There can be few more welcome sights after a long-haul flight than a chauffeur at arrivals holding up a sign emblazoned with your name. The flight was delayed by an hour at departure airport but needless to say the staff was patiently standing by. Shortly after this greeting I was en route to Jing An Shangri-La Hotel in the comfort of a Mercedes S-Class.
Strictly speaking, Shanghai has more than one city centre and is divided into Pu Xi (West Shanghai) and Pu Dong (East Shanghai) by the Huangpu River. While Pu Dong, home to the iconic Oriental Pearl TV Tower and an ever-growing assortment of skyscrapers, has developed into a finance and trade hub since the early 1990s, Pu Xi is where you find the soul of the city.
With a history stretching back more than six hundred years, Pu Xi has experienced colonisation when the city was divided and controlled by Britain, France, America, Germany, Japan and others as well as the prosperous 1920s when Shanghai was dubbed the “Paris of the East”.
Jing An Shangri-La Hotel is named after a nearby iconic landmark, Jing An Temple (1686 Nanjing West Road, Jing An District, Shanghai). Built in 247AD, it is one of the best known temples and a major tourist attraction in Shanghai. The entrance to the temple is less than ten minutes’ walk from the hotel but for now I was keen to see what the Shangri-La itself had to offer.
As a guest of the Horizon Club, I could complete check-in in my Grand Premier King room. The 62m² room includes a full-sized executive work station, spacious sitting area, bedroom, marble bathroom with heated floor and tub, a separate shower room and a decent sized dressing room.
It also offers uninterrupted views of the city and the nearby traffic artery – Yan’an Elevated Expressway. The sprawling Shanghai Exhibition Centre (also known as Sino-Soviet Friendship Building, 1000 Yan’an Road, Jiang An District, Shanghai) is visible from the east side of the hotel as, on a clear day, are Pu Dong’s Oriental Pearl Tower and skyscrapers.
Horizon Club membership also provides access to the Horizon Lounge where I enjoyed a Chinese style breakfast the next morning while taking in the breathtaking city views from the 55th floor. The display is equally impressive by night when the lounge serves wine, cocktails and canapés.
Other dining options in the Shangri-La include the Summer Palace which serves south-east Chinese cuisine with Cantonese flair. In the Pantry Chamber, where yum cha and noodles are served for breakfast, the open-plan kitchen offers diners a view of the skilful art of dumpling-making as well as the incredible number of bamboo steamers used in the morning service.
One of the many reasons to stay in Jing An Shangri-La Hotel is its close vicinity to Nanjing West Road and the French Concession, a personal favourite area of this enormous metropolis. Although French colonisation ended in 1943 after the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the area retains its distinct European architecture and character. With its tree-lined streets, boutique fashion stores, cafes, bars and restaurants, the French Concession is a real oasis from the frenetic pace of Shanghai and a charming neighbourhood. As you would expect, the area now boasts some of the most expensive real estate in Shanghai with many historic mansions and villas converted into high-end hotels or other commercial establishments.
Nanjing West Road is the west extension of the famous shopping street, the Shanghai equivalent of London’s Sloane Street or the Champs-Elysees in Paris. Starting at People’s Square and ending at Jing An Temple, it is more upmarket than its eastern counterpart. High-end shopping malls, prime office buildings and international luxury brands such as Gucci, Cartier and Prada have boutiques along this road.
One particular section of the road is home to more than twenty prestigious watch shops next door to each other. From familiar makes such as Rolex, TAG Heuer to lesser known brands, the price tags are, needless to say, astronomic but luckily window shopping is free.
Luckily not everything on Nanjing West Road is prohibitively expensive: you are also close to some Shanghai’s most reasonably priced food. At the intersection of Wujiang Road, you will find one of the city’s best known food hubs – Wujang Road Leisure and Food Street. You can often tell which restaurant is the most popular by the size of the queue outside.
While it is not hard to find international flavours here such as Japanese ramen, Korean hot pot and Italian pasta, our recommendation is to check out some of Shanghai’s iconic local eateries. Top of this list is Yang’s Dumplings (chain food outlets, Level 2, 269 Wujiang Road, Jiang An District, Shanghai) which recently opened a store in Sydney’s Burwood. The dumplings are popular amongst locals for their thin skin, juicy filling and crunchy fried bottom. Other than traditional pork, seafood or vegetables mixed with pork are alternative fillings to sample.
Next door to Yang’s Dumpling is Shanghai’s gift to the rest of the world – Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant (chain food outlets, Level 2, 269 Wujiang Road, Jiang An District, Shanghai). Because local delicacy hairy crab was in season, we opted for half pork / half crab fillings for our dumplings. For the uninitiated, the technique to eating this delicacy is to bite a small hole in the skin, blow on it to cool the filling down and suck out all the juice before taking a bite.
Ruby (chain cake shops, 198 Wujiang Road, Jiang An District, Shanghai) is a bakery chain in Shanghai most famous for its square cream sponge cake. In 1980s China cream cake was seen as a capitalist decadency and a slice was a rare treat only to be enjoyed on very special occasions. After many decades and the arrival of western-style bakeries and patisseries, it’s great to see Ruby continuing to follow its original recipes.
Another long-running bakery on Nanjing Road is Kai Si Ling (1001 Nanjing Road West, Jing An District, Shanghai), a household name in Shanghai since 1928. The cream horn and chocolate éclair are second to none and are must-tries when you visit.
Jing An District is not only a hotspot for shopping and food, but provides insights into China’s revolution and rich history. For example, Chairman Mao’s 1920 Residence (63 An’yi Road, Jing An District, Shanghai) is only footsteps away from the Shangri-La Hotel. Other historical figures such as Xu Zhimo, a famous early 20-century poet and Eileen Zhang, one of the most influential modern Chinese writers, all called Jing An District home.
Nearby inside Jing An Park (1649 Nanjing Road West, Jing An District, Shanghai) opposite to the temple, locals took advantage of the National Day public holiday and practised Tai Ji and Street Dance, both popular group activities amongst the middle aged.
Rain fell on Shanghai from the minute I landed but it could not dampen my enthusiasm to explore this fascinating city. There are still many local cuisines to try, hidden cafes and bookstores to explore, and historic and contemporary museums to visit. The Jing An Shangri-La is a well-connected base for exploring the city’s many attractions and also provides comfort and luxury after a long day of sightseeing.
Jing An Shangri-La
1218 Yan’an Middle Rd, Jingan Qu, Shanghai, China
Phone: +86 21 2203 8888
I Ate My Way Through stayed as a guest of Jing An Shangri-La Hotel