Shanghai is not really a tourist’s dream place to go when they want to visit China, however, the East meets West vibes of this bustling metropolis can definitely make you go. The price of living in a rising world power like China can sometimes be steep, as seen when certain historic areas get demolished and replaced by new, towering condo towers and office parks. We discover the 5 things to see and do in Shanghai, China for under 10 USD.
Meet the locals at People's Park
People’s Park is a big green space right in the middle of Shanghai’s bustling financial district. The metro station that caters to People’s Park is extremely busy, with so many exits leading to different parts of the park, that it’s easy to get lost with the crowd. Located at the north end of Nanjing Road, the park is notable for the museums that are located within it, and also the marriage market! The best time to go see the marriage market is during the weekend. Parents gather and post advertisements for their children looking for a suitable match for him/her. With the current gender disparity in China, parents do go all out in trying to find their child an excellent match; talking to fellow parents about their children and arranging for them to go on a blind date. Strolling around People’s Park is free, but charges may apply if you want to go inside the two museums, or if you want to take a ride at the miniature funfair within the park.
A party and entertainment mecca – with a historic twist
Xintiandi is where all the hip clubs, bars, and high end designers have set up shop. On a good day, you’ll see numerous luxury vehicles parked in front of these establishments, with valets waiting for their next clients. This area of town is not only known for the social and superficial scene, it’s also recognized as a historic neighborhood. The facade of the shops are very historic, known originally as a shikumen (stone houses), which are impressively restored to their former glory. Walking around the area is free of charge, and best to do if you don’t have a car (as parking is notoriously difficult). Xintiandi has a dark past though – these converted establishments used to be owned by Chinese people who had been displaced as part of progress.
A look at colonial Shanghai
Shanghai was originally a trading and shipping town overlooked by the British when they were occupying China. As a result of commerce and various Europeans setting up shop in the city, buildings were built along the edge of the Huangpu River in the mid 1800s, which became the East branches of banks and trading houses. The British eventually left, but the historic buildings remain: the Bund that we know of today. Across the river is the very modern Pudong district, dotted with skyscrapers and eclectic buildings (like the Shanghai TV Tower). The best time to walk around the Bund is in the evening, when all the buildings are lit up. It’s a free light show to tantalize your senses. A great place to see the views is at Bar Rouge- with panoramic scenery and a party atmosphere.
Shop until you drop in a historic setting
Yuyuan Market can be overwhelming to the casual tourist or shopper. What appears to be random stalls on the road can become a maze, as you try to make your way around. Every stall and item can start to look the same after a while, so if you like something unique – go ahead and get it! It’s easy to haggle, and most of these stalls have calculators where they can type in how much an item is and then you put in your desired bid. This goes back & forth until you finally agree on a price. What’s unique about Yuyuan Market is that it’s set amidst historic buildings – and it’ll lead you straight to Yuyuan Garden. The garden has a small admission fee to get in, 40 CNY (or 6 USD), and you can marvel at the huge rocks harvested from the bottom of the river. One of the biggest and most impressive is Jade Rock, where if you burn an incense stick just below the rock, the smoke will come out of all the holes! Magic!
The Venice of the East - Zhujiajiao
A short bus ride away from Shanghai is Zhujiajiao, a city that was built around canals, and is home to over 36 stone bridges. It’s interesting to wander around this suburb of China. For the small price of a bus ticket (13 CNY, 2 USD), the bus will whisk you away from the busy streets of Shanghai into a waterworld of stone bridges and canals, lots and lots of them. This feels like an authentic Shanghai, like stepping back in time to see how the locals really live: clothes hanging on bamboo poles outside their homes, small businesses vying for your business, and is quiet enough that you won’t see a lot of tourists all cramped in one area. It’s free if you just want to walk around, and will definitely take a few hours of your day. Take note of the last bus home and make sure you are in the queue at least an hour before it leaves, as the bus gets a bit crowded!
Budget adventures amidst the lights of Shanghai
Shanghai has many faces. There is the one adorned with luxury towers in the Pudong District, the hip one in Xintiandi where you can park your expensive car next to a 500-year old building, the historic one at the Yuyuan Market where haggling is an art form, and also a beautiful one at People’s Park in the Financial District, which bustles with concerned parents and museum lovers. Once you’ve looked at them all, you can take a short trip to Zhujiajiao, to see a city almost floating on water, and be reminded that you can enjoy these adventures in all these places for a small cost.
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