How to Travel While You're Already Travelling

Englishnewsstudent living
The Oriental Pearl Tower - photo taken by Kate

One perk of being an international student is that going home is always an adventure of its own. Despite having bought my tickets at the end of October, my journey back to Myanmar for the Christmas break included a ten-hour layover in Shanghai. The thought of sitting in an airport for all those ten hours, in addition to the thirteen-hour flight from London, was excruciating. So, I researched what I would have to do to see the sights of the city.  

We landed in Shanghai at around 8 AM. The usual disembarkation process took a decent amount of time – the airport was rather crowded. To be able to get into the city during my layover, I had to go through the special 24/144 Hour Transit Visa process.  

Just to enter the line for this visa, you must find and fill out a form. This is slightly challenging as there are two types of forms available to you, both aimed at foreigners looking for a visa. The one you need is the Arrival Card for Temporary Entry for Foreigners. There is a second one that is aimed at extended entry, so it is crucial you do not mix the two up.   

After having filled out the form, you will have to wait to get the actual visa. During my visit, the line was incredibly long. They would take the passports and escort us to a waiting area, where we would have to sit and wait for them to decide whether we would get the visa. Although there is no official minimum for the length of your transit, if you do not have enough time in your layover you will simply not be given the visa. The unstated minimum time is around 10 hours, so I was cutting it rather close and was quite worried I might be rejected. Eventually, my name was called out and I received my visa, which takes the form of a miniature sticker in your passport with the dates of your stay. For me, these dates were 28/12/23 to 29/12/23. 

As this was a transit, I did not have to claim any luggage, so I made my way over to the Maglev, Shanghai’s magnetic superspeed train. I chose this over the subway as it is significantly faster and would get me almost directly to the City Centre. At the end destination of the Maglev, I made the change onto the subway, which I took for about four stations to Lujiazui Station. This station opens directly to the heart of the city.  

I was very glad to have brought my coat with me. Other than that, I had gotten quite lucky with the weather. It was a nice, clear day despite the inevitable smog that hangs over the city. The immediate thing I noticed upon exiting the subway was the Oriental Pearl Tower: a massive, distinctive piece of architecture set in the heart of Shanghai’s business district.  

The Tower is surrounded by various restaurants, all of which seemed wonderful. I picked one and decided to try and order, which is where I realised I would be unable to do so as all orders had to come from the website. I was unable to open this website because I did not have a SIM card. I thus decided that I really wasn’t that hungry and would walk around the city centre as much as I could.  

Shanghai has an incredibly impressive business district. The architecture of the skyscrapers is intricate, and they were beautiful to look at. I also managed to get a glimpse of the Disney clocktower, set to the side of a megamall and playing very loud Disney music. All of this is so close to the subway station that I was within eyesight of the sign while walking around.  

As I had no internet connection and Google Maps is blocked in China anyway, I was rather anxious to not stray too far. I nonetheless decided to brave the short walk towards the Huangpu River. The river itself was rather ordinary. However, the well-maintained garden area around it, full of trees and bright flowers, was a refreshing sight after the long time I had spent travelling. It was incredibly nice to walk in a quiet green space. 

At this point, it was about time for me to head back to the airport. Once again, I took the subway and the Maglev. I had a bit of trouble finding my gate, but I managed to pass all the usual checkpoints with ease.  

Prior to my trip, I had heard rumours of how difficult it is to navigate the city due to a lack of signs in English and the idea that overall communication can be difficult. This was not an issue I encountered whatsoever, perhaps because I did not stray a lot further than the immediate city centre.  

Overall, briefly exploring Shanghai during a layover is an experience I would a hundred percent recommend, to see a few of the crucial sights and maximise the travelling you do while you travel.