On my third, and most recent trip, to Shanghai I managed to stumble into a rather simplistic way to view the metropolis’ cityscape along the Huang Pu River without having to navigate the plethora of beggers, touts and tourists that clog up The Bund even in the off-season – never mind a Saturday during one of the country’s Golden Week holidays.

Near the south end of The Bund you can find a collection of ticket offices selling spots on their various boats. Prices vary and are generally significantly more expensive after dusk. We went with Shanghai Scenery, a company that name-dropped the likes of Deng Xiao Ping and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They stated that they were the only “real” tour boats on the river, but I’m not entirely sure how they could qualify that.

The hour-long boat trip started with a bus ride to a nearby dock. Bording our boat, the Shanghai Scenery 2, we were able to choose between hanging out in the boat’s cabin, or head to the top-back deck where there were a collection of plastic chairs to choose from. After awaiting the arrival of some additional passengers, we departed.

The tour begins by heading south to the rather massive Nanpu Bridge, the forth largest suspension span in the world. The trek down the river is given added flavour (mostly to the breeze) by a wide assortment of fellow ships wizzing by; from world-travelling oceanliners to small Chinese transport ships whose water clearance (or lack there of) makes you wonder how they don’t flood.

From the Nanpu Bridge the captain turns the bow north-bound and the tour of the east shore begins. Here you get to catch a glimpse of just how all these ships fit into the country’s industrious economy. There are boats loading and unloading all sorts of materials and colossal ships being repaired in even-more-colossal dry docks. The cranes and equipment needed for this tends to bring the asthetic value down a bit, but what the area lacks in trees and scenery, it makes up for in a sneak-peak behind the growth of a nation.

From industrial, you enter residental. Rows upon rows of newly built high-rises crowd the valued waterfront. Though the area is premium for the business-class that spends their work days not too far north, incomes haven’t matched market-price, and as is common in many parts of China, most buildings were completely empty.

Continuing north, the yet-to-be-bought dwellings give way to a skyline that is one of the most recognizeable in the world – aided in no small part by the Oriental Pearl Tower, the third tallest in the world, and Shanghai’s official entry into the “Goofy Looking Structures” club. Also featured amongst the concrete and glass forest is the Jinmao Building – it too sits third on its respective “tallest” list. Incidently, China is the third largest country in the world and was the third country to achieve manned space travel; it seems to have a thing for being third.

After passing the bend near the Pearl Tower, the tour turns and heads for home, first passing the crowds of people shuffling along the Bund, edging for a clear spot to take photos – all the while being hassled to buy any number (the more the better) of souveniers from an infinite number of hustlers surrounding them. I wonder if my smug little smile, comfortably relaxed in a deck chair, was caught on anyone’s digital.

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