Treaty of Nanking

ORIENTAL playground

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 April, 2011, 12:00am


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Shanghai, or the 'Paris of the Orient', is a city framed with European characteristics. What it lacks in must-see tourist attractions, it makes up for with a heady mixture of glitz, glamour and grit where old-world charm and futuristic allure collide.

As host of last year's World Expo, Shanghai placed itself firmly on the global map. Rapid development has provided an efficient metro system, expanded to cater for the record 73 million expo visitors, and dazzling skyscrapers. Over two decades of explosive economic boom, Shanghai has cemented itself as the mainland's leading city for finance, fashion and lifestyle.

To catapult straight into the city's heart, hop on the Maglev train from Pudong International Airport -the line takes a scorching seven minutes and 20 seconds to cover more than 20 miles. Any visitor must make a beeline for The Bund, a waterfront area lined with art deco buildings and European-style hotels whose recent renaissance has transformed it into the playground for Shanghai's elite. Stroll along the embankment of the Huangpu River and gaze at the twinkling lights of Pudong, the mainland's most famous skyline.

Three on the Bund offers designer brands, upmarket restaurants and even the Shanghai Gallery of Art in an impressive early 20th century Free Renaissance-style building. Walk a few blocks down for dinner at Mr & Mrs Bund, where innovative French cuisine is served Chinese style in sharing portions.

For a taste of 1920s glamour, drop into two Bund bars saturated with history. First, try the Jazz Bar in the restored Peace Hotel. Built in 1929 by British-Iraqi Jewish tycoon Victor Sassoon, the Cathay, as it was then known, has had a US$60 million makeover and is a spectacular showcase of art deco design. The Jazz Bar's band, whose octogenarian members have jammed together since the 1980s, are a Shanghai institution. Alternatively, settle on a stool at the infamous Long Bar in the Waldorf Astoria. Formerly the Shanghai Club -an exclusive British gentlemen's establishment built in 1911- the 34-metre mahogany bar was once the world's longest; today it is a magnet for the rich and beautiful.

Across the river lies Pudong -15 years ago a former marshland and now Shanghai's business district.

Pudong is somewhat sterile, but is worth the trek to go up the Oriental Pearl Tower, a 468-metre structure that is great for a bird's-eye view of the city. Take the Bund Tourist Tunnel back to Puxi and revel in the journey's bright lights.

People's Square, formerly a racetrack, provides yet more architectural gems, including the Park Hotel and cultural sites. It is worth going to the Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Urban Planning Centre before walking to the handsome Shanghai Art Museum. In the same building is Kathleen's 5 rooftop restaurant and bar, which looks out over small churches and neon high-rises.

Just south of People's Square lies Xintiandi, a pedestrian area lined with cafes, restaurants and shops. Take a few minutes to walk around the Shikumen Open House Museum, packed with artefacts and old photos. Afterwards eat xiaolongbao (crab and pork broth dumplings) at Din Tai Fung, which has the best in town.

Shanghai also offers a glimpse of the past. Situated on the mouth of the Yangtze (Shanghai means the city 'above the sea'), it grew from a fishing village to an international hub during the 19th century, as the British, Americans and French built foreign concessions. Vestiges of European architecture remain.

The French Concession is a place to wander. Drop in at the boutiques, leather shops and art galleries that populate the streets, have a coffee at the quaint Citizen Cafe on Jinxian Lu, or browse the impressive English-language book selection at Garden Books on Changle Lu.