Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Asia
Reload this Page >

Shanghai or Seoul for a December holiday?

Shanghai or Seoul for a December holiday?

Jul 24th, 2011, 02:55 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 4
Shanghai or Seoul for a December holiday?

Family of four (mum mid-50s, with 3 20something kids) planning a late December vacation in East Asia here.

We only have a few days (5-7 days), and because of scheduling/flights etc. it looks to be between Shanghai and Seoul. (I've always wanted to visit Japan, but thought that we should save that for a longer time when we can go to Tokyo, Kyoto and possibly Hokkaido as well.)

What are the pros and cons of each? As far as I can tell, Shanghai is possibly a cheaper/more accessible option, but Seoul has possibly better shopping, can visit the DMZ, and there's a possibility there of daytrips to snow covered scenery?

We like shopping (clothes, various assorted knick knacks like Asian style slippers), trying all kinds of FOOD (!!) - both cities have the famous Din Tai Fung which my friends who have visited LA have talked longingly about, and general sight-seeing - possibly contemporary Asian art (?), and scenic style views (just thinking about some national parks in S Korea, or if Shanghai - possible day trips to Suzhou or Nanking - is that even possible?

We're not too hot on huge temple complexes - though may visit one. Not too big on parties/clubs as well. None of us have even rudimentary Chinese/Korean but we're pretty independent and can hopefully manage language barriers.

What do people recommend?
clickandgo is offline  
Jul 24th, 2011, 03:08 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,671
Sorry, I'd recommend somewhere a little less cold - Hong Kong, even. But it sounds like you are ok with cold, snowy weather.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 24th, 2011, 07:19 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 28,926
HK would have the benefit of the fabulous decorations on the buildings...

i would choose shanghai over seoul any day...
rhkkmk is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 07:33 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 704
Shanghai will be cold, Seoul will be insanely cold.
krgystn is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 08:13 AM
Join Date: May 2003
Posts: 6,735
Shanghai has lots of shopping, from designer to department stores to knick-knacks in the old city, to boutiques in the French Concession.

I believe Shanghai has a modern art museum (not sure, as that isn't my thing) and I think Shanghai has an up and coming art district-it's listed in the Fodors guidebook.

The food in Shanghai is fabulous. Don't think I've had a bad meal there.

You can easily do a day trip to Suzhou via high speed train-we did that. It is not scenic like a national park, but the gardens we saw were very beautiful. There is very, very little English spoken there, in our experience. I was glad I had the Fodors book with Chinese written for the sights and for the words "train station" as we had to show those to our cab drivers.

I will post my trip report in the next week or two, and will have more info there...
Florida1 is online now  
Jul 25th, 2011, 08:14 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 4
Thanks for the replies so far. Cold will not really be a problem for us I think.
clickandgo is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 09:49 AM
Join Date: Aug 2008
Posts: 2,511
Why not set your sights on Southeast Asia, specifically Singapore. It is the business and architectural centre Shanghai aspires to imitate. Warmer for sure, more expensive than Shanghai (but only marginally, as Shanghai prices climb), effortless transportation infrastructure, English spoken everywhere, more political freedom although not complete -- and arguably the best city on the planet for the varieties of cuisine and the intense interest of the citizens in eating everything. Plus its multicultural citizenry agree on the value of brewing and drinking beer as a social activity.
The government coddles art galleries and museums to satisfy tourism. Its long history as a trade and political crossroads is carefully displayed, a path Shanghai also follows. But Singapore is franker about its terrible ordeals under occupation during the Second World War.
Shopping, by the way, is not a major attraction any more in this age of global brand names. But it isn't in Shanghai either, where the famous labels cost more than in North America.
Southam is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 02:12 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 4
Ah but I've been to Singapore a number of times. Agree with you - great city, though a bit too much 'city' I think. I sort of want to spend a day in a typical Far Eastern village/historical type setting as well.

In terms of shopping I'd like to purchase things like chopsticks, slippers, maybe a robe, and possibly visit a tailor to make a few shirts as well? So not so much the brand names - we get plenty of that in London
clickandgo is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 03:46 PM
Join Date: Jul 2009
Posts: 355
I think Bangkok would be a better destination.
mcbg1 is offline  
Jul 25th, 2011, 04:26 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,671
Well, given what you say you like to do, I'd say Shanghai over Seoul. But I'd suggest Hong Kong as an excellent option, especially if you are looking for fine tailoring.

Bangkok is my favorite city in the world, with excellent shopping and it is less expensive than the other options, but it sounds like you want cold. And even though it's the coolest season in Bangkok, in no way will it be cold.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2011, 01:38 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 7,689
I am still trying to understand the comment that Singapore, with its population of about 5 million and some great parks and beaches, is “too much city” compared to heavily polluted Shanghai, the most populous city in the most populous country in the world, with its population of about 25 million, or Seoul, with its population of 10 million. On a winter day in Shanghai, you may not be able to see across the river from the Bund due to the pollution. I don’t think a day trip to Suzhou is going to give you the “typical village” experience you may be seeking. Suzhou has a population of 6 million, and the tourist parts, in my experience, do not represent a typical village in the PRC. It is far too nice (not to mention not being a “village” at all).

I have not been to Nanjing (i.e. Nanking), but it also is a large city (8 million). I can understand wanting to see it from a historical perspective. You can take the very high speed rail and get there in under 2 hours each way, which makes it feasible for a day trip, and the train ride itself might be worth it alone. But in December please be aware of possible frozen track issues.

Bear in mind that Seoul in December is going to be dark as well as bitterly cold. It’s fairly far north. The days won’t be quite a short as in London at that time, but still may cut into sightseeing time. It’s hard for me generally to get excited about Seoul or Korea in general, and I would pick Shanghai over it if my only choice was between those two. But there are many other places in the PRC which would be more interesting to me. Beijing for one. And then countryside areas like Lijiang (again, far too charming to represent a typical PRC village, but charming nonetheless and you have the lovely snow-covered Alp-like mountains to admire.)

Xiaolongbao is, to the best of my knowledge, a Shanghainese/Northern Chinese dish (we call them “Shanghai dumplings” here in Hong Kong where I live), and therefore, IMO, you are better off having it in Shanghai over Seoul, where you may get a Korean interpretation of it. You can find xiaolongbao in many places (including the streets), and going to a chain restaurant is not necessary. And if you really feel you have to go to Din Tai Fung, they have outlets in many places, including Beijing, Tokyo, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. (The Hong Kong outlet even has a Michelin star.)
Cicerone is offline  
Jul 27th, 2011, 02:25 AM
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 8

If you're set on one of the two I can give you an idea of Shanghai, but not Seoul. Haven't made it to Korea yet, but I've heard good things! Definitely more expensive there than it is here, I know that. Anyway, Shanghai:

For all sorts of knick-knacks and souvenirs you can head to either the old city - shanghai lao jie (there is also a garden and temple there) or a place called taikang road tianzifang which is a bunch of little cool alleyways. There is a bunch of art in that area as well. However, Shanghai is not known as the art city in China - Beijing is.

Of course, anyone would recommend that you explore the bund, take some pictures of the pearl tower, go to the observation deck of the world financial center (looks like a bottle opener), maybe take a river cruise, look at nanjing road (don't buy too much here - it's expensive!), and go to a fake market nearby (when negotiating don't except that the price is low enough until the person you are negotiating with looks visibly upset! also, don't buy something from the first vendor you see - i guarantee you'll see another vendor selling the same item!).

For a good Chinese meal try di shui dong in the french concession. xiaolongbao restaurants are advertised everywhere - they are the soup dumplings in shanghai. Go to restaurants with a picture menu if you're scared they won't understand you. Generally, any Chinese food is approximately the same quality. Try Xin Jiang food for some muslim/curry style noodles, meat skewers, and pancake things. Eat street food - but be careful of the places that use a lot of oil! A good rule is just to go places you see lots of people. For a good foreign meal I recommend almost any of the places on Dongping lu near hengshan lu or near fumin lu and changle lu.

As for local travel - if you want to see villages you're going to have to head out a little further to places like Dalian or Yunnan. Yunnan is more outdoorsy so I don't recommend it in December, but Dalian is just a bunch of calm relaxing mountain huts - it is known for being a backpacker stop so there will be some English here.

Otherwise, Suzhou and Hangzhou are fine day trips. I have heard Nanjing is not the most exciting place. Suzhou has several small towns with canals so people call it the venice of china, but I doubt you'll want to take a gondola in the cold, so I would recommend Hangzhou - the main attraction there is West Lake (xi hu) where you can just get lost for hours. Then you can go to a few temples (Lingyin on the top of a mountain) and have dinner on Hefang street.

Hope this helps! If you need more help I can give you my email!
gnalie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2011, 02:28 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Jul 2011
Posts: 4
Thanks for the replies all! From the sounds of it I am leaning (heavily) towards Shanghai.

Many thanks
clickandgo is offline  
Jul 27th, 2011, 05:49 PM
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 5,309
I can't compare Shanghai having never been there but I have traveled in South Korea and stayed in Seoul for a few days and I can't recommend it. I love Japan and there is no comparison in my opinion. The architecture in Korea is not interesting and there are not many sights to see. I like a Korean meal now and then but many of the dishes are variations on the same things with lots of garlic and red chili in everything. After a few days I was actually looking at the McDonalds and thinking a Big Mac sounded good!

Have a good trip, wherever you go!
SeeHag is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 12:53 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 1,714
I have been to both--Seoul for the second time just this month (both times in summer) and Shanghai in December about 8 years ago.

Seoul just doesn't have the tourist appeal for me as other Asian cities. I've been to the palaces, some museums, street vendors, shops, but I go away thinking of it as just another city without too much to distinguish it or draw me back. I haven't been to the DMZ, but I wouldn't make a trip just to go there. Although it was miserably hot when I just visited (and raining with mudslides), I have been told it can be miserably cold too. S. Korea just landed the winter Olympics, so there is a place for outdoor winter sports in the northeast, 180km from Seoul with direct bus service. I do not know what the normal snow season/amount is there.

Shanghai feels like modern China to me. There are the Bund, temple, dumplings, museums, and acrobats among modern buildings and traffic. If nothing has changed, all this is closed in by smog from millions of people burning coal and other fuels to stay warm. We did a day trip to the gardens, which still projected their style and lines, but were not as scenic as in summer. You can get out to a smaller town with a guide, but it will take awhile.

So, if those were the choices, I would chose Shanghai. But, as others have said, it still would not top my list. We went there because we had relatives there. We combined it with a trip to Thailand despite the long distance between the two to ensure we got a few days of R&R somewhere warmer and it happened to break records for cold temperatures in northern Thailand, so we used our winter coats as blankets in our room in the motel near the national park.
Kay2 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2011, 02:28 PM
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,854
There are some small and lovely watertowns an hour away from Shanghai, Tongli and Xitang are favorite ones of Fodorites as daytrips, interesting scenery, delicious food, good shopping and a relaxing ride down the canal in a row boat.
Shanghainese is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy -


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:12 AM.