If you've ever ridden the all-night 320 bus to The Mansion at like 3.30am and tried to chat up a KTV hostess who's just finished work and is scrolling through her WeChat moments and ignoring you, you know that the bus system is a microcosm of Shanghai -- cheap, fast, and full of characters. Lines 26, 911, and the 24 will get you a lot of places you need to go...

But what of those big red double decker buses -- the ones filled with groups of German housewives, waidi taitais on jade-buying trips, and Koreans bound for that one historical spot at Xintiandi? How do these plebs who just arrived in Shanghai already know how to use this shit, yet us old-hands have never ridden that thing once. We decided to look into this.

What It Is

Shanghai's double deckers are run by three different companies. At the top, there's Big Bus, who also does tours in cities like London, New York, Abu Dhabi, and Hong Kong. That's the posh option, and costs 100rmb for a 24 hour pass. Then there's a bus run by the budget airlines Spring Airlines (a.k.a. the airline that's cheap because you have to listen to advertisements for the whole flight), which is 30-50rmb for 48 hours (and they have four lines). And finally, there's a local joint that will run you 30rmb but they only operate in Pudong.

Some of the Shanghai city lines -- such as the 911 bus that runs up and down Huaihai Lu -- also have double-decker options, which cost the standard 2rmb but are a bit of a mystery as far as timing. We splurged on Big Bus.

Big Bus has three lines. The blue line goes around the skyscrapers in Pudong (the 200rmb option also includes entry to the top of The Bottle Opener), the green line goes around Xuhui and Jing'an, and the red line connects them both, taking you through downtown (People's Square area).

Really hope those birds aren't drawn to scale...

Tickets And Times

You can buy tickets at People's Square (Exit 19, corner of Xizang Zhong Lu and Nanjing Xi Lu, opposite New World), The Bund (361 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Beijing Dong Lu), or the Pearl Tower (right in front) for 100rmb.

The tickets are good for 24 hours from the time of purchase, but the blue and green bus lines only run from 9am-5pm, and the red line runs until 8pm. The buses come in 30 minute intervals, and you can get on and off of as many times as you want within the 24 hour period. Obviously there's lots of places to get on and off (too many to list -- check the map, which you'll get with your ticket), but you can't buy tickets on the bus.

The Experience

The ride is a tame affair. Relaxing, even. No laowais boozing hard or uncles playing cards and chain smoking. Certainly nothing like those Donnie Does China bus rides where drunks nearly get their heads wacked off from going through an underpass while belting Bon Jovi from an Ayi dance-party speaker. Not like those pub crawls where interns pour bottles of off-brand tequila straight down the throats of study abroad students. No, this was tame. No one was even smoking cigarettes. People were chill.

The best part about riding the bus is the people watching, and the contrast of Shanghai's stark modernity and its raw realness. Outside of the bus, we passed some people waiting for the regular bus with a freshly purchased [live] chicken.

And a Grandma washing her hands in the fountain by the Cartier shop.

Naturally, the riders were about 80% foreigner -- Koreans, Singaporeans, German, French, and so on, with a few domestic tourists in the mix. Some people were listening intently to the audio commentary through the provided earphones that plug into the back of each seat. The commentary comes in eight languages, and introduces the area and history of each stop, interspersed with a combo of cliché Chinese sounds that you'll find in Hollywood movies when anything "Asian" comes up.

Is It Worth It?

Seeing the city from a roofless two-story moving vehicle is a fine way to spend the afternoon, especially if you're new in town, and when the weather is nice and you've got nothing to do. You can just ride around and hop off whenever you see something cool. And Big Bus isn't your only option. Spring runs similar routes for half the price or less -- you can do the downtown route on Spring Air for only 30rmb, and their tickets last two days. Or yeah, you could just ride the 911 bus back and forth for 2rmb, listening to Chief Keef on fake Beats By Dre headphones, and eating a big bag of gummy treats.


Let's Review:

You can buy tickets for the Big Bus at People's Square (Exit 19, corner of Xizang Zhong Lu and Nanjing Xi Lu, opposite New World), The Bund (361 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, Beijing Dong Lu), or the Pearl Tower (right in front) for 100rmb. Those are good for 24 hours.

The bus starts at 9am and comes every 30 minutes. You can hop on and off whenever you want, but the Pudong / Xuhui lines stop at 5pm and the downtown line stops at 8pm. There's also a cheaper option, provided by Spring Airlines.


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