Many surprises in Shanghai
THE train to Shanghai was very swish. As it whizzed up to its top speed of 307km/hr, the world started rushing past the window.
It was spectacularly quick and very comfortable – a long, long way from the trans-Siberian trains I had spent so many days on.
In less than five hours – 4 hours 48 minutes to be precise – we had covered more than 800 miles between the two cities and pulled into Shanghai. To put that into some kind of perspective, it's the equivalent of travelling from Cornwall to the top of Scotland in less than five hours.
I went out to explore and headed to the Bund, the main waterfront area where you can see the famous skyline.
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My journey took me along the main shopping street in the city, but it was lit up with so much neon it put Piccadilly Circus to shame.
There were street entertainers everywhere, music, groups of Chinese people singing to some crazy man acting as a conductor, and street hawkers trying to sell you absolutely anything.
In the walk to People's Square, however, it became clear how this city has earned its reputation as the playground of the rich.
Upmarket car brands such as Audi and BMW are just the norm here – instead, super-exclusive car showrooms are dotted around the streets. It was quite normal to walk past a Ferrari parked up in a shop window next to your head, while Gucci and Tiffany seem to be dotted around like a Tesco Express.
It was nice to sit on a tour bus for a few hours and take in all the sights, both of old Shanghai and around the modern day city, one of the biggest financial centres in the world.
It included what was until recently the tallest building in the world, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, a peculiar building that rises above all the others, sticking up with a huge opening at the top like some sort of giant bottle opener.
I was really taken by Shanghai. It very much has a big city feel about it. I was quite gutted to have to leave after just a couple of days. It gets dubbed the "Paris of the East" by tour guides. Well, I've already been to the "Paris of Siberia" in Irkutsk, so I have decided it's more of a "New York of the Orient".
Shanghai's Pudong airport is more than 20 miles from the city centre, a good hour's ride on the underground. So being a futuristic bunch, they decided to build a shuttle between the outer city centre and the airport – using magnets.
It's a bit like a cross between the Heathrow Express rail service from London and the Alton Towers monorail – but at warp speed! An incredible 431km/h (268mph) to be precise, faster than most road cars on earth.
I did a return trip to experience the thrill before catching a plane. It should be a tourist attraction within itself!
It was a two-and-a-half hour flight to Xi'An. It was a real highlight for me though. It was a bonus visit that I hadn't scheduled in, so the fact I was seeing anything there was great, let alone one of the greatest discoveries in this part of the world.
Soon I was walking through the grounds where the Terracotta Warriors were found.
It was amazing. So far around 2,000 warriors have been found at the main site, and it's estimated there will be up to 6,000 of them recovered in there by the time all the work is completed.
My ten days in China had been a true experience.
Next week: Phil is in Cambodia.