I spent the month of November exploring the nooks and crannies of China with Paige Claassen for Marmot‘s Lead Now Tour.  We traveled high and low searching for rock climbing potential in Qingdao along the East China Sea, we wandered among the limestone karst formations of Yangshuo, and finally, we discovered the world’s largest city, Shanghai.  When you only have four days to explore the biggest city on earth, the challenge of what to see and where to go is daunting to say the least.  Under the guidance of China Highlights, we set off on a whirlwind tour to some of the top destinations around Shanghai.  We were tasked with creating a three part video series about Shanghai’s best tourist attractions and this is what we came away with.

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Dongtai Road Antique Market:
This short section of road is jam packed with vendors selling everything you could ever imagine.  Jade jewelry, buddha statues, antiques, instruments, bird cages, the list goes on and on.  Having “antique” in the name is misleading and it is likely that the majority of the antiques were fabricated in the past few years and made to look old.  Either way, there are some rare treasures to be found if you dig deep enough into the crammed storefronts.  This area is worth about an hour of time and if you are a good bargainer, this is a great place to test out your negotiating skills.

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As we were leaving we walked across the street and stumbled into our favorite part of Shanghai, the flower, bird, fish, and insect market.  It felt like we stepped back in time as we crammed into a tiny maze of animal and insect vendors all shouting over the cacophony of cricket chirps, dog barks, and bird squawks.  In a seemingly endless zoo of animals, our senses were overwhelmed.  Too many things to look at, so many unique smells…  We learned about cricket and grasshopper fighting as we watched business men is shiny suits inspecting specimens under a microscope and holding them up to the light to hear their chirps, deciding if they were able bodied fighters.  We saw trained birds attached to their handlers with a string pierced through their necks to keep them close.  We even saw buckets of turtles that are used as keychain decorations for about a day or two until they die and are tossed in the trash.

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If you want to see a more realistic side of China I highly recommend checking out the insect market, I will never forget it.

French Concession and the Bund:
To see a nice twist of old China vs. new China the French Concession is worth a visit.  From one side of the Yangtze River you can see the old style Chinese architecture of the French Concession and only a kilometer away across the world’s busiest shipping channel you get the iconic Shanghai skyline of the Pudong District.  Pudong is home to modern China, with the infamous Oriental Pearl Tower, the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and Shanghai Tower which is still under construction and will be the 2nd largest building in the world.  Thousands of tourists line up along the riverfront to take photos day and night of the incredible skyline.

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Zhujiajiao Water Town:
Last on our tour was a site outside of  Shanghai proper in an old fishing village called Zhujiajiao.  This town in over 1,700 years old and there is a nice walking tour followed by a canal gondola that lasts for about 15 minutes and takes you through the oldest part of the town on the water.  The highlight of our visit to the water town was definitely the “set captive animals free bridge” where for less then a dollar you can purchase a few goldfish, walk to the top of an old stone bridge overlooking the canal, and liberate the fish into the river.  One of the strangest rituals I have ever heard of and we watched as scores of asian tourists freed their captive fish into the canal like it was a normal thing to do.  It is also important to note that there must be some sort of retrieval system in place under the bridge that recaptures the “freed” fish and allows the vendors to sell them again the next day in a sad twist of irony.

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We didn’t even scratch the surface of Shanghai with our 4 day tour but it sure felt like we packed it in.  I could spend years exploring the streets and subways there and I have a list of things I already want to do when I return.  In the largest city in the world you can see deep into the past and well into the future all in an afternoon tour.  The diversity of culture, architecture, and experiences you can have in Shanghai make it a must see for any world traveler.  Check out China Highlights tour offerings and get out there and explore!