Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

My husband, Kenny, and I recently travelled to Europe via Shanghai on China Eastern Airlines, and our 20-plus hour layovers headed out and back proved to be rather interesting learning experiences. By “interesting” I mean exciting, stressful, confusing and, at times, harrowing. When we returned to Okinawa, we started sharing our experiences with friends only to find that many of them had also flown through Pudong International Airport and learned some lessons the hard way. The exclamations of “oh my gosh, that happened to you too?!” inspired this post.

Overall, our layover returning to Okinawa was better than our layover on the way out, but here are some highlights:

DO know that even if Shanghai is not your final destination and you plan on waiting out your layover in the airport, you WILL have to exit through security/customs and then re-enter (READ: stand in long lines) in order to board your next flight. DO NOT assume you will just hop off the plane and walk to your next gate.

DO remember to pick up your bags at the baggage claim and re-check them for your next flight. We were told by our stewardess on our first flight into Shanghai that our bags would automatically be sent on to our final destination (Rome) and that we would not have to pick them up at baggage claim at Pudong. WRONG-O! Luckily we went to baggage claim anyway because we had a funny feeling about it; lo and behold there were our bags, which would have been left in China if we’d followed her directions.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!DO NOT listen to the salespeople who will yell at you as you’re leaving the airport, trying to book you a room. For that matter, DO NOT even approach the “information” desk in this corridor. Because we had a 22-hour layover on the way to Rome and we had not known that we would have to exit security and babysit our bags all night, we thought it would be smartest to find a nearby hotel where we could lock up our belongings and get a good night’s sleep.  We asked the gentleman at the airport’s information desk about nearby hotels. This seemed like the smart thing to do because he was not representing a hotel but was at the desk marked “Airport Information.” He showed us a couple of brochures with pictures of hotels that offered a free shuttle. One was called “Airport Hotel,” and he said it was a two-minute drive.  It came to the equivalent of 80 U.S. dollars for the night, so he booked it for us over the phone and called a driver over to help us with our bags.

Well, this was a bad desicion. We stepped inside this “shuttle” that looked more like a beat-up van with torn seats. I told myself not to be so judgemental. The driver, who did not speak English, passed a hotel called “Airport Hotel” within the first two minutes of our drive. I shot a concerned glance at Kenny … wasn’t that our hotel? The driver sped down the highway for what seemed like forever, although it was probably not more than 15 minutes. Still, it was 13 minutes longer than it should have been, and with every passing second my fear grew. Kenny looked perfectly calm, but I knew his wheels were turning; I knew he was planning an escape in case it came to that.

We finally exited the highway and made several turns, stopping at an old building in the middle of a narrow street (dear God please let this be a legitimate hotel.) We hopped out of that van like it was on fire and saw a dimly lit sign in Chinese; definitely not the Airport Hotel, but there were a couple of families with young children in the lobby, and I was somewhat reassured. (We couldn’t see much in the dark that night, but the next morning I snapped a photo before we left. It was much less foreboding in daylight – and light purple!)

An angry-looking man took our bags to our room and hesitated at the door. We felt extrememly awkward and embarrassed because we did not have any Chinese currency to tip him; we had paid for the room with a credit card and had not had an opportunity to find a currency exchange. When he left we took in our surroundings – nothing like the pictures we had seen, a toilet and moldy shower stall separated from the bed only by a glass partition …

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

… and I sat down on the “bed” to discover it was not a mattress I was sitting on. It was a wooden board covered with sheets and a blanket. Photos can be deceiving. Kenny later told me he’d seen a creature that resembled a gecco scurrying up the wall, but he wisely kept that bit of information to himself.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

Having survived the night unscathed, our ride back to the airport in the morning was blissfully uneventful. There was a Chinese woman riding with us who spoke enough English to help us get to the right terminal (God bless her!)

Once in Rome, we made it a point get online and do some hotel research so we would not be duped again on our return trip through China. We booked a room at the Radisson Blu Hotel in downtown Shanghai (the high-rise looks like it has a flying saucer on top), and we ended up loving it. Yay for good decisions!

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

Our return layover in Shanghai just happened to fall on “National Tourism Day” in China, so the place was packed with visitors. The Radisson was located near the center of the action. It was fantastic fun to be able to check into our room and then join the festivities outside.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

We tried some Chinese beer – two thumbs up!

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

We tried to walk to the Bund to see the historical buildings, but the crowds were getting out of control.  The Chinese military was enforcing crowd control measures and we were becoming more and more uneasy with the shoving and pushing all around us.  We gave up on the Bund and headed back to the Radisson.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

On the way, we spotted a Chinese man playing with a monkey in the street. I started to take a photo and he immediately motioned to Kenny to hold the monkey. It was a strangely funny moment.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

We had a late dinner in the Radisson’s main restaurant, sampling some Shanghai-style dishes. Kenny picked curiously at the pork. We thought it was okay, but we didn’t love it.

Layover in Shanghai l Okinawa Hai!

The hotel did have an awesome indoor pool which we didn’t have a chance to use. All-in-all we would recommend this hotel … but not the mode of transportation we used to get there, which brings me to my biggest Shanghai no-no: DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT take a taxi. The trip there from the airport was bad enough, with the driver swerving around highway traffic and speeding excessively. And there were no seat belts in the car. Terrifying.

The return taxi ride from the hotel to the airport was even worse. I felt like a passenger in an Indy 500 race, but without all the safety gear (again, no seat belts.) We were passing cars on the highway like they were parked. We passed at least one marked police vehicle that did not attempt to pull us over. To top it all off, our fare ended up being nearly double the price we had paid to get to the hotel. Uh, excuse me? How is this possible? But how could we argue? We could not speak Chinese and we were just happy to be alive at that point.

Our friends, some of whom are more seasoned travellers, shared their transportation stories with us too. A few had similar taxi experiences. One was grossly overcharged. Another couple we know demanded their shuttle van pull over and they hopped out and walked back to the airport (it was also supposed to be taking them to the “Airport Hotel,” which their driver also had mysteriously passed). Another couple took the tram everywhere and said that worked well for them (they had been warned to avoid taxis).

I felt compelled to share our experience and ask all of you share yours in the comments. What advice do you have for travelling through Shanghai? Hindsight is 20/20, and I hope we can share information so more people aren’t left saying, “I wish I had known…”


  1. I would also recommend planning ahead before attempting to do some site seeing in China on a layover. We had a wonderful experience with our 24 hour layover in Shanghai before our trip to Australia. We booked our Australia trip through IACE on Kadena and we figured, why see a little bit of china since we have a layover there anyway. We decided to extend our layover in Shanghai to squeeze in some site seeing. Iace also did all the booking for us for both Australia and China and they did such a great job.
    We got to the Shanghai Airport and our private tour guide met us there and helped us get some China currency. Then took us in a private van with a sepatare driver to our four star hotel (sorry, I can’t remember the name at the moment but Iace uses them all the time). We also booked a half day tour to see all the main Shanghai sites. Our tour guide was very nice and knowledgeable (of course, also spoke english) and was with us for the tour and round trip airport service. We had a great time in China and would now like to go back to see more. We did not need a China visa since there less than 48 hours. I highly recomment going through IACE for any off island trips. We’ve used them for this trip, Thailand and Hong Kong.

  2. We are scheduled to stopover on our way to New Zealand/Sidney and back, with 5 & 8 hour layovers, but we were told we don’t need a visa. Is that true? Were you all able to leave the airport without one? Did you find much inside the airport to entertain children? We’ll be traveling with a 9 and 4-yr-old. Both are used to travel/layovers/long flights, but we try to keep them both entertained. Any words of wisdom for those not planning to leave the airport? Or maybe we can/should?

    • Lori, I have heard from a few others who had short layovers that they did not have to exit security/customs. I’m not sure if you will have to based on the length of your layover. If you DO have to exit security, they will stamp your passport with a temporary visa (it’s free); you just have to show them your itinerary as proof that your final destination is not Shanghai. This temporary visa is specifcally for travellers who are passing through and not spending more than 24 hours there. If you do have to exit security, there is really nothing in the way of kids’ entertainment. I remember it being very crowded with hotel reps screaming at us from every direction. Not exactly a place to relax. But if your layover is only 5-8 hours it would be too much hassle, in my opinion, to leave and come back. I would just wait it out.

      If, on the other hand, you don’t have to exit security, I imagine you can just sit near your gate and lounge. I remember there being lots of shops/restaurants as in stateside airports. But the restaurants and cafes are not cheap (we paid the equivalent of $11 for a coffee!) Best of luck and safe travels! Please comment here afterwards to let us know how it went!

  3. We also had layovers in Shanghai.

    The first was on our way from Naha to Singapore. We had a few hours, but no plans to leave the airport. The process to find our connecting flight was confusing and slightly troublesome. We were routed through endless corridors and were sometimes nearly separated from all other passengers. My advice would be to leave extra time and ask many questions.

    The second was on our way from Beijing to Naha. That was an overnight. We booked a room at the Royal International Hotel. We had the address printed in Chinese and lined up in the queue for the taxi. There was a translator making sure the taxi drivers knew the correct destinations. Although he drove fast and there were no seat belts, we weren’t too concerned until he left the car in the road perpendicular to and blocking traffic, to ask a rickshaw driver for directions.

    After a few wrong turns we were safely delivered to our hotel. The hotel was very nice and we enjoyed the very nice room. We ventured out, and found the neighborhood to be very different that the hotel. There were headless chickens being cleaned in the street – not something you see every day! The nearby connivence store had some fun and different food choices.

    We ate at the hotel for dinner and breakfast and enjoyed both. We arranged a shuttle with the front desk staff to take us back to the airport. It was inexpensive and efficient.

    The Royal International Hotel was not extremely close to the airport, but compared to a story or two above, I’d say it was a step above!

  4. I traveled through Shanghai with my toddler as we had a 17 hour layover. My advice is plan ahead! I booked a stay at the QUBE Hotel because they have a free airport shuttle. I emailed the hotel using Google translator to confirm the time the airport shuttle was to pick us, and our four suitcases, up at the airport. I received a confirmation email back from them and thought all was good to go. Once we got off our flight, picked up our luggage, and got outside I notice there was no shuttle. (I completely agree with Marie, DO NOT listen to the huge selection of people asking you if you need a hotel or if you know what hotel your going to on your way out of the airport, just walk outside to where the hotel tells you to pick up the shuttle.) We waited for 30 minutes for the shuttle and it never arrived. So I put us into a cab and showed them where our hotel was. I had copies of the location of our hotel, our hotel reservation confirmation, and the shuttle confirmation email. I highly recommend you have copies of everything. Once we got to the hotel, the cab driver indicated he would not take my credit card, as previously agreed upon at the airport. So we went inside to the hotel desk to get help translating. The lady behind he desk started yelling at the cab driver in Chinese and then he went out to his cab. The lady started checking me in and informed me the cab driver was trying to charge me almost double for the 20 minute ride to our hotel. As she was checking me in I showed her the shuttle confirmation email I received and she very politely said we should go up to our room, our luggage would be taken up there by the bellhop as well, and she would take care of the cab driver. Upon rival to our room I was shocked at how large, modern, clean, lovely our room was. We had two queen size beds, a separate tub and shower, vanity, couch, desk, amazing. After we got a bath, I got a phone call from the front desk informing me they paid for the cost of the cab ride since we had our confirmation email regarding the shuttle. This place could not have been nicer. We had a great nights sleep. The next morning we went downstairs for our breakfast buffet I paid for at the time of booking. There was a large assortment of Eastern and Western food, as well a omelettes to order. We ate a nice breakfast, went back upstairs to collect our luggage and came back down stairs where the bellhop put everything in the shuttle and we comfortably headed back to the airport. I highly recommend this hotel! I did all this by myself with a two year old, four suitcases, and carryons. It can be done with a little pre-planning. Happy travels!