The Bund is where the golden years of old Shanghai are kept alive. A section of the Shanghai International Settlement, it’s located on a stretch of the west bank of the Huangpu River, which was where the foreigners trading here disembarked. Shanghai being a port town, it was chaotic and frenetic, in stark contrast to its appearance today. Banks and trading companies flush with cash left a legacy here that is elegant and delightfully eclectic, resulting in a handsome set of buildings that now dominate the waterfront. Of particular note are the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank buildings, as well as the Shanghai Custom House. Today it’s as flashy with its cash as ever, brimming with luxury brands and gastronomic restaurants.
Directly across from the Bund on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River is the much-photographed Pudong area, with the 1960s sci-fi looking (despite it being built in the 1990s) Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which gives the skyline a futuristic movie-set feel. Further back on the bank is the sleek Shanghai World Financial Centre, one of the tallest buildings in the world, as well as the elegant, postmodern Jin Mao Tower. Ironically, one of the most popular activities to do here is look across the river from the buildings back to the Bund and beyond.
While the bustle of the Old City is engaging, it’s perhaps the former nineteenth-century French Concession that helps ground the city in the past. The ‘Paris of the East’ cliché comes alive here, with grand old mansions, some crumbling, their paint peeling, others prettily renovated and converted into boutiques, bars and restaurants. The area has a relaxed feel, leaving the rest of the city to race ahead at supersonic speeds.