Some practicalities before leaving (including advice to cruisers)
05 July 2012
Noonsite says there is ‘a berth for foreign yachts’ under the Oriental Pearl Tower. We couldn’t see any space there, but there are a few pontoons with motor cruisers in that vicinity. There aren’t any charts (that we found) available online, and the pace of change suggests that UKHO Admiralty Chart 1601 will need careful checking. Noonsite also points to a requirement for a pilot and advance warning to the Chinese authorities, but seems to dismiss Shanghai as only a provisioning stop en route to the offshore islands. That’s a bit like saying that Rome might be convenient on the way to Sicily! Despite all the challenges, in the extremely unlikely event that we cruise the China Sea we would definitely try to spend time in central Shanghai.
We reckon you could buy or get made almost anything in Shanghai that a boat could need. There is a fascinating conglomeration of small workshops, tool shops, sources for wires, cables, clips, pumps, ties, pipes and all sorts of other things. It runs from the corner of Fujian Lu and Beijing Lu, immediately south of the Suzhou creek. We spent a long, hot hour hunting through the piles, including examining a jewellers tool shop in great detail. Sadly (for the vendors) we didn’t buy anything this trip, but space will be required on our way back to Roaring Girl.
The currency is yuan or renminbi, currently running at a realistic conversion rate of about 9.2 to GBP1. (It looks better on the screen but that’s before conversion costs.) You can buy it outside the country if, like us, you like to arrive with a little cash. You will get a better rate from ATMs in the country, and they are everywhere.
We felt Shanghai was very safe. Of course it’s a huge city, and there are poor and desperate people here. Just like London, Paris or Auckland. But we came much closer to having our bags dipped in Pisa this June than anywhere in China.
Transport around Shanghai is easy. The main centre east of the river is roughly square, and the streets run north/south and east/west in a grid pattern. The older warrens would be easy to get lost in, but we only ventured into the touristy areas, rather than some of the side streets between the grids that you can still see in parts of the city. Every street has a clear sign on all edges of every junction in both Chinese and English. The Metro is simple, bilingual and covers a lot of the city.
Mind you, the buses (allegedly only RMB2 to go anywhere) were only signed in Chinese and we chickened out of them! Taxis in central Shanghai seemed to be standardised at about RMB15, except in the rain when the price was anything the driver thought he could get away with. Getting to or from the airport seems to be a given opportunity for taxis to try and rip you off, but should cost about RMB180 from the centre of town. The maglev train costs RMB100 each and is quite hard work with big cases; if you will still want a cab from the inner station, it is probably worth getting one straight from the airport itself. (The maglev is great fun though, and travels at 300km per hour!)
Air conditioning was essential in Shanghai in July. The residents were complaining about the heat (caused by a high that seems to have taken up residence over Southern China) and humidity. If you go there at this time of year, make sure your accommodation has air conditioning.
Food is an adventure. We had both good and bad, and found the famed street food limited, especially compared to Hong Kong. You can find food not only from all over China but across the world, from America to Turkey. We were happy to point to a menu in Chinese or Korean, and see what came. If you want to know a bit more about what you’re putting into your mouth, find a restaurant with good pictures or an English menu.
The general advice is not to drink the water. It is technically potable, but is said to contain heavy metals from the river. It certainly tastes disgusting. Every corner has a shop selling bottled water. Buy the Chinese water with a white label with red characters: it is a quarter the price of Evian.