Tuesday, 23 September 2014

24. Shanghai style.

This post has nothing to do with the show 24 other than the fact it takes over a day, although we technically stayed in Shanghai for more than 24 hours. If you've spoken to anyone that has travelled around China, you will know have heard them say that you don't need more than a day in Shanghai. I agree, Shanghai is only exciting for tourists for the view, the architecture along the river. However, I love skyscrapers and I love a city with a view so if I were given the chance to go to Shanghai again, I would eat, drink and party with every amazing view I can get.

However, if there were only 24 hours to be had in Shanghai, this is how Nuz and Elaine recommends you to spend it.

Feeling out of place in the French Concession

Started the morning by stepping out of Xintiandi station, with an egg tart for breakfast at one of the station bakeries for breakfast along the way. Once a place dedicated for the French, today it is now a hotspot for shopping and eating. Now we were limited to just the "eating" as shopping here is Gucci, Louis Vuitton and any high street brand that exists around the world. 

Luckily, you don't have to exactly splurge to have a good meal here. We stopped by Crystal Jade to have lunch, and while we disagree with the $ review in our Lonely Planet guide, my stomach was excited by the range of shrimp dumplings I could try.
Glorious food - one of the best I've ever had in China

Marvelling at the sight of smog from the SWFC 

I remember when I first landed in Beijing (as a stopover for Hong Kong), the presence of smog was very strong. I forgot about it (or did I come use to it?) when we were in Hangzhou and Shanghai until we hit the observation deck because the first thing we saw as we hit the 97th floor was whiteness. If we were lucky, a faint outline of the buildings very close to the deck. If you want to see the beautiful view of Shanghai from above, make sure it is a clear day... or come at night. 

ALSO you are a student, remember to use it for student discounts! 

We decided to go to the Shanghai World Financial Centre instead of the Jin Mao Tower as it was taller (and the view of the later looked prettier). However, the Shanghai Tower right next door is about to open later this year and that will certainly be the tallest building in Shanghai. There's also a "glass pathway" on the 100th floor of the SWFC, a big selling point, but once you see it in person, it's less impressive than you expect. The best floors for a view at the 100th and 94th, the 97th floor has a structure that obscures your view of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and Jin Mao tower. 

On our way back to the other side of the Huangpu river, we couldn't help but snap more photos of the TV Tower. In the day, it looks like a unwelcoming futuristic building but at night, it's the dancing queen of Pudong. From the rainbow array of lights to the rhythmic pattern of the flashes, I could stay hours by the tower trying to take the perfect photo of it. Thank you Elaine, for being so patient!  

Hitting the High Street to shop at western stores

Shanghai is a city, if you weren't aware of that yet. One of the most developed and important cities in China. What do we do in a city? Eat, drink and shop. The French Concession may have been out of budget but shopping at Nanjing Road we couldn't escape. Yes, I know it has the same shops we have in West End and some more we already shopped at in South Korea... but in my defence, it was easier to shop at this Forever21 than for me to go to West End. End of discussion. 

 Taking endless number of photos of Pudong 

I love my camera. I love skylines. I don't know how long I was taking photos of this view (thank you Elaine, for being so patient). 

Walking along the beautiful Bund

The waterfront along Zhongshan Road is host to foreign bank and trading houses from all over the world. You have buildings with Gothic, Neo-classical, Romanesque style architecture (look at me like I know what I'm talking about), but the point is that the juxtaposition of range of beautifully designed buildings which are intensely light up at night deserves a romantic stroll down the whole mile. 

Missing the train home and getting a taxi to drop you off at the wrong place

A world of warning that we wished we took seriously, Shanghai metro ends too early for our liking. Our final train ended at 10:40 pm and we missed two nights in a row. The first night, we braved the hours walk but we promised we'll take a taxi if we ended up in the situation again. Shanghai taxis are not the best. Even though we said we weren't at the hotel, the guy insisted he was dropping us close by. Nopes... It took us another hour to get home. 

Despite the disaster of finding our own way home, Shanghai was truly worth the time we spent there. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Sorrow of Ten Thousand Raindrops

When you plan a holiday months in advance like me, you never know if mother nature is going to be on your side or not. However, if you're heading to Asia in August when its either monsoon season or just hot, humid or rainy, your luck gear switches from hopeful to better luck next time. It's something we should have prepared for but due to how the academic calendar works in the UK, we have no choice but to travel in August.
An Umbrella - Key part of your packing list if you're going to Asia in August. Being able to pose with one is optional.
Now we didn't have it so bad in Korea. The sun was shining during our whole trip in Jeju-do, Busan was cool in the evening but dry when we went to the beach and even when it was spitting in Sokcho, it was more of a silver lining for a hike. It was in China that we saw the cold shoulder of mother nature.

Hangzhou was our first stop for China. A city located in eastern China, it is the largest in the Zhejiang province and only an hour away from Shanghai by train. The number one reason tourists flock to Hangzhou is to see the beautiful West Lake, which is also a UNESO heritage site. The fresh water lake is scattered with tombs, pagodas as well as gardens and its scenic both at day and night. There are other attractions in Hangzhou such as the Long Jing tea farm but we came exclusively for the West Lake because quite a few people had recommended us to go there.

The West Lake also has dedicated "scenic spots" and each of these are named by a four character "epithet" such as "Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter" and "Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon" (can see you see where the inspiration of the blog title came?). Some may say these names are beautiful... others might not take them so seriously but what I can say is that there is a "medal" station at each of these spots so that you can reward yourselves and prove to people who did not doubt you in the first place. Tourism taken too far but I would lie if I didn't admit they made tempting souvenirs. 
One of the "ten scenic spots" just before Su-Di
However, we had a slight hitch in our plans. It was pouring down as if the clouds were in their terrible twos and decided to throw a stubborn tantrum. Seeing that the weather turned to blissful sunshine on the day we were leaving... maybe it was throwing a tantrum about us?

Now the rain is nothing to us Brits! Me and Elaine marched out with our English Pride determined to see the West Lakes. We're here for two days and we weren't going to give in and spend it in a hotel room! First thing's first, we needed an umbrella. Luckily we found one for 20 RMB (£2), but as the price suggests, they didn't have enough strength to return with us to the UK. Second thing, I needed to leave back my camera, no way was a risking a new camera for the rain (hence the poor photo quality, sorry!). Third thing, we set off.
I'm a sucker for pathways that are lined with arching trees
I'll admit, the first twenty minutes or so wasn't very enjoyable. Between trying to figure out were the damn Su-Di was and if we should prioritise finding the ten scenic spots as opposed to leisurely walking around, we were getting very soaked. Elaine's shoes couldn't bear the moisture and had to be thrown away due to the mould a few days later. My walking sandals survived but with a strong stench that Rae couldn't deal with. Was a drenched walk around the West Lake really worth it? The strong detest in a wasted day kicked in and we finally reached the point that we liked walked down the Su Causeway.
Elaine will always look lovely in photos, whatever the weather, location or the situation with her shoes!
The West Lake is beautiful but the weather didn't help but make it look a little dull. I enjoyed walking on the causeway and I enjoyed it more at night with the lamps illuminating the pathway, the temples light up and us playing a little with of KPop out loud (like the hooligans on the back row in the London buses but adults were doing it everywhere in China). It distracted us from the most painful mosquito bites I have ever received (beware in Hangzhou) and the worst food I've eaten in my life (red sauce eggplant and "stuffed" beancurd which ended up being sick sauce and greased crisps).   

However, the highlight of our trip was definitely the hostel we stayed at. South Korea maybe be new to the whole backpacking scene and the hostels we stayed at ranged between pleasant to the worst thing I have ever slept in. So when we first arrived in Touran Hostel, I wasn't expecting a cosy yet quirky decor or atmosphere that Korea made e forget the hostels had. Our room? AMAZING (compared to what we had in the last two weeks), the staff were friendly and the breakfast was the best we had yet. The hostel also hosted movie nights every evening, a chance for us to watch something really bad... but it was always a good way to break the ice with new people. If you stay in Hangzhou, I definitely recommend Hangzhou Touran Backpack Hostel. 
The Chinese version of "James, Nuzhat & Elaine".