The Pudong region was, until a few years ago, marsh land on the “wrong side” of the river. In a similar way that London’s Docklands was spawned from nothing, the Pudong region has become the new economic centre for Shanghai mainland China in just less than 15 years. According to the guidebook, none of the skyscrapers or buildings in Pudong were built before 1990.
The Oriental Pearl Tower, located in Pudong, is certainly the most famous modern building in Shanghai (at least for now). It looks beautiful from a distance with it’s unusual structure and pink/purple coloured spheres. At night it is attractively illuminated with a quaint lightshow of rotating and alternating sparkly patterns (very Chinese).
It was only when I got up close to it was I disapointed to realise that it’s a hideous concrete monstrosity. The brown concrete tubes are very reminiscent of the “Tres Torres” apartment blocks where my mother’s aunt lives in central Torremolinos, Spain.
Considering the Oriental Pearl was built around the same time as the other skyscrapers around it, it’s surprising that it has such an awful concrete look to it. Every other building in Pudong seems to be a modern, intricately designed, green or blue glass affair. Oh well, at least it stands out from the rest.
It costs 100 RMB (about £7.50) to get the full Pearl experience, which consists of the main sphere at 250m, the ‘space module’ at 350m and the lower sphere at 90m. The views from the main sphere were amazing, as were the views from the top sphere – although the guidebook was right that there’s little difference between the two (other than an extra 15RM/£2).
During our visit to the Pearl, some Russian guy asked whether his girlfriend could take my photograph with him. I thought he wanted me to take their picture to begin with, but it turned out he hadn’t ever met anyone with green hair and I think he was eyeing up a trip to the hair colourist himself when he returned to Moscow. A wise man, green’s definitely this season’s hair colour despite what everyone else thinks.
Another surreal moment during our trip to the Pearl Tower was watching Mr Bean on the TV whilst waiting for the elevator to take us back down to the ground. It was the turkey stuffing episode – totally bizarre!
I always recommend visiting an observation tower if you’re visiting a city that has one (CN Tower, Toronto and Malaysia Tower, Kuala Lumpur are great). You get a much better perspective of how big a city is – and in the case of Shanghai (the 5th biggest city in the world) it’s absolutely huge. Imagine looking all the way to the horizon (from 350m) and seeing nothing but skyscraper after skyscraper. Shanghai may only be home to 1% of China’s population, but that’s 1% of a billion+ people!
In 2007 Pudong will be the site of the world’s tallest building, the Shanghai World Financial Centre. At the moment it’s just 30 stories of concrete frame, so who knows whether they will complete it by then. The project has been dogged by financial problems and a row over whether the proposed circular hole at the top of the building looks too much like the Japanese flag.
For the time being, the tallest building in Shanghai (and the third tallest tower in the world at 421m) is the Jin Mao Tower, Pudong. It’s façade is reminiscent of the Petronas Towers in Malaysia (the first and second tallest towers in the world), but unlike the Petronas Towers you can go all the way to the top floor (floor 88).
Apparently a trip to the observation deck is half the price of the Oriental Pearl, but clearly has the unique selling point that it’s obviously the highest public space in the world (the Petronas Towers are private, and you can only visit the still quite spectacular sky bridge which is about 1/3 up).
Floor 88 is also the home to Cloud 9 bar, which is part of the Grand Hyatt hotel that is located in the top 40 or so floors of the Jin Mao Tower. Visiting Cloud 9 avoids you having to pay the observation deck charge too – which should be enough to buy you a drink instead. Unfortunately the bar was closed when we visited (it opens in the evening, and according to the sign you must be “suitably attired”) but we did get as high as floor 85 – which was pretty cool.
We had drinks and a late lunch in the lobby café, which is located on the 56th floor, instead. Crispy chicken + rice (a reasonable 50 RMB/£6.50 each) washed down with a couple of freshly squeezed watermelon juices (slightly overpriced, but damn tasty at 40 RMB/£5 per glass).
The Grand Hyatt is the most expensive hotel in Shanghai, but clearly is a unique experience. Our hotel is a fraction of the price, and so given the choice I’m not sure whether I would stay there if I visited Shanghai again (unless someone else was paying!). But a trip for lunch or a drink is definitely well worth it – in fact I would miss out on the Oriental Perl completely as it’s nice too look at from a distance, but a bit overpriced for what it is on the inside. I know I said visiting an observation tower is worth doing, but that’s mainly because they are usually the tallest public spaces in a city – not in the case of Shanghai!
One tip if you do visit the Grand Hyatt @ Jin Mao Tower (which you should), do make sure you are wearing at the very least smart casual clothing as it is very upmarket and you will stick out amongst the equally upmarket guests. The Cloud 9 bar probably needs a shirt at the very least for gents, and even in the lobby café someone was turned away because they had a rude T-shirt on (no, not me this time!). I can usually get away with most dress codes because I wear all-black, although the green hair did raise a few eye-brows!
Getting to and from the Jin Mao Tower should not be attempted by foot. The 8 lane Lujiazui Road, which becomes Centaury Boulevard, runs alongside the tower and is a pain to cross. Many of the crossings have actually been removed, I guess because the traffic authorities don’t want too many stoppages along this main artery into and out of Shanghai. Having braved the traffic to get there, we were reminded how cheap the taxis are in Shanghai on the way back. Another tip: always go on the meter, but that’s the case when taking taxi’s in any country I guess. Like other Asian cities especially, the taxi drivers love to do the old “fixed price” scam, which you should avoid every time.