Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Shanghai accomadation and shopping

The last few nights we been enjoying a room at the International Youth Hostel Hiker located in the Bund area of Shanghai. Despite the association of hostels with youth, most hostels offer a range of accommodation options from bunk beds in dorm rooms and shared bathrooms to private rooms with en suite baths and cater to all traveler age groups. The hostel experience offers an opportunity to meet fellow travelers, share information and make new friends along the way. Most hostels have a communal kitchen, dining room, TV room and sometimes feature a restaurant and bar. Nine times out of ten we'd choose a hostel over a hotel simply for the social factor vs the isolation of another ubiquitous hotel room.

We lucked out finding a great base for our stay in Shanghai. Although, technically a youth hostel our accommodation is pretty deluxe, located on the top floor it's a tastefully decorated corner room, featuring a king size canopy bed, en suite bathroom, super high ceilings, A/C, ceiling fan, a large desk, couch, table, small armor, and 32”flat screen. A remarkable value for 360 yuan or about $54USD a night considering the location and the amenities.

Shanghai offers a travelers a juxtaposition of experiences. Really no surprise when you consider it's the most populous city in the world at around 14 million (4 times the size of Los Angles and with twice the population density). Ultramodern skyscrapers replete with posh restaurants and suave night clubs vs literal hole in the wall restaurants and street side vendors serving up traditional fare to fill a wayward traveler for less than a dollar. A 600ml beer at a corner market is less than fifty cents vs the same beer at a restaurant is three dollars and way up. Dinner for two at a local dumpling shop filled us up with tasty food for less than three dollars vs a city view restaurant in a high rise where you'd be lucky to escape with your wallet only one hundred dollars thinner.

Our hostel is located near the shopping meca of East Nanjing Road an extravaganza that stretches 6 kilometers and boasts over 1 million visitors every day. A pedestrian mall running from Peoples Square to the Bund offers a truly dizzying array of shopping possibilities and plenty of street hustlers offering visitors an opportunity to visit even more shops that line the adjacent streets. The street hustlers begin to sound like broken records as they offer small variation on their pitch. 'Excuse me sir what you looking for? A watch, bag or tee shirt' , 'Good shopping this way' as you continue to ignore the barrage of hustlers they continue to pace you and repeatedly ask 'what you looking for'. Within one block of the prime pedestrian mall of East Nanjing Road you might get five or more hustlers hounding you. My best advice is to absolutely ignore their existence. The smallest flinch or flash of eye contact will only prolong the unwanted interaction to the point that you would never walk more than a block in an entire afternoon. Outside of the prime tourist shopping areas all is normal and you enjoy your sightseeing and exploration of the city unperturbed.

Initially, we were expecting to make plenty of purchases during our visit to Shanghai. Since nearly everything is made in China we thought we could swoop in on some sweet deals. However, with the high pressure, mildly annoying sales atmosphere, requisite heavy negotiation and many inferior quality 'knock-off' goods we've decided we'll save our shopping for the USA. To be fair super high end, quality goods are available, but at prices for the rich and famous. One conclusion we've drawn after a fairly significant amount of world travel is that shopping in the USA generally offers superior selection, availability, and quality.

This weekend we're headed for scenic Hangzhou about 120 kilometers from Shanghai. Located on the scenic West Lake the area includes plenty of historical pagodas cultural sites to visit. Hangzhou is rated as one of the top ten most scenic cities in China. After booking a high-speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou I was a little shocked to find that this 'must see' city we'd be visiting has a metropolitan population of over 4 million which is bigger than Los Angles. The scale of China is slightly beyond incomprehensible and with a population in excess of 1.3 billion I suppose a city of a few million can still be 'natural and scenic'.

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