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07/05/2013

40 tips about Shanghai you can't find in any guidebook I

1. Photo worthy

Sign up for an over the top wedding photo series. If you’ve spent more than a couple of days in the city, you’ve surely seen the elaborately costumed and coiffed wedding couples posing for photos in select picturesque spots around town. Why not sign up for one yourself, either with an ironic twist (enact damsel -- or dashing gentleman -- in distress scenes?), or simply for a hilarious memory to show your grandkids?

Photo packages at any of the professional studios typically include a variety of costume changes, a make-up artist, and often a printed photo book with your selection of images.

2. Scrub up in Koreatown

Shanghai, as a tourist destinatin for last minute China travel deals, has a plethora of bath houses and massage places to choose from (a thorough overview here), but our top pick is New Star, smack in the middle of Koreatown. It’s open 24-hours-a-day. Entrance is a flat RMB 58 fee, and you add on Shanghai's famous massages and other treatments ranging from RMB 28-268.

3. Go strawberry picking

Less than 50 km from the center of the city lies the village of Zhaotun, littered with strawberry farms. Most of them are open to the public from early-November through May, and charge RMB 10-20 per kilo. Buses leave every couple of hours from Madang Lu (Huangpi Nan Lu metro station).

Qingpu Zhaotun Strawberry Park, 11 Luopu, Zhaotun Village, near Laobaishi Lu, Qingpu District, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., +86 21 5921 7231, season runs November-May

4. Custom-order art

At this alleyway full of tiny galleries and artist workshops, you can custom-order a copy of any painting in the world, or you can commission a portrait or a painting made from your favorite photograph. Prices are reasonable; many painters are young graduates of art schools

5. Skip the SWFC Observation Deck

Instead of hitting the Shanghai World Financial Center, have tea (or something stronger) in the lobby of the Park Hyatt, on the 87th floor of the same building. You’ll save a bit of money and still get a stellar view of the city in the deluxe environs of the world’s highest hotel. Go Monday to Thursday to avoid the RMB 100 entry fee.

6. Make like Sandra Bullock in "Speed"

Hop on a random city bus and see where you end up. You’re guaranteed some excellent people-watching. It’s the best RMB 2 you’ll ever spend. You can check out bus routes (English), but this Shanghai adventure is more fun the less planning you do in advance for your popular China toursin Shanghai.

7. Shop for shades

Whether you’re on the search for some gimmicky sunglasses or prescription lenses, the Shanghai Eyeglasses Market has it all. Ignore the sticker price and bargain away.

8. Eat healthy hot pot

Chinese-style hot pot is delicious, but if you’re looking to cut back on the grease, we recommend Japanese-style hot pot (shabu shabu) as a healthy alternative. The standard broth is simply hot water and seaweed, which sounds boring but is actually quite refreshing, especially when mixed with some tangy ponzu or sesame sauce. Gokohai is our go-to spot, with an all-you-can-eat deal for RMB 88.

9. Have a makeshift outdoor cocktail hour

For those familiar with places where open container laws are rigorously enforced, drinking in Shanghai’s great outdoors holds a particular thrill for your China travelin Shanghai. It’s a simple three-step process:

1. Purchase your poison from your nearest convenience store

2. Plop down on some grass (be wary of the famous Shanghai grass Nazis)

3. Drink

Our favorite leafy hideaway is the park on the grounds of the Okura Garden Hotel.

10. Have a collegiate lunch

Pack a picnic lunch and head to the verdant State-level Garden Unit for Excellent Afforestation, aka Tongji University. Technically it’s trespassing, but if you're looking for one of the quietest spots in Shanghai, this is it. Soak in the calm with lunch.

Tongji University, Siping Campus, 1239 Siping Lu, near Zhangwu Lu, Metro line 10, Tongji University Station

11. Shanghai graffiti

Photograph yourself or just the fantastic graffiti art at Moganshan Lu near Changhua Lu, one of the only places in Shanghai where this street art is quietly sanctioned, just a block away from the renowned warehouse art galleries of M50. Spraypainted on the cement wall are dozens of artworks by both young Shanghai artists and international graffiti artists. The graffiti wall includes part of Changhua Lu as it crosses Suzhou Creek; you can walk down the main stretch of Moganshan Lu from the intersection with Lu Changhua to see some of the best examples of graffiti in Shanghai.

12. Be an urban beach bum

RMB 20 gets you a lawn chair on the idyllic shores of Sunny Beach, smack in the middle of the city. Sure, there isn’t an actual “shore” to speak of on this sand-covered parking lot, but it’s still one of the best and newest ways to spend an afternoon taking in the city.

13. Go on an organic farm tour at BioFarm

This 100-acre organic farm launched in 2004 and is located about 10 minutes drive from Pudong Airport, is planted with a lush variety of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers and even has a sprout warehouse. The friendly community of farmers welcomes visitors for both organized group tours and private visits.

14. Educational outing

Visit one of the quirkier museums in town, like the typewriter museum which displays dozens of historic and antique typing machines collected by a connoisseur of all things typist. Or get some local history in at the the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center with a huge collection of historic original posters illustrating Maoist and Communist themes.

15. Shop local

One Shanghai area in particular is dense with local designers. Head to Changle Lu and make your way down from Xiangyang Lu to Chengdu Nan Lu to find some of the hippest Shanghai labels and outfits from hip-hop hoodies to haute couture and avant garde apparel. Where you can buy some good souvenirs for your friends and family at budget price after your popular China tour package.

16. A walk down Yao Ming’s memory lane

Halfway down the leafy French Concession block of Kangping Lu, between Wanping and Wuxing, lies the 1930s apartment complex where Yao Ming lived as a child (Apartment 602). According to Yao’s father, the family decided to remove the transom over the front door to prevent the younger Yao from hitting his head.

17. In the kitchen

Aspiring or experienced cooks: a great way to explore the local cuisine is to take a wet market tour and then a wok cooking class (RMB 200 per person) with Chinese Cooking Workshop. Local cooking teachers help you choose fresh ingredients at the market and then lead you through simple, tasty recipes back at their spacious workshop. Check website for details and to sign up online.

18. Tune in

Watch free movies in cool venues every week. Friendly neighborhood dive Dada Bar hosts Sub-Cinema, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. Sample movies recently shown include "Naked Lunch," "Blade Runner," and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Popcorn is free.

Another cozy film event across town is hosted by Vienna Café, showing arty films every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Screening is free, but reserve ahead to ensure a seat and save time before or after the flick to explore the quiet confines of Shaoxing Lu.

19. Hit the road

Rent a bike and explore the tree-lined streets of the French Concession which is always listed in the top 10 China tourson two wheels. Sponsored by the Xuhui Tourism Bureau, this affordable bike rental service (RMB 2-4 per hour) offers bikes at convenient points around the French Concession. The bright orange bikes are all made by historic brand Forever. Bike rental cards can be bought at two locations; Make sure to bring RMB 400, for your deposit plus rental credit and a passport or ID card.

Bike Card Registration points, Xujiahui Tourist Information Center, 1068 Zhaojiabang Lu, +86 400 820 1898, hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wukang Lu Tourist Information Center, 393 A Wukang Lu, hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

20. Click
Are you a retro-chic photographer? Browse a bewildering selection of LOMO cameras and all their accessories at the friendly Lomography Gallery Store. Check out their excellent website for tips on shooting like: “Approach the objects of your lomographic desire as close as possible.”

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