Roving around Asia

[IN PROGRESS] Unbelievably, it has been 18+ months since my last update to this site! I have no idea where the time has gone. I have added lots more destinations to the list published all that time ago, flown well in excess of a million miles, taken a small step up the career ladder and continue to love the opportunity that I have to travel.

But, as with all jobs, even mine gets a little repetitive and tedious, so what better way to overcome these issues than to take a whole month away from flying? In November, that’s exactly what I did. It was great and I can’t wait to do it again.

On Halloween, I worked my last flight from Leeds back to London, and excitedly headed home, knowing that in 12 hours I would be on a plane bound for Asia. Specifically China.

The following morning, I set off with my mum to Heathrow Airport Terminal 2. It was my first experience of this particular terminal, and, I hope, my last. Clean, modern, bright and airy it is, but it’s also hideously expensive and really much too big. But being the Star Alliance terminal, we had no choice but to grin and bear it.

We were soon on our way to Zurich, where we would transfer onto another aircraft bound for Shanghai. Swiss was our choice of airline today, simply because they were very reasonably priced. A flight from London to Beijing and returning from Shanghai to London was a mere £373.00 per person, inclusive of baggage. And very good they were too. Complimentary food and beverages the whole way and a decent service too.

China is one of those countries that many avoid, simply because it can be a real pain getting in. Generally, visitors require visas – even those from the United Kingdom. It takes time and it costs money. But for us and our proposed itinerary, a transit without visa option was not only possible, but free! There’s some criteria that must be met in order to ‘transit’ but it’s very quick and easy and the perfect way to see China without the need to visit an embassy or burn a hole in your pocket.

First and foremost, transit without visa is only available in selected cities – and certainly Beijing and Shanghai are included. The city that you choose to transit in will determine how long you can spend there. In the case of these cities, 144 hours (six days) is permitted, starting from midnight on your day of arrival. Some cities may limit your transit to just 72 hours so definitely do your own research if planning a similar trip.

You must arrive at your transit city from one international city (in my case, Zurich) and depart within six days to another (for me, Hong Kong). On the return, I arrived in Shanghai from Seoul and departed a few days later to Zurich again.

Immigration officers will want to see proof of your onward flight. If you qualify for standby staff travel like I do, an unconfirmed ticket just won’t do here, but don’t despair. Air travel throughout Asia is very cheap and perhaps even cheaper than flying standby! As an example, a one-way flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong with little known airline, Juneyao Airlines, was around £40.00. That took around three hours, included checked baggage and both food and drink on board.

It is worth bearing in mind as well that you are officially in transit. Travel outside of your transit city is therefore not permitted. If you want to see the Great Wall and the bright lights of Shanghai, you’ll need enter multiple times, just as we did.

Shanghai is a city that I have visited many times before. Although not the Chinese capital, it has a capital city feel about it – it’s enormous, ultra-modern and affluent too.

Getting from Pudong Airport to the city was super-quick, thanks to the Maglev train. In just eight minutes, you find yourself at Longyang Road. From there, you can brave the English-friendly metro system or take a taxi, just as we did. Our fare from the station to our hotel – Holiday Inn Shanghai Jinxiu – was a little over £3.00.

Disappointingly, we lost our first day in Shanghai to sleep! After a long flight to China, we were both pretty tired, and a couple of hours nap turned into a full-blown sleep lasting around nine hours. We went off in search of food, passing some bizarre dancing classes in the street.

The hotel, whilst not central, was still in a great location. A metro station was 10 minutes away on foot and there were plenty of shops and restaurants in the immediate area. We found that few restaurants offered English menus and some language difficulties meant that we couldn’t be sure about what exactly what was on offer. And I especially was keen to know. Parts of an animal that we might throw away at home are turned into meals in China!

The Shanghai metro is a really quick, convenient and inexpensive way of getting around the city, and we used it a lot. There are English signs at the stations and on the trains and announcements are made in English too, meaning that you’re unlikely to miss your stop!

Shanghai isn’t a city that requires too much of your time. We spent many hours shopping at the indoor market adjacent to the city’s science museum and an afternoon and evening at the Bund. As the sun goes down, the skyline comes alive. The bright lights and the orange sky look fantastic together. A 10-minute ferry ride across the water costs just a few pence, and, if timed right, can see you being out on the water just as the sun dips below the horizon!

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