Glamorous, exotic and wealthy, Shanghai, China’s largest city, has come a long way from its humble roots as a small fishing and textile town on the eastern tip of the Yangtze River Delta. Yes, you can still see remnants of the Old City with its ancient teahouses, classic gardens and Buddhist temples, but this global financial and commercial hub of 23.9 million glitters in all its modern-day glory. Some of the world’s poshest restaurants, shops and hotels scatter along its city streets, and myriad cloud-piercing towers dominate the skyline. These include the Oriental Pearl TV Tower (with great bird’s-eye views) and the Shanghai World Financial Centre, China’s tallest building and home to the Park Hyatt, one of the tallest hotels in the world. Get an immediate sense of the city’s futuristic vibe by taking the magnetically levitated Maglev Train from Pudong Airport into the city center. Speeding quietly along at 270 miles per hour, you’ll cover 19 miles in eight minutes. If you’re like most business travelers, you’ll probably stay in the Lujazui Finance and Trade Zone in the business district of Pudong, an area packed with plenty of hotels along with domestic and foreign banks, scores of insurance companies and some of the largest stock exchanges in Asia, along with the Jinmao Tower, home to Shanghai Securities Mansion. Most of the post-workday action occurs across the Huangpu River on the Puxi side in the Bund, an area known for its river views, beautiful European-style buildings, clubs and pubs. You’ll find iconic cocktail spots such as Bar Rouge, along with fashionable hangouts like Unico, one of the area’s hippest Latin dance spots featuring live bands. You’ll also find über-popular dining spots like Lady Bund, or Xindalu – China Kitchen tucked inside the Hyatt on The Bund, serving local freshwater fish and shellfish. Look for steamed river crabs and juicy vegetable-stuffed beggar’s chicken wrapped in lotus leaves and baked in a clay crust cracked open with a little hammer at your table (order this 24 hours in advance). Elsewhere, try the city’s famous dumplings, including soup-immersed dumplings with various stuffings and steamed pork dumplings called Nanxiang xiaolongbao. Lines form outside the door at one of the most famous dumpling houses in Shanghai, Jia Jia Tang Bao, known for its thin noodle wrappers filled with juicy pork and river crab.
Since Shanghai carries a reputation for terrific shopping, head to Nanjing Road to join the 1.7 million people who visit each day to buy everything from cheap consumer products to luxury designer goods from the 600-plus shops lining the 3.5-mile-long street. Of course, for the ultimate shopping experience — bespoke suits, tailor-made dress shirts or made-to-measure shoes — hop a three-hour flight to Hong Kong, where you’ll also find some of the most sublime Chinese food, water views and urban culture in the world. Empire International Tailors and Sam’s Tailor earned reputations for their quality tailoring worldwide. Both serve women and men and are located on Kowloon, once a separate city but now the northern part of Hong Kong across Victoria Harbour. Enjoy a delightful ride there via The Star Ferry, which glides across the harbor in about 10 minutes. If you’re feeling peckish, pop into The Peninsula Hong Kong for traditional, British-style afternoon tea; or go for something grittier like stinky tofu, curry fish balls and egg tarts in the Mong Kok area, known for its street food.
Back on Hong Kong Island, savor panoramic views over the city and harbor from the top of Victoria Peak (reached by a funicular) or head to what claims to be the world’s highest bar, Ozone, in The Ritz-Carlton, where you can watch the sun sink over the city with your favorite cocktail or glass of Champagne. If bubbles truly are your passion, live large and reserve The Krug Room in the Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong. There, a total of 12 guests can savor approximately a dozen courses paired with the largest collection of Krug Champagne outside of France. Epicures should also head to Maxim’s Palace, which serves hundreds of different dim sum daily, acclaimed as the best in the city.
If you’re hankering for Western fare or want to feel the British vibe that still lingers in Hong Kong, head to SoHo, the area south of Hollywood Road, likened to London’s SoHo due to its pretty colored buildings, cafés, galleries, antique shops and pubs. The nearby area of Sheung Wan exudes a similar feel, with cute boutiques selling things like jewelry, home goods, cupcakes and clothes. Macau offers a good daytrip or overnight from Hong Kong. The clean, scenic city on the southeast coast of China lies only about 37 miles across the water from Hong Kong. (You’ll need to bring your passport). While most travelers opt to take a ferry to get there, a helicopter (either East Asia Airlines Ltd. or Helicopters Hong Kong Ltd.) is far more convenient and gets you there in 15 minutes. Because Macau was a Portuguese colony until 1999, the area along San Ma Lo Road features numerous old, pastel-colored Portuguese-style buildings, forts and St. Paul Cathedral, which together have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, most visitors flock to Macau because of its casinos — glitzy rooms shimmering with chandeliers, packed with staff and pulsing with jetsetters — said to rival those in Las Vegas and Monte Carlo. Up until recently, gambling accounted for almost half of the government’s revenue. The local VIP gambling market cooled down, however, due to China’s changing economy and crackdowns on corruption. This simply means more casinos are going out of their way to woo customers by doing things such as accepting Hong Kong dollars versus the currency of Macau (patacas) and waiving membership fees in some VIP clubs. Most of the grand casinos lie inside the major hotels, including Grand Lisboa, Waldo Hotel and Mandarin Oriental, Macau. Entrance is free but proper dress is required. In addition to slot machines, blackjack and roulette tables, these casinos offer Chinese games like fan-tan, an ancient numbers betting game. For those not interested in gaming, Macau boasts plenty of restaurants, bars and discos, along with opera, musical performances and theater.
China Info to Go
Pudong International Airport (PIA) handles 60 percent of flights to and from Shanghai, while the remaining 40 percent go through Hongqiao International Airport (HIA), only eight miles from downtown Shanghai versus 19 miles from PIA. Both airports offer Airport Shuttle Bus service to the city center; PIA has the super-fast Shanghai Maglev Train. Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), located on Chek Lap Kok island, serves as the major airport for the city, which also boasts numerous heliports and helipads (many on the rooftops of hotels and certain businesses). Macau International Airport (MFM) services most major airlines. For visitors coming from Hong Kong, boat and helicopter services are available.
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