Home China My Advice for Shanghai including Shanghai Apps

My Advice for Shanghai including Shanghai Apps

by Krista
All My Advice for Shanghai including The Best Shanghai Apps

All My Advice for Shanghai including The Best Shanghai Apps

My Advice for Shanghai & The Best Shanghai Apps

I just finished up two weeks in Shanghai, my second visit ever, and man am I exhausted. Between the sheer number of people, the sheer size of the metro, and the sheer number of restaurants and bars…you will have no shortage of things to do. I learned some good stuff from new friends as I made my way through two weeks of Chinese classes so here is my top advice for Shanghai along with my recommendations for essential Shanghai apps.

My #1 Piece of Advice for Shanghai: Stay in XinTianDi or Jing’An Temple

I’ve written an entirely separate blog post on where to stay in Shanghai. Don’t stay on The Bund. You are too far from public transport. Take a walk or a run on The Bund, sure. But don’t book a hotel around there. You want to be close to stuff! I recommend XinTianDi or Jing’An Temple for max proximity to fun restaurants, bars, and shops. (If you really really really want to stay close to The Bund, stay closer to any of the entrances to the East Nanjing Road metro station.) This is my top advice for Shanghai.

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Express VPN AND NordVPN

To get to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or anything Google-related in Shanghai, you’ll need a VPN. I have been a long-time fan of NordVPN but am glad I invested in ExpressVPN as well for my trip to China. I find that NordVPN works some of the time but not all of the time. I’m having better luck with ExpressVPN. If you are an internet addict, just be prepared for some frustrations in China and make sure you subscribe to a VPN BEFORE your trip, pay for it, and log in on all your devices before you leave the US or elsewhere. Downloading a VPN within China is nearly impossible. They are nearly all blocked. There is always a workaround but you will have to figure out how to contact support for backdoor access. Skip this headache by making sure you are all set before you arrive in China. Also, take screenshots on how to contact support just in case China totally blocks access to everything. Because it’s a constant cat and mouse game with VPNs and the Great Firewall, personally, I recommend having two VPNs. These are essential Shanghai apps!

Get the Taxi App Didi

The number one taxi app in Shanghai is Didi. Download this app before you go so you can easily order taxis whenever you need them. However, note that it can be extremely difficult to get taxis during rush hour. So you may want to consider the Metro instead. Please make sure you set up Didi before you get to Shanghai as you may need to try a number of credit cards before you find one that works. (This Medium article on Didi in China is very helpful.)

Get a Chinese-English Dictionary: Pleco

Pieco is a GREAT English Chinese dictionary app. Of course, you should download Google Translate as well but I find that Pieco is better at definitions and options for saying the same thing in different ways. And you don’t need to worry about the Great Firewall.

Download Explore Metro

One of the most essential Shanghai apps is Explore metro, a great metro map of Shanghai. If you put in your destination, it will plot out the fastest way for you to get there too.

Make Sure You Get WeChat

Most businesses will let you communicate with them via WeChat. Also useful for chatting with any friends (old or new!)  in China. Set this app up before you go so you can add your profile pic and store your friends’ details.

Hungry? Try Sherpa 

If you need a food delivery app in Shanghai, Sherpa is the Chinese version of JustEat or GrubHub although it’s only available in a few cities right now. (Shanghai, Beijing, Suzhou and Hangzhou as of this writing.) They also deliver wine and beer! This app is in English.

Need a Restaurant? Download Bon App

This is a great English-language restaurant guide and one of the most essential Shanghai apps if you need food delivered.

Taking Trains? Download Trip

Trip is a great app for your travel needs in China. So for example, if you need to check the train times for the fast trains from Beijing to Shanghai, Trip has all the info you need. This is definitely one of the best Shanghai apps if you plan on traveling around the country a lot. You can purchase tickets online and international credit cards are accepted but see my next point about getting your train tickets delivered to your hotel so you don’t have to queue at the station.

Book Train Tickets in Advance and Have Them Delivered to Your Hotel

Trying to pick up your train tickets in person at the station can take forever and can also be a stressful experience if the station is crowded and there are long queues. Also, Chinese trains often sell out in advance. So one of my best pieces of advice for Shanghai is to book your train tickets in advance and pay extra to have them delivered to your hotel. The Man in Seat 61 recommended China Highlights so I used them and had a positive experience. My tickets were with me within 48 hours. They also included helpful instructions for how to use the trains.

Forget Google. In China, You Need Bing

If you don’t have a VPN, be ready to do all your internet searches with Microsoft Bing! I can’t believe I’m actually writing this sentence. Because you’ve probably never used Bing as a search engine on a mobile device before, make sure you set it up before you go.

Learn Chinese with Hello Chinese

If you want to learn some basic Chinese, I tried a few different language apps and out of Duolingo, Memrise, and Hello Chinese, I liked Hello Chinese the best. It’s easy to use and fun too. I actually bough a year’s subscription, I’m having so much fun! Learning how to count to 10 in Chinese has been extremely helpful, as has learning how to say things like “beef,” “pork,” and “chicken.”

Google Maps is Dead. Long Live Apple Maps!

Because Google is blocked in China, you will find that Google Maps can be out of date or just plain wrong. I was burned more than a few times when I tried relying on Google Maps. Don’t rely on Shanghai restaurant addresses on Google Maps! Apple Maps is more accurate. I can’t believe people use Apple Maps but….you really need to in Shanghai and elsewhere in China. This is one of my top pieces of advice for Shanghai.

Prepare to Walk a Lot

Just some more general advice for Shanghai: I am very easily doing 12,000 steps a day. Even changing lines on the metro can entail walking thousands of steps. There are plenty of escalators and elevators between lines but changing lines can be intense.

Get a Fitbit

On the above note…Because I totally geeked out on how far I walked and how many flights of stairs I climbed in Shanghai, I highly recommend purchasing a Fitbit and setting up the app on your phone before your trip so you can track your activity!

Arrange Your Schedule to Avoid Rush Hour

My biggest piece of advice for Shanghai? Seriously, 8 am to 9 am and 5:30 pm to 7 pm on the Metro is insane. It can be hard to avoid these times as a tourist so just be ready to squish into the train cars and be a little (lot?) more aggressive than you would be in the US and certainly in the UK. You may want to pay a little more for a centrally located hotel to help avoid the crush. There was one day where I totally couldn’t get to the other side of town for my food tour because the metro was so crowded during the morning rush and I just wasn’t aggressive enough.

Prepare for Social Media Detox

I love Instagram Stories. But Instagram is blocked in China so you have to use a VPN which slows down your already slow internet connection. I can barely watch Instagram Stories. My connectivity just isn’t fast enough. (China internet speeds seem to be capped at about 15 Mbps. A far cry from the 60 Mbps I had in Thailand and the 200 Mbps I had in London.) So just be ready for a little detox.

Get a Local SIM Card

Maybe your home cell provider has a great deal on China but you might find that you get faster internet if you bring a local phone and get a local SIM Card. I paid about $30 USD for 20 GB of data and 300 minutes with China Unicom for a month. (If you know you will be traveling outside of Shanghai, ask for a nationwide plan. Essential!) To get my SIM, I went to Exit 7 of Changshou Road. When you come out the exit, make a left onto Changshou Road. There on the left, there’s a mall called Yaxin Life Square.  In the entrance of the mall, right there in the foyer, there is a mobile phone counter. The logo looks like it says Wow but my hotel sent me there and said they sold China Unicom SIM cards. Getting the SIM card probably took about 20 minutes because they had to register my details. Bring your passport. You don’t have to go here of course but this is just one place I know where you can get a SIM card and it may not be that busy.

Take Taxis! They are Cheap!

On the day that I realized that rush hour in Shanghai was no joke, I had to take a taxi to the other side of town. The ride probably took 45 minutes. It cost 50 yuan, which is about $7.25. You just need to be able to hail a taxi, which seems next to impossible during rush hour. My hotel helped me get a taxi so this worked out.

Carry Tissues and Hand Sanitizer

A lot of public restrooms will not have toilet paper. And you will be on and off the metro so frequently that hand sanitizer is a very good idea.

Don’t Drink the Tap Water

Tap water in Shanghai is not drinkable. Drink bottled water instead. Or buy a Lifestraw water bottle which will filter tap water for you!

Summary of my Advice for Shanghai and My Favorite Shanghai Apps

I hope you’ve found this post with my advice for Shanghai and my favorite Shanghai apps helpful — I learned a lot during my time in Shanghai and can’t wait to go back. Have you been to Shanghai? What’s your advice for Shanghai and what were your favorite Shanghai apps?

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1 comment

NathanianTh 2018 -

Perfect tips, I’ll definitely make use of most of these! Regarding a VPN I subscribed to NordVPN merely because I read really good reviews about it and found it to be cheaper than express. Will see how that goes, but I don’t mind an hour or two without the connection as long as I’m not on a business trip. Other than that, Apple maps advise is a good one, didn’t even think of that before reading this. Thanks.

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