Travel to China ✓
One of my closest friend happens to live in Shanghai and invited me to celebrate my 25th birthday with her. I always wanted to go to China, so I did not hesitate! I can really say this was an amazing trip, and this is why I would like to share some pictures and details.
My road map was the following : Shanghai - Zhangjiajie - Shanghai - Suzhou - Shanghai, on a total of 10 days (excluding the flight from/to Beirut). Most first-timer in China go to Beijing and Xi'an, but the main reason I picked Zhangjiajie was its forest park and mesmerizing landscape. Suzhou is a must-see if you are in the Shanghai region, especially if you are fond of History & Chinese culture.
Zhangjiajie: Into Pandora
Ok, here's the story: you know those website that show you all kinds of wonders and crazy landscape all over the world?
When I saw the picture of these mountains, I just couldn't believe they were real because they were the ones that inspired the floating mountain in the movie AVATAR (which I loooove by the way). When I realized they were in China, I had to convince my friend and go, and we went!
Zhangjiajie is famous for is forest parks, the most popular among them being the Wulingyuan Scenic Area, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. My friends and I spend a couple of days hiking in there. This was really an adventure because it is not typically visited by foreigners. Out of dozens of people, we only saw 6 or 7 others non-Asian foreigners, most visitors being Chinese or Korean. So many Chinese felt curious or happy to have non-Asian visitors and ended up asking to take picture with us, which was quite hilarious when you see crowds of people almost queuing to pose with you. Now I know how Beyonce feels when she goes out... ;)
On the first day, the main attraction was the Tianmen Moutain and the Heavenly Gate. To reach the highest peak of the mountain (1,500m), we took the world's longest cable car, which is almost 7.5 km long. I remember a woman being so scared that she threw up in the cable car... (although I don't really think it was scary, but if you are afraid of height, this is probably not the best thing to do!). We visited the pillar mountains on the second day. Unfortunately, the main cable car was in maintenance so we had to climb a 3,878 step stairway to access to top of the Tianzi Mountain. Yes, you read that number properly, and I still cannot believe we did it, despite the tropical heat and it was really worth it because it was heaven on top. There is nothing exept you, those silent mountains, clouds floating around and this peaceful feeling. The landscape left me speechless and there is no word to describe the beauty I saw. Even the pictures don't do them justice.
I think will probably be one of my most cherished memories.
Shanghai: The Cosmopolitan
Historically cosmopolitan, I really felt comfortable when I arrived in Shanghai. I adapted very quickly and did not have trouble moving around. I mostly walked in the city in order to fully appreciate it, get lost in small and poor streets and then obnoxious and luxurious areas. As a fellow Parisian, I had to also experience the Shanghai metro which turned to be easy to use, fast, reliable comfortable (air-conditioned) and very cheap ($0.5 per ticket).
Shanghai is divided into several areas, each of them telling you a story about its past. I was staying with my friend who lives on the Bund, which is the former International Settlement area on the west bank of the Hangpu River. You can tell it was a former British settlement area by the London-like architecture. Today, you will find the trendy French & fusion restaurants (Ultraviolet, M on the Bund, Jean-Georges) and bars (Bar Rouge, House of Blues & Jazz) to see and be seen. This is also a place where you will find a lot of foreigners. I remember going to Bar Rouge and seeing mostly non-Asians people and being welcomed in French at the door!
On my last night, my friend organized me a birthday party and we celebrated my quarter of century at M1NT Club, the best spot in the city. The nightlife was not disappointing, and again, very cosmopolitan.
My favorite place in Shanghai was Tianzifang, an art street located in the French Concession area, with galleries, crafts shops, small boutiques and cafe. Being into Arts, I also visited the Shanghai Museum (ancient Chinese art) and the MOCA (Museum Of Contemporary Art), a must-see in my opinion. I also loved the Yuyuan Bazaar (although very crowded and touristic) and the Jing'an temple, which was a piece of art and tradition in the middle of Modern Shanghai.
Another thing that I really loved about Shanghai is the gardens and parks. Despite the pollution (some days were really bad), there are so many green space where you can disconnect yourself from the city and concrete. I noticed that despite the fast pace people are living, they still manage to take some time to relax in such places, singing, playing, chilling or doing Tai Chi.
Food lovers on a budget will have a bit more trouble finding good spot, except if you are adventurous. I have had great experience and memories at Lost Heaven (Yunnan/Southern Chinese), M on the Bund (for the view) and Jean-Georges (maybe the most exquisite brunch I've had), all three located on the Bund. In the very alive Xintiandi area, Ding Tai Fung is a also a nice place with great dumplings. I also discovered Mr. Pankake (Jing'an area and French Concession), which is a fantastic pancake and waffles place. This is not very Chinese, but hey, it was REALLY good!
The only downside to my trip was the shopping part (for Fashion). I admit than going there, I thought I would find a Fashion heaven, but truth is most clothes were either bad designers copy (for whatever reason, they are popular) or from the mass Fashion store like ZARA or Forever 21. I did not shop for clothes there, but I found an amazing Japanese/Chinese shop called Miniso, selling all kinds of products (cosmetics, home organization, technology accessories...) at amazing prices! I also enjoyed shopping cosmetics, but I will speak about this in details in another post... ;)
Suzhou: Back to Traditions
Shanghai is a new city compared to the Chinese civilization. Since I love traditions and local culture, I went to Suzhou (upon my Yoga instructor's recommendation...Thank you Ahed!) which is over 2,500 year-old. Suzhou is often called the Venice of China, because of its canals but also because it was an economic, cultural and commercial center. The city is famous for its classical gardens that belong to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city is also known for its Silk industry (unfortunately the Museum was closed when I was there), Opera, Calligraphic Art, Jade Carving and Pearls.
China was a great experience, even if I feel my trip was incomplete and too short. I hope I will be able to go back one day because this country is full of wonders and beautiful places that deserve to be explored, such as Beijing, Xi'an but also Chengdu, Jiuzhaigou and Zhangye!
If you have any questions or if you are planning to go to the places I visited , please don't hesitate and leave your comments! :)