How Cheap is Cheap? $5 in Shanghai can get you a lot, if you know where to look. But for a regular tourist finding a meal for under $10 can be a bit of a challenge, especially if your hotel is in an expensive area and you are unsure how to use the metro or where to direct a cab driver.
The Best $5 You’ll Ever Spend. So, for an opportunity to spend a fun $5 on a cultural experience in Shanghai you won’t soon forget, a great option is to head to Nanjing Road and walk among some of the city’s malls, restaurants and shops and experience the full effect of hundreds of people walking on the same sidewalk at once. To have an unforgettable experience, walk along the street until someone approaches you and shows you a postcard with images of shirts or wallets and says “shirt, DVD, purse, wallet.” Usually, you’d brush these offers away, but just this once go out on a limb and enjoy the culture of bargaining and selling small items out of the home. You’ll follow one of these people to their apartment and they will have a room set up like a shop (it is perfectly safe, by the way). Here you can bargain for whatever items they have on offer. I’d suggest an item that you’ll keep daily so you can relive the experience each time you use it, like a wallet or small purse. $5 should easily get you a belt, wallet or a handful of DVDs. To really experience Chinese shopping, you’ll have to take the risk and check out the back alley shopping.
The Low-Down. I’ve done this a few times over the years, and every time it has been an experience I remember vividly. It is always a bit awkward at first following someone to their apartment. One time earlier this year a gentleman said he had a DVD shop. I followed him and he led my down several alleys and then up a ladder into the second story of a small cigarette shop. I climbed up the ladder and they shut the trap door. I looked around, and the attic was set up like any other store on the street, with display lighting and shelving, even price tags. I bargained for a $5 T-shirt and they shook my hand and walked me back to the main street. It was perfectly safe and an experience like that is hard to forget!
Now, You Do it. It is much easier to find these places than you’d think. Simply walk down Nanjing Road, in the pedestrian area and when someone approaches you (and they will) have a bit of faith and follow them. You can negotiate prices ahead of time, if you like, but seeing the quality first is a smart idea.
What to Do with Leftover Change. Nanjing Road has a lot to offer in terms of shopping, food and drink. You can walk around and spend $5 just on snacks and food, so if you have some money left over after your back-alley experience, you’ll have no problem spending it here.
If You’d Like to Splurge. Nanjing Road has some nice shops as well, and a few souvenir shops as well. You could, essentially, get everything you need on this street, from east to west, if you walk long enough. This is a massive street, the pedestrian area being only one part of it. The road has several malls, hotels, restaurants and bars. You can splurge all your cash away here, or do it cheaply on the side-streets shooting out to the north and south of the road.