The last time I visited China was four years ago, but it's been a whopping 12 years since I last visited Shanghai. After the pandemic restrictions were lifted, I couldn't wait to bring my two daughters to China (July 2023). Although I used to come back to China regularly, I'm still amazed every time I visit. I had to keep up with the latest trends, download new app, keeping up with the technology. Visa is needed for most non Chinese citizens. I feel like because of the political tension, visa are not as easy as pre pandemic which is a shame but still doable. You will need a visa agency if you want to skip the in person interview. The immigration process was quite straightforward. Before leaving customs, everyone had to scan their faces and fingerprint. What's different from previous years is that this year we had an additional step, which is the Health Code check upon entry. I assume they will soon cancel this. You can do it through the customs mini-program on WeChat, and you need to have the code before boarding the plane; otherwise, they might not allow you to board. The code is ONLY valid for 24 hrs.
I was visiting Shanghai and my final destination is my hometown - Fuzhou, After clearing customs, I shipped my large luggage to my hometown, Fuzhou. This way, I can travel around Shanghai and its surroundings with my girls (12 and 6 years old) without the hassle of carrying big bags. The courier service point is conveniently located to the left as you exit customs. If you need a Chinese SIM card ( which you do need!) while at the airport, be sure to purchase one inside the airport, no contract, easy to set up. Many things in China now require real-name verification and SMS verification codes, and buying a SIM card at the airport allows them to take your photo and complete the real-name verification process on the spot. Not all stores outside the airport can help with this, especially for foreign passports. The new iPhones use eSIM cards, so you can't just swap out a physical SIM card like before. However, using a newer iPhone has its advantages because, as a foreign phone and phone service company, you can easily access Instagram, Facebook, and many foreign websites while in China, although the speed may be slower. Once you connect to WiFi, it might not work as it's considered an international connection. I purchased T-Mobile's international plan in advance, but 15GB was definitely not enough. In a month and a half, I ended up buying it three times! 😫🤦♀️
Using Didi (Chinese Uber) with a foreign credit card is super convenient for transportation. Cars are much cleaner and newer compared to my uber experiences in the US. Alipay or wechat pay is also a must-have in China as a form of payment! Cash is almost irrelevant in China, all you need is your phone. Keep in mind that in some places, there may be a service fee for using Alipay, although it's not much, it can add up if you use it frequently. Many places no longer accept cash, and even if they do, it doesn't mean they'll have change for you. So, make sure to set up Alipay or WeChat Pay before your trip. If your real-name verification keeps failing, try using all uppercase letters. I had to communicate back and forth with wechat customer service several times before discovering this bug! Your name on the account must match exactly with your bank account/CC name for it to work. Taking a Didi from Pudong Airport to the Ritz-Carlton in Pudong takes about 45 minutes(min traffic) and costs roughly 100 RMB, which is approximately $14 USD depending on the exchange rate. The subway is also very convenient and clean, especially during rush hours.
Our first hotel in Shanghai is Ritz-Carlton in Pudong, there is 2 Ritz hotels in Shanghai. The one in Pudong is situated right above the Shanghai IFC Mall, with the subway below, super convenient for transportation, shopping, and dining. Across the street is the Super Brand Mall, which is more family and budget friendly. Before checking in, I informed the hotel that it was my child's first visit to China and requested a room with a good view. To my delight, the hotel arranged a room upgrade for us. From one window, we could see the Oriental Pearl Tower, and from the other, the Shanghai Center.👍 I highly recommend booking high-end hotels using Amex, as they often come with great perks such as $100 dining credit, complimentary breakfast for two, room upgrades, and late checkout. At the breakfast buffet, they even waived the fee for my daughter Ayla (6 years old) when the receptionist noticed how little she was. 🤭✌️ Our first meal in Shanghai was at Jin Xuan 金轩 , the Michelin one-star Chinese restaurant on the top floor of the Ritz-Carlton. The ambiance was AMAZING, live guzheng (a traditional Chinese instrument) playing in the background. The view of the Bund across the river was breathtaking, especially with the rain falling as we dined. 🥰 Is everything I would expect from a Micelinn Star restaurant. I must commend the hotel for its lavish breakfast buffet, offering a wide variety of choices. Try the cappuccino; mixed with freshly made soy milk and had a unique and delightful taste. All of this while enjoying a view of the Oriental Pearl Tower outside the window. 😊
Unfortunately, the pool was under renovation during our visit, the views look amazing from the website. It's essential to bring your bathing suit because most hotels typically have swimming pools, saunas, or spas. 🏊 The rooms show some signs of age, but they have all the necessary amenities, and the service is impeccable. Rooftop bar is also a nice spot to have a drink and enjoy the night view. Room cost was approximately close to $400/N, is almost a deal compared to current spending in the US. You do get A LOT more purchasing power in China. (one of my fav things about China)
The IFC (International Finance Center) downstairs made me feel like a broke person just like Dubai Mall did yrs ago. 😂 Almost every store is high end designer, hardly see anything that's budget friendly. Shockingly, there's still a wait outside Chanel and wait for salespeople at Hermès. 🙄
The high rents in this area certainly reflect the quality of the restaurants that operate here! 🤭 I tried two of them, and both were excellent: "甬府尊鲜" (Yong Fu Zun Xian) and "炉匠炉端烧·酒" (Lujiang Luduan Shao Jiu). Don't forget to check out the restaurants on the lower levels as well. The dessert shop "CROQUANTCHOU ZAKUZARO" is good; we stayed for four days and ate there five times! 😋
If you're traveling with kids, take them to the malls, as there's a wide range of dining and entertainment options available! Meland indoor children's playground is one of my girl's favorite places in China! Huge and so much fun things to do, even has a boutique like Disney's Bibbidi Bobbidi boutique inside. Chloe and Ayla have tried legit tiny food cooking, driving cars, "fishing", Meland, museums, all in a mall! The Malls are Incredibly modern and creative, I've seen malls over 10 fls, each floor filled with entertainment, play area, restaurants, spa, theater, arcades, and ofcoz endless shopping. Chloe and Ayla, were all about the malls in Shanghai, and they completely forgot about other tourist attractions. 😂😑😒 The "时空魔方" (Time-Space Cube) at the Sinar Mas Plaza mall is an awesome experience! Feels like you've visited outer space, the sea, the Jurassic park , and even a black hole! ✌️ City God Temple 城隍庙 is another must-visit spot, and Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street is always bustling with people. The Bund offers a fantastic view of the city skyline, light show is only available for special holidays (don't ask me how I know that 😆). Jing an Temple is probably the most expensive temple because of its central location, so it's worth a visit, reservation required (wechat app)! What surprised me is that despite the crowds, Shanghai's streets remain clean, and safety is well-maintained. Meanwhile cities like NYC, Paris, and London are filled with crimes and pickpockets. 😥
Many museums in Shanghai are worth visiting, and it's essential to make advance reservations! After midnight, it's a race to secure your booking because you're competing with population of 1.4 billion people, 😥things can get really crowded! Some museums require reservations three days in advance, while others may need up to seven days, and you can typically do this through WeChat. (Type museum name on wechat search bar, and enter it's offical account and follow the instruction. It's a good idea to have your name, passport or ID number ready. Without a reservation, it can be challenging to get in due to the overwhelming number of visitors.
Did you know there's a Disney theme park in Shanghai? Yes.....and VERY crowed and HOT during summer. LUCKILY my girls are wise enough not to go, especially since they've been to Disneyworld and Disneyland in the US. However, if you have the means, the VIP experience is worth considering. Otherwise, waiting in line for 2-3 hours to enjoy a ride for just a few minutes can really dampen your enthusiasm! 😆 Be ware, Shanghai is HUGE, I had a friend got off PVG took a cab to another train station, traffic took 3 HRS to the other side of city. CRAZY!
Stay away from outdoor activities during hot summer days unless you want to melt youself . I suggest find a family friendly spa center, enjoying drinks, video games, massages, sauna, kids play area, buffet, KTV, Gaming, all under 1 roof and head out in the evening. I absolutely love those spas where I can spendd entire day inside, some you can even stay overnight! I'd recommend avoiding weekends because it tends to get crowded!
Zhongshilongxing is a good choice for indulging in crab dishes, considering it's been around for almost a century. Soup dumnpling is a must try in Shanghai! When it comes to Michelin restaurants, it's a good idea to experience 1 or 2, but I personally feel that you can't go wrong with street-side eateries or high-rated restaurants near shopping districts. You can even find deals for Michelin restaurants now! We used Amex to book a meal at J Hotel's JinYan restaurant, which also happens to be my Chinese name 😊. But the main attraction is its location on the 103rd floor of Shanghai Center, offering unbeatable views! It turns out that $100 is not enough for lunch for two people. 😬🤦♀️
Heavenly Jin 天之锦 is located on the 120th floor, making it the highest restaurant in the world so far. I recommend having some drinks and snacks there, and if you want a proper meal, JinYan on the lower floors has private rooms and is more suitable for dining.
J Hotel Shanghai , The staterooms and suites are located from Fl 86 - 98 and vary from 61 square meters to 380 square meters, making them some of the highest and most spacious options in Shanghai. Nestled into the Shanghai Tower's spiral, every stateroom has unique views. Beginning at the Huangpu River and cutting through the heart of the city below, guests have access to Shanghai's diverse and spectacular urban scenery, from the Bund and the Oriental Pearl Tower to the expanses across Puxi and Pudong. While I am proud that J Hotel is a Chinese enterprise, I personally wouldn't recommend an extended stay here due to the inconvenience of going up and down. Perhaps it is one of the tallest hotels in the world. The elevator ride takes about a minute, and it's fast and comfortable. There's an additional layer of glass outside each room, supposedly to help with temperature control. It feels a bit like being in a birdcage, so the view isn't as expansive as you might imagine, even though we stayed in a suite. However, the bar, spa, or restaurants upstairs, as it is the tallest building in China and the 2nd tallest in the world. 👍 The spa at J Hotel (on the 85th floor) is said to be frequented by many celebrities. Hotel guests get a 50% discount, but even with the discount, it's still a bit pricey. The guy at the spa desk is very cute 😆🤭 and the cost for a couple's massage seems to be around 6000 RMB, even after the discount. 😬 The expenses are quite internationalized 😂.
One disappointment is that the swimming pool is very small, and the height of the floor is not as high as you might expect. They also require you to wear a swim cap, and even if you're willing to buy one, they might be sold out 🤷♀️. However, having a swimming pool in such a tall building is no small feat, so it's understandable.
I end up having a private yoga session in the spa. 😊 During check-in, if you're interested, you can join a tour provided by the hotel to learn about historical artworks, which was interesting. The hotel pays great attention to detail, and what amazed me the most is their extensive use of marble, which almost feels like it's free. I absolutely love marble, so I was in my marble heaven 😅👍🥰.
The second time I visited Shanghai without kids, stayed at The Peninsula Hotel. It's possibly my fav hotel in Shanghai so far. We end up booking a suite and luckily end up with a corner suite with postcard like view. Moreover, the rooftop bar provides a panoramic view of Pudong and the Bund! I recommend sitting at the bar for the best view! The location is just right, not too high and not too far. 🍹 As soon as Mr. Yang got off the plane, he wanted to go look at some watch...... 🙄... He showed me a photo, I realized it was right next door so we just walked. 🤭 For friends who love watches, Patek Philippe's salon in Shanghai is one of the most beautiful in the world, even more upscale and luxurious than their flagship store in Geneva! It's located next to the former British embassy, understated yet elegant, I felt like I was in Europe for a moment.
Whether you're visiting China or planning to settle there, I recommend downloading the following apps:
支付宝 (Alipay) - payments
微信 (WeChat) - for communication, social networking, and payments.
百度地图 (Baidu Maps) - a Chinese mapping and navigation app.
滴滴 (Didi) - the Chinese version of Uber
美团 (Meituan) - a platform for food delivery and other services
Trip.com - for travel planning, hotel bookings, and travel information. accept foreign CC
携程 (Trip) - another popular app for travel booking and accommodations.
大众点评 (Da Zhong Dianping) - Chinese Yelp
These apps will help you navigate, communicate, and make payments more conveniently during your time in China.
When you want to visit a place or dinning, search on platforms like Meituan or Dianping, compare prices, and do your homework. The price differences can be significant, so it's worth researching. I do almost wish China get ride of these "groupon" buying options, is an extra step people have to take....
Many tourist attractions require reservations, and you can use your ID card or passport for booking. Remember to bring your ID for verification when you visit.
I don't recommend traveling during holidays unless you enjoy crowds! During the summer, Shanghai can be very hot, so indoor activities like shopping malls, museums, and large-scale family spa centers are recommended.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a message. Can't wait to continue my China Journey 2024.....! 😊✌