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Trip Report Shanghai / Suzhou trip report

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Just wanted to write a brief report of our long weekend in Shanghai – thanks to help from other posters in planning our trip! We had 4 nights / 4 days. we planned to spend the first full day in Tongli, the next day in Suzhou with an evening train to Shanghai, and the two remaining days in Shanghai.

Things started off a bit rocky – a late flight out of HKG delayed so we didn’t get to our hotel until 3am. Got in to Pudong around 2am, there was only one person working the foreigner immigration line, so that took a while. The taxi driver had a fast (phony) meter. He tried to get us to agree to $450 rmb which was nuts, so we insisted on him using the meter, which turned out to be fake (should be a 200 – 300 rmb journey). When we arrived at our hotel, the Four Points in Daning I gave him 330 or so RMB, which he balked out until I called him out on the phony meter, he then sheepishly accepted it. We were upgraded to a huge suite in the Four Points. The hotel was nice, clean, and located within an outdoor mall of sorts. Out of the way of most sights, but for our purpose it was perfect as it was a short (8 minute) taxi to the shanghai train station.

The next morning we left for Suzhou / Tongli. Note: Foreigners can NOT buy high speed rail tickets from the vending machines. You have to go to the ticket office and buy them there. From the main entrance, you need to walk right and take an underground passage to cross the street to get to the ticket office. Also, we arrived at the train station a bit hungry expecting some decent food options – there wasn’t much. Don’t arrive there hungry unless you’re looking for fast food. After arriving in Suzhou, we checked our luggage at the Suzhou rail station and took the local bus to Tongli – took about 65 minutes. When we got to Tongli we paid the 5RMB for the golf cart to take us to the old town. My husband was VERY tired and cranky so we walked a bit, had some noodles, and then left – we were both so incredibly tired and jetlagged that we couldn’t enjoy the town unfortunately. After our delayed flight I should have known better and skipped Tongli – it’s a bit long for a day. We took the bus back to Suzhou, got our luggage and took a taxi to our hotel – the Garden Hotel. What a great hotel! The grounds are beautiful, there are about 8 different buildings. Our room was clean and well designed, with nice, stylish furniture and cute touches such as a lot of books about Suzhou and the gardens. The only downside is that the beds were incredibly hard (even for China). We were so tired that we skipped dinner and just fell asleep around 7pm.

The next morning we opted to not pay for the buffet breakfast at the Garden Hotel (I dislike breakfast buffets), and decided to wander into town. It was very early so nothing was open except one hostel with an upstairs restaurant – if you leave the north entrance of the garden hotel, cross the street and turn right, the hostel is on your left…forgot the name. Anyway, they had a very cute dining room over one of the canals. No English menu/no English spoken. I ordered us some sort of local noodle (thin egg noodles in a soup) - which were delicious, along with some fried eggs, for about 22 rmb. The menu was not descriptive – many Chinese names of dishes when translated to English don’t tell you much (ie, “fragrant mountain soup” ). We then went to the Humble Administrator’s Garden, beautiful, crowded – not too crowded as it was a Friday. While we were in the garden some loud thunderstorms rolled in – we spent about 40 minutes huddled under a pathway, which was a unique experience. After leaving the garden, luckily between thunderstorms, we took a boat ride on the canals – very pleasant. From there we went back to the hotel, checked out, and left to go back to Shanghai.

Shanghai hotel – Fairmont Peace. I can not recommend this hotel enough. The Fairmont did an amazing job renovating the hotel. The room we had was amazing – beautifully furnished, extremely comfortable bed, huge bathroom with two sinks, large claw foot bathtub with a tv…the location on the Bund was also excellent. Upon arriving in Shanghai in the afternoon we were a bit hungry and wanted a snack before our dinner reservation at Lost Heaven (Bund location). I wanted to try the famous Wang’s Fry Dumplings. It can be a bit hard to find as the address is actually within a pedestrian mall (and I was using an outdated guide book with the old address)– the taxi driver dropped us off somewhere near a lot of construction, but we found the mall. Wang’s is near the western end, in the mall…there is a chain coffee shop on the bottom, I think it was coffee bean & tea leaf. Anyway if you go up one flight you will find the famous fried soup dumplings. There was no wait to buy them, just no where to sit and eat them. 8 rmb for 4 dumplings. I don’t love traditional xiao long bao but I thought these were really tasty. Yes, they are fried, but not too heavy and greasy. We walked back on Nanjing to the Fairmont and really were impressed by Shanghai. I expected it to be similar to Hong Kong, and it’s definitely not. I loved the vibe of the city – more energetic, youthful, and cutting edge. I love historic architecture and…I expected just a slew of pretty buildings on the Bund and was surprised to find interesting structures, from old to very new, all over Shanghai. The city also had a much more open, less cramped feeling than HK does, which was nice. Anyway, after walking back we had dinner at Lost Heaven. This is definitely a restaurant popular with tourists and expats, but don’t let that deter you. The space was beautiful, the service is good, and the food was interesting and tasty. Yes, not the most authentic Yunnan cuisine, but well presented, not too expensive, and good. They definitely added a bit of Sichuan (numbing) peppercorn to one of our dishes, so watch out if that’s not something you like or are used to.

The next day we started off in Tian Zi Fang, a shopping area near the French Concession. A lot of good and interesting shops, nice cafes, galleries. We had brunch at Lumbini, a Tibetan restaurant in Tian Zi Fang (western/regional Chinese food was the food theme of our trip, I can get plenty of Shanghainese food in Hong Kong). We were a bit disappointed they didn’t have too much yak on the menu, as we had eaten yak in Sichuan and really (surprisingly!) liked it. After lunch and some walking, we went to the Shanghai Propoganda Poster center. In a basement of an apartment building in the French Concession. Really interesting and worth seeing if you have some interest in Chinese history. We bought some poster reproductions as well. I could have spent all day wandering the French Concession, but my husband wanted to move on. From there we went to the jingan sculpture park, not sure why but a few of the sculptures were covered. We walked around a bit more, went back to our hotel. After refreshing we had drinks at Bar Rouge at 18 ½ Bund. The weather was bad but otherwise this rooftop bar has great views of Pudong. Standard pricey city rooftop bar – worth it for one drink if the weather is nice, nothing more. We later had dinner at Xibo, a trendy Xinjiang restaurant. The space is sleek and feels more like it should be a wine bar. The food was good – the portions were huge- they were out of a few dishes though which was odd. It was good, but I wouldn’t run back there on our next trip.

Our final day we went to the Yuyuan gardens. The park/garden was nice, but the bazaar was a tourist trap…if I had never been to China before, maybe I would have found it a bit more interesting or would have wanted to buy some gifts, but there was nothing good. From there we went to the Dong tai road ‘antique’ market. The stalls out front are selling the same stuff I can buy in hk, but it looked like inside the stores there were some good items. I didn’t want to purchase anything large/heavy/breakable and don’t need a Chinese vase or clock at this point, but if I was looking for some home accessories they had some interesting things. From there we walked to the Xintiandi area. There is a small museum at the site of the first CCP Congress which was interesting. However, it only showcases history from around the establishment of the CCP. We were hoping to see the Chinese story of the Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, etc but the museum’s history on display stops before Mao’s rule. Definitely worth a look though. Xintiandi was very pretty and for us worth a look – depending where you are coming from. For someone visiting from the West this isn’t much to see – just an urban restoration with some upscale restaurants/shops and expats having lunch. We were a bit curious about expats in other parts of China and really enjoyed the relaxed (but a bit phony) vibe and stopped for lunch at the German pub. We later went to Hong Kew and the Jewish museum – architecturally interesting old area to walk around in. After that we went back to the Bund, wandered the promenade, and checked out and went back to the airport (this taxi, with an honest driver, was 175RMB) Once again, my husband was hungry. We expected pudong to have places to eat – there really was nothing except for a few restaurants! I was expecting such a new airport to have multiple food courts. Oh well. They did have plenty of vending machines, and the occasional dinner of chestnuts and a snickers bar never hurt anyone.

I definitely found myself really surprised to love Shanghai – already planning a return trip! Next time I would like to take an architecture tour for sure.

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