China has rocketed into the twenty-first century, turning from a country of farmers to a country of consumption. No image is greater of China’s ascent than Shanghai’s Putong skyline, rivaling the views of the growing emirate real estate empires. The city still retains a bit of its nouveau allure. It remains a city of mystery, colonialism, and suspense. Yet Shanghai remains just a city. Although teeming with skyscrapers, the city does not offer much more than a place of work and business. It is a cool place to live (if you can get over general snobbery and its exorbitant prices), but as a tourist it leaves one yearning for more.
The main attraction in Shanghai is the Bund, which sits across the famous Putong skyline. Here remain many former colonial buildings along with a nice long stroll along the river. If pollution is bad, the Bund can be a pretty depressing place as the smog would have to match the severely polluted river. Afternoon will often see better views and less pollution (probably coming from cars in the morning commute). On the Putong side (a cheap ferry can take you there, and provide some great views), you can go up many of the buildings and get a view of Shanghai from up top. The Pearl Tower is the most famous, but many office buildings have bars/restaurants at the top you can get to for free…although the food and drinks come at a high cost (even on Western standards).
On the Bund side is the “old” city, which more or less looks like a reconstructed Chinese mall. Inside is the Yu Gardens, which are quite big and very easy to get lost in. There really isn’t anything special about the gardens, but many tourists go and it is a welcome escape from the noisy city. Since there aren’t too many attractions to begin with, might as well check it out. From there you can also catch a tourist bus that runs around the city. If you are brave enough to go to the top deck of the bus BEWARE. Many vomit up at the top, as they are not accustomed to so much movement. The French Concession lies much further away from the Bund, but has cool cafes and a lot of shopping available.
This is about it for Shanghai. Trains go to Nanjing regularly, which is apparently very beautiful. There are also busses to Huangshan. There isn’t too much to offer, but at least you can say you’ve been to Shanghai, right?