The thing about being a Singaporean is that we are pampered by the guys at Changi Airport – we tend to expect other airports to be of the same standard, but they didn’t and most likely won’t. That’s why when I found out that New Chitose Airport had an inhouse onsen available for all passengers, I was super impressed (adding to the fact that the airport hotel’s window looked out into the apron, unlike Crowne Plaza Hotel in Singapore Changi Airport).
Since I had the chance to visit Shanghai for a few times, I thought I’d give myself a challenge to try and see if it was possible to spend a good 3 hours at the airport before checking in!
Baggage Deposit at Shanghai Pudong Airport Departure Hall
Arriving at the airport at 1pm, the first thing I did was to drop off my bag at the left baggage centre, since Singapore Airlines do not have early check/bag drop available at Pudong Airport.
Nov tips: Note that there’s a round of security check at the terminal entrance and they were particularly asking everyone passing through to take their power banks out of their bags (not LAGs or laptops).
The counter was behind check in row A, which was at the furthest right hand corner of the terminal immediately after entering the premise. Therefore, if possible, get the driver to drop you at the gate as soon as you reach the departure driveway.
I left both my check in luggage and hand carry trolley bag and it cost me CNY30 (SGD6)! They go by blocks of 4 hours, so my estimated stay of 3 hours was just nice for the left baggage service!
As a natural born foodie, the first agenda on my Shanghai Pudong Airport adventure was to look for food.
Shanghai Food at Shanghai Ren Jia
Food options wise, Terminal 2 was a bit lacking. Most restaurants were at the mezzanine level and they were mostly non-inspiring (I mean, Ajisen Ramen has consistent standards, but I won’t be eating something I could eat at home 😅).
The next best thing I found was Shanghai Ren Jia (上海人家), which literally meant Shanghai Folks. Being a typical Singapore sucker, I assumed that a restaurant that dared to bear the city’s namesake would be good in quality.
The a la carte menu was extensive, but I took to the set menu as they usually consolidate their ”signature” dishes in that one piece of placard.
Catching my eye was Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou (红烧狮子头 Braised Lion’s Head), which I had NEVER tried in Singapore or amy place else, but heard of quite often. I even saw on a documentary that described the tedious process of ensuring that gigantic pork meat ball gets well marinated and well-cooked.
Therefore, I ordered a set that consisted of Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou, 2 side vegetable dishes and a soup. I also added a basket of Xiao Long Bao (小笼包 Steamed Pork Soupy Dumplings) for the sake of variety.
OK, I had been looking out for Xiao Long Bao when I was in Suzhou/Shanghai, but I just couldn’t find one store selling them, so when I saw that on the menu, I just ordered it without thinking (like, for example, I already had a heavy set meal on the order)…
The meat balls looked deceiving plain, just 2 humongous ubiquitous looking balls drenched in Chinese braised gravy. Even then, the smell was giving it away.
Slicing the balls open, a waft of steam drifted out, unveiling the reddish meat within. Chinese cuisine tend to avoid letting pork remain red, as that meant it was not cooked thoroughly, so that made me wary of the taste.
The meat was as tender as it could – well, it was made from minced pork, and so the softness was testament of how finely minced the meat was – and it didn’t have the raw taste I was expecting.
Instead, the spices (Chinese spices are not like chilli, mind you) that went into marinating the meat splattered onto my palette and filled my breath with good old nostalgic flavours of the yesteryears.
Just how tender was the meat? The moment the flavour burst dissipated, so was the meat, as though melting in my mouth like savoury ice cream.
Of the 2 vegetable dishes, one was cauliflower cooked with bacon and chilli oil and the other was plain steamed white cabbage. They were such a contrast to each other and the Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou, and yet they didn’t clash with each other!
The Xiao Long Bao was also a joy to have, even though I was already full after devouring the Hong Shao Shi Zi Tou.
Unlike Singaporean Xiao Long Bao, the Shanghai version was much bigger; the skin was thicker but that made the bao more resilient to tearing, so it was possible to slowly suck on the soup after nibbling the tip off.
The Xiao Long Bao I had, however, had a tinge of chilli in it; nothing overpowering, but added a tang to the taste buds.
At the end of my lunch, I was totally full, but I was also 100% gratified!
Other Amenities at Shanghai Pudong Airport
With another 2 hours left, I decided to explore the terminal a bit and I found a massage place on the other side of the terminal.
The place was well decked out, with private ”suites” even for those opting only for foot reflexology. They even offered a pot of tea free of charge, served to the massage chair.
The masseuse had strength, though lacked skill. For those who liked to imagine themselves in “50 Shades of Grey”, they might enjoy the brute force – for me, I preferred targeted, masterful kneading.
Another thing I didn’t like about the massage was how pushy the staff was to upsell their products. Every now and then during the massage, they would ask if I wanted to move to another room with a massage table, which would be more comfortable, but at an extra charge, or to add on more time or add on a foot scrub… and the list goes on.
Unless you are dying to have your knots undone, you should avoid this massage place.
Outside of Terminal 2
Despite being separated from each other with a railway track, carpark and a highway, T2 was easily accessible to 1 via a walkway. However, that would also mean going through security every time you try to enter either terminals of Shanghai Pudong Airport.
Luckily, my bags were already at the left baggage, so I passed through the checks swiftly.
There was a dining “hub” at the train station midway between the terminals, where one could find KFC and some causal fast food; if the food at T2 public area didn’t fancy you and you felt like walking, this hub would be a good “investment” of your time.
T1 also had a greater number of food choices compared to T2, although you would most likely find a “Hope Kahwey” at every turn. It served decent food (I’ll describe later) and was the only few places in the airport serving decent Chinese food fare.
After a coffee break (the cafe had nice, sunny ambience but the coffee was just average), I returned to T2 to retrieve my bags for check in.
After Check In at Shanghai Pudong Airport
After check in, there is (currently) 1 departure channel near the end of the massage place. Immediately after passing through the opaque walls, one enters the queue for immigration check (a.k.a chop passport). And immediately after, one is herded to the final, but more detailed security check.
Nov tips: Always allocate 1 hour to pass through the immigration+security check combo. Just because you get to pass through it once in 15 minutes, it doesn’t mean you won’t be stuck in the queue the next time due to manpower shortage / suspicious traveler in front of you in the queue etc. Chinese immigration officers are also not shy to let travelers know, curtly, to follow instructions strictly.
Singapore Airlines’ aircraft will always be waiting right after the security check, which also happened to be where the airline lounges could be found (at the mezannine level).
For Priority Pass members, we could use the No. 77 China Eastern Plaza Premium Lounge, off gate D77 (but of course!).
The layout and design of the lounge was of earthy grey tones, if not mellowed out. The space depended a lot on natural light coming from the skylights above and at night, soft lighting bathed the lounge in warmth.
The solo sofas were decked out neatly in rows on one side, with booth seating on the other side. Further into the lounge, one could find the dining area, complete with dining tables (because eating their soupy noodles at the sofa does prove to be of a great challenge!)
Despite being an “open space”, looking out to the waiting area below, the lounge was surprisingly quiet.
Food wise, the variety was not over the top – there were fried rice (well, rice is a Chinese staple), vegetables and stir-fried meat, depending on the menu of the day. There was also a sandwich/ham spread catering to the Western taste buds.
The highlight was that one could order a hot bowl of noodles from the noodle station, somewhat like Cathay Pacific’s Business Class Lounge, though the offering were good old Dan Dan Mian (Plain Noodles with Minced Pork) and Noodles with Soup.
There was shower facilities too; on another trip, I used their shower room and was rather impressed. Again, there was no lux factor like you’d find in an SQ lounge, but the amenities was sufficient (I only used my own facial cleanser and the rest was provided) and the place was clean. I mean, many shower rooms in lounges suffered from a musty smell due to the fact that they were damp spaces in an indoor, air-conditioned place. The lounge at China Eastern did not fall into that state.
Back out of the lounge, if you’re still hungry, there were still food choices, albeit limited.
Your best bet would be the Hope franchise.
Entering from the security screening, there is one Hope to be found whether you turn left or right.
The one on the right leads to a Western fusion version, called Hope Kahwey and the one on the left was Hope Star, where one could find Cantonese style cuisine… I think it’s obvious where I would turn to…
Getting seated and ordering food was like battle royale. I quickly realised no one was going to seat me down and I had to “catch” the waiter to place my order…
I tried their Steamed Four Classic Dumplings, meaning I could get to taste 4 types of dumplings in a platter!
I also ordered Steamed Shrimp Dumplings, because well, erm… I didn’t see that they were included in the classic platter (hunger got the better of me).
The four types of dumplings in the platter were: Xiao Long Bao with Crab Fillings, Prawn Siew Mai, Shrimp Dumpling and Bamboo Shoots (上海蟹粉小笼包，鲜虾烧卖皇，脆笋鲜虾饺，翡翠海鲜饺).
After biting through the thick dumpling skin, one would get to the juicy and umami filling. If you asked me, I liked the Siew Mai most, since it had the least skin and most meat for the best bang.
As for the Xiao Long Bao, I preferred the ones at Shanghai Ren Jia in the public area.
However, if you are really looking for some last minute craving staving, Hope Star is your best bet.
Despite its reputation as being a boring place, Shanghai Pudong Airport do have a good variety of to-dos and to-eats if you are willing to spend some time there. There’s no Michelin-star restaurants, but the ones I mentioned could paint a good scenery on your palettes if you let them.
The stuff I listed would take more than the 3 hours I said I would have in my challenge, since I also added some of my experience from my other visits. Effectively, I could only do what I mentioned for the public area in the 3 hours.
Skipping the hop over to T1 and the disappointing massage, one would have more time after the immigration check to try out more dim sum.
Oh, by the way, the non-food shops after the customs were totally boring and over priced. Buy whatever souvenir you want to buy in the city, pack them in your check in luggage and spend your time in the airport with an empty stomach.
Experience is better than items.
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Till then, stay wanderlust!
All photos and videos were taken using Olympus TG870 and Google Pixel XL, and edited with Snapseed.