Shanghai Scrap’s Simple Guide to Expo 2010: Go After Dark.

Early yesterday afternoon I found my way down to the Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) site for what was supposed to be a ninety-minute visit, at most. But when I arrived the grounds were so empty (under 100,000 visitors yesterday), and the weather was so good, that I found myself spending the remainder of the day, into the night, down there with a friend whom I texted on the spur of the moment (“Nobody’s here. You should come down.”). Below, the view of the UK pavilion and, in the background, the Lupu Bridge, as viewed from the Dutch pavilion (Happy Street) around 8:30 PM.

It’s a gorgeous view, and what’s best about it is that – despite all of the reports about lines and waits (yes, at Shanghai Scrap, too) – there wasn’t any waiting at all. We just walked into Happy Street, just as we walked into every other pavilion but the UK and German ones (30 – 60 minute waits at both). It was a good antidote to all of the negativity that’s been swirling around Expo since the first day of the soft opening.  For an evening, at least, you could see that the Expo is an interesting and fun place to go (I try to get at the fun in this recent interview with China Beat) – especially in the dark, when the crowds mostly disappear.

And the night-time benefits go beyond just being able to walk into pretty much any pavilion whenever you like. Restaurants are empty. Entire squares are empty. Best of all, the grounds are filled with terrific performances. Last night, alone, I came across a wonderful jazz-funk outfit from Italy; street performers from Prague; a boy’s choir from South Africa; chamber music from Austria; some kind of wicked wild percussion thing (not sure what that was) in the square in front of the Pacific pavilion; a folk ensemble from Romania; and some skinny, hairy Danish dudes rocking out with toy-store keyboards in front of the Little Mermaid at the Denmark pavilion. Why the Expo organizers aren’t doing more to promote all of these great performances in the face of so much negative publicity about long lines, I’ll never understand. But whatever – take it from your friendly Scrap blogger and go to Expo after dark. It’s great.

A couple of additional notes on visiting the site …

  • If you must visit by day, and you want to save time, enter the grounds on the Puxi side. The crowds are all on the Pudong side.
  • When traveling between the Puxi and Pudong sides, don’t take the subway. Instead, take the ferry across the river; the views are super. The terminal is easy to find on the Puxi side (across from the Korean Corporate pavilion); harder on the Pudong side: near the Japan pavilion.
  • Now hear this: if you’ve traveled internationally, there’s absolutely nothing inside of any of the pavilions that you haven’t seen before [UPDATE: A few have questioned this statement. Look: this isn’t the 1851 Expo, where you’d see a photograph for the first time; if you’ve been to a trade show in the last decade, a science museum, or Disney Land, Expo pavilions are pretty much old hat.] That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go. It’s just to say that you shouldn’t bother to wait in line more than fifteen minutes for anything. Spend that time walking around, stopping into small country pavilions that nobody else is visiting (Moldova! Tajikistan! Azerbaijan!). You can cover twenty of those in the time that it’ll take you to get through the line into, say, the French pavilion.
  • Okay, but if you must – absolutely must – go into one of the major pavilions, Shanghai Scrap recommends the following Pudong-side pavilions as worth a 15 – 30 minute wait. In order: Canada, Japan, Australia.
  • But keep in mind that 95% of the Pudong-side pavilions are much more interesting on the outside than they are on the inside. Take, for example, the Russia pavilion. Looks like a fantasy land on the outside; on the inside, looks like a black-lit leftover from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Don’t wait more than 5 minutes for that.
  • While we’re on the topic, there are some great-looking, highly popular pavilions that should be avoided at all costs … but we’re being positive here, so I’ll leave those for another time (except for Singapore and Indonesia: those are truly horrible).
  • Better, more useful advice: rather than spend your time visiting the Pudong side, why not go over to some of the corporate pavilions on the less-visited Puxi side? They are, on balance, much more interesting and fun than the national pavilions on the opposite side of the river. Of them, I recommend: State Grid (highly recommend the State Grid pavilion), Oil, Cisco, and GM. Lines are shorter, by far, but – then again – I really don’t think any of these are worth waiting more than 30 minutes to see. As with the Pudong side, you’re better off spending that 30 minutes walking around, soaking in the atmosphere away from the lines.
  • Want to see a “4-D” film complete with shaking seats, wind, and rain? Don’t waste your time with the US pavilion’s sub-par 4-D film (one instance of shaking seats, one instance of wind, one instance of rain), and instead get yourself over to the Puxi side (again) and the flat-out awesome 4-D film in the Oil pavilion. Unlike the US pavilion, which seats its visitors on benches, the Oil Pavilion provides plush seats that offer a range of experiences, including the sensation of a — well, I don’t want to give too much away. Let’s just say that you’re going to experiences a whole lot more than a rain storm from your seat – and, unlike the US pavilion, you’ll experience it with 3-D glasses on. Awesome.
  • Food. Lots of chain restaurants down there. Choose your favorite, I guess. Me, I haven’t been there enough, and I don’t eat enough, to give you a good run-down on where to go for lunch. HOWEVER – I am hearing very good things, from lots of people, about the cafe at the Austria pavilion. Haven’t eaten there myself, though.
  • Coffee. This is easy: go directly to the Colombia pavilion. They have a great little coffee shop there, with great Colombian coffee. [UPDATE: And stay away from Starbucks. They’re down there, and they’ve jacked their prices. Expo profiteering should not be rewarded.]
  • And cocktails. Trust me on this – you cannot go wrong with the small bar in the back of the Moldova pavilion. See below.

Tell ’em you heard about it at Shanghai Scrap.

15 thoughts on “Shanghai Scrap’s Simple Guide to Expo 2010: Go After Dark.

  1. true that> night time is the right time… the coolest thing I saw so far in the expo was the automatic loading and unloading of the electric batteries of the electric busses at the Electric Bus Battery Charging Station (behind N. Korea)…. It looked high tech… they should turn that station into a pavilion!

  2. Thanks! These are great suggestions. I’m taking my family tomorrow and I think we’ll wait until later in the day instead of going in the morning as originally planned. can you think of any good kid friendly parts of the Expo?

  3. Wonderful tips, Adam. I always think that we should go where the less crowds are; because sometimes the jewel is there. However, it doesn’t hurt to visit the more popular ones too! 🙂 Just to say you’ve been there.

  4. Linda – I’m not a parent, so I’m probably not the best person to ask. However, the other day when I was there, a friend mentioned to me that the smaller European group pavilions, with their minimal crowds and weird interior landscapes, would be attractive to kids. Seems to me that you’ve just given somebody an idea for a very, very popular blog post/article: “Expo for Kids.”

  5. Well I’m a parent and I don’t think Expo is a good place for kids under the age of 10. There is too much walking and line waiting. My 12 year old enjoyed it but the seven year old was done after the long walk to the UK pavilion.

  6. I thought the Australian pavilion was too big for what was actually inside…The first two minutes of the movie are fun, then it’s boring (and why is it only the white and the asian kids speaking, and not the little aborigine?hehe)

  7. Brilliant Adam! One question:

    If you go in the evening, all the shows, cinemas, etc. are still open? Until what time?

  8. Julen – As of 21:00 PM, Wednesday night, there were still performances going on. It really depends on the pavilion, the square, etc. On Wednesday some pavilions were closing at 19:30, some 20:00, some at 21:00, and some at 21:30. I imagine that things will go later on weekends, but you’ll need to check.

  9. Thanks for this info, Adam. I’m sending this to everyone I know who is looking for useful information about visiting the Expo. I’ve always appreciated your recommendations about what to do, see, and eat whenever we’ve been in Shanghai, so I really trust your advice here as well.

  10. A note about kids…mine loved it. They are 5 and 7. I asked them today if they wanted to go back and I received a huge, YES! I’ll admit that we spent a lot of money on fun ‘snacks’ as we walked around, and we went on Sunday when it was raining to avoid crowds. The Belgium Waffles were yummy!

  11. If only I found this before wasting a day!! The UK pavilion “seed cathedral” is the only thing worthwhile cueing for on the Pudong side. The food is good at the Swiss pavilion and the beer recommendable at the Belgium pavilion – avoid the Belgium waffles though. If you are into good design and architecture Finland and Denmark is worth a visit. The only other two pavilions with a bit of integrity is the Czech Republic and Hungarian pavilions. Avoid Africa, South Africa, Singapore, Greece, Belgium, Luxembourg & Iceland at all cost. For the first time in my life I am embarrassed to be South African. I appears the French have an amazing restaurant at the back, just couldn’t get in.

  12. I actually recommend the Sweden Pavilion. It’s an entire playground inside and even with a 30 minute wait, it’s well worth the line. If you come in the afternoon, you can slide down a slide from one floor to the next.

  13. When does the expo close at night?
    Thinking of doing a night time tour but depending what time we get back from our day time tour and how far away the expo is from our hotel may not be worth getting tickets. In all the literature on expo there are no opening or closing times.
    Bobbie

  14. Thanks for your advise.We are 2 days in Shanghai with a cruiseship.Going 1st day Shanghai Museum, Maglev up/dow to airport and evening to Expo.We will follow your suggestions.On one page you gave better tiops than the 1,000.000 chinese websites

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