I’ve been bitten by quite the travel bug this year and just returned from a week long trip to Shanghai, China. This was my first time in China but thanks to being able to stay with a friend who is working & living over there, I was able to get an experience unlike any of my previous trips.
Exploring a city with an expat is pleasantly different. No need to figure out every move completely from scratch and you can truly get an insider’s view of a land unknown.
Having also visited Tokyo in the past year, I couldn’t help but mentally compare the two. What did I find? While both cities are major metropolises, their cultures are drastically different.
1. Get ready for censorship like you’ve probably never experienced.
No Instagram. No Snapchat. No Twitter. No Facebook. No YouTube. No Google/gmail. China doesn’t mess around. Without a VPN, it’s seriously like being in 1996 all over again. I may have been a bit frustrated at first, but I actually enjoyed not feeling tethered to my phone so I can catch the latest outfit post or dish du jour. I allowed myself to live in the moment and just take it all in.
2. It’s incredibly easy and cheap to get around.
Thanks to record low exchange rates, basically everything in China is inexpensive. That includes transportation. A typical ride on Shanghai’s extensive rail system costs less than $1USD; cheaper than you’ll find in any American city. And it isn’t just the public transportation that’s cheap–cabs are inexpensive as well. But if you can’t speak Mandarin, getting round by cab can be a little difficult. No need to fret though, Uber is also an option. 9 times out of 10 I’m going to take public transportation just because I think it’s a great way to learn about a city and the culture, but it’s nice to know there are great options for getting around.
2b. If you take the train, you will get pushed. Old people, young people, everyone pushes and everyone gets pushed. There are 24 million people in Shanghai, nobody has time for you to mosey off the train before they get on, that’s how you get left on the outside looking in.
3. There’s food everywhere… good food… and lots of it.
You literally cannot walk 3 minutes in Shanghai without seeing a bevy of food options. Whether it’s a fresh fruit, vegetable or seafood stand, Shanghai’s infamous soup dumplings(like the giant version below) or a sweet treat(there are tons of sweet treats), food is in abundance and it’s also, you guessed it, cheap.
*Matcha green tea and pork floss doughnuts, yum yum :-)*
And street food, ohhhh the street food. These street noodles, made on a random corner, in the rain, made my little food loving heart sing.
4. Shanghai is probably the safest feeling city I’ve visited.
For a city of 24 million(I had to stress that number again), Shanghai gets very quiet at night. If you aren’t near a nightclub there isn’t much noise at all on the streets in the wee hours. In many cities, quiet and dark streets typically mean danger, but in Shanghai there was an ever present feeling of safety. That doesn’t mean that violence never happens and the metal detectors at every train stop entrance are evidence that Shanghai isn’t living in some dreamworld. But in stark contrast to my recent trip to Rio, there were no warnings about pickpocketing and avoiding shifty characters. For this reason, I’d recommend it as a great place for solo travel.
5. East meets West and old meets new.
One moment you’re walking amongst skyscrapers with cars zipping all around you, the next you’re facing a gorgeous Buddhist temple, home to one of the happiest Buddhas you’ve ever seen, and you feel like you’re in a completely different city.
A couple extras:
* Visiting The Bund is must, both sides: It’s touristy but the views of Shanghai are pretty awesome.
*Yuyuan Garden isn’t much of a garden but it’s a great place for souvenirs AND for experiencing a traditional tea ceremony.
Silk, pearls, jade, handmade trinkets. Whatever you might possibly be thinking about bringing everyone at home back from a trip to Shanghai, you can find it at Yuyuan garden. And once again, it’s all inexpensive. I also picked up some great jasmine and black teas during a traditional tea ceremony. Our host walked us through nearly a dozen teas and their benefits. Of course the goal of these ceremonies is to sell you tea but the tea lover in me didn’t mind.This was a regally long post so I’m going to wrap things up. If you have questions about my trip, feel free to leave them in the comments!
…that aren’t Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf
Last week I returned from what I am currently referring to as the trip of a lifetime. I’ve wanted to visit Brazil since the 3rd grade, so when a ticket popped up that was less than $600, I hopped on it! And I’m so glad I did. For 6 days, my travel buddy and I explored the city of Rio de Janeiro. We stayed in a cute Airbnb in the heart of Ipanema which turned out to be the perfect launchpad for all of our adventures.
There is SO much to do, but below are 5 things I’d say you can’t miss.
1. Sip caipirhas on Ipanema beach at sunset
Ipanema is everything you could ever want from a beach… beautiful. clean, plenty of sand to lay your towel on.
**last two photos were taken by Andre Perry, http://andrelperry.com/
The water is a tad bit choppy but honestly, I’m not here to talk about any of that. I’m here to talk sunsets and caipirinhas. The sunsets at Ipanema/Copacabana are so magical that people literally gather in the evenings to watch them and they clap. Actual clapping takes place. And rightfully so. The sunsets are beautiful. And I can’t think of anything better to accompany those sunsets than caipirinhas.
And not just any caipirinhas, because you can literally get them anywhere on the beach. You need to get them from Caesar at NiTeroi, right on the main road Avenida Vieira Souto.
2. Friday night samba in Lapa
Rio is rich in culture– the food, the art, the music… the samba. Samba is huge in Brazil and if you don’t go experience it live for yourself, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. Head to Lapa on Friday or Saturday night to get taken away by the samba beat. We went to Rio Scenarium– some call it touristy but from our experience it was filled with locals dancing away and singing along with the live band.
3. Hike through Tijuca Forest
When you look up adventurous, you know whose name won’t be there? Mine. I’m a city girl who would choose the mall over nature any day. But I was on vacation, time to try something new. And I’m so glad we did. Our personal tour guide, Dalvi, lead us on a 4 hour hike through the Tijuca tropical forest. We traversed rivers, sat inside a huge tree as bats flew over our heads and meditated by waterfalls all while learning the sociopolitical and geographical history of Rio. It was a welcome change from the bustling cosmopolitan streets of the city.
4. Walk all the way up the Escadaria Selaron to Santa Teresa
Aside from Christ the Redemeer and the beaches, images of the Escadaria Selaron are proabbly some of the most recognizable out of Rio. And while they are definitely a sight to see, the real magic lives alllll the way up the steps, to the left, up a steep hill and to the left again in Santa Teresa.
Santa Teresa offers picturesque views of the city, incredible street art, cute shops with artisan goods, and one of my favorite meals of the whole vacation from Espirito Santo Emporium.
5. Shop the hippie fair in General Osório Square
Honestly, I was way too busy shopping to take a picture. If you’re looking for souvenirs that don’t scream “HEY LOOK, I WAS A TOURIST”, and are made by local artisans, venture to the hippie market held every Sunday in General Osório Square.
There are leather goods, gemstones, paintings, jewelry, shoes, food brought down from Bahia… literally anything and everything you could think of, can eb found at this market. And did I mention it’s all super affordable? Souvenirs for everybody!
**Honorable mention: stuff your face at a churrascaria
If you are a carnivore like I am, you cannot miss the opportunity to go to one of Rio’s churrascarias. I don’t care if you’ve been to your local Fogo de Chao– experience the real deal in Rio. Carretao has every meat you could every dream of… lamb, beef, pork, chicken, wild boar and at a very reasonable price(less than $30usd).
To sum Rio up, I’ve been describing it in one word… magical. Rio is far from perfect, but the people are friendly, the weather is lovely, the food is delicious and the sights will leave a lasting impression. I’d come back to Rio year after year, so I’d call that a vacation success.