Shanghai - Recapturing the Grandeur of China

Strolling down the main thoroughfare called Nanjing Lu, it's hard not to feel the heartbeat of Asia's fastest-growing city that refers to itself as 'The Pearl of the Orient.'  The ambitious metropolis once known as the 'Paris of the East' is home to 16 million people fixated on the concept of ''lifestyle revolution,' showcased by towering high-rises, contemporary urban living, fine dining, and an electrifying nightlife. Having embraced internationalism and a competitive market-driven economy, it now hosts the nation's stock market, accounts for approximately one-fifth of the country's gross national product, and serves as the most important industrial base in the nation.

The top of the Three on the Bund Complex and the restaurant at the top - Courtesy Impact Asia / Three on the Bund

Although Shanghai is still undergoing a multi-billion dollar facelift, the high-tech skyline and ultra-modern office buildings are colored by its colonial past and centuries-old architecture. It's hard to fathom that there were only 150 high-rise structures in the city 20 years ago; today, there are more than 3,000, and the number continues to grow as Shanghai prepares to host 70 million visitors for the 2010 World Expo. From the quaint tree-lined streets of the former French Concession to the sea of yellow cranes and neon-lit high-rises towering above the cosmopolitan shopping centers along the Huangpu River, Shanghai is a city of contrast and contradiction that yearns for exploration and discovery.

Getting to Shanghai
There are a couple carriers that fly directly from Los Angeles to Shanghai, including United and China Eastern Airlines. If you plan on visiting other cities in Asia such as Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Bangkok or Taipei, there are a few local carriers that specialize in intra-continent travel. Dragon Air (www.dragonair.com) is one of the most reliable carriers in Hong Kong offering frequent flights to and from Shanghai and local destinations in Asia.

Attractions
Shanghai as a whole encompasses a vast area. The city center, however, is a small district called Puxi (meaning, 'west side of the river'). On the east side of the Huangpu River is Shanghai's future known as Pudong ('east side of the river'), but with the exception of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a gaudy spaceship-like tower with panoramic views of Shanghai, most of the city's top attractions are located in Puxi.

Front shot of the exterior of Three on the Bund - Courtesy Impact Asia / Three on the Bund

One of Shanghai's most elegant thoroughfares is the one-mile long stretch along the Huangpu River known as The Bund. Located on the Bund is a newly renovated seven-story complex known as Three on the Bund, containing two of the best restaurants in the City Jean Georges, which brings the innovate French cuisine of world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten to China, and Laris, featuring the cuisine of internationally-renowned chef David Laris (don't miss Laris' seared scallops and his pandan leaf panna cotta!). For honeymooners or families looking for a private dining experience, reserve one of the two private rooms at The Cupola, a former bell tower, sitting at the very top of Three on the Bund, offering breathtaking 360-degree views of Shanghai. 

Xiantiandi is Shanghai's answer to Universal City Walk or the Grove. It is the city's trendiest upscale pedestrian mall featuring retail shops, coffee houses, bars and restaurants. Not far away, the Xiangyang Fashion Market, also called the 'Fake Market,' is an outdoor shopper's paradise with hundreds of stalls selling 'designer label' clothing and accessories. Be prepared to ward off incessant hustlers who will pester you to follow them to see their private collection of fake watches, DVDs, and clothing.

View of the Shanghai skyline from a Grand Hyatt Shanghai room! - Courtesy of the Grand Hyatt

Shanghai's main square, known as the People's Square, is the social and cultural center of the city, surrounded by the Shanghai Museum, Grand Theater, and Urban Planning Exhibition Center. The museum is one of the highlights of the city, housing China's premier collection of relics and artifacts with eleven galleries exhibiting 120,000 works of art, including Chinese paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jade, furniture, coins, and one of the finest bronze collections in the world.

Although almost always thronged by hordes of tourists, the Yu Gardens is a piece of Shanghai's history dating back to 1559, featuring a maze of classical Ming and Qing dynasty pavilions, bridges and sparkling ponds. One other traditional landmark worth visiting is the Jade Buddha Temple, an active Buddhist sanctuary featuring symmetrical halls and courtyards filled with statutes, Buddhist paintings and scriptures, and a 7-foot, 2,200-pound Burmese Buddha carved from a single piece of white jade.

Gorgeous Guestroom - Courtesy of the Grand Hyatt

No visit to Shanghai is complete without experiencing the bustling chic nightlife. The Cotton Club is a smoky blues club that is considered to be the place to go for live jazz music in the city. Guandii's minimalist trendy bar welcomes a wealthy mix of young adults, while Bar Rouge, located on the Bund, is a playground for twenty and thirty-somethings, offering pricey cocktails at its modern rectangular bar, and spectacular night-time views of the Bund and Pudong skyline from its massive patio.

Places to Stay
The world's tallest hotel, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai (www.shanghai.grand.hyatt.com; rooms from $436) in the Pudong district, has 555 sophisticated Asian-themed rooms, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, stunning views, spacious marble bathrooms and Tang Dynasty poems tastefully inscribed onto each bed's headboard. The hotel's interior is defined by a modern art-deco style, intertwined with age-old Chinese traditional decorative art an lustrous furnishings. The Grand Hyatt offers guests and visitors a choice of 12 unique restaurants and bars, including Cloud 9, where guests enjoy a dazzling bird's eye view of the city while sipping cocktails from the 87th floor sky lounge. The Grand Cafe is one of the world's most visually stunning cafes with dramatic panoramic vistas through the double-height floor to ceiling windows on the 54th floor of the hotel. The hotel even boasts the 'highest fitness center in the world' on the 57th floor with a 'skypool' stretching from window to window so guests can swim with the birds.

The St. Regis (www.stregis.com/shanghai; doubles from $370) is also located in the Pudong district of the city. Standard guestrooms are the largest in the city (516 square feet) and are elegantly appointed. The hotel is the only hotel in the city offering true 24-hour butler service. I even tested the extent of their butler service by requesting my butler retrieve a SIM card for my cellular phone and locate cough syrup to quell my bark; I'm happy to report both tasks were completed within 1 hour! In addition, all guests are entitled to executive lounge access for complimentary beverages and cocktails each evening between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and free pressing of two garments. The St. Regis is ideal for the business traveler looking for world-class service and attention to detail.

The Portman Ritz-Carlton (www.ritzcarlton.com/hotels/shanghai; rooms from about $350) is conveniently located in the heart of the city on Nanjing Road. Minutes away are the Jade Buddha Temple, the Shanghai Museum, the Bund and luxury shopping. The 50-story hotel offers 578 of Shanghai's most spacious guest rooms and the hotel's ideal location, stylish facilities and gold standard service make the Ritz Carlton hotel one of best hotels in Asia. The two-story lobby, exuding classic refinement with marble and chrome decor, is the perfect meet-up spot. The hotel also devotes three floors solely to its fitness and has its own deli and four first-class restaurants including Palladio, one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.

Finally, the Four Seasons Shanghai (www.fourseasons.com), which opened in 2002, is a 37-story luxury hotel located in downtown Puxi. The lobby of the hotel is the most elegant in the city and serves as an oasis to the dynamic downtown area. Because of its location, the hotel caters to its largely business clientele with impeccable service and a 24-hour business center and gym. While Nanjing Road and the Shanghai Museum are within a short walk, the full-service spa and fine restaurants provide convincing reasons to stay in.

Former Chinese Premier Deng Xiaoping once said that if China is a dragon, Shanghai is its head. After you visit this unforgettable Chinese city, you will no doubt see why Shanghai is the face of the world's most flourishing country.

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