Travel Destinations

Monday, March 17, 2014

Shanghai by Sidecar, an Insiders Experience

Insiders Experience Sidecar Tour Shanghai China
Trying out the sidecars before our Shanghai sidecar tour.
We didn't actually drive as it is illegal for foreigners to drive in China.
Sometimes when making travel plans you come across something that you just have to do, even if it means splurging a little.  I found such an experience when I read about touring Shanghai by sidecar with Insiders Experience.  I have always wanted to ride in a sidecar, and exploring Shanghai at night in a vintage sidecar was an experience I did not want to pass up.

We were met for our Shanghai sidecar tour at the Andaz Hotel by Shane Ullman, manager of Insiders Experience, and Michael, one of Insiders Experience’s drivers, each with their beautifully restored sidecars. After admiring the sidecars and donning our helmets we were off.

The two-hour sunset tour includes not only a driving sidecar tour of Shanghai but also the chance to walk around a few neighborhoods to learn more about the culture and history of Shanghai from an insider.  Shane also provided some commentary while we were driving.  The additional drivers are not guaranteed to speak English, but Michael spoke very good English and so was also able to give Romeo some information as well.

I wondered how safe we would feel darting around the streets of Shanghai in a sidecar, especially after observing how the Chinese drive through their cities.  Shane and Michael are clearly very experienced in driving safely through Shanghai traffic.  In fact, Shane prefers to drive his sidecar over his car even when not driving tourists around Shanghai.

Shane Ullman of Insiders Experience leading our sidecar tour of Shanghai China
Shane Ullman of Insiders Experience driving me around for our sidecar tour of Shanghai.
Shane’s dexterity was tested early on in our Shanghai sidecar tour.  As we approached a red light, a motorcycle came from another direction and seemed close to hitting us, but Shane was somehow able to keep an eye on everything around him, whether it was a car, motorcycle, bicycle or pedestrian, and stopped short of the light to give the motorcycle room.  One second later that same motorcycle was hit head on by another motorcycle carrying blocks of ice going the wrong way.  While this sounds scary, it really wasn’t.  Neither motorcycle was going very fast and they actually both stayed upright at impact.  The blocks of ice were not so lucky, as they fell and slid along the pavement.  The drivers first began conversing politely, making sure the other was okay.  Just as Shane predicted, the conversation quickly turned more animated as money became the subject.  The man carrying the ice who had been going the wrong way started speaking agitatedly and pointing at the ice on the ground.  Then he picked up a piece of the broken motorcycle and kept putting it up to the bike and dropping it, demonstrating where the piece belonged but no longer stayed.  His animation was actually hilarious, made even more so by the fact his motorcycle was completely taped up, indicating he had similar mishaps before.  The light turned green and we drove off, leaving the two gentlemen to their discussion.

Motorcycle Accident Insiders Experience Shanghai China
Ice down!
Shane drove us across Dongmen Road into the old town of Shanghai, where people began settling over 1,000 years ago.  Dongmen Road used to be the site of the old city wall.  In this area there are no traffic lights and it is every man for himself.  We drove through the narrow streets, weaving through pedestrians and passing old buildings.  We parked and walked through the old city’s market, which was bustling at 5:30 in the evening with people buying ingredients for their evening meal.  Shane also walked us by some easels with handwritten pieces of paper tacked to them.  They were in Chinese, but Shane told us they were advertisements for rooms for rent.  The tiny rooms are rented to people from other parts of the country coming to Shanghai to work in hopes they will make enough money to go back home and buy a house and make a better life.  The rooms for rent are dirty, smelly hovels with black walls.  Not a pleasant place to live for these people trying to get ahead in this world.

For Rent Boards Insiders Experience Sidecar Tour Shanghai China
For rent advertisements listing room size and price.
We were on the road again driving through the fabric market and then drove along the Bund.  This is where I learned that drivers have to pay an extra, very pricey fee for the privilege of driving on certain streets in Shanghai.

We drove across the Waibaidu Bridge and headed to the 1933 building.  On the way we passed some massage parlors with pink lights inside.  Shane explained the pink lights were indicators of the “special” massage parlors.  These parlors are frequented by the local men.  They used to be in the main part of Shanghai, but in 2010 in preparation for the World Expo the government forced them to shut down and move away from where travelers would see them.

The 1933 building is an art deco building first built to be a slaughterhouse.  It was strange to see such an architecturally complex building created for such a purpose.  1933 is now the home of shops and restaurants.  The building has a central cylindrical area and an outer ring, with ramps connecting the two like spokes.  The building was built in such a way to calm the livestock as they passed through the narrow ramps to the top of the center of the building.  This is where the livestock was killed, and the butchering process moved down the central cylinder.  As the Chinese are very superstitious about death, they have only opened shops and restaurants in the outer ring of the building and have avoided the central area where the livestock was slaughtered.

1933 Building Insiders Experience Shanghai China
Art deco slaughterhouse.
We left the 1933 building and drove through the tree-lined boulevards of the shopping district to our drop-off point.  I’ll write about our dinner in a separate post, but Michael was invaluable as he graciously helped us place our dinner order before he and Shane left us for the evening.

Sidecar tour with Insiders Experience through Shanghai China's tree-lined streets
Driving through the tree-lined streets of Shanghai.
Insiders Experience offers a number of different Shanghai sidecar tours, including one-hour, two-hour, and four-hour tours (see their website for more details).  You can choose between two riders traveling with one motorcycle, with one rider in the sidecar and the other riding on the back of the motorcycle on a separate seat, or doing what we did and have a driver for each rider so everyone can have the true sidecar experience.  While we could have kept going, the two-hour tour provided the perfect amount of time for exploring Shanghai both on foot and wheels.  The Shanghai sidecar tour is a pricey experience, but completely worth it, and my husband, who didn't want to go in the first place, loved it and tells everyone who will listen all about our Shanghai sidecar tour.

Thank you to Insiders Experience for providing us with a media discount.  As always, opinions are my own.

Travel the World: An exciting way to see the city of Shanghai China is to ride in a sidecar.

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Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.