travel

Shanghai 2014: Things to do in Shanghai with kids

We came back from Shanghai in the middle of July this year, and yes, it’s taken my THIS long to get a post together on our trip!

On our previous trip last year, we didn’t really go to any children-specific place. This time I did a little more research, but because we had the luxury of two weeks (exactly 15 days, any longer would have required a visa for every one of us, which would’ve been more trouble!), we took it very easy. I’ve tried to arrange the places we visited by area, although in reality it was sometimes a little haphazard!

The husband wasn’t always with us, so many of these places I did with the kids and my MIL and some with my mother too (she joined us later). It also helped that we had a driver who seemed to be in the know about everything, which made it much much easier navigating a foreign city with public transport with 2-3 kids in tow. I still think that there is more that we could have done and still more to see, but my kids are simple kids who don’t mind staying at home to play, and I’ve learnt to balance sight-seeing and letting them have their own free time. We didn’t do any watertowns this time round, because the thought of three young kids being cooped up in a car for 1-2 hours was just not my idea of FUN.

 

Xintiandi 新天地 and surrounding area

We arrive on the first day in the late afternoon to the Ascott Huai Hai Road Shanghai. We have dinner at South Beauty in the building next to the hotel. We had the ala carte buffet which is RMB199 per person. One staff told us kids are half price but turns out they were FOC. South Beauty is actually known for its Sichuan food but we opted mostly for non-spicy ones for the kids. We discovered that turbot 多宝鱼 doesn’t cost an arm and a leg like it does here in Singapore. We also liked a crispy chicken dish (although it seems kinda Cantonese style if you ask me!).

Most days, especially when the hubby and our friends are not around, I prefer to have dinner in the vicinity of the apartment so that I won’t have to deal with cranky kids who don’t want to be strapped in, or napping when they shouldn’t be! Luckily around the Ascott Huai Hai are plenty of options. The room service was pretty decent, and thankfully so, because my kids are always well and happy to stay at home instead of getting lugged all over town.

We a;sp tried a Hong Kong 茶餐厅 called 新旺, which has many outlets all over the place. It’s oily and salty, but what else do you expect right? 😁 We also ta-bao chin chow desserts from a Taiwanese dessert place just a short stroll from the apartment. There are also plenty of restaurants in the K11 Art Mall (which is a really lovely mall – so different! Bring the kids to the walkway in the basement leading towards the Watson’s) and Xintiandi 新天地 just a longer stroll away.

K11 Shanghai, pigs
Yes these are piglets, who were at an exhibition kind of thing at K11.

One evening we walked to Xintiandi 新天地 to eat at Din Tai Fung 鼎泰丰, which is like an institution there, even though it’s Taiwanese. Actually where in the world is it not an institution? What I loved was they provided little balls of dough for the kids to play with so they had something to do while waiting for the 小笼包 we ordered. So clever, and the kids played with it for one or two more days more before I had to throw it out.

Din tai fung, xing tian di, shanghai
One little ball of dough, so much fun!

The apartment is also a short walk to the Neon 霓虹 shopping area which is just across the road from our apartment. I didn’t’t really find much here because it’s either locally made toys (read: cheap and will break in 5 minutes), imported toys or imported clothes from Korea, which aren’t any cheaper, and I’m really not into fakes or factory run-offs because for the price the vendors try to sell you the goods, you can get reduced items from Gap and Old Navy! (Which I did!) There is a small chargeable play area inside the shopping area (look for the directional signage on the floor), and it looks like the same equipment they have at SingKids.

One morning we head to YuYuan Garden to have lunch at 南翔馒头店. Although it’s very touristy, the place still has its charm, and we head up to the highest floor to savour some 小龙包 and those soup buns that you need a straw to drink. Our favourite 小龙包 here is the one with the crab roe. The ground floor is for takeaways, but head up to the highest floor to see which has the shortest queues. Each section is divided by minimum spend.

Along the outside of YuYuan is a little tea place we stumbled on on our last trip, called 壶中方圆. My SIL has asked for tea from the same place, so I managed to find the store again and after buying lots of souvenir tea (like the type that “flowers” when you put it in water), the owner invites us for a bit of tea tasting. I would have loved to have spent some quiet time in a tea house, but we didn’t have much time and I don’t know how child friendly they would be.

One another day, the MIL and kids and I go to 田子坊 Tianzifang along 泰康路 Taikanglu to walk around while the hubby goes to pick up Mittens. It is rather warm and the kids and I enjoy a little yoghurt place the most. I’m not really interested in shopping, especially not when I have small kids in tow.

In this area there is also a little gem of a hairy crab restaurant 新光酒家. It reminds me of the eateries in Hong Kong. They have set meals and they serve hairy crab in all their dishes all year round. Don’t ask me how they do it, but we like it because everything is peeled for you, and the kids take to it quite well. There’s also crab fried rice, and most kids like fried rice.

hairy crab, shanghai
I’m having a craving for this dinner right now!!

The Bund

On the first day of school, we drop Mittens off in school and attend an orientation for parents. We’re supposed to squeeze in a massage but we end up at a supermarket buying some pasta and pasta sauce, which is comfort food for the kids and the 2 times I cook it even though it is quite plain, they love it. We head to the Bund to have lunch at Japanese restaurant Sun with Aqua, which has a large tank with a reef shark at its reception and just behind that is a little terrace perfect for overlooking the Bund and snapping some shots of the famous Bund skyline. The set lunches are pretty good too, and most kids I know love Japanese food.

Bund, shanghai
The view of the Bund.

One morning I took everyone to the South Bund Soft Spinning Market aka the South Bund Fabric Market to make shirts for the husband. I felt so lost there, but thank goodness I was able to google the Friendship store who did a pretty decent job of making the work shirts at RMB130 each. The ladies can speak a little bit if English and have many Caucasian customers. It might have been more expensive than other shops, but I’d pay a little more for good service and not having to haggle. The kids didn’t enjoy themselves here much. I bought a few scarves and 2 kids ties, which I probably also paid too much for, but they’re cute and still cheap anyway.

The Friendship Store, on the first level.
The Friendship Store, on the first level.

You can also have qipao cheongsam made here, but my mother and I had them made from a quaint little shop in Changlelu. Along that row are qipaos that go for as little ase RMB125 to RMB5,000 (or more?), but in the end we buy one for RMB1,500. It’s not cheap, but the tailoring sure is a lot better than the cheap ones.

On one of our mornings, we went to the Shanghai Natural Wild Insect Museum (you mean wild can be unnatural one meh?). They have quite a large collection of animals and insects here, from snakes to beetles and other bugs, to a range of turtles, geckos and other lizards, and even a petting zoo area complete with goats. There is also a small pond where you can fish for fish. It is as, if not more dated than the Butterfly and Insect Kingdom that we have in Sentosa, and although there are a lot of things to see here, I find some of the enclosures here a little questionable (like that petting “zoo” at Far Mart in Lim Chu Kang!), and one of the turtle tanks was breeding a lot of mosquitoes. The entrance is so non-descript and had the stench of a toilet. Or perhaps the doing of some diaperless babies. Go only if you’re bored and don’t want to queue for the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium next door. Or the Oriental Pearl Tower there too.

After that we took a walk along the Bund, and then headed to The Westin Bund Center Shanghai for some dim sum lunch. The dim sum is passable, but it’s a nice setting, and just adjacent to the Crystal Garden restaurant is the Executive Club Lounge which has a tank full of jellyfish at the entrance. Of course the kids loved that, and walking down 3 flights of glass stairs.

It would have been perfect to follow lunch with a trip to the Shanghai Natural History Museum, which is literally just round the corner from the Westin, but it is apparently closed (I think it’s because they are scheduled to move to a new building this year), so we head back to the apartment for a nap before it’s time to pick Mittens from school. During the time inbetween, our driver heads to the airport to pick up the hubby to surprise us! Funny how everything worked out, I’m not sure what the driver might have told us had the Natural History Museum been open?? It was a pleasant surprise though 🙂

 

One day, we visited the Oriental Pearl Tower in the morning, where we spend almost 1.5 hours in total just queuing to go up AND down. The view IS nice, but there are also many other viewpoints which don’t require so much time queuing. Or shoving. But if you would still like to go because it’s an icon of Shanghai, I would suggest going to the 259metre observatory level and spending your time there. The space capsule at 351metres is small and interesting but not spectacular, so I think overall this level is not worth the queue, especially with young kids in tow. As Shanghai is also very smoggy, the view higher up has lower visibility, so it was less impressive here than it was at 259metres. Thank goodness also that I brought my Young Living Thieves roll-on, and used it while jammed packed in the queues, to prevent catching any nasty bugs. There is also a Shanghai History Museum located in this building, and a restaurant which has virtually no queue.

When we’re finally free from the Oriental Pearl Tower we head to Table No.1 by Jason Atherton at the very quirky Waterhouse Hotel, which is so calm and a respite from the morning’s activities. They have only one baby chair and we are the only people to have kids here. They didn’t provide colouring sheets or were super friendly, but I wasn’t expecting that either, and the kids did enjoy eating from our portions. This place was recommended by a friend who thought that it would be casual enough for kids (it was). I’m disappointed I didn’t have enough time to try his other establishments in Shanghai!

On our last day in Shanghai, I spend the morning packing and then we had lunch at Kathleen’s No.5, located on the top floor (out of like 5 floors) of the vacated Shanghai Art Museum. I had no clue it was vacated (ok I could have done a little more research, but life is not the same without Google), and I find it a bit eerie because it’s an old heritage building, but thankfully it’s broad daylight! It gets busy during lunch but they are quite accommodating to my 2 younger noisy kids, who enjoy the lamb and pasta courses. I also thought I might be able to go to the Shanghai Museum which is just next door to the building, but my driver was smart to politely suggest we drive past to see the queue, and so I decided that wouldn’t be a good idea at ALL. Apparently you have to go early in the morning, and entrance is free, but they limit (or so I’m told?) the number of people who can enter at any one time. Darn.

Pudong

After realising I wouldn’t be able to get into the Shanghai Museum, our driver suggests another museum, and actually I have no clue what he’s on about. My Chinese-only speaking MIL usually translates their China-Chinese into Singapore-Chinese for me to input into my English brain, so I think a LOT of info gets lost along the way. But it sounds like a good idea and is right next to the 变脸 dinner performance we booked at Rivermall (props to the driver for thinking of that AND making us the booking!). The River Mall 世博源 – no, not the one in Sengkang, is apparently what used to be the Shanghai Expo and is now a massive mall. They have free evening light shows, but on the 2 occasions we’re there there are no shows – we couldn’t figure out if it was a technical issue or if they has something else on. On one Saturday we were there all the restaurants were full, so you’ve been warned! They do have a nice salt water aquarium with lots of baby rays, near one end of the mall near the 巴国布衣 restaurant.

So we arrive at the China Art Museum Shanghai 中华艺术宫, and I finally realise that THIS is the place (sidenote: The old Shanghai Art Museum moved here and was rebranded in 2012). We are completely bowled over by the architecture and massiveness and ingenuity of it. The building and the museum’s logo, are actually embodiments of the word 华. have no idea what we’re going to see inside, but it’s free, and we have time to kill anyway. We are there rather late, around 4pm, so there isn’t a queue (not sure about other times?), and the younger ones get really restless looking at the Classical Chinese paintings, although Mittens is getting a little into it.

Then my MIL mentions or shows me a photo of 清明上河图 Along the River During Qing Ming, and I drag everyone along (I think its RMB20 extra per adult, the rest of the museum is free). It was so worth it because it is a multimedia version so you can see people walking along, horses trotting, people having meals, and it even progresses between night and day. There are also short animations below the “painting” that illustrate e.g. how in the olden days they used ships for discovery and trade. Everyone was fascinated, and it really made a classical painting come alive. By this time it was close to dinner time, and it surprises me how long it takes us a while to walk to the exit. The place is ginormous, and even has its own library, art shop, food outlet, and a Starbucks. You could easily spend a whole day here. Pram-friendly.

We skip and hop (not really, we drove) over to 巴国布衣, and we’ve made the reservation 2 days in advanced so we get a good table near the stage. They have one 变脸 performance (I think it was at 630pm?), and it was all of like 6 minutes long, but I thought it would be interesting for the kids and the mothers. The performer even did a little walk around the room and did a change right in front of my MIL! Don’t ask me about the food because again I had to order mostly non-spicy stuff. There was a nice porridge dish which is grainy like our teochew porridge and has vegetables, which the kids liked. After the early performance, we’re almost done with dinner so we can get the kids into bed early (yay!). On our previous trip to Shanghai years ago, we did go to a huge double-storey restaurant with a full-on performance, but I wasn’t able to find it this time round with my limited Google. Wait, Google doesn’t even work in China! That’s probably the problem.

Oh and if you’re feeling homesick and want a little taste of home, do check out the eatery in Rivermall by MadPsychMum’s dad! Details here.

Also in Pudong is the Century Park 世纪公园. It’s a lovely park just next to the Shanghai Science & Technology Museum, which I reviewed previously, so the two could be combined, perhaps filling up an entire day because there is really quite a lot to see at the Museum (and for those who prefer shopping, there is a large shopping area just on the premises of the Museum). We walk around Century Park and end up going on some rides at an 80’s Shanghai version of Uncle Ringo. Pissed off that someone cut into my queue while I’m trying to buy ride tickets, the next woman who tried to do the same thing gets a telling off from me, who is a little shocked like she never thought of queuing in the first place. Ha! Apparently they (don’t ask me who?) are trying to encourage people to practice queues.

 

Other areas

We go to Eday Town 星期8小镇 . It’s the Kidzania and Bboss of Shanghai, and Abacus enjoys it tremendously even though he hardly speaks Chinese. He is usually quite reluctant to try new things, and I am really so proud of him trying out the various stations by himself! I think he would have enjoyed it more if the medium was English, but at the same time I think it was a wonderful immersion experience for him that it wasn’t.

 

We spent one rainy morning at Aqua 21 – the aquarium in Chenyang Park. Entrance is RMB160 per adult, and unless you are bored out of your wits, or even then, for that price you are probably better off spending it elsewhere. It is not bad as aquariums go, but the price is really exorbitant. You can go to the SEA Aquarium at RWS for that price! And that would be a zillion times better! I don’t have any decent photos because I either had my hands full with an umbrella, or a baby. Or both.

aqua 21, shanghai
Here are the kids at the aquarium looking at..something.

The only good thing about Chenyang Park is that it’s located right across a large mall, which has a Tesco, H&M and even an interesting outdoor play area (which was closed when we were there). We stopped here for lunch, and I used the 大众点评 app to find a lunch spot. Today it was 家有好面. The food is not bad, and quite fast. Lucky we were there just before the lunch crowd.

Looks like a permanent play area at the mall which would have been tons of fun!
Looks like a permanent play area at the mall which would have been tons of fun!

Many malls such as the 环球港 mall have permanent forest adventure-like obstacle courses The boys loved it! Although I was a little disturbed by an incident of a child peeing right onto the centre of the play area. 😱 I was really proud of Abacus completing several rounds of the course because when he was younger and Mittens would do the Forest Adventure in the malls he would always be too scared.

Other honourable mentions:

One afternoon we had lunch at Deli & Leisure – we were at the branch in Pudong, and apparently right on the Bund so you can eat and walk or vice versa, but it’s raining so much the day we’re there. They have decent set lunches from as little as RMB68, and everything from pasta to Asian dishes. Great for kids!

On our last day in Shanghai, before we left for Hangzhou, we had lunch at Element Fresh, which we liked. They have many kids options too.

 

And that (finally) completes our trip to Shanghai. You might also like to read the links on Shanghai with kids that I highlighted earlier in the year.

Next I have to work on doing a post on our trip to Hangzhou. I’ve been so efficient with my posts you might need to check back in December for that :p

 

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