After deciding to move to South Korea, Jeff and I have thought about the possibilities of visiting the surrounding countries, including China. One day, while I was perusing skyscanner.com (my favorite site to find cheap flights) I found a direct flight from Daegu to Shanghai for the perfect price. On a whim, I booked it! We were going to spend a weekend in Shanghai in less than 3 weeks!
A week later, after talking to my sister-in-law, EJ, she casually asks if we have a visa to go to China…. silence…I ask her what do you mean? After a quick a google search, I find out that no matter how long the trip, you need a visa to get into China. A week later we go to Busan to get our visa, everything goes smoothly, and we’re on our way to China! ✈
Before Jeff and I go to a new city, we do a little research, pin some locations on Google Maps and create a general outline for our travels. We pinned a bunch of breweries, restaurants, tourist-spots and our Airbnb before we left.
We take a taxi from the Airport and we are trying to use google maps to find our Airbnb. It’s not showing my Google Maps, not even the map of the area is loaded. Hm.
About 30 minutes later [and after stepping in some (possibly human) poop in an alleyway, awesome] we find our Airbnb! We get on the internet and we’re trying to load google and send out a couple snapchats to friends. Nothing is working. I’m trying to get onto my Gmail and it doesn’t work. Then, I open up BING on INTERNET EXPLORER for the first time on my laptop and Bing works.
As many people might already know, China has banned everything Google. Jeff and I didn’t know this before we went and subsequently, it threw a big kink in our plans. We had not fully remembered the censorship state that China was in and forgot that Google, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram were all not available, unless you download a VPN,which we had not downloaded before we left.
Our Shanghai vacation turned into an unplugged vacation! We still ended up having a great time, going to some breweries, eating delicious food and seeing the famous skyline of Shanghai.
We have to give a shout out to this app called SmartShanghai, it saved our vacation after losing all of our pins on Google Maps. The app is really well designed for finding food, beer, and shopping. We highly recommend downloading it if you are going to travel to Shanghai!
The first thing we had to do in Shanghai was eat and I had two things in mind: Xiao Long Bao and a Chinese noodle dish.
The first day we went to Din Tai Fung for some xiao long bao, and it was delicious. Din Tai Fung is a chain so it was a bit overpriced and it was located inside of a mall selling Gucci, and other dumb brands.
However, on our last night we were wandering the streets and came across a hole in the wall place that served xiao long bao and it was by and far better than the other place. We don’t know the name of the place but this is the general location: China, Shanghai Shi, Xuhui Qu, Yongkang Rd, 72号-74 (Across from Beer Factory)
It had the cutest decor and the only thing on the menu were different kinds of xiao long bao. It was cheaper than Din Tai Fung and a lot more flavorful! We’d recommend skipping any place that’s a brand and try to find some xiao long bao on the streets.
I’ve been dreaming of the above dish for years upon years which is the famous Xiao Long Bao, and as you can see, I was very excited to slurp down these little soup sacks. These silky scalding hot pillows of delicious Chinese accuracy were one of tastiest things I’ve gotten my chopsticks on in Asia.
Xiao long bao is usually served with a vinegary dipping sauce with some sliced ginger which is integral to the flavor profile of this bomb of deliciousness. The way you eat xiao long bao is to dip your soup sack in the sauce, then plop it onto a spoon and pop a hole in it with your chopstick, then eat the dumpling and chase it down with the soup that has dripped from it’s carcass. Eat these things quickly, because you only have a few minutes of “golden temperature” which is between molten lava and not-hot-enough coffee, but overall I’ll second Mr. Bourdain’s endorsement of this delicious bit of China. A big thumb up from me.
After we took a walk through the park, where we encountered some pretty bizarre behavior from some elderly locals (ask me to tell you “lady kicking her own ass while an old man plays aggressive air guitar next to some hedges” story sometime – it is ridiculous), we got our mouths on some delicious noodles in a back alley. We found this place by chance, and took a gamble after spying through the window to see very cheap prices and an empty table for us to eat at. The only way I can describe these dishes is “very Chinese” in the sense that they were rough around the edges and packed with MSG (people who think MSG is bad for you and people who think the Earth is flat are one in the same… they’re stupid) but were still pretty damn good, oh and we didn’t get sick or anything. ($6 for these 2 dishes plus a soda)
Shanghai has a lot more American food options than Korea so we were craving some good ol’ greasy goodness. We ate at Al’s Diner in the french quarter and it was quite tasty. They have burgers, poutine, pancakes, waffles, pizza and amazing icecream! Highly recommend if you are looking for some american comfort food.
We also wanted to find some Vietnamese in the city, because Jeff’s favorite food is pho. We ventured to this “hole in the ground” that has a lot of restaurants, bars, lounges, and live music venues called Found 158. Everything at Found 158 is overpriced, but it’s an interesting place to check out. To clarify, when I say overpriced, I mean overpriced for Shanghai. Our dinner was about $30 altogether (with wine), so that’s like a nice night out at TGI Fridays but less shitty (please choose a better place to eat than TGI Fridays, and save it for lunch with your coworkers).
We ate at the Vietnamese restaurant Cyclo. I had the pho and Caitlin had the banh mi. Caitlin was really excited to eat here because we can’t find bahn mi anywhere in Korea. It was just OK, we probably should’ve ventured out further and found a better place for Vietnamese food. I would give you a review of their pho but it’s not worth talking about, and was a big bowl of disappointment. Honestly, if you’re in Shanghai, try to eat local “mom n’ pop” food as much as possible because the “established” restaurants are not very good.
Shanghai Brewery – Donghu Location
The first place we stopped for beer was “Shanghai Brewery” which ended up being our favorite place to drink at in Shanghai. We arrived during happy hour for half off drinks, which ended up costing us about $2.50 per beer and we got nice and sauced. Beer in Shanghai is much like Korea’s in that it’s a little underwhelming in the flavor department unless you’re willing to spend more than 10 dollars on a glass. Regardless, Shanghai Brewery gave us a good time and started our night well.
This place had a bunch of imports from big name breweries in the US, but none of their beer was worth the price tag. OK place, but at 65Y ~ $10 a beer, it’s not great. If you show up before 8pm, you can get half off drinks, but I’d recommend just going to Shanghai Brewery.
Dean’s Bottle Shop
We were pretty excited to go to this place because all of the reviews said Dean’s bottle shop was the place to go for beer. November must be a bad time to visit Dean’s, because this place SUCKED. The room was small, and when we walked in we felt unwelcome, so after perusing their dogshit beer selection we dipped out before drinking anything. Highly recommend NOT going to this place.
The design and decor of this place is beautiful. The beers however, not so much. It was about $10 per beer and we both felt our beers tasted watered down. I’d say if you want to get some nice Instagram pics go here, but if you want to drink beer, skip it.
World of Beer
This place was great! It’s a few blocks down from Shanghai brewery and along the way we stopped at a wine bar. We don’t know the name, and can’t find it online, but it was buy 1 glass get 1 free. We were feeling good by the time we got to World of Beer. We ordered some french fries and enjoyed some delicious beers from Kansas City! We would highly recommend going to this place.
We stayed in the French quarter of the city where we saw a lot of European architecture. We walked all the way from the french quarter to The Bund and on our walk we noticed how many styles of architecture are used in the city. Shanghai has the most diverse architecture I’ve ever seen in one city, and a lot of buildings could be prime submissions to r/evilbuildings.
The contrast in architecture you get at The Bund is an interesting experience to say the least. To the West is an older, more European part of the city, then as you scan East, the horizon transforms into a skyline of 21st century geometry, LEDs and advertising. At night the buildings bloom with pinks and blues, so I’d recommend visiting The Bund after dark.
The Bund (which means the “Embankment”) refers to Shanghai’s famous waterfront running along the west shore of the Huangpu River, forming the eastern boundary of old downtown Shanghai. It’s an iconic cityscape and we viewed it during the sunset as well at night.
It’s better in person.
Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
We decided to check out the Shanghai Science museum for a day as it’s one of the largest and most visited museums in China. We got to see some pretty badly taxidermied animals, along with some pretty interesting exhibits about robots, so the museum was definitely worth our money. We went to an IMAX movie about Shanghai’s architecture, and were so American and stupid that we forgot that the film would be in Chinese – Needless to say we didn’t learn shit. The movie was originally made in the USA, so it was dubbed over, but for some reason even the laughter of children was dubbed over. I’ve thought about this quite a bit, and I’m still not certain as to why the Chinese decided that American children needed to be dubbed over and replaced with Chinese children laughing.
AP Plaza: Fake Market near the Science Museum
After we visited the museum, we went underground for some cheap shopping at the “fake market” which is full of knock-off brands. Of course, this is a tourist trap, but if you are comfortable negotiating you can get a good deal. We picked up a couple of “Samsonite” carry-ons for about $40 total. It was pretty funny because we picked out the two colors we wanted and then she literally hammered on the Samsonite logo, then looked up at us as if to ask “do you want a different brand or is this good?” Ahhhh china.
Caitlin bought some knock-off Bose headphones for $90. We got ripped off on those for sure, as we should’ve kept bargaining with the lady. The headphones sounded great and worked well, however after 3 months of use, the headband snapped 🙁
Our shopping tip: don’t buy electronics, stick with suitcases and clothes.
Yuyuan Old Street Shopping Center
This was our favorite place to shop. Even though it was touristy, we really enjoyed the aesthetic of this place as it shows you what the old Shanghai used to look like. At this place you’ll find plenty of knickknacks to take back home. We ventured to this place during the night and the lights were beautiful!
There are stalls upon stalls of almost anything you’d want to take home from China. There were artisans scattered throughout the complex creating works of art for the public to see and purchase.
If you walk around this area you’ll find a lot of clothing shops as well. I picked up a nice jacket for around $30. Caitlin got a knock-off backpack for around $20.
Overall, we had a great time Shanghai!
Hopefully we’ll add another post sooner rather than later!
Vietnam is up next.