Shanghai and the slow boat to Hong Kong

Last modified 19.03.2022 | Published 26.03.19851980's, China, North, Central and East Asia, Travelogue

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Shanghai was an exciting experience. The European atmosphere was striking, the Chinese districts fascinating, and finally, I boarded a slow boat to Hong Kong.

This article is part of a diary based travelogue from a six month journey in 1985 to several countries in East and South East Asia: Japan, Taiwan, China, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand


Thursday 21.3.1985, Beijing – Shanghai

The train from Beijing rolled into the station at 1645, on schedule. The ride of 19 hours was ordinary with nothing special happening. Outside the station I walked a bit up and down until I found bus #65 to the left of the station close to a side street. That bus I knew left for the

  • PUJIANG HOTEL, apparently the (almost) only with a dormitory in the city and at a good price (8 Yuan). According to rumours getting a bed was difficult.

Anyway, before getting as far as asking in the reception, I was called on by a Swede and led up into something that resembled a mix between a hall and corridor. And so it was. There were some bed sheets and mattresses on the floor. Just take one of them and put your bag on top, the Swede said.

He told me it was unnecessary to “bother” the hotel with registration, payments and that sort of things. Overlook them, and they will overlook you. Well, I did not say no thanks to that. I went down one floor and had an excellent dinner.

Then I wanted to go out to find me a map of the city, and to just have a little look around. I ended up at the Peace Hotel, where they reportedly are still playing the same, old jazz tunes as before the revolution.

I arrived apparently too early in the evening so I went back to the Sailor’s Club right next to my hotel, read some newspapers before returning to the hotel.

After I had gone to bed one of the hotel staff came over to me asking if I had a receipt. No, I replied and served him some kind of excuse. He had no objections but looked very confused over all the mattresses that looked occupied, when they on paper were not supposed to be. I decided to register the next morning, just to be on the safe side.


Friday 22.3.1985, Shanghai

Hotel trouble

I stood up early and collected my stuff, including my sleeping bag that I finally had used. The only other times had been in Tibet and Beijing. I placed my stuff next to the mattress in case they wouldn’t give me a room and I had to use the same tactic as the previous night.

Of course, they wouldn’t give me a room – I would have to return by 12 noon. They added that there was no waiting list, in contrast to what I had heard by others and what a nice male employee told me when I came back at 1200.

He then said I would have to return at five in the afternoon, that was when they handed out places in the hall. So I did; I got a place but had to pay the 3.50 in FEC.

In between all this I managed to see some of Shanghai’s central area and I must say that it is the most populated area I’ve come across in all of China. But then the inner part of the city is inhabited by more than 6 million.


About town

I first walked south on the street running along the river harbour. It was built in the heydays of the Europeans and is called the Bund. The street is lined with old, large concrete buildings of European architecture facing the river.

I followed that street and crossed up and into the part of the city which belonged to the Chinese in those days. Narrow streets and old wooden houses made it a pleasant place to walk.

I visited the Yu Garden which is supposed to be similar to the one in Hangzhou. It was alright.

After this I continued north to the Park Hotel and the surrounding high-rises, also dating back to the old glorious days of imperialism. All these old hotels, including mine, must have been very elegant and fashionable. They are still expensive, but after the Chinese took over they sort of lost much of their aura. The Chinese haven’t got a clue about style.

I forgot to mention that before my walk I bought a boat ticket to Hong Kong. It cost me 145Y and was on third class dormitory ticket with departure on Sunday.

Further up the Nanjing Road past the Park Hotel is the circus. I threw in an entire Yuan for this famous establishment on this evening’s show. Then I paid visits to the coffee bars on Park and Peace hotels for several hours to write my diary and just relax. I dined at the Pujiang again, with three others, including the Swedish guy.

The circus was fantastic, and quite unlike the European types. We got to see acrobats, magicians, trapeze artists, pandas, lions, tigers and a lot more. Really good!


Helping out fellow travellers

At the end I may mention the story of the three Japanese I first met in Guilin. I met them again on the train from Beijing. They had not acquired a place on the Pujiang last night. I had bumped into them last night in a hotel when I was out looking for a map. They also dropped into the coffee bar at Park and told me that they had spent the entire evening, last night, looking for accommodation.

They finally had to pay an awful lot of money for a room. I told them of the deadlines at the Pujiang and they left to give it a shot. After an entire day searching they finally found a place in the hall. Poor people. They were going to take a boat back to Japan. So was all the other Japanese who had spent their school vacation here.


Saturday 23.3.1985, Shanghai

A passive day for me, but nice weather. I walked around town a bit. However, I soon returned to my hotel where I had received a bed in a dormitory for 7Y.

I relaxed there, had dinner, took a bath and walked up to the Peace Hotel in the evening.

There I relaxed with a few beers listening to pleasant, relaxing jazz from the old days. The same tunes have been played here, by more or less the same guys, every night for over 40 years. Impressive.

I exchanged addresses with a Sudanese, a student at the university here in his fourth year.


Sunday 24.3.1985, aboard a ship from Shanghai to Hong Kong

I did nothing until 1200 when I went to the quay, a 10 minute walk only. They wouldn’t let me or others in until 1300. I went over to the bar in the Seaman’s Store across the street. There I met a Norwegian couple in their twenties, Gunnar and Elisabeth. They were going on the ship as well.


China entry and exit stamps 1985

Passport stamps from China


The formalities with customs etc. went smoothly and I managed to exchange my 40 RMB after serving an excuse why I possessed them. One may, apparently, exchange an unlimited amount of FEC and max 40 RMB. HK$ was the currency on the ship so I exchanged into that currency.

The dormitory on our vessel was better than expected, and I received the upper bunk on the second floor, with a space to put my pack in, in addition to a locker with a lock.

In a fairly short time I got in contact with several other travellers. I knew many of them from other places. We had an OK dinner included in the price.


Monday 25.3.1985, aboard a ship from Shanghai to Hong Kong

A rather boring day for all of us. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between the meals we waited for the next meal. The food is by the way quite good.

I had been thinking of working on this last edition of my diary, but soon a large group gathered around my table. I had to dismiss my plan.

As the hours went by into the afternoon we started drinking beers and continued later in the evening. We, or some of us, regrouped in a lounge, played lovely Western music, drank beers and had a really good time.

We dropped by the cinema (!) to see what it was all about. They were showing a rather hopeless Chinese production about a couple, their families and various conflicts. Boring, bad and zero content was our judgement. In addition we do not understand the Chinese language. All the whites left.

We young white people on the ship are a mix of Norwegians, Swedes, British, Australians, Americans and Canadians. And some Japanese.

I ought to mention that some are travelling on other classes than my dormitory. The only difference is their cabin. It is supposedly cheaper with a 2-bed than a 4-bed cabin. The food is nonetheless the same, with the exception of first class passengers who get an additional egg for breakfast. There is not really any reason to pay more than my 145. The next price level up is fully 30 Yuan more, 175Y and then 189.


Tuesday 26.3.1985, aboard a ship from Shanghai to Hong Kong

There is not so much to tell about this day because nothing much happened. We were relaxing all of us, all day. The weather was surprisingly mild and I and the Swede J from Umeå, who I had met in Shanghai, sat for a long time talking and drinking beers on the aft deck.


Read more

The introduction to this journey to East and South East Asia.

Previous chapter: The story from Beijing continues with a letter home, and the Summer Palace

Next chapter: Back in Hong Kong.