I had a really kick-ass flight on United that would get me from Sydney to Beijing to Pusan to Shanghai for a ridiculous 17,500 miles, with stopovers long enough to enjoy both the Great Wall and Shanghai Disney.
Yet, I chose to stick around in Australia to take in ANZAC Day, and ended up going from Sydney to Shanghai on a direct, daytime flight. Despite the good times in Australia, it’s a decision I still second-guess, but so it goes.
It’s nearly impossible to get a China tourist visa outside of your home country, but you can still take advantage of their Visa-free travel allowance. 72 hours in Beijing and 144 hours in Shanghai, which is quick, but sufficient enough to get a taste of China.
With just 5 days in Shanghai, I set out to accomplish only a handful of things:
1) Eat Chinese food.
2) Go to Decathlon, a huge sporting goods store with great stuff.
3) Visit the Bund area of Shanghai.
4) Hit a soccer game and see Carlos Tevez and Oba Martins play.
5) Go to the new Shanghai Disney.
The MAGLEV – magnetic levitation train – from the airport to the core of Shanghai was impressive. Smooth, fast, and clean, the 50 RMB trip was a treat. Though they did take my handy knife due to security measures, unfortunately. I was kinda sad to see that little guy go. He’d helped me a ton while camping in Africa and assisted in dissuading pickpockets in Ethiopia.
Getting to my hostel was a different story. Now that T-mobile had given me the boot, I had no service, so I depended on Wi-Fi. And open networks were really scant. It took a few false starts after Google Maps misled me, but eventually the hostel owner met me at KFC.
The Dream World Hostel would’ve been hard to find, even with good directions. Located on the bottom floor of a huge apartment tower in a development with many identical apartment towers, it was really just a three bedroom apartment with 2 bathrooms and 8 beds. It had its shortcomings, but the owner was hospitable and it was a 10-minute walk to the metro station. And only two stops from Shanghai Disney Station!
Yes, it was the first big thing I did on my trip to China: go to an American park. Well, second, after gambling on a bite to eat. On my way to the metro station, I saw locals lining up at a stand. And, as usual on this trip, I go where the locals go, without hesitation, even if I don’t know what they serve. So, after saying, “Ni hao,” I just pointed to the things the guy in line before me got. The dumplings were damn good (and cheap)!
It’d been a while since randoms asked for pictures with me, but it happened here at the Metro. A few parents asked me to pose with their little Chinese princes and princesses, so I obliged. It made me miss my niece and wish she could experience Shanghai Disney with me. But it was a solo mission.
Alas, she would’ve slowed me down anyway.
You see, people run out of the train as soon at it gets to Shanghai Disney Station and don’t stop until they reach the gate half a mile later. I’m not talking a light jog. It’s a sprint, up a couple flights of stairs, past the exit turnstiles, and all the way to the entrance. Crowds were already gathered by the time I arrived (45 minutes before gates opened), so I was glad to be there early.
After paying 370 RMB for a one-day ticket (about 54 USD), I got in line and waited.
An English map and a FastPass to Soaring Over the Horizon were the first things I grabbed upon entering. Soaring has no single-rider line, unlike Tron or Pirates of the Caribbean, so I am glad I did. An hour after opening, the waiting time was over 120 minutes. Shanghai Disney is busy, even in off-peak days.
Though single-rider lines often had plenty of groups and couples, they mostly paid off, especially on Pirates of the Caribbean. The Pirates at Shanghai Disney was insanely cool, and unlike any of its sister rides at other parks. It was very immersive experience with new technology, huge screens, and boats that could spin. Sure, besides the familiar “Yo ho, yo ho,” everything was in Mandarin, but it was fun. People like to complain about that little detail, but, hey, you’re in China, what did you expect?
My only complaint was the insane amount of people who experienced the ride from behind a phone screen, ruining things for the rest of us. Bright phones on a dark ride are a bad mix, especially when people wanted to capture every single second, every time.
I ended up going on Pirates a handful of times while there (waiting for seats in front to avoid bright phones as much as possible). Same with Tron, which was an awesome roller coaster on which you sit as if you were on a LightCycle. In the dark (mostly). Great soundtrack and fun action inside. Worth the wait.
Over the course of two days, I went on pretty much everything at Shanghai Disney; multiple times when called for. The single-rider lines were clutch, often. Without a doubt, Pirates & Tron take the cake, there, though Soaring (over different parts of the world) was cool. The castle was HUGE, and you can even walk through it. The nighttime show they project on it was worth sticking around for. And leaving the park for 4 hours each afternoon to nap or shop (Decathlon ftw!) while the lines and heat were at their peak was a good call.
I’d heard about problems at Shanghai Disney, which was less than a year old, but never experienced the extremes (like public defecation). Yes, it was crowded. Especially during the evening projection/fireworks show, when it was like sardines, with strollers parked in terrible spots, and people pushing their way to the front constantly. So, yeah, the personal space was a bit tighter, people eat loudly, with their mouths open, and many miss the trashcans, but it was still a good experience.
The Bund was impressive and downtown Shanghai enormous. And polluted as hell. Getting around was easy with the metro card and finding decent street food was, too. Decathlon came through, and I am now the proud owner of a quick-dry towel and prescription swimming goggles (20 USD!). After all the partying in Australia, not having a single drink in China was kinda nice. And, my last meal was awesome since my host invited me to join her and her friends for a home-cooked dinner.
Shanghai Shenhua’s match was canceled due to a fire at the stadium, so I didn’t get to the see some soccer. And getting out of China at ungodly hour proved to be more difficult and expensive than I planned. The Didi my host booked didn’t show up at 4:15 am, as arranged, and there were no cabs rolling around the area when I needed it most.
Luckily, I happened upon a random guy with a car. He spoke no English, but I somehow arranged to get to the airport using bad Mandarin and hand signals. For most of the ride I hoped for two things:
- That he would get me to the right airport, as there are two in Shanghai.
- That I didn’t miss my flight on account of being unconscious in an icy bathtub without a liver.
In the end, it worked out well and I made my flight to Osaka.
The quick trip to Shanghai was a tasty and fun adventure that got me back to that great feeling of being in a foreign place without the ability to understand anything.