YuYuan (Yu Garden) and Bazaar Tours – Shanghai, China

YuYuan (Yu Garden) and Bazaar

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No. 218, Anren Jie, Old City, China, Shanghai
Hours : 8:30am-5pm

About this place

Yu Gardens is one-half shopper’s paradise and one-half complete nightmare.  With what sometimes feels like thousands of people crowded into a relatively small space, this important tourist attraction often gets a bad rap.  Sidetracked by the numbers of people, the overbearing architecture, and the entertainment, I often forget that the main attraction here is a beautiful 400 year old Chinese garden at the center of the complex. For the 40RMB entrance fee, the garden is a peaceful, quiet refuge in the middle of a generally chaotic part of town . Most people do not actually pay to go inside the garden, they just stay outside and wander around, so for that reason alone, it’s a good idea to check out the garden.  Although some aspects of this tourist locale make me slightly unsettled – thousands of people, terribly overpriced Haagen Dazs ice cream cones, two Starbucks within 200 meters of each other, and countless shops selling low quality Chinese memorabilia; there are several things that keep me going back.   
1.  Nanxiang Steamed Dumplings:  This fantastic restaurant is famous for its Shanghai specialty, Xiao Long Bao.  Usually filled with pork, they also serve a version stuffed with fresh crab roe (oh so good!).  Customers wait in the always long, but quick moving lines, to sit or take out these famous dumplings. Nanxiang Steamed Dumplings is located at the entrance of the zigzag bridge that brings you to the front of the Garden.

2.  Shopping:  Despite the fact that 90% of the stuff sold here is complete junk, the remaining 10% is well worth a look.  I have bought some darling Chinese shoes here for 40RMB and all of my visitors have come away with beautiful painted scrolls (50RMB). Always bargain!!
In addition to the junk shopping in the center of the complex, there are many shops around the exterior of the large Chinese style buildings surrounding the Garden.  These smaller shops, often housed in authentic historic structures, carry everything from furniture to porcelain. The authenticity of these items… well, since I’m not a professional, I generally go in assuming that what I’m looking at is a reproduction.

Another surprise inside Yuyuan is Shanghai’s City
God Temple (5 yuan, open 8:30am-4:30pm)

3. More Shopping:  Perhaps my favorite thing to do at Yu Gardens is go to the pearl market.  While pearls shops abound at the in Yu Gardens, this series of stalls and shops on the third floor of the First Asia Jewelry building (No. 288 Fuyou Lu) offers better prices, better quality, and more trustworthy sales people. Most tourists will visit the pearl market in Beijing, and find that this one certainly does not compare in size. Still, there is something about this smaller and less hectic market that makes the experience more pleasant for me. Be sure to ask lots of questions, do a little research on pearls if you plan on making a big purchase, and don’t forget to bargain!  Here are a few shops I particularly like:
            Polomec International (Chester Chou):  Chester’s shop is the best for high quality Australian and Tahitian South Sea pearls, as well as beautiful Akoyas and the finest Chinese freshwater pearls. His salespeople are sweet and helpful (I like Crystal the best), and Chester himself is a gregarious fellow with perfect English.
            Ellen’s:  I’m always a little wary here, so check out your merchandise carefully, but Ellen’s offers some of the prettiest jewelry I’ve  ever found at rock bottom prices. This place is great for $10 gifts that look like they cost $100.
            Denise’s:  Denise has by far the most beautiful selection of stones – everything from watermelon quartz to turquoise to jasper. She offers some jewelry that she has personally designed, but this shop is truly heaven for those looking to use their creative side to design their own jewelry. Otherwise, bring in a photo of something you like and she’ll do her best to make it for you.
Many visitors come to Yu Gardens with a tour group and therefore are limited in time, but if you have the time and patience you could certainly spend a day here.  Take your time wandering about, and even head out onto Renmin Lu (人民路) where you’ll find shops filled with ribbons, buttons, sequins and even wedding gowns.  Come relaxed and with a curious mind, be prepared for some crowds, and you’ll definitely enjoy yourself.

Official Website (Only in Chinese)

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