While the rest of the world is sleeping, the World Expo in Shanghai has been going on full throttle. It officially opened its door on the 3-day long weekend Chinese public holiday, beginning on Labor Day itself. Since then, Expo had seen the number of visitors climbing with a record of 300,000+ last Saturday. It averages about ¼ million visitors per day for the last 3 weeks or so. That is however still below the forecasted 70 millions to be had by the end of its 6 month fair. I was at the Expo on May 12, 14, 17-19; a total of 4 full days and 1 evening visit.
Here’s a summary of my experience with the Expo, this being the first one I had visited.
Do miss it if:
- You hate to walk. (It covers an area of 5.28 sq. km with 180 countries participating!)
- You hate to queue.
- You are not interested in architecture.
- You’ve no interest in learning about other cultures.
- You cannot understand Chinese.
Don’t miss it if:
- You are traveling in China.
- You live in China or Asia.
- You love taking pictures.
- You love to eat.
- You like crowd.
Essentially, I feel this is the Expo for the Chinese people. Many of the pavilions do not have English speaking programs. One example is Australia pavilion. Its entire film show is in Chinese! Good thing I’m proficient in both English & Chinese. I did wonder how the foreign western audiences feel though. Having said that, I haven’t seen many foreigners at this Expo. In fact, we met only a group of tourists from Windsor, Canada. The rest were individuals who probably live in China or are working in China!
Pavilions I Visited (i.e. managed to enter)
Asia Joint Pavilions
- DPR Korea
- Bosnia & Herzegovina
Europe Joint Pavilions
Africa Joint Pavilion
Caribbean Community Pavilions
- Antigua & Barbuda
- St Kitts & Nevis
- Trinidad & Tobago
- French Polynesia
Notable Pavilions (Exterior)
- Poland (Joint 3rd)
- Russia (Joint 3rd)
- Saudi Arabia (Most Expensive @ a cost of $15 billion)
- South Korea (BEST)
- Spain (2nd)
- UK (Most Original Design)
Notable Pavilions (Interior)
- Finland (3rd)
- Italy (BEST)
- Japan (2nd)
- Best Overall Pavilions I visited (by continents)
- Japan (Asia)
- Mexico (America)
- Morocco (Africa)
- Italy (Europe)
Most Original Pavilion in terms of Idea
Most Impressive Architecture
Most Impressive Pavilion
1st impression of the Expo is not great, I must admit. My 1st entry was on the evening of May 12 on the day of my arrival in Shanghai. The weather forecast for the entire week was rain and since it was a perfect day on the 12th, I decided to enter it after 5pm that very night. My cousin who was to accompany me on this trip was to arrive the next afternoon from Taipei. I went ahead without her since I figured it’s a perfect evening for night photography. I tried to enter at Gate 9 in Puxi side of the city. Gate 9 is known as the Madang Road entry which entails a direct 2 stops subway line. 1st stop is at the Puxi side of the Expo while the 2nd stop is at the Pudong side. Puxi translates to West of River Huang Pu. Shanghai is divided into 2 areas by the River Huang Pu, the older area being on the West end of the city while the new area being on the East end. The West end is a lot more crowded and easier to move about (namely, lots of cabs). The East end is where the Pudong International Airport is located. Pudong means East of River Huang Pu. Xi in the Chinese language is West, Dong is East.
Alas, to my frustration, I found out that I cannot enter the Madang Road gate as this particular gate had stopped selling tickets after the 1st week of opening. There are 9 gates of entry to the Expo. 1-3 & 9 gates lie on the Puxi (West) area of the Expo sites while 4-8 gates lie on the Pudong side. All country-pavilions lie on the Pudong side while all companies and industries pavilions lie on the Puxi side. Well, I took another cab to Gate 2 at Luban Road gate to enter instead. I did have the day tickets but they are a tad more expensive than the night ticket (a difference of RMB 70, about uS$10) and since I don’t have enough tickets to begin with (Expo tickets were on sale a few months prior to its opening on May 1 at the Bank of Communication across the country and post offices), I decided not to use the day ticket. Instead, I bought another night ticket at RMB 90.
Tip 1: If you don’t have tickets on hand, do not enter via Madang Road Gate, that means don’t take the direct subway route to enter the Expo. Go to Luban Gate instead, which is a taxi ride away.
By the time I get into the Expo site, I finally get a glimpse of how humongous this place is! Everything is gigantic in size and there is a lot of walking to do! Ahem, to my horror, on my last night, I felt like I was almost crippled! So, be forewarned. If you have the 7-day ticket, make sure you don’t do it all at one go! Space them out or even use it at different time of the month!
Tip 2: Study the map of the Expo before arrival. Essentially, 5 zones: A, B, C, D, E. Zone A-C are on Pudong and Zone D & E are on Puxi. A covers mostly Asian countries, B covers theme pavilions and China Pavilion while C covers European, American and African Pavilions. A map and guide to the shows will be distributed on entry. Make sure you ask for one in English if you cannot read Chinese.
Maps of Expo:
In Chinese only:
Shanghai Metro Map:
Tickets come in different denomination:
Evening Ticket = RMB 90 (About USD 13). (Enter from 5 pm to 8 pm, Expo closes at 12am but many pavilions close its doors around 10 pm while some close the queue at 9 pm. France Pavilion closes its door at 9 pm.)
Day Ticket = RMB 160 (About USD 23).
3-Day Ticket = RMB 400 (About USD 58).
7-Day Ticket = RMB 900 (About USD 131).
Note that 3-day & 7-day tickets are transferable and that it is usable by one holder per day. That implies you may buy one to share with your family but you both cannot enter on the same day.
Before its official opening day on May 1st, the banks and other authorized outlets in China have already sold 40 million tickets in total.
I will write about individual pavilion with its very own review. For now, just a short note about entry to China Pavilion. If you must visit this pavilion, you need to queue to enter as early as 7.30 am. The Expo officially opens at 9 am but the queue to enter in the morning is so long that once the doors are opened and you’re in, you will be given your time allocated reservation for entry to the China Pavilion. If you are behind in the queue, chances are you will not get your ticket to enter. If I’m not mistaken, China Pavilion is restricted to 50,000 visitors a day. Since I hate to queue and to wake up early in the day, I give this one a miss. Do not worry though as China Pavilion will still be around even after the Expo is over. So, if you do visit China often, you will still get your chance to see it.
Note also that long queues don’t necessary mean great pavilions or awesome exhibits. The case in point is Denmark or Danish Pavilion. Looks great from outside and a long queue; nothing much inside but a simple stroll! What a waste of space. Unless you’re crazy about the Little Mermaid from Copenhagen, don’t bother with this one. I managed to get in on my first night due to no queue late in the night!
Tip 3: Go in the evening to avoid the crowd and less time spent in getting into the pavilions! Not only is it cheaper to get in, the cooler weather makes it more pleasant too!
The only gate that goes direct into the Expo site by train is gate 9 at Madang Road. Most tour groups enter by gate 4-8 on the Pudong side. If your hotel is on the Puxi area, the easiest and least confusing way to enter is via gate 9. Having said that, there are more entry points and security checks area in Pudong side of the Expo. On the whole, if you enter the Expo after 9.30 am, you shouldn’t need to queue much.
Tip 4: Best time to enter the Expo is after 2 pm. Go for a good lunch in the city & enter the park thereafter. You’d save a lot of time that way and have the stamina to walk and stay until the Expo closes. Lines are much shorter in the evening and night too, especially after 8 pm! By then, most tour groups have left!
What not to miss
The best part of the Expo experience is not
the pavilions. Rather, its 2 performances put up by the Chinese. One is an acrobatic show
which lasts for 45 mins and all one needs to do is to be there about 30 mins before the show starts. There are seats and air-conditioning in this theater as well. Name of the show: CHA (茶)
meaning tea. Location: Entertainment Hall (Zone D). Time of Shows: 1 pm, 3 pm, 6 pm, 9 pm. Some days are dark. I haven’t managed to find out which day though. Available from May 1 to June 30.
show is at the Expo Cultural Center (Zone B) which is shaped like a spaceship. Huge by any standard. The theater can take in more than 10,000 audiences, I read. Acoustic is the best I’ve ever heard and the theater is very comfortable with seats as well as air-conditioning. Name of the show: China Oriental Performing & Arts Group in Residence Live (中国东方歌舞团驻场演出)
Tip 5: Go early in the day to get tickets for the show at the Cultural Center. It is a 90 mins show which showcases dancing and singing. Great show.
These 2 shows by itself are worth the day ticket alone, as far as I’m concerned. In addition, it is a great way to rest those feet of yours by entertaining yourself in a first-class air-conditioning theater!
What to miss
US Pavilion & Denmark Pavilion. It is not worth the 1-2 hour queuing at all! In essence, I hate queuing and anything after 30 mins of queuing without any substance in them will translate to giving it a miss as far as I’m concerned.
What is enough time?
I was told there is a Japanese old lady who had bought ticket for everyday the Expo is opened, i.e. 180 days. Meaning she plans on visiting everyday of the Expo. She did this in the last Expo in Japan. Now, she had rented an apartment near the Expo site and plan on doing that every day for the next 5.5 months.
No, you don’t need to do that to see most of the expo. My suggestion for most tourists is this:
Get a 3-day ticket to see the major sites. Get an extra day or two day ticket to round up what you’d like to see. Get a 7-day ticket if you want to visit all of the big pavilions.
4 to 5 day is optimal. 3 day is a little rush. 1 or 2 day is only for those who want to take pix of the architecture.
Where to get the tickets
You can get the day ticket on the day of entry at all gates except gate 9 at Madang Road. You cannot get the day ticket for tomorrow or any other day though. So, in order to get the 3-day ticket, you need to go to the Bank of Communication (all branches in China) or Post Office. However, I was told many of these outlets have sold out the 3 day ticket. I managed to get the 3 day ticket at the huge branch of Bank of Communication within the Expo (Area D, next to the Japan Industrial Pavilion) on May 12. However, that means you have to enter the Expo first in order to do that. Another thing you could do is to call the bank ahead before you go down to its branch to pick up the tickets. 1 day tickets are also sold at 7 Eleven, I’ve been told.
What to buy
Souvenirs of all kinds are available from the many licensed souvenirs shops within and outside the Expo in Shanghai.
Some of my favorites are:
Expo 2010 Swatch watch from Switzerland Pavilion. (It is also available from Swatch watch shops in Shanghai city)
UV protection lightweight foldable umbrella from Switzerland Pavilion.
T-shirt from Romania Pavilion.
Mug from Italy Pavilion.
Carpet from Iran Pavilion.
What to bring
Camera with zoom & panorama lens
Lots of Memory cards
Small foldable chair (if you plan to queue for hours)
Empty bottle to fill water
What not to bring
Water (security checkpoint won't allow this)
Anything that is heavy
To go or not to go?
Well, if you are curious by nature, it’s for you. Be prepared for a lot of walking, a lot of queuing & a lot of frustration. The way I see it, it’s a good place to be for those who are dating. At the Expo, you cannot hide who you are. Whether you can get along with one another can be unveiled by going to the Expo. The Chinese used to say one can tell a person’s personality by playing a Mahjong game or two. I’d say going to the Expo will reveal whether you can get along with one another and how much tolerance you’ve for the world at large! ;-) I won’t be surprised if some go on separate ways after this event!
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