Travel Diary #1: Discovering Shanghai with kids

Skyline Pudong Shanghai


Our long term family trip has started

When you are planning a long term family trip, you have a great deal to look forward to, but still, the moment of saying goodbye is not something fun to do. After saying goodbye to our friends, it is with some tears in the corner of our eyes, we give our family a big hug at the airport.

We won’t be seeing them for a long time now that we are leaving. Especially the fact our kids come along, makes the moment more emotional, as they will have changed a lot by the time they see them back. Luckily, we are living in the 21st century, and we will have regular contact through WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, …

But let’s not forget the essence, we are leaving for our long term trip with our kids! It is time to cheer and be happy! We can’t wait any longer to get on our plane to China, a one-way ticket. Initially, we were going to start our trip by discovering China and Mongolia. But because of the difficulties to get a Chinese Visa, we decided last minute not to go and picked Malaysia and Australia instead.

As we were still flying to China, we decided to stay in Shanghai for 5 days on a transit visa. To be honest, we do feel a bit relieved. China would have been a big challenge with long distances, a lot of language issues and intensive travelling for us and the children. Malaysia seems to be more laid back, more simple as a travel destination. China and especially Mongolia however, are still on our bucket list. Maybe we succeed to go there a bit later on this trip.

Long Term Family Trip Is Started
Leaving Brussels to start our long term family trip

Flying from Brussels to Shanghai, and we were spoiled 🙂

We were flying Hainan Airlines, a direct flight to Shanghai. We always try to book direct flights with the girls, if possible and payable. And boy did we like the flight… Hanne called it multiple times ‘a real treat’. We had our own screen with lots of movies, games, … and got a real menu with a choice of delicious meals. Very friendly staff, blankets, pillows, enough space, a little bag with a toothbrush, socks, … In other words, everything we needed was provided for. A big difference with some local flights and of course with the low budget carriers. If you ever have the chance to fly Hainan, definitely book the flight.

Hainan Airlines Flight To Shanghai
Hainan Airlines proved to be a real treat

Our top experiences in Shanghai

The Bund – Shanghai Skyline

The skyline of Pudong, the new city centre across the river, is in our opinion one of the highlights of Shanghai. You get the best views from The Bund, a big street with some older colonial buildings, but of course, we weren’t alone. We succeeded however in getting a nice spot to see the skyline lighten up after sunset. A beautiful experience as all the buildings have their own light show. Some with gigantic billboards, other with moving lights in all the colours of the rainbow. Definitely something our children could appreciate. After a long night, we walked back alongside the Bund, past huge shopping streets and malls to the subway. We discovered Shanghai to be big, busy and colourful.

Night Skyline Pudong Shanghai China
Skyline of Pudong Shanghai by night

Climbing The Shanghai Tower

The Shanghai Tower is the second highest building, has the highest visitors platform and the quickest elevator in the world. We couldn’t let this one pass by without a visit. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones that decided to visit this highlight. After conquering the huge waiting queue, we nearly missed out on watching the sunset from the top platform. But luckily, once we got out the quickest elevator (which you actually don’t feel except in the ears), we got to see a stunning sunset. My photographers heart (Heleen) jumped up a little and 50 pictures later, the rest of the family finally got to discover the rest of the two visitor platforms on the 118th and 119th floor. As the city was now lightning up, we waited for a little. Heleen and the kids almost against the window, Jurgen because of his fear of heights just some steps behind us :-). Thousands and thousands of lights started flickering and again 50 pictures later we were ready to go down. We were able to get the best of two moments, the sunset and Shanghai by night! The only downside, there wasn’t a visitors platform on the outside, which does enhance the experience. Jurgen, however, doesn’t share this opinion :-).

Sunset Shanghai Tower China
Sunset on top of the Shanghai Tower


Sisterlove Shanghai Tower Sunset
Sister love on top of the Shanghai Tower
Shanghai Tower Night View
City by night on top of the Shanghai Tower

Yuyuan Garden

Aaahhh, a piece of nature. One would almost say a quiet piece of nature, but we are still in the middle of Shanghai, and it is a touristic highlight so it was a bit busy. But even so, we really enjoyed our visit. Beautifully landscaped gardens, stairs, hidden corners, ponds, … all from and according to the old Ming Dynasty. The neighbourhood surrounding the gardens is as charming. Traditional buildings, little shops and delicious food everywhere (Yuyuan Bazaar). Maybe a little taste of the real China, all be it touristic?

In any case, the kids loved this little paradise in Shanghai.

Shanghai Yuyuan Gardens
Beautiful Ming Dynasty gardens in Yuyuan Gardens


Yuyuan Gardens Kids Fish Shanghai
Kids having a good time in Yuyuan Gardens

Food court 

Just near Yuyuan Garden, we accidentally found a food court. We knew the concept back from our days in Thailand. Food is lined up all along the sides. Choose your favourite dish, pay at the end and join all the other local people enjoying their meals in the middle of the room. This time Jurgen heart started to shout. You can witness the local chefs making their dishes, smell hundreds of different senses and see the most delicious local food. Maybe some not as yummy as others… Anyone roasted frog? Or a complete goose head? Strange people those Chinese… Anyway, we enjoyed the food as well as the bill, which was very affordable. Hanne tried to eat with sticks for the first time. Witch changing luck for her and funny moments for us. The kids were again an attraction for the Chinese and we were happy to see and taste a bit of real Chinese culture.

Food Court Yuyuan Shanghai Chef
Chefs cooking delicious meals at a food court


Food Court Yuyuan Kids Sticks Shanghai
Hanne is learning how to eat with sticks
Food Court Delicious Meals Shanghai
Delicious food is lined up at Yuyuan food court

The Former French Concession

The former French Concession, where we had our Airbnb Airbnb Appartement (click here to receive €30/$35 when you are new to Airbnb), is a wonderful quiet area within the busy city of Shanghai. The area is known for its longe lanes aligned with big trees and colonial houses. The favourite neighbourhood for rich Chinese or expats. As it is spread over a large piece of the old Shanghai, we only explored a little bit. We wandered through the leafy lanes and watched the old people exercise and play games in the park. Another glimpse of authentic China.

French Concession Green Shanghai China
Enjoying the leafy neighbourhood of the French Concession


Park French Concession Shanghai China
Relaxing park in the French Concession


A part of the French Concession but so beautiful it has earned its own piece of text. Lovely streets with old buildings, little charming shops, a lot of artists and galleries and cosy bars with a real backpackers feeling around them. But it would be too good to be true. The area is also very touristic and the food is overpriced. So we walked around, enjoyed the atmosphere and ate just outside Tianzifang. Mum and the kids could have walked around for hours, daddy, however, had seen enough shops and busy streets after a while. Although the authenticity has gone a little bit, the restoration is nicely done and there are still living local people in some of the houses above the shops. It feels a lot more real than the Xintiandi area. Definitely worth a visit when you are visiting Shanghai with kids.

Streets Tianzifang French Concession Shanghai
The beautiful streets of Tianzifang


Another district within the French Concession and ‘our’ neighbourhood during our stay in Shanghai. Would we choose it again? We are doubting a bit… It is a very pleasant area, with nice streets and old trees. It feels safe and is very close to the subway station, so in easy reach of everything. But it is a very expensive region. When we walked out of our apartment, we bumped into the Tesla store, just to give you an idea :-). There are very few local eateries, only high-end restaurants. They will probably be worth there money and give an excellent dining experience. Some of them are very fancy and you can find almost every facet of the world kitchen nearby. So after a lot of rice, dumplings and noodles the kids really could use some spaghetti, fries or club sandwich and we visit one of the hip restaurants, Green & Safe The Barn. Scored for mum and dad! The district itself also has restored old buildings, but with less charm and authenticity than in Thianzifang. So Xintiandi is a nice neighbourhood, but more for high-end shopping and eating experiences.

Xintiandi Shanghai The Green and Safe Bar
The kids are playing cards at The Green and Safe Barn in Xintiandi


The Green and Safe Barn Shanghai Xintiandi
The Green and Safe Barn in Xintiandi Shanghai

The girls are popular 

Not really a sight in itself, but worth mentioning. Our kids were a hit in Shanghai! You would think they have seen western kids before, but even so, many people wanted a picture of them. Maybe because a lot of them thought they are twins? Was it because of the one-child policy that used to be the case in China? Maybe because of their lighter hair? Anyway, it was a funny experience for the kids. Although Hanne had enough of it after a few pictures. Yuna, on the other hand, was enjoying herself and planning on putting down a sign ‘Take a picture’… Maybe if we need a backup plan for our travel budget ;-)? Shanghai with kids is definitely an experience.

Kids Popular Shanghai China
Enjoying their moment of glory in Shanghai


Popular Kids Shanghai China
The girls were popular, especially with Chinese mothers

What did we really think about Shanghai? 

Before we fly to Kuala Lumpur, we love to give our thoughts on Shanghai. It is definitely worth a visit, also with kids. It is a big, bustling world city where there is a lot to see and experience, with delicious food and it gives the first impression on China. But everything has his benefits and downsides. Here are some of our concerns…

There are a lot of people in Shanghai

First of all, it is busy, very very busy. There are people everywhere. Which is an experience in itself, but for anyone who doesn’t fancy an extreme amount of people, it is a challenge. Especially when visiting Shanghai with kids as you really don’t want to lose them in the overcrowding on the streets. They have to hold your hand continuously. What else to expect of course in a city with 24 million inhabitants. This being said, we have to admit we have never seen a metropolis being so smoothly organised. The subway is very punctual, the Chinese are very disciplined and there is no chaos. A whole other experience than South-east Asia for example.

Busy Shanghai With Kids
Shanghai is very busy, so keep your kids close


Crowded Sidewalk Busy Shanghai
Is the sidewalk to crowded? No problem, just use the road.

The government…

The government and regulations in China really do feel like a disadvantage when travelling over there. We constantly had the feeling of being watched. Big brother wasn’t far away… The people in Shanghai were very friendly towards foreigners, but nevertheless is everything just a little bit more difficult when you are not Chinese. On the airport, we needed to wait very long before they approved our papers, partly due to the fact that we entered the country with a transit visa. Everything is checked: location of your stay, the number of the owner of the accommodation, when you will be leaving China and on which flight, …


And just when you think all the hassle is behind you and you can safely leave the airport to go to your accommodation, they send a police officer two days later to the apartment. Apparently, you need to register your stay in a local police station. When you are staying in a hotel, they arrange everything. We were staying in an Airbnb however, so as we found out, we needed to do that by ourselves. And as we later discovered, it was mentioned on the transit visa in very small letters. A strange feeling, being watched and then suddenly someone who just appears on your doorstep. But it all turned out good in the end and we could enjoy the rest of our stay in Shanghai.

The firewall

Another consequence of federal regulations is the notorious Chinese firewall. There is no access to Google, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, … No disaster of course but it isn’t handy either. Especially when you want to earn money online or are blogging. Luckily, we had prepared ourselves and signed up for NordVPN. We tried it and it works, we could bypass the firewall. Think about this in time however, because once in China, you can not install it anymore.

The real China?

Shanghai with kids was very nice and although we liked the city and could get a taste of the Chinese culture for the very first time, we do have the feeling we didn’t see the real China yet. It feels a little bit like visiting New York. You can not say you have tasted the real America when you just stopped over in New York. We are still very eager to see the rest of China. Stunning nature, ethnic minorities, authentic villages and cultures, … We still have a lot to discover over there.

Do you speak English?

Finally, the language. We heard that the Chinese don’t speak English very well and in the remote regions, there is no English at all. Still, we expected Shanghai to be different. It is a world city with lots of tourists, international jobs, … But that turned out to be wrong. Even in the most touristic places, you needed to be lucky to find somebody who could speak English, or at least English we could understand. They did, however, try their very best, always willing to help or look for somebody who did speak English. But it did wake us up for the rest of China. English in remote areas will be an even bigger problem. We’ll better be prepared :-).

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