Shanghai has many sites to see. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to narrow them down. Culture, history, architecture. Museums, tours, activities. The possibilities can be overwhelming. And let’s face it, most people have a week, tops, in order to squeeze in as much as possible.
Since we have established it is impossible to do it all, it becomes important to focus on opportunities that will give you the most bang for your buck. Perhaps ones that combine history, culture, and fun together in one happy package. Enter Culture Shock Bike Tours. This is a company that offers morning and night tours through the streets of Shanghai via vintage Forever brand bicycles.
Recently, my mom and I went on Culture Shock’s morning tour. Although I live here, I thought it would be a unique way of seeing the city and hoped I could maybe pick up a thing or two that I didn’t already know. I can happily say I wasn’t disappointed.
Our tour began at the Andaz Hotel in Xintiandi where we were delightfully surprised with an offer of pastries and coffee. Without question, any tour that begins with food is moving to the top of my list!
After a brief safety talk, a small group of us hit the streets of Shanghai. I will admit, I had some reservations about riding a bike through the crazy streets of the city. If you have ever been to Shanghai, you will know exactly what I mean. Drivers here are ca-ra-zy! Despite my reservations, I instantly I felt at ease. Our guide, Raphael, led the way slowly and constantly checked to make sure we were all safely following behind.
Our first stop was a neighborhood of Lilong houses on Nanchang Road. Here, we learned about local life. Within each of these large houses were homes (or apartments) to perhaps 8 or more families, all of which shared a common kitchen. The thing I found interesting was that, although they shared a kitchen, each family had their own dedicated space in which to do their cooking. However, although they had their own space, each area included that tenant’s own light bulb and stove on individual power meters so there is no dispute over electric bills. These houses were bare bones and not fancy, but they were much more well-appointed than houses we would see later in the journey.
Next, we went to Fuxing Park. This gem has always been a personal favorite of mine. It is a public park where locals gather in the mornings to socialize, exercise, dance, play instruments, sing, etc. It is very entertaining and heartwarming to watch the sense of community that has developed amongst these people. Although I have visited a few times, this was my first time going with someone who spoke Mandarin, and it was almost like visiting for the first time. Once they realized someone spoke Mandarin, the locals were excited to hear where we were from (we had 5 countries represented in our group), and show us their individual talents.
After our visit to the park, we rode through a couple of neighborhoods and stopped for a snack at a very local open-air restaurant. Again, I was happy to have our guide because no one in the restaurant spoke English and I would have had no idea what to order. The food was delicious, especially the glutinous rice balls that were a surprisingly sweet treat.
With our bellies full, we headed to Fa Zang Jiang Temple. A true hidden gem, simply walking down the streets of Xintiandi, you may never know this place exists. It is inconspicuously tucked behind large walls that line the street. Once you enter, you are in awe. It is gorgeous. Brightly painted with many halls. We were taught about the Buddhist religion in China, how they worship, and what some of their symbolism means. Then we were provided the opportunity to light incense and say prayers. After that, we were on our way again.
Our last stop was the best of all. Old Fishermen’s Village was a place I had never been. It is one of the oldest surviving neighborhoods in Shanghai. Narrow lanes (some of which were a bit nerve-racking to ride a bike through), and houses literally built on top of and intermingled with one another. The first neighborhood we visited on Nanchang Road looked like a luxury resort compared to this. I don’t even know if one could call it “rustic living”. It was just plain old and run down. But again, the sense of community amazed me. These people look out for one another. They band together to help one another live content lives and it is a good reminder to us all of the importance of community.
My mom and I thoroughly enjoyed our bike tour (she was mostly pleased she didn’t crash her bike or get run over…haha!). It was a good mixture of sightseeing, culture, and delicious food.
Culture Shock ran a very well organized tour and is investing in local products and in the lives of local people which is an admirable quality to be found in a company. Going on a Culture Shock bike tour will offer you such a richer experience than merely walking around seeing the sites. And as a bonus may learn some pretty sweet dance moves when you stop at Fuxing Park. So if you are in Shanghai, make a Culture Shock bike tour top on your list of must-dos. It is a perfect choice for a well-rounded and unique way to see the city.
And if you are heading to Shanghai, here’s a post to help you plan your trip: