The Huangpu River (Huangpu Jiang) is the city's shipping artery both to the East China Sea and to the mouth of the Yangzi River, which the Huangpu joins 29km (18 miles) north of downtown Shanghai. It has also become a demarcating line between two Shanghais, east and west, past and future. On its western shore, the colonial landmarks of the Bund serve as a reminder of Shanghai's 19th-century struggle to reclaim a waterfront from the bogs of this river (which originates in nearby Dianshan Hu or Lake Dianshan); on the eastern shore, the steel-and-glass skyscrapers of the Pudong New Area point to a burgeoning financial empire of the future.
The Huangpu's wharves are the most fascinating in China. The port handles the cargo coming out of the interior from Nanjing, Wuhan, and other Yangzi River ports, including Chongqing, 2,415km (1,500 miles) deep into Sichuan Province. From Shanghai, which produces plenty of industrial and commercial products in its own right, as much as a third of China's trade with the rest of the world is conducted each year. A boat ride on the Huangpu is highly recommended: Not only does it provide unrivaled postcard views of Shanghai past and future, but it will also afford you a closer look at this dynamic waterway that makes Shanghai flow.
There are several ways to tour the Huangpu River. If you have time, a 3-hour (60km/37-mile) voyage along the Huangpu to the mouth of the Yangzi River and back allows for the most leisurely and complete appreciation of the river. There are also shorter river cruises (1 hr.) that ply the main waterfront area between the two suspension bridges, Nanpu Qiao in the south, and Yangpu Qiao in the north, and an even shorter (30-min.) cruise from Pudong (see "Quick Cruise from Pudong").
Many boat companies offer cruises; one of the main ones is the Shanghai Huangpu River Cruise Company (Shanghai Pujiang Youlan Youxian Gongsi) (tel. 021/6318-8888 or 021/6374-0091; www.pjrivercruise.com). They typically have a daily, full 3-hour afternoon cruise (2-5pm) to Wusong Kou and back. Cost is ¥150. As well, there are hour-long cruises (¥100) every day departing at 30-minute to 1-hour intervals between 9:30am and 4:30pm from the Bund to the Yangpu Bridge. This company also offers a nightly cruise (45-60 min.; ¥100) every half-hour between 7pm and 8:30pm. Cruise schedules vary depending on the season, and on Saturday and Sunday, additional cruises are sometimes added, so check ahead. During the World Expo, authorities commandeered for Expo use a number of boats from different boat companies, resulting in a disruption to regular sailing schedules. Although regular sailings should be restored by the time you read this, check ahead for the latest accurate sailing times. Boats all depart from the Shiliupu Wharf (Shiliupu Lüyou Jishan Zhongxin) at Wai Ma Lu 19, 1 block east of Zhongshan Nan Lu 171, and just north of Fuxing Dong Lu. Tickets can be purchased through your hotel desk or at the Shiliupu Wharf ticket office at Wai Ma Lu 80.
Cruising the Huangpu
Between the stately colonial edifices along the Bund, the glittering skyscrapers on the eastern shore of Pudong, and the unceasing river traffic, there is plenty to keep your eyes from ever resting. From the dock, the boat will usually head south first, past the Cool Docks (a dining, shopping, and entertainment complex) on the South Bund to the 3.7km-long (2 1/3-mile), harp string-shaped Nanpu Daqiao (Nanpu Cable Bridge) built in 1991. As the boat turns around and heads back up north, you'll see everywhere signs of the Huangpu River Restoration Project, whereby 20km (12 miles) of downtown waterfront on both shores (especially on the Puxi) are being turned into marinas, riverside parks, and housing and shopping complexes. Even on overcast days (the norm in Shanghai), the single greatest pieces of eye candy as you head north are still the granite offices, banks, consulates, and hotels of the Bund. Sadly for purists these days, however, the Peace Hotel with its stunning green pyramid roof and the Customs House with its big clock tower no longer have your undivided attention, but have to compete with the towering, 21st-century space-age skyscrapers that have sprouted in the background. Up close, though, the grandeur of the Bund, especially now with the restored Bund Promenade, is still undeniable.
As the ship heads north, on the Pudong shore is the architectural perfection of the Jin Mao Tower, now flanked in the back by the even taller World Financial Center. Also on the Pudong shore is the can't-miss Oriental Pearl Tower, the Shanghai International Convention Center with its twin glass globes, and a slew of hotels, offices, and malls of the Lujiazui Financial Area.
Back on the western shore, north of the obelisk that is the Monument to the People's Heroes is Suzhou Creek (Suzhou He), formerly called the Wusong River. Originating in Tai Hu (Lake Tai), the 120km-long (75-mile) river was once much busier than the Huangpu, but silt in the lower reaches eventually diminished water traffic. The creek is spanned by Waibaidu Bridge, which once linked the American Concession in the north (today's Hongkou District) and the British Concession south of the creek. At 18m (59 ft.) wide, with two 51m-long (167-ft.) spans, this bridge has seen all forms of traffic, from rickshaws to trams to motorcars. Elderly Shanghainese still recall the days of the Japanese occupation when they had to bow to Japanese sentries guarding the bridge and seek special permission to cross.
North of the Suzhou Creek hugging the west shore are the old "go-downs" or warehouses of the many foreign trading firms. This area, known as Hongkou District, and the district to the east, Yangpu District, have been marked for rapid development after Pudong, though new modern towers (all no more than 3 years old) have already started to stake out the skyline. Less than a mile farther on is the International Passenger Terminal, where international cruise ships tie up. The Huangpu River jogs east at this point on its way to the Shanghai shipyards, where cranes and derricks load and unload the daily logjam of freighters from the world's other shipping giants (United States, Japan, Russia, Norway). Eventually, all of this waterfront will be developed into a series of marinas and a combination of industrial and recreational areas, including a section that will be Shanghai's answer to "Fisherman's Wharf."
Before the Huangpu slowly begins to curve northward again, you'll pass the English castle-style Yangshupu Water Plant originally built by the British in 1882. The Yangpu Cable Bridge, like the Nanpu Cable Bridge to the south, is one of the largest such structures in the world. With quite a long span, some 602m (1,975 ft.), the Yangpu Bridge is considered the world's first "slant-stretched" bridge. Its total length is about 7.6km (4 3/4 miles), and 50,000 vehicles pass over its six lanes daily.
What impresses river passengers even more than the long industrial shoreline is the traffic slinking up and down the waterway, from the flotilla of river barges to the large rusting hulls of cargo ships. The Huangpu is, on the average, just 183m (600 ft.) wide, but more than 2,000 oceangoing ships compete with the 20,000 barges, fishing junks, and rowboats that ply the Huangpu every year. As the river curves north, you'll pass the small island, Fuxing Dao, which is to be developed into an ecological and recreational theme park.
The Huangpu eventually empties into the mighty Yangzi River at Wusong Kou, where the water during high tide turns three distinct colors, marking the confluence of the Yangzi (yellow), the Huangpu (gray), and the South China Sea (green). Before this, there's an ancient Wusong Fort, from which the Chinese fought the British in 1842. The passenger terminal (Wusong Passenger Terminal; tel. 021/5657-5500) for Yangzi River cruises is also here. This marks the end of Shanghai's little river and the beginning of China's largest one. As your tour boat pivots slowly back into the narrowing passageway of the Huangpu, you can look forward to a return trip that should be more relaxed.
Quick Cruise from Pudong
A brief (40-min.), but dramatic cruise along the Huangpu can also be picked up on the Pudong side of the river. The cityscapes on both sides will give you a sweeping perspective of Shanghai old and new.
Tickets for the Pudong cruise can be purchased at the Oriental Pearl TV Tower ticket booth or at a kiosk near the dock (Dongfang Mingzhu Youlan Matou; tel. 021/5879-1888) on Fenghe Lu. To reach the dock, walk along the northwest side of the TV Tower grounds on Fenghe Lu, past the Insect Museum and the twin-globed Convention Center, straight on to the right-hand side of the sail-shaped pavilion on the river shore. Departures take place nearly every hour at 10am, 11am, noon, 2pm, 3pm, and 4pm (more may be added during peak times); tickets are ¥50 to ¥70. Night cruises depart from May to October at 7 and 8pm.