Shanghai Insiders

Shanghai, On The Side

I’m not particularly fond of the motor coach, follow the guide’s umbrella brand of sightseeing and I have an affinity to off the grid type of travel options, especially when it comes to exotic destinations. While Shanghai, China doesn’t really fall into that category, it certainly has an appeal of authenticity and history that can’t be overlooked.

Things to do in Shanghai

Shanghai Motorbike Ride | Steve Leland | Porthole Cruise

Your standard tour options have a great deal of ground to cover in a city of this size (24 million people) and it takes more than a few hours of driving to fully grasp the immense size, the dichotomy of modernity and history, plus the disparity of wealth and poverty.  Nevertheless, it’s that very challenge that makes this urban metropolis so fascinating.

Answering the dilemma of how best to discover the inner soul of the city, Shanghai Insiders provides the perfect solution. Their knowledgeable guides chauffeur you through the streets on sidecar motorcycles providing an educational and invigorating expedition.

What are some things to do in Shanghai? Participants can choose between a private tour or an intimate size group experience.  

Within a few steps of the cruise ship pier, our French expat guide, Arthur has our sidecar, spit polished and waiting.  To ensure that the experience would be what we expected, our personal itinerary is pointed out on a vintage map of the old city.  Donning our goggles and helmets, we board our personal transport, one of us encapsulated in the side car and the other on a comfortable leather seat behind our cycle chauffeur.  

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En-route to the inner reaches of the old city, we pass through the touristic Bund area awash with throngs of less intrepid tourists, all interrupting their souvenir shopping maneuvers to become amateur paparazzi, snapping photos in envy of our motorized spectacle.  Weaving our way through the notorious traffic of the city, we cover an amazing amount of territory in a relatively short period of time.

Along the way, Arthur provides engaging cultural insight to the various sectors of the city. Reaching the center of the historic old city, our sidecar is parked in a narrow local street, more reminiscent of an alley and we disembark for a walk though the historic lilongs.  These shabby communities are centered around a series of narrow interconnecting lanes, essentially a residential development left over from the nineteenth century. A traditional example of communal living of the past, these communities are now being bulldozed over for modern apartment development.  

Surprisingly, residents are reticent to leave the way of life they are accustomed to.  Our guide leads us into a dark courtyard where a random local invites us to actually enter his, for lack of a better word, apartment.  Living in a one room space for sleeping, a communal kitchen and bathroom space this is the only life they have experienced and the resident gives off a smile and nod of modest pride in his humble accommodation.  This is an experience that no one on a group tour will ever encounter and one of the best things to do in Shanghai.

Back on the road, we travel inner routes lined with shops, food kiosks and life in progress before entering central Shanghai.  The experience of the city is enhanced as we climb up another winding residential complex to the rooftop. Arthur breaks out his rattan basket and pours us a glass of heated mulled wine with the rooftop view of kinetic Shanghai as a backdrop.  

Things to Do in Shanghai

With this comprehensive and engaging tour of the inner city complete, Shanghai’s unforgettable character and color will create unrivaled travel memories.  Insider tours are also available in Xi’an, China and Morocco. Visit for more information.

As a former Cruise Director, Steve has been cruising the world for the past forty years. Bringing a new dimension to cruise journalism, he continues to spin the globe searching for off the grid cruise adventures and unplugged destinations to share with Porthole Cruise Magazine readers.