It's hard to imagine just over a decade ago the Lujiazui area was defined by farmhouses and small warehouses hemmed in by rice paddies and the muddy Huangpu. In 1990, this area was dubbed the Pudong New Area and was made into a Special Economic Zone of Shanghai. This kick-started Shanghai's second rising and construction began on some of China's tallest buildings. A modern Wall Street-style financial district complete with world-class convention centres have been built alongside expansive avenues, plush shopping malls and grandiose apartments.
To appreciate its rapid ascent into the upper regions of advanced capitalism, one should start under the sea at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium. The best way to reach this liquid marvel is to take metro line 2 to Lujiazui station just across from Huangpu River. Take exit 1 and walk straight towards the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, a thought-provoking building that looks like a rocket with enormous pink bubbles that most people either love or hate. The aquarium is a large triangle shaped concrete building decorated with striking blue and green lines that form the outlines of fish. The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium is a state of the art facility featuring every marine ecosystem from nearly every continent with hairy spider crabs, penguins, sharks and neon fish. Escalators and moving floors allow visitors to rest as they take in the large collections and elaborate displays of sea life. The aquarium features Asia's longest underwater glass tunnel and visitors glide under sweeping mantas, happy turtles and tunas that get nervous when sharks come too close.
Head back to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and queue up for a sci-fi architectural exploration. Most visitors will rush towards the elevators to see the city in all its expanse, chaos and splendor. However, a wander through the history museum is highly recommended. This catacomb of excellent historical displays takes you from Shanghai's early days as a walled fort under the Ming dynasty to the beginning of European colonialism to the Japanese invasion. Several of the displays are interactive and the museum is worthy of a half-day visit. It certainly adds a few layers of meaning when you step into the elevator and rocket up 3m per second to the mid level bubble to gaze at the bustling city below. An additional elevator will take you to the top pod, found over 342m above the ground. From this top module, there's a desk with a flag of China where visitors can sit and have their picture taken. If the view from this vantage point leaves you wanting, take the series of breathtaking elevator descents and headover to the Jin Mao Tower. Rising 420.5m off the ground, it's the tallest building in China and hard to miss.
Constructed by the same team that built the Sears Tower in Chicago, the building to symbolize wealth and prosperity with Buddhist symbolism is reasonably post-modern. It has 88 floors (8 is a lucky number in Chinese) and 13 bands, which is symbolic in Buddhism. Its name carries several meanings from "economy and trade" to "gold and prosperity." Whatever the backers had in mind, one thing is for sure, it's doing everything they wanted. Fortune 500 firms and joint ventures all share the same office space in this giant monolith. The floors are well guarded and only two areas are open to the public: the observation floor on the 88th floor and the restaurant and bar in the Shanghai Grand Hyatt Hotel. The entrance to the high-speed elevators are in the high-tech basement and for those who aren't drunk from the view, there's the Cloud 9 bar on the 87th floor. Head into the Grand Hyatt Hotel and signs will point you the way. There's also a restaurant and some cafés in the Grand Hyatt that offer great views if the haze isn't too bad. Be sure to check out the main lounge and try not to fall over when looking up at the gigantic open atrium.
Head back to earth and back towards the Pearl Tower. Pass the gigantic Super Brand Shopping Mall and follow the sound of ship horns and you'll soon find yourself overlooking the old Bund. There are numerous restaurants and cafés on the walkways and vendors sell souvenirs, sodas and teas. Outdoor seating allows visitors to sit in the sun and drink in the river view. It's best to come here just before dusk and get a good table, this way you can drink and eat to your heart's content while watching the old buildings on the Bund light up at sunset. It's a nice way to close a fine day in the Pudong or begin a wild Shanghai night.
Along metro line 2 is Century Park and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. Both are good places to visit if you happen to be farther out in Pudong. Century Park has large tracts of grass and a sizeable lake. The science museum features many interactive displays and an IMAX theater that'll please children who don't appreciate architecture and history.