- Ryan Kretch
China is opening up again to the world after dropping its zero-covid policy hell and I thought I would revive this post from an old blog to inspire travelers to head over there someday soon.
A city I called home for 3 years, Shanghai is changing like mad and by the time I write and post this, it may be completely outdated, but that is the beauty of this megapolis. Shanghai isn’t the city of sights, in my opinion, but the best things are happening at the street level. Whenever I had friends or family visiting, I avoided the tourist destinations at all cost, but even without them, we had some of the wildest, most memorable times together. Let me take you through the best of what the city has to offer.
Wander the French Concession
The French Concession district provides a European flair to an otherwise overwhelming Chinese city. With older buildings and European facades (and often times interiors), it is glorious to get lost, jump from restaurant to coffee shop, and see the action happening in the alleyways (not naughty stuff, you dirty-minded readers). Don’t be surprised if you find plenty of old people nearing 100 doing interesting things like singing and some of the best food being cooked up in the streets.
Go to KTV
Clubbing in China is fun, but KTV is your quintessential nightlife experience. On any night of the week, these overly-lavish looking clubs with rows upon rows of rentable karaoke rooms fill up with locals and foreigners alike blasting out a mix of Britney Spears and Wang Fei. You can get a room for a bargain (especially if you book from 11 pm to 6 am). I love KTV because it brings your friends together in one place, makes you grow more and more nostalgic as you sing along to old songs, and get drunk and silly until the early hours of the morning.
If you are in Shanghai, check out Chun-K.
Additional Tip: if you need some quick singing therapy, many of the malls and other public spaces are now equipped with telephone-booth style KTVs for two that you can rent by the half hour! Perfect way to get a quick sing in on the go!
Walk from Old Shanghai --> The Bund --> the Park Hyatt Pudong
Okay, so this includes some sights, but if you don’t see the Bund or Pudong (the area with the massive skyscrapers), you haven’t seen Shanghai. In the span of an afternoon, you can start your walk through the rapidly disappearing Old Shanghai. As you walk towards the Bund, the contrast of Modern Shanghai and Old Shanghai is truly incredible. When you get to the Bund and are satisfied with the amount of obnoxious selfies you have taken with the impressive skyline, take a ferry across and head to the Shanghai International Financial Center (the second tallest building that looks like a bottle opener). Rather than pay to go to an observation deck in any of the other buildings, head to the Park Hyatt in the SIFC and head to the 91st floor where you will get surreal views of Shanghai and can sip some happy hour cocktails or partake in a High Tea for reasonable prices. Make sure to use the toilets while you are there, as they are Japanese style, so you will leave with the cleanest ass out there.
Goryeo is a chain in a few places around the world, but there are 11 or so locations in Shanghai. While the food is mediocre compared to the countless South Korean options in the city, the experience is awkward and so worth it. Between 'traditional' performances by the waitresses and brainwashed conversations featuring dodged questions along with a few "North Korea is the best place in the world" statements, it was eye-opening. Having a little bit of Chinese is helpful to try and probe for answers from the waitresses, but not necessary for maximizing the weirdness of the situation.
One aside, your bill is most likely going towards the North Korean government, so keep in mind you are not helping alleviate the human rights violations by going there, but it is something to still educate yourself on.
This is hands down one of my favorite places in Shanghai, and while Shanghai cannot compare to Japan, the perfect way to escape the madness of China is by going to one of the two Gokurakuyu locations. When you enter, you already feel like you are in Japan with mechanized processes. After getting your robe, you strip completely naked and enter the room with several types of baths including one that shocks you with ions and milky baths. When you are feeling relaxed, you can wander out into the open area (robed, of course), grab some Japanese cuisine, play at the weird arcades, relax in some of the many chairs, head to a small movie theater, and now, sing in one of the 2-person KTVs mentioned above. I could come here at the start of the morning and spend the whole day here, just pampering and rejuvenating myself.
Head to Lao Beijing Shuan Guo for a North-East, Lamb-inspired Hotpot. Rather than suffer from the repercussions of Sichuan spicy hotpot, this one will leave you feeling warm and satisfied during Shanghai's cold and gloomy winter months. You can order tofu, veggies, all types of meats...pair that with the obligatory peanut sauce and fresh cilantro, and you have a memorable dinner.
Brunch it up on a Sunday
Shanghai may be China, but it still is famous for its brunch scene with many places offering great deals on bottomless booze brunches. My favorite boozy brunches are The Rooster (US) and Maya (Mexican). There is nothing quite like stumbling out into the hazy streets after 2 hours of bottomless sangrias on a Sunday afternoon.
If you happen to be in China long enough to get clothes made, head on down to the Fabric Market to get just about any type of outfit you want created. I used to frequent the place for high quality suits, which would run as cheaply as $50 for the entire outfit. Check out Holly in stand 229. Please be vigilant and don’t accept the first price that a tailor will give to you, as there is always room for negotiations. Throw back a number absurdly lower than what he or she first puts out there, and work your way to an acceptable agreement.
Cha’s at 1 am
This little restaurant on Sinan Road is one of the few in the area that open so late, and after a short night out or a craving for a midnight snack, I love this place. When you walk in, it feels like you are in a diner with booths that resembles some I have seen in the US. But the cuisine is purely Hong Kongnese and amazing! Order a curry (咖喱）, water spinach with garlic (空心菜蒜蓉少的), hot milk tea (热奶茶) to begin with and pineapple buns for dessert. The food comes out quick and you will be coming back during your trip for sure.