Some of Shanghai's most interesting shopping experiences are provided by its colorful street markets and alley bazaars. Curios, crafts, collectibles, antiques, jewelry, and coins are all here for those who are willing to bargain hard, but perhaps the most common item you'll find in the markets these days is designer-label clothing, much of it knockoffs (copies) with upscale labels sewn in, although some items are factory seconds or overruns (sometimes smuggled out of legitimate brand-name factories). Many of the markets also sell fresh produce, seafood, spices, and other consumables to residents, along with snacks and drinks. At all such markets, cash is the only means of exchange, and pickpockets are plentiful, so keep all your valuables in a concealed pouch or money belt. If you're purchasing goods from an outdoor antiques market, be aware that not all older (pre-1949) items sold at such markets will have the red-wax seal attached. A stern Customs inspector, finding an old item without a seal, might confiscate it. As well, many "antiques" these days are nothing but modern fakes aged and dirtied up. Caveat emptor!

A.P. Plaza (Yada Shenghui Lu[Gum]You Gouwu Guangchang) -- For those who don't have the patience to rifle through the mess of shops at Qipu Market, but still want their Western-branded knockoffs, this underground plaza in the Science and Technology Museum subway station (Metro Line 2) in Pudong offers a more organized alternative. Individual shops here sell clothing, electronics, bags, toys, antiques, shoes, and accessories, though the brand-name knockoffs are usually hidden. The plaza is open daily 10am to 8pm.

Dongtai Lu Antiques Market (Dongtai Lu Guwan Shichang) -- This largest of Shanghai's antiques markets has hundreds of stalls and many permanent shops along a short lane, located on Dongtai Lu and Liuhe Lu, 1 block west of Xizang Nan Lu, Luwan (about 3 blocks south of Huaihai Lu). Dealers specialize in antiques, curios, porcelain, furniture, jewelry, baskets, bamboo and wood carvings, birds, flowers, goldfish, and nostalgic bric-a-brac from colonial and revolutionary days (especially Mao memorabilia). When it rains, most stalls aren't open, but the stores are. The market is open daily 9am to 5pm.

Fuyou Market -- If you like rummaging through lots of junk for the chance to find the rare real nugget, this is still the best place to do it in Shanghai. This favorite for weekend antique and curio hunting, located in the Cangbao Lou (building) at Fangbang Zhong Lu 457 and Henan Nan Lu (the western entrance to Shanghai Old St. in the Old Town Bazaar, Nanshi) is also called a "ghost market" because the traders set out their wares before sunrise (when only ghosts can see what's for sale). Come as early as possible on Saturday or Sunday morning, preferably the latter, when vendors come in from the surrounding countryside. The goods are various and few are polished up; many of the items are from the attic or the farm, though increasingly also from some factory backroom that churns out modern pieces that are then scuffed up with mud to look old. Porcelains, old jade pendants, used furniture, Qing Dynasty coins, Chairman Mao buttons, old Russian cameras, Buddhist statues, snuff bottles, and carved wooden screens are just a few of the treasures here, none with price tags. Three floors of the market building are open daily from 9am to 5pm; the weekend market (on the third and fourth floors) runs from 5am to 6pm, but tapers off by noon.

Qipu Lu Wholesale Clothing Market (Qipu Fuzhuang Shichang) -- For years, this gargantuan clothing market bounded by Qipu Lu, Henan Bei Lu, Tiantong Lu, and Zhejiang Lu in Hongkou district has been where locals shop for low-cost, locally made daily clothing and accessories, but is now home also to some of the vendors of brand-name "fakes" who have been displaced by the closing of Xiangyang Market. Because of its size (three complexes spanning as many blocks), you'll need some patience and time to make your way through much that will probably not be to your taste, but finds can definitely be found. More likely, the vendors of the goods you're looking for will find you the minute you step out of your taxi. As always, exercise caution and stick to the public stalls and shops. The market is open daily 10am to 5pm.

South Bund Fabric Market (Nan Waitan Qing Fang Mianliao Shichang) -- This popular fabric market, originally known as the Dongjiadu Fabric Market, moved from its original Dongjiadu location in 2006, hence the name change, though some taxi drivers and hotel concierges may still refer to it by its old name. Now relocated to nearby Lujiabang Lu 399 (intersection with Nancang Jie; tel. 021/6377-5858) in the southeastern corner of the old Chinese city, this former outdoor market, a favorite with expatriates, has moved indoors. Hundreds of stalls still sell bales of fabric at ridiculously low prices (though prices have increased slightly since the move), from traditional Chinese silk and Thai silk to cotton, linen, wool, and cashmere, though the heavier fabrics are only carried during the colder months. Many shops have their own in-house tailors who can stitch you a suit, or anything else you want, at rates that are less than half what you'd pay at retail outlets like Silk King. Come with a pattern. Turnaround is usually a week or more, but can be expedited for an extra fee. The market is open daily 8:30am to 6pm.

The pearls of China

China's oyster beds remain among the world's most fertile grounds for pearls, of both the saltwater and freshwater variety. Seawater pearls are usually more expensive than the freshwater gems, but in both cases the qualities to look for are roundness, luster, and size. The bigger, rounder, and shinier the pearl, the better (and the more expensive). Here are a few ways to detect fakes, even if most shoppers don't bother:

  • Nick the surface of the pearl with a sharp blade (the color should be uniform within and without).
  • Rub the pearl along your teeth (you should hear a grating sound).
  • Scrape the pearl on glass (real pearls leave a mark).
  • Pass the pearl through a flame (fakes turn black, real pearls don't).

Try to pick a string of pearls that are of the same size, shape, and color. Here's a rough pricing guide, based on what's charged in Shanghai:

¥60 to ¥80 for a string of small rice-shaped pearls.

¥80 to ¥100 for a string of larger pearls of mixed or low luster.

¥100 to ¥200 for a string of larger pearls of different colors.

A string of very large, perfectly round pearls of the same color sells for considerably more, ¥10,000 to ¥20,000 and higher.

Vendors Behaving Badly

When visiting the Fuyou Market, be very careful when navigating your way through the makeshift vendors on the third and especially fourth floors; many are itinerant peddlers here for the weekend who merely display their wares on the ground wherever they can find space. Shoppers with large bags or heavy packs should be especially vigilant, as a careless swing of an arm or even a tiny push from the crowd can cause bodies to topple and wares to go flying. This has happened before and will happen again (whether by accident or design). If you are the hapless soul who ends up damaging something (even if you were pushed by someone else), you will be held responsible. This is open season for vendors who, smelling blood, will claim that you've broken their precious Tang Dynasty vase (when it has just come from the factory backroom), and cite a ridiculously marked-up charge that you must pay. Fortunately, the Fuyou Market now has a supervising manager familiar with the quality and price of the goods on sale to monitor and mediate precisely such incidents. Should you ever find yourself in such an unlucky situation, don't attempt to bargain your way out; immediately consult the supervisor (jiandu) whose office is in the small alley just east of the building.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.