I am going to be completely honest, the thought of going to China intimidated us as it was our first trip to Asia and we were completely under prepared for our 24 hour layover in Shanghai (thanks to a last minute flight change courtesy of Shanghai Airlines).
After the 13 hour flight from Seattle we landed in Shanghai and headed straight to customs, where we found the “In Transit” queue, which was conveniently shorter than the “Immigration” queue (the “In Transit” counter provides you with a free 144 hour visa as long as you can prove that you have an outbound flight booked). We handed over our full itinerary print-outs showing our connecting flights and our passports to the friendly customs agent… stamp… stamp…and we were both through. Way easier than I thought. We exchanged some currency (Yuan/RMB) in the baggage claim area, grabbed our luggage and headed out to the taxi line.
Tip: Make sure you have your hotel or accommodation address printed in Chinese to show your taxi driver.
We arrived at Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund after a 30-40 min taxi ride (one of the scariest cab rides we’ve ever taken), that cost 140 RMB (yuan) . We dropped our luggage in a Special View Room and headed straight to the rooftop bar to take in the night scenery, before trying to get some sleep. The next morning we both woke up around 3 am (thank you jet lag; it actually took us about 3 days to adjust to the time difference).
Anyone that’s a fan of Anthony Bourdain has seen the soup dumpling scene he did in Shanghai: “You want this…you need this”. Yes…yes we did. We arrived a dive of a restaurant called Jia Jia Tang Bao at around 8:00 am via cab (20 RMB) because I read that the line is often out the door by 10:30 am. According to my research, this place had the best dumplings in town and was also supposed to be reasonably priced. It didn’t disappoint. When we arrived there was no queue, but the small restaurant with only 7 tables (enough seating for 30 ppl) was already nearly full. We ordered at the counter and the lady didn’t hesitate to slide an English menu in front of us (apparently we stuck out). Our order was 15 RMB for pork dumplings, 99 RMB for crab dumpings and 16 RMB for 2 tall Tsingtao beers. There were a variety of other dumpling options on the menu: pork and crab, chicken, chicken and crab are the ones I remember. Our favorite was the pork; they were fantastic. Served with a side of ginger vinegar, soy sauce, and what I think was a spicy chili sauce. This meal is a must if you’re in Shanghai.
We spent the rest of the morning wondering around Nanjing Road area trying to get back to our hotel. Lots of shopping options and several tourist info booths that would point us in the correct direction and provide maps. We actually felt pretty safe in this area and were only approached by one individual trying to sell us a watch. The weather was rainy and the view was limited once we got back to the Bund walkway so we headed to the hotel to pack up and head to the airport not knowing how long the queues would be.
Swindling Taxi Drivers
Our one negative experience in China was with the taxi driver who brought us form the hotel to the Pudong International Airport. The ride was bizarre: he would drive really slow and rhythmically accelerate and then let off the gas, then accelerate, and let off the gas… cruise control would have been this guy’s best friend. That wouldn’t have been the end of the world if it didn’t result in a meter fee that was twice as expensive as the same ride to the hotel. But what really peeved me was when the cabbie tried to get me to pay another 100 RMB above what the meter said. He claimed some nonsense about an airport fee (there was definitely a language barrier), and when I said no, he gestured that we needed to go talk to an authority inside. I agreed (calling his bluff), grabbed our bags, and headed inside. And what do you know? I looked back and he had jumped in his cab and was driving off. Damn – he still owed me 20 RMB in change. This was minor in our overall experience of China, but worth being aware of.
Shanghai airport Tip: There is a Korean restaurant in Terminal 1 with good food at reasonable prices.