There is something about Yuyuan Bazaar that makes it tick to travelers who love culture and shopping. It is a shopping paradise, but unlike shopping centers in urban settings, Yuyuan is surrounded by a number of cultural highlights – the Yu Garden, the Shanghai Old Street/Old Town, the Taoist Temple of the Town God, the colors of the local lifestyle, and the tea houses.
Yu Garden: Entrancing the Senses
This classical garden built during the Ming Dynasty has a long history spanning over 450 years. It is located in the northeast corner of the once walled district of Shanghai. It is a major tourist drawer with distinct features, gracing the six areas: Sansui Hall, Yuhua Hall, Dianchun Hall, Huijing Hall, Wanhua Chamber, and the Inner Garden.
The Yu Garden is a trove of treasures – sheltered alcoves, courtyards, pavilions, sparkling ponds whipping with fish and waterfalls, pavilions, wistful growths of Luohan pines willows, gingkos, and the fragrant Shàngh?i flower(Magnolia grandiflora). These are delightfully tucked away in rockeries, caverns, passages, pathways, and edifices and offer visitors dissimilar views when coming from different directions so that there is a surprise waiting at every turn and corner.
The main features include: Jade Exquisite (Yu Ling Long in Chinese), the most stunning rockery in Jiangnan district, and cultural highlights since the Ming Dynasty – thousands of paint artwork, priceless cultural relics like porcelains, poems in calligraphy, stone carvings, and sculptures using wood or mud.
Shanghai Old Street: Stepping Back in Time
To travel back in time, all you need to do is pay the Shanghai Old Street a visit. The two sections – eastern and western – have buildings reminiscent of the late Qing Dynasty and the Ming Dynasty, as well as the early Republican period. This was the venue for all the trades of China, which includes banks, pawnshops, gold and silverware shops, theaters, teahouses, wine stores and other enterprises.
These days, the street is still a landmark for its hundred-year-old stores – Tonghanchun, Qiu Tianbao, Wuliangcai, Laotongsheng, Wanyouquan, Deshun Western Food Restaurant, Old Shanghai Tea House, Rongshun Restaurant, Chunfeng Deyi Restaurant, Dingniangzi Cloth Store, Xishi Soya Bean Curd Store, and Baoyintang. The street is also graced by some newer establishments that are fast becoming its highlights.
Taoist Temple of the Town God: The Chenghuangmiao
This religious landmark is located along the Fangbang Zhong Road. It is recognized as the main Taoist Temple in Shanghai, which is renowned for its long history since the Ming Dynasty and its superb design and construction. This temple, known as Temple Chenghuang in Chinese, literally means “The Guardian of the City.” It has four gateposts, three gates and a decorated archway. The latter bears the images of the Taoist’s Eight Immortals while guarding the offerings is the bearded and red-faced town god himself.
This temple occupies an area of more than 2000 square meters and is still used by the Zhengyi sect of Taoism. It has nine halls – Grand Hall (Huoguang Hall), the God of Wealth Hall, Yuanchen Hall (Jiazi Hall), Niangniang Hall (Goddess Hall), Fumu Hall (Parents Hall), Wenchang Hall Zihang Hall, Guansheng Hall, and Chenghuang Hall.
Húxintíng Teahouse: Titillating the Palate for More
Húxintíng Teahouse isn’t just famous in Shanghai, but in the entire China. This impressively gorgeous building regally floats in a pond in the Yu Garden and can be reached via the “nine-turning bridge.” The teahouse becomes a haven after a long, tiring shopping and/or sightseeing expedition. Enjoy the experience of sampling different teas and nibbling fabulously delicious treats of savory meatballs with the tea. Take a seat near the window on the second floor and enjoy the view for that relaxing. There are other teahouses where you can sample teas and other delightful dim sums, and their famous Nanxiang dumpling soup and xiao long bao.
Getting There: On Your Foot
A lot of Shanghai streets are either impassable or one-way during weekends. It is best to take a taxi; ask the driver to drop you off somewhere near the Yuyuan Bazaar, and start wandering to explore the area. The structures are very iconic, looking very Chinese with its classic architecture. Shop, sightsee and never leave without tasting the Nanxiang dumpling soup and the xiao long bao that can be best washed down by a cup of steaming tea. Húx?ntíng Teahouse is a good place to start. For a repeat experience, you can try any of these teahouses recommended by Joanne Yao of CNN-Travel in her post Best Xiaolongbao Restaurants in Shanghai.