A Walk Around Ancient Yuyuan

Yuyuan Area is like a typical “Chinatown” that you see in foreign countries, but BIG-scale and with a more authentic Chinese vibe, for very obvious reasons! Numerous shops line the streets heavily decorated with the appeal of antiquity. Entering this well-preserved cultural and historical area is like stepping back to ancient dynasty era. All of the buildings have a charming antique facade and a fairly modern refurbished interior. The entire place is basically a commercial area for touring and shopping. Here you will have countless opportunities to appreciate the old Chinese way of life, marvel at the people’s craftsmanship and envy their trading skills – to a certain extent.

This bustling must-see tourist attraction gives Shanghai its distinct commercial flavor, traditionally speaking at least. Here’s what not to miss:

1. The alleys and lanes are festooned with shops selling a variety of goods: from food to clothing to souvenir items. I spent a great deal of time checking out these shops. It is quite interesting to go in and pretend to negotiate prices even if you’re actually just window shopping. Sometimes, you get lucky and bag in a really nice bargain.

2. Mid-Lake Pavilion Tea House and Zigzag Bridge
This two-storey tea house is aesthetically located right in the middle of the Lotus Pond, thus the name Mid-Lake. The pavilion was originally named Fuyi Pavilion built in 1784. It was later changed to Ye Shi Pavilion and became the earliest tea house in Shanghai. Now it is the most well-known tea house in the city. The Zigzag Bridge offers a nice perspective for taking photos of the surrounding area.

2. Nanxiang Steamed Buns Store and Restaurant
Famed for its tasty Xiao Long Bao, this restaurant is thronged with people all throughout the day. Hence, you’ll have to queue (and the wait is long) before you are able to enjoy the best steamed buns in Shanghai. However, you can head up to the 2nd floor if you want to have a bit of comfort dining. Of course, that goes with a higher price but shorter waiting time. I did go up and was seated the moment I got in (This is one advantage of traveling alone – there’s lots of single spaces to squeeze you in.)

3. Yu Garden
This is one of Shanghai’s highlights: a famous two-hectare classical garden built more than 400years ago during the Ming Dynasty by a government officer named Pan Yunduan. He made it especially for his parents to have a happy and tranquil life in their old age. Its beautiful scenery, artistic lay-out, old structures and cultural relics offer visitors glimpses of the ancient past, as well as a chance to slow down a bit and bathe in its serene surroundings. The garden is aptly named ‘Yu’ which means ‘peaceful’. One very interesting attraction here is the Exquisite Jade Rock believed to have been found 1000 years ago.

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4. Shanghai Old Street
It is the center of all trades in Shanghai. It runs 825m from Renmin Road to Henan Road. Private banks, gold shops, jewelry stores, wine shops, tea houses, theaters, and other firms can be found within this stretch. Some of the traditional trades like a coin store, old-fashioned tea houses, a shop that sells mahogany decorative articles as well as a pawn shop can still be found here.

These are just a few of the attractions that are seen around Yuyuan area. But I feel like I have wandered through the entire area by the countless alleyways I have walked on. Sign posts at street corners help you place where you are. And of course, having a map on hand is never a bad idea. Grab one from any Tourist Information Center. Nevertheless, it’s a rather easy stroll, and you’ll find your way back to the metro without a struggle. Visiting this Old Town is certainly a must for those who enjoy anything and everything Chinese.

Access: Metro Line 10 Yuyuan Garden Station

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"The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is."— Mark Helprin