Things to Do on a Free Trip to Shanghai

The last thing I won in a raffle was a kid’s size Garfield shirt from my college bowling class. Next was a free trip to Shanghai thanks to one lucky P1000 receipt worth of the Face Shop goodies. Obviously my luck takes about a decade to build and then just explodes into one big firecracker parade. No complaints here. After I was done jumping around with my (jealous, ha!) sisters and then confirming the win via TFS’s Facebook page (it ain’t real if it ain’t on social media), I settled into the truth that I was going to Shanghai. For free, with my fellow winners also then known as four complete strangers. Oh and yes, we get to see Manager Do in person. Let’s do this.

  1. Prepare for the weather. There was little to no time for me to do my usual pre-trip OC planning, but the least I can do is to check the weather. Weather dictates clothes, and clothes fill up my luggage. Shanghai in July promised to be the hottest and most humid time of the year, with spots of plum rain. Lucky for us though, the summer heat wasn’t quite there yet and the rain didn’t bother to show apart from a few inches of drizzle. The humidity however, was definitely there as promised. On our first day you can cut through the air with a knife. Cool shirts, shorts, and boots made for walking were our best friends. I threw in a jacket, scarf, and umbrella for extra insurance.

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  2. Explore Pudong. The Faceshop so graciously checked us into individual rooms at the nice and swanky Crowne Plaza Century Park, right smack in the middle of Pudong New Area. Though not tourist central, Pudong has much to offer in terms of feast for the eyes. Literally new, the wide streets are littered with Audis, Benz’s and BMWs left and right, with beautiful VWs for cabs. Hit the business district and see the graceful, towering buildings, one taller than the next as if in a never ending quest to hit the stratosphere. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower stood close to each other in this contest. I strained my neck just gawking at the beautiful architecture. It’s an amazing sight.

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  3. Go grand at the Jin Mao Tower. JinMao Tower is the 8th tallest building in the world, and you know what that means – observation deck! I’m a sucker for observation decks even though I’m squeamish with heights. It is that thrill of going that high up and seeing the view sitting just below the clouds. It’s always amazing. Entrance to JinMao about RMB 120, and you can pay RMB 1 to use the binoculars, but I didn’t feel the need. The elevator goes up in ear-splitting speed, and then you are free to roam the spacious 88th floor and look through each viewing glass. Since this is a tourist spot, the floor is also littered with souvenir shops for your tinkering.

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  4. The English and the French. On the other side of the Huangpu River facing Pudong, is the Bund, settled within the former Shanghai International Settlement. The stretch of road houses buildings of various 20th-century architecture styles, a great departure from the modern and metal of Pudong. The scenery feels like something out of a vintage English postcard. A completely different aesthetic is the network of quaint walkways along the former French Concession, successfully and convincingly transformed into alleys littered with cafes, coffee shops, bars and shops, mostly high end. Both areas are photogenic and demand a few hours of your time to walk leisurely, appreciate the shapes and colors, and maybe sit down with a cup of coffee among the locals.

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  5. Shopping, Nanjing Style. Nanjing Road is Shanghai’s premier shopping street and is one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. Best to come on a weekend morning to avoid the mob. But it was sale season during our visit, and that was more than enough motivation to get the shopaholics out of bed. This is obviously not the place to get souvenirs for your office floor, but it’s a good place to get something nice for you. My credit cards died in H&M and Uniqlo, and that was just the first block of the long street. Cue the cash register ring.

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  6. Beware the tourist traps – Silk and Jade shops. Good thing about a city tour is that you have a guide that will take you where you as a tourist, “needs” to go, and who will so happily explain the history of each city gem in a language you will understand. (English speakers are rare in China, even in your hotel which is supposedly Tourist Central. You’ll want to hug the first one you see.) The bad thing is that you have mandatory field trips to shops such as the silk and jade factories. Hit Google on these places and you’re likely to read one bad review or scam after another. Best to take pictures and enjoy the tour as it is, unless you don’t mind splurging a bit on the “factory prices.” The jade shop sales pitch smelled all kinds of fishy, so I think it’s a good thing none of us decided (or had money) to buy. Consider this fair warning.

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  7. Street food and knicknacks. The last stop of the tour was at Yu Garden, a market-style collection of bazaars and shops selling trinkets perfect for souvenirs and pasalubongs. Think Mongkok or even Divisoria and Greenhills. Top tip: haggle like crazy. Shops would be selling practically identical products so don’t worry about running out. Just buy at the price you want or walk away. When hunger pangs hit, there’s an alley of street food that won’t disappoint. We were sad not to have done the food tripping that Shanghai deserved — we were too pressed for time, and even budget — but the street food at Yu Garden was a good sample. Hakaw, kuchay, noodles, soup inside a bun (yeah and you drink it through a straw), deep fried crab on a stick, milk tea; it is a long list. All yummy, all within a RMB 10-15 range.

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  8. Acrobats like you’ve never seen. Since we had about 3 hours to kill after the city tour and before the flight, our guide suggested that we catch ERA – The Intersection of Time, said to be the best and most popular evening entertainment in Shanghai. “Miss it and you miss Shanghai” is the official catch phrase. I don’t know about that claim, but this is my first time watching acrobats live and it was just in-your-face mind blowing. Our seats were right in the 3rd row, so the performers were so near you can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads.  Graceful, intense, and for the most part terrifying, the show was definitely worth the price.

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  9. Spot Kim Soo Hyun. It’s a game you can play there, really. The man is everywhere in Shanghai, you don’t even have to bother looking for him. But for us, the highlight of the Shanghai trip was to see not just his assortment of product endorsements up in billboards and in stores, but to see him in real life 3D.  Thank you, the Face Shop 🙂
    The event was at Grand Hyatt Shanghai, which was curiously situated at the top 36 floors of the 88-story JinMao. The ballroom was only at the 2nd floor though, and it was brimming with fans as early as a couple of hours before show time. A few minutes late (not his fault, I’m sure), Kim Soo Hyun took to the stage, said his hello speech, and sat at his table to sign autographs for 50 lucky fans. The boy was glowing (it must be the BB cream), and he was a kind and gracious host. Then like a flash, he disappeared, escorted by his army of body guards.

Photo credits to @alysingsung, deedoidee, ish_sison, bridgethan.


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