Shanghai Culture Dash

Shanghai Itinerary – Travel Tips and FAQs

Check out the: DMF Guide to the Shanghai Residency!!!

To try and avoid having to answer and re-answer the same questions, I will be posting all PG-13 questions and answers regarding China, Yangshuo, Beijing and Shanghai here on the Blog. My apologies to Taniya who probably could have used this approach to information dissemination.


1.) How far is HongKong from Beijing?
It’s about a 3.5hr flight

2.) How far is HongKong from Shanghai?
It’s about a 2.5hr flight

3.) What’s there to do in HongKong?
Shopping. But if I were you, I’d rather go to Macao where they have gambling, free alcohol and people of low moral standing.

4.) What’s there to do in Beijing?
You can look at the wonder that was China, circa 1600AD. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace. Plus they have, arguably, better food up North than they do along the Eastern seaboard.

5.) Should I fly from HongKong to Beijing and then back to HongKong and then up to Shanghai?
No. Get a ticket for Beijing to Shanghai. It will save you time and money, and (considering that you would probably only have a single-entry tourist visa for China) the embarrassment of  having to fly back home.

6.) How do I get train tickets for Beijing-Shanghai?
A quick Google search would show you a number of independent travel operators (both Chinese- and American-run companies) that provide ticket services. There would of course be a surcharge for their service, but at least you can book online, pay by credit card and have the ticket purchased before you even leave the US.

That said you can save a good chunk of cash by buying the tickets at the train station. Soft sleepers go for about 650RMB, and the ride takes approx 10 hours. Your hotel/hostel might even have ticket services for the princely sum of 20RMB (that’s 3USD) to help you buy tickets and deliver them to your room.

As a final option, you can get in touch with (willing) Fuqua students/alum in the area.

7.) What’s the weather going to be like in April?
Damn near perfect. 21C in the mornings, 13C in the evenings. Not humid. Bring a jacket. Might drizzle a bit.

8.) What’s the voltage in Shanghai?
220V. Power slots are those regular parallel ones. Shanghai doesn’t experience “scheduled” power outages, so you will NOT be stuck in the elevator on the way to class.

9.) Is water in Shanghai safe to drink?
Yes, but I wouldn’t do it. It’s very safe for brushing and rinsing though. And if it came down to it, you can drink it, but note that it’s got a lot of minerals and you might develop kidney stones… after 30 years of drinking straight from the tap.

10.) What do I do if I get arrested in Shanghai?
It completely depends on what you get arrested for.

The most probable cause anyone in our cohort will be arrested for is a bar brawl. The first thing you should do is avoid being in a bar brawl. Should you be hauled in to the cop shop, try and act more sober than the other person. Having been witness to more a few altercations, I’ve had the ignominy of having to recount the events. Not slurring helps.

If all else fails, just pay the guy off. A very low proportion of people (both locals and foreigners) ever spend time in the cop shop for fighting. The one who starts the fight usually just pays the other guy for the hassle… unless of course the hassle is a knife wound, a nail in the head (has happened). In which case, you still get out of jail, but expect a lawsuit.

Also, remember, public intoxication is totally acceptable. People pass out on the street all the time. Drunk, destructive belligerent behavior, however, will land you in the slammer.

If you’re caught in a compromising situation with certain individuals of low moral standing, just pay off the cops. They’re in on it.

If the reason for arrest is drugs, your local contacts will try to pull on some Guanxi, but no promises.

11.) What would be better for shopping? Beijing, Shanghai, or HongKong?
HongKong, hands down. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for electronics, clothes, shoes, luxury goods, or what not. The answer is HongKong. The only thing you might get cheaper on the Mainland are knock-offs. Beijing has cheaper goods than Shanghai, but Shanghai has better, more fashionable fakes. And yes, you can get fake iPods here.

12.) What’s the best Chinese city to go to for first-time travelers?

Seriously though, there’s no quintessential Chinese city. If you want to see the China of 3000 years ago, go to Xi’an for the Terra Cotta warriors. Go to Beijing and get a glimpse of Imperial China at it’s peak, with 300-year-old palaces, gardens, and of course the Great Wall. Shanghai essentially has nothing except pure, unbridled energy. Come here to live, not visit.

At the risk of getting 1.6 billion people angry, I’ll just come out with it: Most, if not all, Chinese cities are the same. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve basically seen them all. Recent developments and projects aside, the urban architectural and cultural landscape is flat and formless. If you had a week to spare, I would suggest you go to Beijing for 2 days, and then head straight to the country side: either Dali/Lijiang or Yangshuo. Both of which are less known but have way more character than your average city.

13.) Can I do the Wall from Beijing in one day?

In fact you can do all the major sights in one day.

Suggested itinerary: Wake up at 3AM. Go to the Simatai Section (most untouched part of wall close to the city) and catch the sunrise. Walk out for an hour or two. Head back to car, be back in Beijing in time for lunch. Head straight to QianMen, walk to Tian’anmen Square. Take pics of Tian’anmen Gate. Walk through. Go to the Forbidden City. If you’re not on a guided tour, at most spend 2 hours.

Watch the flag ceremony. Eat some duck. Go back to hotel. Check out and if you’re lucky you might just be able to catch the 9PM overnight train to Shanghai.

Sure there are other sights, like the Temple of Heaven, and the Summer Palace, but in the greater scheme of things, they don’t really have as much allure.

14.) Where can I get RMB/CNY/yuan/kuai/Chinese money?
The Chinese government doesn’t allow the RMB to be publicly traded outside the country, so it’s going to be a bit difficult to buy them. Which is funny because it’s very easy to sell them off. Try anyway; anything more than 6.70RMB to 1.00USD is already a pretty good deal. It would be great if you had at least one other person put together two 50USD bills and have them changed at Pudong airport. Anything less and there’s a service charge, over and above the regular fees. There’s a bank just off the luggage collection area.

Get the bulk of your bills exchanged in the city. The gray market offers great rates.

15.) Where can you get suits/dresses/cockroach costumes made and how much are they?
There are 4 main options that you can go for:
– the cheap Fabric Markets, 450 to 600RMB
– the expensive Fabric Markets, 55o to 1000RMB
– mid-range independent tailors, 1200 to 2500RMB
– high-end bespoke shops, 2000 to 4000RMB

Obviously the quality of finishing and detailing, the look and cut all go up with the price, but the main thing to remember is that a suit is only going to look as good as the amount of attention to give to the tailoring process. Suits take 3 to 5 days.

A full section with more detailed information will be included in your DMF Guide to Shanghai.