Toilet star rating = 5 star
We took a final turn around the canal and into the modern town the next morning before dragging our bags back to the nearby train station. Bus touts pounced on us along the way trying to convince us their vans were the only transport to Shanghai. Bus and taxi touts would be very prevalent in Shanghai. After we bought our tickets to the real bus to Shanghai we were surprised to bump into Mischa from Germany, who we'd met at the Great Wall almost three weeks earlier. In a country of 1.3 million people, what are the odds? The two hour bus ride took us through a region of grimy canal towns and factories. There were two security stops on the way. The Chinese take security very seriously. Every bus and railway station, metro, airport and the major highways have x-ray security checks. I must admit that everywhere we went in China we felt very safe.
At Shanghai bus station we had to run another gauntlet of taxi drivers just to get to the subway. We'd booked a room at The Captain Hostel near the Bund but on our Lonely Planet map it was in Putong, Shanghai's modern financial district. The subway almost got us there but when we came up into the sunlight we couldn't quite work out where we were. After wandering around somewhat aimlessly we grabbed a cab - luckily the Lonely Planet had the address in Chinese characters. The taxi made turned two corners and headed west before we saw the sign. We asked the driver to pull over but he didn't seem to get the message initially and we thought he was trying to rip us off. He eventually understood and we got out and walked back to the hotel. The Lonely Planet review of The Captain said it was fairly mediocre - and it certainly looked it! Inside it was very shabby and almost empty, only a Chinese couple smoking a table. To top it off there was a problem with our booking - they knew nothing about it at all. Once again it was time to pull out the trusty laptop, but despite advertising wi-fi, there was none. What the? The staff kindly let me sit down at the reception computer and I opened our emails, but again, the email confirmation was in English so they couldn't read it. Things were beginning to get a little frustrating when Shelly picked up a brochure from the front counter. "Which Captain are we booked into?", she asked. I red her the address. She held up the brochure. "There's two." One in Putong and one on the Bund. We were at the wrong one. We later found out there are in fact three - there are two off the Bund. The Lonely Planet also made an error. Their review and English description was for the main one off the Bund, but the Chinese address is for the second one - where we were booked - but their map shows the old and shabby Putong one. "So you don't want to stay here?", they asked a little disappointed. Sorry, no. They helpfully wrote out the address and instructions in Chinese for the taxi driver and we bid them adieu.
We finally arrived at the real Captain some two hours after arriving in Shanghai. The hostel was pleasant enough and the room was clean. Their television, which had about 300 pay TV channels, was almost impossible to operate without a detailed instruction manual - which there wasn't - but in the end we did manage to find an English language station.
Part of the appeal of hostels is the support networks that help you as a traveller. We'd been blessed with extremely helpful hostel staff all through our trip and I'm not afraid to say that without their help booking our travel, translating and making recommendations, our travels in China would have been a nightmare. Sadly the staff at The Captain weren't in the same league. They were friendly and polite but seemed unable to provide even rudimentary assistance or recommendation. The girls on the desk couldn't even advise where the restaurants or bar areas were. "There is a restaurant next door.", the girl said. "But is there an area where there are many restaurants are?" "Yes, there are many restaurants." "But where?" "I think you can go to next door." "Okay, is there a bar area? Nightclubs?" "Mmmm, next door is also a bar." "Anywhere else....?" "The Bund." .....
But The Captain's location was not a disappointment. From the front door we simply crossed the road and we were right there on the Bund. In the late 19th century the Bund was the centre of the European colonial presence in China. As today, this was where the money was and along the southern bank of the Yellow River arose a row of art deco banking and trading houses, proclaiming the west's domination over China. The signs which once shamelessly trumped "No dogs, no women, no Chinese" are now long gone, as is the west's domination. China is now in control of its economy and it's western companies who come cap in hand to get a piece of the action. And what a piece of action! Every westerner we met in Shanghai was there to do business. They all talked about deals, about money and about opportunity. So much for the American Century.
Nanjing Road is Shanghai's famous shopping street. It was wall to wall neon lights, shopping centres, and big name stores. We thought we'd be able to find something to eat somewhere along the Road, but it was all western food - and not very good ones, aka McDonalds, KFC et al. We walked right to the end of the Nanjing Road before swinging back towards the Captain, hunrgy and frustrated. Luckily about three blocks south of the hotel we came a little restaurant district where everyone seemed to be selling hotpot. The restaurant we chose was absolutely packed and although the air was so thick with cigarette smoke you could cut it with a knife, the meal was delicious.
Over the next couple of days we took in the sights. We wandered around the French Concession with its 1920s European houses (a little over-rated), visited the Shanghai museum which had an impressive collection of Chinese porcellin, shopped and basically just wandered around and took things easy. There isn't really much of an old town left in Shanghai. What passed as 'old Shanghai' was basically a old style theme and shopping park built around a couple of old temples. We wandered around that area a couple of times looking for the Yuyuan garden that was supposed to be a tourist attraction. It turned out we'd walked past it both times we visited (it was near the hotel) because it was less a garden than a pond in the middle of a shopping mall. Crazy! That was pretty much the only place we heard the words "Limiao!" called out - it means foreigner (actually it is more a derogatory term used to mean foreigner) - but I think they were calling out to warn other shop keepers that a couple of suckers... er, foreigners were ready to be ripped off... er, I mean, no, basically, ripped off, rather than because they'd never seen foreigners before.
On the Thursday night we did the Drunken Dragon pub crawl. It was really an ex-pat affair as we were the only tourists there but it was still lots of fun. http://www.pubcrawlshanghai.com/DrunkenDragon/Dragon_Trail.html
We were certainly moving a little slower the next day, but we did it again on Friday with the Tipsy Panda for their Heinken Halloween pub crawl. As they say "Shang out with your wang out!" http://tipsypanda.com/
We moved on from the Captain to a flasher hotel for the last two days of our holiday. It was nice to relax in some comfort. Our room even had views over the Bund to Pudong. We booked through Lastminute.com and got an extremely good deal.
Our last day in Shanghai was also the last day of the World Expo. The advertising for the Expo had been relentless all through China. The Expo ran for about seven months I think and during that time some 50 million odd people poured through its gates - nearly two million A DAY during the October national holiday! We expected it would be pretty packed on the last day but it really wasn't. There were however no tickets left so we had to buy from the many scalpers loitering around the gates. We bought ours for 200 yuan each from a gap toothed old man who spoke excellent English. We expected we'd get as far as the gate and find out the tickets were fake, but they weren't.
I must say the Expo is a strange affair and I don't really get what it was all about. Most of the exhibitions were very odd. Australia's was as pathetic and sycophantic as we'd expected, but at least it was more interesting and popular than Albanias. There were enormous queues for the more popular exhibitions - five hours to get into the German exhibition, which was supposedly amazing. Still, the buildings were very interesting and arty. They alone made the Expo worthwhile. We spent many hours there (it was a huge area) and didn't even cover a quarter of the park.
At 5pm, with the sun beginning to set, I felt a sudden panic. When we booked our flights online through Air Asia we assumed when we selected departure from Shanghai it actually meant Shanghai. We didn't think anything when the itinerary said Hangzhou, we thought that must have been a suburb of Shanghai. And so we never gave it a thought until we pulled out the itinerary to check the time of the flight and ...Oops!!! Hangzhou!!! The same Hangzhou we'd visited earlier in the week. The same Hangzhou that is 300 kilometres from Shanghai. Oops! Luckily for us we'd seen a news item earlier in the week announcing that a new highspeed train link between Hangzhou and Shanghai had just opened. In fact the highspeed rail link had been built in only 18 months - a world record for rail construction. This meant a trip which was formerly over three hours could be done in only 45 minutes.
Getting to Hangzhou was still a rush though. Going from the Expo to the hotel to the railway station on the subway took longer than expected. We made it to the bullet train with about 10 minutes to spare. The train was more like a plane than a train, very smart and flashy. A display screen on the wall ticked off the speed as it climbed all the way to 320 kilometres per hour.
There was chaos at Hangzhou train station. Although there was an orderly queue for taxis, private taxi drivers pounced on every traveller in an attempt to nab a fare. The official taxi queue was long and moved slowly but steadily so there was certainly a potential market for impatient travellers, but the taxi drivers were so aggressive and pitched their prices so high that no one, Chinese included, would accept their offers. If only they were a little less greedy they would have been fine. It took about half an hour for us the catch a cab, then another 45 minutes to drive out to the airport. And then it was all over. On the plane and back home via Kuala Lumpur.
China certainly exceeded both our expectations. It was vibrant and exciting country. The people, even though communication was difficult, were always extremely friendly.