Once upon a time China was a vast and mysterious land closed to travellers - then the Western world happened upon its shores and an international trading settlement was born. During the Victorian era Shanghai became one of the most important international cosmopolitans the world had ever seen. In this bustling city of maze-like streets and dark alleys Chinese, British, French, American, Japanese, etc… met for commerce but did far more than that. The foreign world converged upon China's Shanghai and made it not only stylish, but also notorious. The following article discusses the Shanghai of yesterday and today.

Nanking Road was once a long stretch of shops and back alley corridors of still more shops - antique shops and opium dens, swank hotels and dark gambling rooms, tea houses and infamous prostitution brothels. When the Communists took over China all the streets, of course, were renamed, but even today, Shanghai retains its aura of mystery and sits poised ready to reclaim its former glory as the Paris of the Orient, a trendsetter and must place for the world to see. Today there are more than 800 cities and areas open for travel in China. Obtain the necessary Visas and fill out the official Customs forms and you are halfway there. Before embarking to Shanghai or any Chinese city, obtain some Chinese currency as well as foreign exchange certificates. All major credit cards are welcomed in China and there is no limit to the amount of foreign currency you can enter the country with - their markets will be happy to accept it!

While Shanghai's history is resplendent and colourful, today it wears a more sophisticated mask - quite like Paris in this regard. It is a place still reminiscent of its many cultures that once eeked out their sections of the city. Of course, even its location on the Eastern coast is smack dab in the middle of Northern and Southern China so it is also a conglomerate of Chinese cultures from various parts of the country. Many consider Shanghai the best place in China to shop. Antiques are still among the most sought after objects by tourists, but there are markets for artisan objects and crafts, clothing, jewellery, bookstores and specialty shops.

Photo of Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai
Yu Yuan Garden

Shanghai, as one may imagine, contains a wealth of wonderful sites to see. Although it is unlike other Chinese cities because of all the Western architecture it contains, its individual style makes it a one-of-a-kind in many ways. The old Chinese city is still a favourite haunt for travellers and many flock to the Xujiahui Cathedral located in the southwest section of the city. The Yu Garden and Huxinting Teahouse should also be on your retinue of stops. Other important sites include the Temple of the Jade Buddha, Jing'an Temple, Longhua Pagoda, Sun Yat-sens's former residence, Shanghai museum, Shaghai Art Gallery, Shanghai Zoo, Port, as well as various parks and markets.

Finally, there is a vast array of places to enjoy the nightlife of Shanghai. Travellers have a large network of hotels to choose from and many entertainments to attend. No journey to China should miss Shanghai. Its past is both mystifying and flamboyant; its present is alluring and culturally terrific. Get yourself a copy of Kazuo Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans to immerse yourself in the Shanghai of yesterday for the long journey there.