the immense diversity of dishes in restaurants and the impossibility of reading menus in Chinese, it's better to go into the kitchen and point out what you find the most appetising! Beer, 'pijiu', is available absolutely everywhere, as are fizzy drinks, including Coca-Cola. Also try the spirits, such as maotai - although these are cheap, be careful as they are very strong (if someone offers you a drink it is impolite to turn it down!). All over China people eat with chopsticks (get someone to show you the correct way to use them as without knowing this you will become a point of ridicule!), drink tea (yellow or red), and a lot of beer. Soup (a light stock) is served at the end of the meal to help with digestion.

The basis of all Chinese food is either rice or noodles, usually served with vegetables and sometimes a bit of meat. Look out too for tiaozes (delicious ravioli fried with vegetables). Dessert is not common. Be aware that local restaurants close quite early and the restaurants in large hotels are not necessarily the best places to eat authentic cuisine, despite the prices. At night, street vendors are often a great source of fresh, delicious and authentic food; skewers of vegetables, meat or seafood.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Shanghai and the South . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Shanghai and the South . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Shanghai and the South .

August

  • Shanghai flecheStagne 79/100 Good
See the different areas

Souvenirs

The 'Paris of the East' is a nickname given to Shanghai which gives you an idea of the shopping oppurtunities here; it easily ranks alongside New York, Dubai, London and Hong Kong. You certainly won't be short of ideas for presents here. Silk clothing, paintings on silk, objects or seals carved from soft stone, porcelain, real and fake antiques, calligraphy material, kites, confectionery are but a few thing you will stumble upon here... You will certainly feel spoilt for choice. Nanjing is the most well-known shopping street; Huaihai is the most fashionable street where one can find the big designer labels such as Kenzo, Hugo Boss and Gucci, popular with the trendy young people; Sichuan Road is also popular, with lots of products at affordable prices; Tibet Road is very touristic and ideal for finding holiday souvenirs as well as local food products. For those who love huge shopping centres, make sure to visit the modern Xujiahui District.

What to see

The country of the Dong , Dong country , China
The country of the Dong
The villages , China
The villages
The Zhejiang coastal region , The coasts of Zhejiang , China
The Zhejiang coastal region
The art of ceramics and white porcelain , The art of pottery and porcelain , China
The art of ceramics and white porcelain
Literature , China
Literature
Cinema , China
Cinema
The Theatre , The theatre , China
The Theatre
Martial arts , China
Martial arts
The ethnic arts , China
The ethnic arts
Les minorités ethniques de Guangxi et Guizhou , China
Ethnic minorities of Guangxi and Guizhou
Dong , The Dong people , China
Dong
The Temple of Confucius in Nanjing , China
The Temple of Confucius in Nanjing
The Bund in Shanghai , China
The Bund in Shanghai
The skyscrapers in the Pudong District of Shanghai , China
The skyscrapers in the Pudong District of Shanghai
A cruise on the Huangpu River in Shanghai , China
A cruise on the Huangpu River in Shanghai
Shanghai and the South : Explore