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The Bund in China
The Bund in Shanghai, China
Historic Places to Visit in China: The Bund
The Bund, located in Shanghai is a popular tourist destination that sits along the western bank of the Huangpu River. The term “bund” in this context is best understood as an embankment, or more accurately as an embanked quay. Also known as the Waitan, this is a waterfront property in Shanghai that is packed full of things to do. For hundreds of years, the Bund has been a hub of activity, and if you're going to be in the area you won't want to miss it!
History of The Bund
Modern history regarding the Bund dates back to the conclusion of the First Opium War and the subsequent Treaty of Nanking in 1842. During this period the Bund was established as a treaty port within what would later be known as the Shanghai International Settlement. This agreement forcibly established trade relations between Imperial China, England, the United States, and France. The Chinese emperor Tao-Kuang, knowing that his military power could not stand up to the mighty British signed the agreement out of desperation to save his failing empire. Each foreign power established districts for themselves with the French and American headquarters being in the northern part of the Bund, the English occupied the southern portion.
All three foreign districts were not subject to Chinese law which forbade the opium trade, a large source of income for all European powers, but particularly the British. Instead, these foreign powers established a united municipal council system which collectively governed their actions. However, the French pulled out of the arrangement in 1862, leaving only the Anglo-American presence to officially form the Shanghai International Settlement. The main purpose of this organization was to ensure the lucrative trade that greatly benefited the two powers by enforcing their unfair agreements established by way of the Treaty of Nanking. The Bund is an architectural hodgepodge consisting of building styles derived from the West as well as China. Visiting the Bund is ideal for anyone even remotely interested in the coming together of very different cultures.
Things to See and Do While Visiting the Bund
The Bund is replete with gorgeous views consisting of old and new building styles. Many locals refer to this area as the “museum of buildings”. Although this view is even more appealing as one is now able to see nearly brand new skyscrapers just across the river. These skyscrapers make up the recently constructed Pudong financial district. Just fifteen years prior to the time of this writing (2012) there existed only farmland in this area.
The Pudong district is a direct reflection of how China has moved toward urbanization while gradually abandoning its rural past. There are 52 buildings that officially comprise the Bund; they are of various styles including Renaissance, Romanesque, art deco, and baroque. One of the more notable buildings is the Customs House, built in 1927 by a joint English-American effort. This structure is famous for its clock tower which is nicknamed the “Big Ching”. At the northern most point of the Bund visitors will find Huangpu Park. This park is legendary as it was the area most prone to Chinese exclusion through racist policies put in place by the occupying foreign forces. Until 1928 all Chinese were banned from the park without being accompanied by a European or American foreigner. The park plays host to the Bund Historical Museum; this picturesque structure was once the tallest building in the entire continent of Asia. Its height was ideal for its function as it was used as an observatory. Furthermore, this structure also sent out regular time signals which allowed the people of the Bund to accurately set their timepieces.
Today, as a museum, the building is made up of three floors, each having their own purpose. The first floor is home to a fascinating photo exhibition which depicts the history of the Bund from its beginnings in the 1840s until the present. The second floor is where visitors are greeted by a bar and a film viewing area that shows programs dedicated to the early history of Shanghai. Finally, the entire third floor is an observation deck which offers amazing views of the Huangpu River and the Bund. The operating hours of the museum are only 10a-2p, visiting the museum only takes about thirty minutes. Best of all, it’s free of charge.
Despite being tall, the museum is quite small in width. However, visitors should not let this fool them as it is a vitally important place to visit for anyone interested in seeing the best views of both the Bund and the historic Huangpu River.
For those who enjoy boat rides there are the options of taking the Huangpu River cruise or the ferry. The cruise offers one hour rides which cost approximately ¥25. Those seeking a longer ride can opt for the three hour cruise, costing ¥55. The cruise is not available for two hour trips. The current exchange rate between the USD and the Chinese Yuan is about $0.15 for one Yuan. Most foreigners will find the devalued currency of China quite beneficial as their country’s currency goes much further in terms of purchasing power.
For those who are either short on time or money can choose to take a ride on the ferry. This trip takes only about fifteen minutes as it simply travels across the river to the Pudong district. The ferry is priced at just ¥2, an incredible bargain equaling about thirty American cents. Both the cruise and the ferry are open daily throughout the year from 9a-5p.
The Bund is best walked; and those hoping to find tour buses are going to be out of luck. Public transportation of any kind on the Bund is non-existent save for a train station which is about a ten minute walk away. This is the train tourists use to go visit the Bund and depart from it. However, there is the Bund Tourist Tunnel, although most visitors upon returning home say that this adventure is little more than a rip off. This ride is a silly voyage through a tunnel that hasn’t changed much from the 1980s as evidenced by its various strobe lights, lasers, and odd inflatables that a typical Westerner may find a local car dealership. This is a slow moving train that is incorrectly marketed as a sightseeing tunnel. There is no information pertaining to anything during this tour and there is nobody to answer any questions that a guest may have. Making this ride worse yet is its price of ¥40; certainly not worth the cost and is not even remotely comparable to both the ferry and cruise rides.
Things to Be Aware of When Planning a Voyage to the Bund
The first thing to consider when planning any trip to a foreign country is the local currency exchange rate. Most travelers from Western countries will be quite satisfied in regard to how much their money can buy. For example a five-star restaurant on the Bund will never cost more than ¥100; an incredible bargain.
The exchange rate is important to understand when computing a total budget for the trip; especially as it can ease the shock induced by expensive plane tickets. Flights from the United States into any major airport within China commonly cost at least $1500 per person round trip.
Also, visitors should beware of the local population; they are indeed typically friendly and non-violent, but they have a penchant for working scams on unsuspecting tourists. One of the more popular scams involves a local approaching a tourist and politely asking if he or she would be interested in having a drink or perhaps some tea. Often, when the tourist accepts this invitation they are left with an expensive tab as the local will secretly place costly items on the tourist’s bill before sneaking away with said items. It is perfectly acceptable to politely decline this invitation.
The Bund is a must see place for tourists that find interest in areas that are made up of diverse cultures and appearances. Shanghai is a modern metropolitan boomtown with the Bund being highlighted as its most appealing place for visiting Westerners. First time visitors to China are recommended to spend time at the Bund as it is a smooth transition between the West and China. In short, it is probably the most familiar place for Western foreigners in terms of food, the amount of English spoken, the architecture, and the fact that many other Westerners are just about everywhere. Those who travel on a budget will find that the Bund offers the best of Chinese lodging, food, and sights for a fair price. Although the Bund is friendly to inexperienced travelers, it is also the perfect place to visit for any seasoned traveler wishing to see Western cultures coupled with Chinese cultures.