Wanderlust: Shanghai

All photos and text by Fazillah Abdul Gaffa unless indicated.

Shanghai has a very special place in my heart because it was the first time I ever took off on a trip completely on my own for a month. Save for the Chinese' disgusting habit of spitting, the city is incredible - everything is fast-paced, if you snooze, you lose. It's a dog-eat-dog world [and they literally do eat dogs!] and it's nothing short of a whole lotta fun. You should, however, do your own research before you go. While these places are highly recommended from me, I haven't been there since 2008 and I'm sure there have been tons more changes since!

WHERE TO STAY

JIA Shanghai No 931 West Nanjing Road www.jiashanghai.com

No doubt, JIA Shanghai reigns as the hippest hotel in the city. JIA, which means ‘home’ in Mandarin, is even better than your own home – with someone to make your bed every morning and free flow of top-notch wines downstairs from 6pm.

JIA has got it pat down – they’ve everything you want and could possibly need; from free wireless Internet access all over the hotel, full sets of dishes, martini glasses and shot glasses, right down to a China Monopoly board game. If not for the fact that you’re on a vacation, you wouldn’t want to leave your room!

Here's a little video I made early one morning. Don't mind my nasal voice:

URBN Hotel 183 Jiao Zhou Road www.urbnhotels.com

Do some good for the environment even whilst you’re on vacation by staying at URBN Hotel. China’s first carbon-neutral hotel, URBN tracks down energy consumption by guests and even staff commutes and food and beverage delivery, to come up with a carbon footprint for each stay. Following which, the hotel neutralises the stay through the purchase of carbon credits.

Going green and living the high life has never gone hand-in-hand this seamlessly. They’ve got quite a few different rooms to choose from, but if you can’t make up your mind, ask for the room with the bathtub and bed adjacent to each other. You could roll out of the tub into bed. I couldn’t think of a better vacation setup.

WHERE TO CHILL OUT/ WHERE TO EAT

Kommune The Yard, No. 7, 210 Taikang Lu, near Sinan Lu (inside the Taikang creative area) Opening hours: Sun-Thu 8am - 12am Fri-Sat 8am - 1am

A cosy café-cum-wine bar, Kommune is located in Taikang Lu, an area that was modelled after Soho in New York. The area offers boutiques, bars and eateries that are mostly locally owned, but decidedly upscale. It’s also a warehouse district for up-and-coming artists, so do check out the photography and art galleries in the area.

Kommune was established five years ago and it prides itself for making delicious albeit simple food like pastas, salads and sandwiches. Wake up early on a Sunday morning and hang out in Kommune with a mug of coffee for an ideal cosmopolitan getaway in the city. Heikal took me here one rainy morning, and we got some food for takeaway. The takeaway cups were glass milk bottles that I found so cute!

Paul Unit 01, Building 17, Lane 181, Taicang Road, Xintiandi

Granted, Paul is a chain of bakeries that you can find in Europe, but when in Shangers, carb whores will keel over and die from a bite of any one of the breads baked fresh at this French bakery. While there are about half a dozen Paul bakeries around the city, I recommend popping by the one in Xintiandi on an afternoon.

Arm yourself with a chocolate éclair, (some macaroons and maybe a quiche – you’re on vacation, calories don’t count) and spend your afternoon people watching.

Random Xinjiang Restaurant: Spot the ‘Halal’ Sign Outside

A Canadian friend gave a good piece of advice about dining at hole-in-the-wall eateries like this one: be as oblivious about your environment as you can, enjoy your meal and get out. And that’s exactly what you should do. A piping hot bowl of beef noodles (with noodles that are made fresh in front of you) would set you back a mere 5RMB (SGD$1) and extra meat would cost you 2RMB more.

There are numerous Xinjiang cuisine eateries in Shanghai and a lot of them are Halal too. If you can’t converse in Mandarin, just point at one of the photos of the dishes they have up on the walls.

If you spot a Xinjiang restaurant with a BBQ pit, make sure you try their barbequed-skewered meat, usually beef or mutton. Costing a mere 3RM a pop, these kebab-esque meats are seasoned with spices and barbequed to perfection right in front of you. A perfect treat if you’re there when it’s cold.

WHERE TO SHOP

Pearl's Circles, Wholesale Pearl & Stone Market

* Description: Wholesale freshwater pearls, sea water pearls, natural stones and crystals. * Address: First Asia Jewelry Plaza, 3rd floor, 288 Fuyou Lu * Opening hours: Daily. 10am-6pm. * Comments: Let fantasy be your guide. For pennies, you can design jewelry to your heart's content. Every vendor will have loads of ready-made jewelry for you to look over but you can also design your own. Just wait a few minutes and they'll string everything for you as you watch. Remember the golden rule: bargain, bargain, bargain!

Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market

* Description: Three floors of fabric and tailors. * Address: 399 Lujiabang Road (near the Bund) * Opening hours: Daily. 10am-7pm. * Comments: Here you can make your couture dreams come true. Great values are qipaos, cashmere coats and men's shirts. Almost every stall has its own tailor who can whip up whatever you want in about a week. Your best bet is to have something you like copied over in your new fabric. Clothing made from photos or descriptions yield mixed (mostly bad) results. If you can, bring a Chinese speaker with you. Some tailors do speak English. Shanghai Shiliu Puhong Qixiang Cloth Market

* Description: Three floors of fabric and tailors. * Address: 168 Dongmen Road, not far from Yuyuan Garden. * Opening hours: Daily. 10am-6pm. * Comments: This market is very similar to #6, but is much quieter and has a lot fewer foreigners standing around looking confused. You'll find the same fabrics - cashmere, silk, linen, wool and cotton at similar prices. Many vendors speak a bit of English but if you're having something complicated made, it's best to take along someone who can speak a bit of Chinese.

Yatai Xinyang Fashion and Gift Market (aka "the Fake Market") Description: Inside the underground maze of the metro station, this market inhabits a warren of stalls. Here you can buy just about anything when it comes to junk made in China. This includes fake watches, bags, shirts and viewing material. Just be warned, it IS fake, no matter what they tell you. Vendors here are reasonably honest but they're trying to make as much money as they can and are used to day-stopping tourists ready to drop a load of cash before they head to the airport so bargain hard before you buy. And remember, you get what you pay for so when you're watch doesn't work after a few weeks, don't wonder too hard why.

Address: Science and Technology Museum (?????) metro stop (Pudong). Say it in Chinese: "kuh gee gwan dee tee-ay zhan". Opening Hours: 10am-9pm Getting There: The Science and Technology Museum is on Metro Line 2.

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Shopping Details from Sara Naumann, About.com Guide.