Just four months ago, Foodamentals published a weekend trip guide to Taipei that expelled the notion that international weekend trips to Asia from the US was impossible. As a result, we’ve probably(indirectly) sold countless number of 3-day airfare tickets to Taipei, a landfill worth of stinky tofu and enough bottle service at Room18 to keep Russia drunk. Unfortunately since then, the same ole weekend destinations hasn’t really changed much. Vegas hasn’t gotten its groove back, Los Angeles is still a traffic filled mess and New York City is still New York City(although I’m partial to Shake Shack). However, weekend destinations to Asia are the new ish.
Rather than go into a spiel about how domestic weekend trips are boring and try to justify why international weekend trips are awesome, let me point you to the above link for reasons on why you should do it. This being our second go-around, we can forgo all the formalities and simply state that going to Asia for a weekend is badass.
Our goal is simple. It is to find destinations that we can get to(and back) for one weekend without taking a single day off. Preferably places we can see, eat and play, all within the span of 40 hours or less. We believe you can maximize your experience in one city by being in that city for a short amount of time. Its kind of like eating at a buffet with a time limit(otherwise known as a Chinese buffet), you don’t have time for mundane chit chat or lollygagging, you need to go go go! Back in October, we did that with Taipei. Now, we set our sights for the Pearl of the Orient – Shanghai.
Because we are a food site, its only fitting that we intend to gorge ourselves on the most bodacious foods that Shanghai has to offer. Of course, if we were cows and had three stomachs, we wouldn’t have to stop. But you know, because we are a bunch of meat bags with flesh covering, we need to build in some time buffers so that we can properly digest what we ate. Not having been to Shanghai, we needed some help. Therefore, we enlisted the help of a local fixer to help introduce us to some grub and make sure we are making effective use of our limited time.
Seeing as how we learned a crapload from the last trip, here are our objectives for this weekend trip.
- Make this entire trip possible without taking more than 3 – 4 hours off of work(enough time for a doctor’s visit).
- Hit up at least 10 local eateries.
- See/experience two to three iconic sights.
- Take taxi’s instead of subways to save on time.
- Eating McDonalds to break up the monotony of Chinese food is acceptable.
- Try not to end up in a Chinese jail.
COSTS AND FLIGHTS
From the last trip, there was a lot of discussion on the timing of purchasing airfare. Keep in mind, airfare can be notoriously finicky and prices can change on a whim. However, flights to Shanghai(without accounting for any promotional prices) are usually the cheapest in January, September and anytime there isn’t a US or Chinese holiday.
Expect to spend about $1000 USD for a roundtrip ticket on United Airlines. Here is a sample fare from United Airlines that departs on Friday afternoon and gets back on Monday morning at 8:40am.
There are cheaper fares out there that may require a layover in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and even Vancouver. These fares are usually about $100 – $300 cheaper. But, there’s no point in taking those as this is a weekend trip and you are trying to maximize your stay in Shanghai. For a more authentic Chinese experience, there is always the exciting option of taking a government owned airline such as China Eastern Air. Fares are usually a tad cheaper, service is a crapshoot and emergency exit doors can be opened at any given point in time. Its not for the feint of heart.
Yes, the airfare isn’t exactly dirt cheap. But here’s the thing, Shanghai has some of the cheapest high end accommodations for a first class city in the entire world. Not as cheap as Bangkok, but we are talking about $100 for 5 star accommodations. Food, transportation and beer are all incredibly affordable by Western standards. All in all, you can expect to spend about $1300 – $1500 USD for this entire weekend. Which is essentially five spins on the roulette wheel in Las Vegas(for us anyhow).
Here’s the cost breakdown.
Plane Ticket: $1096
Hotel x2 Nights: $167
Food + Drinks + Taxis + 7Eleven Runs: $150
Total Expenditures: $1413 (approximate)
At a glance, this trip may not seem as cheap as the Taipei trip. The higher upfront cost of the flight is offset by the cheaper hotel, food and transportation. So in reality, you can probably end up spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $1200 – $1300 for a weekend(which is on par with Taipei). But hey, it’ll make for one hell of a story you can share on Tinder.
FRIDAY AFTERNOON (PACIFIC STANDARD TIME)
1:35 PM: Depart San Francisco International Airport
United Airlines flight 857 is a direct flight that departs on Friday at 1:35pm and gets you in at 6:45pm on Saturday.
SATURDAY NIGHT (CHINA TIME ZONE)
6:45 PM: Arrive into Shanghai Pudong International Airport
The airport is located south east of the city proper and there is a maglev train(cool!) that takes you from the airport and kinda/sorta into the city proper. As cool as that sounds, don’t bother with the train. The train only takes you to the south end of the city. Once there, you’ll have to hop onto the subway or into a cab to get you the rest of the way. It is as if BART ran from SFO and deposited you in South San Francisco and you had to take MUNI the rest of the way up. Screw it. Take the $35 USD cab from the airport. It gets you to your destination in about 45 minutes and you won’t have to scramble to wheel your luggage up the stairs.
8:00 PM: Check into your digs.
Not quite sure what publication it was, but last year Shanghai was voted to have the most affordable hotels of any major city. I’m not talking about the smattering of Motel 6s across the American heartland, I’m talking about legit accommodations with real beds and more importantly, a bar. While Le Royal Meridien isn’t the newest kid on the block, nor is it the most famous, but its got VPN enabled Wifi, so you won’t be missing out on any of the sexting action on Snapchat. Bonus points because the staff can speak English AND because Le Meridien is a Starwood property so you can use your points. For Starwood guys out there, the points + cash option is about 5,000 points and $75 USD per night.
8:30 PM: Be awesome. Fight off jetlag with a drink and a killer view.
For all of the Bund’s glitz and glamour, its pointless to enjoy it if you don’t have the proper view. The guide books will tell you to go to all these rich ass places but CHAR Bar is a hidden gem with reasonable drink prices(for the Bund). It’s not crowded so you don’t have to elbow your way around the bar like its rush hour on the Tokyo subway. Best of all, no drink minimum, nobody to hassle you, it is just super chill. Drinks run from $8 – $15 USD. Not cheap, yes. But you’ve already blown $1000 for a plane ticket whats another $8 more?
If you aren’t tipsy, go take a stroll on the Bund If someone asked me “hey, whats the best spot to take an Instagram picture in Shanghai” this would be it. Turn on your VPN, throw up a V sign with your fingers, because you didn’t really arrive in Shanghai till you make it official on Instagram.
外滩 The Bund
中山东一路 | Zhongshan Rd. East-1
9:45 PM: Dinner with the possibility of becoming a political prisoner? Yes please!
If you ever dreamed of becoming a political prisoner(who hasn’t), then you need to check out this North Korean chain that is… not located in North Korea. To my knowledge(someone prove me wrong) I’ve never found a North Korean restaurant on Yelp. So even though we are in China, this is probably one of the few chances in my life I’ll ever have to eat North Korea food and talk to some North Korean waitresses(wondering if I can score some digits here). Pyongyang Koryo is a chain of North Korean restaurants run/operated/owned by the North Korean government. Granted, there are a lot of conspiracy theorists who debate on why these restaurants actually exist. But hey, not my problem. Contrary to what we may all think, North Korean food is significantly different from South Korean food. No kimchi, no bulgolgi and not even bibimbap. Check out our extensive review of Pyongyang Koryo North Korean restaurant with some gratuitous food porn shots in all of its full frontal glory here.
平壤高丽饭店 | Pyongyang Koryo
浦东新区 松林路357号通茂大酒店1楼(近浦电路), Shanghai, Shanghai, China
+86 21 6840 5184
11:30 PM: Lodi Dodi, We Like to Party. We Don’t Cause Trouble, We Don’t Bother Nobody.
People in China do it big. If you think partying in Las Vegas is ostentatious, then Shanghai ratchets up the absurdity to the hundredth degree. Incredibly wealthy children of high society Chinese come here and order bottle upon bottles of champaign. If you are Caucasian, one of the rich tables might ask you to join in and pop bottles with them. If you are Asian, well, you order at the bar. Table service is the way to go and like with other cities in Asia, there is no tax or tip.
SUNDAY MORNING (CHINA TIME ZONE)
8:30 AM : Clearing out those cobwebs with a morning jaunt and an impromptu meal.
I won’t lie, I’m hurting pretty bad. Good thing the hotel is right next to Nanjing Road, one of the oldest and busiest pedestrian streets in all of China. If you can drag your hangover/jetlag self out, there’s a ton of food options ranging from buns to rice to everything you can imagine China to have. With all those options, what do we do? We go to 7-Eleven and C stores(Shanghai’s version of a convenience store)Why? Because 7-Elevens are frickin awesome in Asia and Shanghai is no exception. Additionally, walking this street counts as something cultural. So make sure to check that off the list.
南京路步行街 Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street
南京东路, Běixīn qiáo, Běixīn qiáo, Shanghai, 200001, China
+86 21 6352 6638
10:00 AM : Working off that whiskey with a (legit) massage
If there is one thing I learned from the last weekend trip is that you need to build in some R&R time, even if its just for an hour. At the Green Door, an hour long Chinese-style massage runs about $30 USD. In Thailand, my buddies made the mistake of going cheap and they ended up running into the middle of the street with towels on. Now I know what the “Super Bowl” package actually entails. Remember, you can tell the front desk staff if you want a female masseuse or a male masseuse. Apparently no one told me I could choose. So I ended up with an assigned masseuse – Jim. #fail
12:00 PM : Massage is finito, time to gorge myself.
The point of these weekend trip is to eat something that you’ve never eaten before, or experience something that is truly mindblowing. The meat moon cakes(top pictures) at 鮮肉月餅 located at Taikang Foods is one of those odd ball foods that doesn’t sound like its going to work, but damn, once it touches your lips, its so good. Traditional mooncakes are a sweet pastry, usually with sweet filling(with egg yolk) and a soft golden crust, that is prevalent during the Mid-Autumn festival. This particular mooncake is salty, filled with soft meat and a texture that is easy to bite into, but also oddly satisfying. Not one of those foods that is easy to come by in the United States(if at all).
Right upstairs of Taikang Foods is an offshoot that sells nothing but soup dumplings. Unlike the soup dumplings that we cover extensively here at Foodamentals, the soup dumpling here is one humongous one. To eat it, you have to take a toothpick and “deflate” the soup dumplings, thereby releasing all of the hot delicious team, but then you start slurping soup through that hole. Granted there is nothing sexy then being heads down with your lips pressed up against the plate. But hey, we are in China, no one gives a shit.
泰康食品 Taikang Foods(鮮肉月餅)
南京东路766号1楼(近西藏中路) | 768 Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, Shanghai, China
+86 21 6322 1279
南京东路766号泰康食品2楼 | Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, Number 768, Shanghai, China
+86 21 6360 3252
1:00 PM : Gluttony, what’s that? Give me some dumplings, yo.
If you have been following Foodamentals for a while now, you’ll know we love xiao long baos'(and especially Din Tai Fung) and have written about them many, many times. In a nutshell, the xiao long baos/soup dumplings here at Jia Jia Tangbao are legit. Because their stuff is so off the chain, Jia Jia Tangbao regularly sells out of soup dumplings before the day is even over. Varieties like crab roe, pork and egg and even chives are only some of the variety you can buy. Best of all, one order is about/roughly $4 USD! Expect a line when you come here. So it might make sense to send someone before hand to hold a spot in line while you are still getting out of bed.
佳家汤包 Jia Jia Tangbao
黄浦区 黄河路90号(近凤阳路) | 90 Huanghe Rd (Fengyang Rd), Shanghai, China
+86 21 6327 6878
1:45 PM: I flew 6500 miles to eat fried dumplings. Yes, yes I did.
I had a friend once who told me he couldn’t eat these dumplings because they had too much carbs(skin) and the juice was too oily. Suffice to say, we are no longer friends. But these dumplings are NOT too oily, NOT too thick skinned, in fact, they are absolutely gloriously delicious. Best yet, you can order up a set of four for $4 USD and they come in a bevy of flavors like fresh shrimp, pork and the Yang’s special. All in all, everything is awesome except for the potential wait in order to sit down. If you don’t need a table, squatting is always an option.
2:30 PM: Time for a Break. Let’s Go Find a Spouse at People’s Park
When Adidas came out with the slogan “impossible is nothing,” they must have been thinking about this matchmaking park in Shanghai. While officially the park is known as People’s Park, worried parents come to the park every weekend to help their kids find potential spouses. We are’t ones to sit idly by, so we hopped right in and started looking for a potential spouse. Here is Foodamentals handy tell-all guide to finding a wife in People’s Park. You are welcomed.
人民公园 | People’s Park
南京西路75号 近黄陂北路 | 231 W Nanjing Rd, Běixīn qiáo, Shanghai, Shanghai, China
3:45 PM: Heaven Exists in the Form of a Rice Cake.
You know that feeling when you don’t expect something to be awesome, but it turns out that it is? Like finding out your girlfriend’s pregnancy test is negative, Shanghai Hongkou sticky rice cakes are a pleasant surprise. It is Chinese glutinous rice cake(年糕) wrapped around a crunchy chinese donut(油條) topped off with either sweet peanut/sesame, or salty preserved vegetables. You can’t go wrong with either flavor because both are absolutely bombastic. Best of all, they are like 60 cents each.
上海虹口糕团食品厂 Shanghai Hongkou Sticky Rice Cake
卢湾区 茂名南路(近淮海中路) |
021 – 5656 0597
4:15 PM: Let’s Take a Break from Chinese Food with some Hong Kong Food.
In what felt like our 50th Chinese meal of the day, Chinese food is starting to get real old, real fast. Unfortunately, in Shanghai, its not that easy to find a legitimate burrito. So we opted for the next best thing – Hong Kong food. The famous Cha’s restaurant is near the Hongkou Sticky Rice place joint so its easy to get to. This is the first restaurant I’ve been to where “shared seating” means sitting next to my accomplice and across from complete strangers. In the photo above, I don’t know either of the people across from me. I’m not quite sure whether to ask them how their day is going or if I should spill my water all over the table. It sucked. Besides that fact, the Hong Kong style food here is spectacular and incredibly affordable. A quick search on the internet will tell you this place is highly recommended. A bo lo bao(pineapple) paired with some milk tea and some stir fried pork intestines makes me miss Shanghai that much more.
思南路30-4号 (近淮海中路) | 30 Sinan Road, Huangpu, Shanghai, China
+86 21 6093 2062
5:30 PM: Time for a Food Break with Some (Makeshift)Cultural Sites.
Yuyuan classical street is the quintessential tourist trap. The street is oriented around Yu Garden and sits right next to the City God Temple. While the garden costs money to get into, the rest of the street is free. There’s food, shopping and people watching, essentially everything you expect to see in a crowded tourist-centric street similar to Times Square NYC. The only thing lacking is the street “performers” in their unlicensed costumes. Yuyuan classical street is also adjacent to Old City of Shanghai, which, to be frank, looks exactly the same as the street you are standing on. The only place that you might want to consider checking out is Nanxiang Steamed Bread Shop(南翔馒头店) which sells soup dumplings. However, according to the locals, its not even that good. But hey, this counts as something cultural so its a must see.
SUNDAY NIGHT (CHINA TIME ZONE)
7:00 PM: Someone needs to put me out of my misery because I can’t bear to eat another meal. Shit, but it is dinner time.
Jianguo 328 serves up traditional Shanghainese comfort foods such as noodles, intestines and rice dishes. Owned by a Taiwanese owner who is obsessed with using real ingredients, Jianguo is a throwback restaurant to the old days where the letters MSG stood for Madison Square Gardens rather than something in my soup. The Shanghai style scallion noodles are off the chain and even the locals say its one of the best scallion noodles in the entire city. For anyone not familiar, scallion noodles are as Shanghai as parking tickets are to San Francisco. Highly recommended.
8:30 PM: Sucking it up and heading out to a Shanghai icon.
No trip to Shanghai would be complete without a selfie in front of the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower. If anything, for the shear novelty of it and to say you’ve been here. But in all seriousness, I think this place is damn cool and I’m glad I came to get a up close and personal view of the tower.
9:30 PM : Going to the nice mall to use their bathroom and potentially buy something.
Massively expansive, impeccably clean bathrooms and high end stores are just some of the features of the ifc mall right next to the Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower. Unlike many parts of China, there are no squat toilets here and everything is ridiculously clean. The famous Apple Store with the fancy glass entrance that leads to the basement is in this mall. In fact, its facing the Oriental Pearl Tower and right next to the next spot.
9:45 PM : Frick, I need some caffeine or else I’m not gonna make it.
Yeah, I’m about to die at this point and I need a pick me up really badly. Charge up with some matcha green tea coffee from a Peet’s Coffee lookalike – Costa Coffee. Prices are on par with US coffee prices. Try not to pass out before you get in your cab and go home.
LG1-37/D, IFC Mall, 8 Century Ave, Shanghai, 200120, China
+86 21 5011 7436
MORNING MORNING (CHINA TIME ZONE)
7:00 AM : No more damn dumplings, I need a burrito.
At this point. I’m pretty sick of Chinese food. Don’t judge me. As expected, the fast food here is consistent and tastes exactly like home. Everything in the picture came from McDonald’s except the bag of fermented soy bean prawn flavored Lay’s which I found at the local C-store. I’m pretty sure we don’t sell any fermented soy bean prawn flavor chips back in the US.
南京东路720号 (食品一店餐厅) | 720 Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street, Shanghai, China
+86 21 6351 4590
10:00 AM: Off to the airport
Time to get in a cab and head back to the airport. Bake in some time for traffic, cause its going to happen.
1:45 PM: Back to San Francisco
Just like that, your trip is over. Good thing you showered before you got on the plane cause you are going back to work right when you land.
MONDAY MORNING (PACIFIC STANDARD TIME)
8:40 AM: And… You are Back!
Yup, right before that important customer conference call, booya! Oh wait, someone forgot to send out that calendar invite? Shit. But hey, we made it back on time to get into the office.
Yup. A 43 hour trip to Shanghai in one fell swoop. One question I always get is how are we able to get to so many places in such a short amount of time. First and foremost, I don’t take subways on any of these weekend trips. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy public transportation, its just that taxi’s are ridiculously cheap and I have 43 hours to blow. So there is no room for error. More importantly, for any country that I’m not familiar with I always hire a local guide. These guides could be your existing friends or they can be a tour guide that you hire online. These guys know the city inside and out. They know how to get you from point A to point B the fastest way possible. Plus, when you get tired of taking selfies, the guide can take your picture for you without fear of running off with your camera.
Big thanks to my new friend, Lara Li, who helped make this entire itinerary happen. For those who are interested in going to Shanghai, Lara is a professional guide based out of Shanghai and one of the best I have ever worked with. I simply can’t recommend her enough especially if its your first time to Shanghai. You contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or book her on either Viator or on Synotrip and tell her that Foodamentals sent you.