Shanghai, China

Shanghai is a global financial centre and transport hub in China, with the world’s busiest container port. It is buzzing with life and here are my top recommendations as a tourist:

  1. Yu Yuan (Yu Garden) is a really big area with traditional looking buildings, temples, tea houses and of course, a garden. You will find constant rows of shops and street food too, so make sure you come with an empty stomach!

     

  2. The Bund and Nanjing Road can be done together as they are within walking distance. The Bund is where you’ll get great views of the Shanghai’s financial district and it’s tall towers such as the Oriental Pearl TV tower. Nanjing road is full of bright lights and your common shops, but the atmosphere is particularly great at night.
  3. Qi Pu Lu is where you can find several buildings filled with market style shops which is particularly useful to get a bunch of cheap stuff or very good quality fake branded goods. The branded goods are not always laid out but trust me, someone will approach you to bring you to secret stores and rooms (I felt safe, but would never go alone so go with your gut feeling).
  4. Tian Zi Fang – known for its artsy area with bars, cafes, crafts shops, design studio, galleries and boutiques. It is also known for old Shikumen houses (stone-framed-door houses). Consider trying ‘Smoky Cookie’, where they use liquid nitrogen so you can have a bit of fun blowing smoke through your mouth or nose from the cookie!
  5. Qi Bao Water Village – there are many water villages but this is the closest one if you don’t have much time. They have maintained their traditional buildings and are known for rivers running through the village. Another place filled with narrow alleys of shops and street food, as well as museums which are also great to visit to learn more about Chinese history and culture.
  6. Visit a Speakeasy Bar – Speak Low is ranked one of the best bars in Shanghai, having placed #15 The World’s 50 Best Bars Awards 2016. Slide behind the secret bookshelf of a cocktail supply store and find a speakeasy bar with wood panels, jazz music and well-dressed bartenders. 2/F & 3/F, 579 Fuxing Zhong Lu (near Ruijin Er Lu) 复兴中路579号 (近瑞金二路).
    IMG-20180403-WA0113
  7. Hai Di Lao Hotpot. Literally the best hotpot because of the incredible service. You can expect to queue for at least one hour, but while you wait, they provide free snacks, drinks, origami paper, games, massage chairs and even manicures. I suggest you opt for the VIP room (you have an extra $130 RMB) but get a personal waiter who will take good care of you e.g. give you bibs, hair ties, zip lock bags for your phone, refill your drinks, organise the food for you etc.

    Extra tips: Download we chat because whatsapp won’t work in China. Download baidu maps because Google maps won’t work in China. It would help if you or your friend had a China bank account because a lot of things are paid through we-chat, which requires a local bank account. We-chat gives you access to their bicycles, their version of uber and many shops prefer to run cashless! I suppose this system doesn’t make it tourist friendly, but it makes sense that we move towards a cashless society.

Xiamen, China

Xiamen is a port city on China’s southeast coast, across a strait from Taiwan. It encompasses 2 main islands and a region on the mainland. Formerly known as Amoy, it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912. Many Europeans and Japanese lived on Gulangyu, today a vehicle-free island with beaches and meandering streets lined with old colonial villas. I went straight to the countryside as part of my volunteer trip!

  1. Great for mountain biking as they have so much open land
  2. Teach at a local school, they could do with volunteers teaching English
  3. Stay in a traditional ‘Tu Lou’ protected by UNESCO World Heritage. A Tu Lou is usually circular in configuration, between three and fie stories high and housing up to 800 people. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city. There are several you can visit including Chuxi tulou group, Tianluokeng tulou cluster, Hekeng tulou cluster, Gaobei tulou cluster, Dadi tulou cluster, Hongkeng tulou cluster, Yangxian lou, Huiyuan lou, Zhengfu lou and Hegui lou
  4. Get a view from the top of the traditional houses
  5. Visit a tea plantation and pick tea leaves!