Shanghai and the Ferry to Osaka, Japan

After a hectic few months through Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and then the whirlwind visit to Australia, Di and I needed a rest. As we had been to Shanghai before we opted for a few lazy days there whilst we waited for our ferry to Japan. We did, though, have a boozy, old, night with fellow long-term travellers from our home town of Batemans Bay in Australia. This of course resulted in many travel tales being told.

We had one night with Nicole and Stewart, whose Facebook page is called ‘Nik and Stew’s Awesome Asian Adventure,’ if you are interested.

Photo Bombing locals having a great time.

I have been trying to get Di to have a beer for 30 years, well  peer pressure from Nik and Di was unstoppable, downing two, yes two not one, 500 ml bottles of cheap, local, Chinese beer; the name of which was in Chinese, so I have no idea what it was.

The beer was a strange light yellowy, cats piss, colour; it was very cold, light in taste and 5% alcohol.  The beer, of course, tasted awful and Di, of course, thought it was “wonderfully refreshing” – it was only AUD$1.50 to AUD$2 each bottle. The price varied each round – got to love Asia! It was wonderful to catch up with Nicole and Stewart and we were the last to stagger out of the restaurant that night.

We did very little in Shanghai other than go to The Bund one day, so I have included the link here for our previous stay in Shanghai if you are looking for things to do. Link to our Shanghai Blog Post.

From Shanghai we were resuming our journey around the world without flying, and this leg of the adventure was a two day ferry trip; but it was more like a mini-cruise ship, from Shanghai in China, to Osaka in Japan.  We were sailing on the Su Zhou Hao, departing from the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal.

The Su Zhou Hao sails from the port where you get terrific views of The Bund.

The ferry ONLY departs from Shanghai on a Tuesday and departs from Osaka on a Friday. The crossing takes 48 hours.

Boarding the ship was from 9am with departure at 11am. Di and I arrived early – yep, very early as we wanted to beat the rush – we arrived at 7.50am and the place was deserted – empty. Only one security guard that directed us to the check in waiting room and would not let us go anywhere else. We stood there alone. We discovered the shops above the check in area opened at 8.30am, we went and sat on seats outside the shops, under the ever watchful gaze of the security guard, who I am sure thought we were up to no good.

Just after 9am, after buying some breakfast, we went to the check in area. Our bags went through the x-ray machines and then we waited for the actual Check-in counter to open – we were the first to check-in of course.

It was at check-in that you pay for your fare, you cannot pay beforehand. Payment MUST be made in cash – now I found this rather bizarre, but they ONLY accept cash. The cash can ONLY be in Chinese or Japanese currency, they will NOT accept any other currency.

The cost for a VIP room was RMB6500 (AUD$1,200) PER ROOM. We were in Special Class A which was the next standard of room down and it was RMB2600 (AUD$480) EACH person. Then there are Special Class B and C, which are basically the same price with slightly smaller rooms. We were very pleased with our room. It had a TV with no reception once we left Shanghai and the reception in Shanghai was all in Chinese – why they put a TV in room is beyond me – though there was a DVD player, but all the movies to hire were Chinese or Japanese.  We had a kettle, a large porthole window, two large single beds, a lounge, a largeish ensuite with a bath, and a lot of floor space. We were also next to the VIP rooms – there is a distinct status feel to each level of the ship.

The next level down was First Class and Second Class A. These were rooms with bunk beds and each room held five passengers. Second Class A was slightly cheaper than First Class due to the room sizes – both have external shower facilities. The fare for First Class was RMB1600 each (AUD$ AUD$300) and Second Class was RMB1500 each (AUD$280).

The next level down was Second Class B. Second Class B was just a large open room which held up to 40 men and a large separate open room which held 16 ladies. Yes, the men and ladies are separate. The men’s open room is open for all to see into whilst the women’s is closed off from views outside the room. Both have communal toilets and showers. The cost of these rooms were RMB1300 each (AUD$240).

The male Open Room accommodation

We had to pay pretty much the equivalent of a thousand Australian Dollars in Chinese Yuan in CASH when checking in. We were certainly uncomfortable carrying that much cash around on the days prior to departure I can tell you.

By this time we were now an hour from sailing and there was hardly anyone checking in. Eventually, we were told to continue through to Immigration. There must have only been about a dozen people waiting at that moment and they had large amounts of luggage queued at the entrance. Once we were told to proceed through they all queued for the one small elevator whilst Di and I walked the unmoving escalator up to the next level. We were quickly through Immigration as everyone else was queuing for the elevator – Asians seem to hate walking.

We then waited for a bus to take us to the ship – we waited about twenty minutes. The bus had about a dozen people on it when it moved out for the two minute trip to the ship.

At the ship you show your boarding pass and then you have to carry your luggage up the steepest winding steps – it was difficult. We saw now that some of the passengers were elderly Asians, with several being ladies on their own. Di and I struggled up these narrow steps with our luggage – I just felt it was poorly organised and very difficult for most.

The ship sailed on time and I must say Shanghai harbour is something special. The harbour does not have the beauty of say Sydney Harbour but it is just so interesting. There are three outside deck areas for passengers on the ship, one is smaller and links the two areas running along each side of the ship – a sort of U shape. When the ship sailed Di and I were the only passengers in any of the outside areas.

No pool in sight

It takes about 90 minutes for the ship to sail along the first part of the Shanghai Harbour. It is just so interesting with ships of all shapes and sizes, not only sailing, but moored along the shoreline. You pass under bridges, pass ship building sites that had ships at various stages of construction; you passed the Coast Guard base, the Chinese Naval base, as I said it was interesting to watch all this unfold.

Container wharf.

The harbour then opens up into a passage twice its previous size. This is where the cruise ships are docked and the container wharf is – and what a container wharf it is, by far the largest I have ever seen.

Cruise ship terminal with two large cruise ships docked.

There are ships everywhere now, these ships are larger and are the big container ships or oil tankers. Again, it was simply so interesting.

By this time, Di deserted me about an hour ago, it was getting hot on the deck as there is little shade, so I went down to our room.

We sat reading in the room and watched as every minute we passed a large ship going the opposite direction – it was just like peak hour traffic in any city, it was busy!!!

Lunch and dinner are not included in the price of the fare but breakfast is included. We found the meals were reasonably priced and they are more Japanese in nature as it is a Japanese ship. The breakfast was an interesting collection of watery rice porridge, doughy dumplings, a hard-boiled egg, processed ham, a bit of fruit and you can wash it all down with terrible coffee.

Mmmm breakfast

Dinner was much nicer

The ship has several vending machines. These vending machines were surprisingly reasonably priced. The cans of beer, purchased from the vending machine, are actually cheaper than what you can buy in Japan – sales tax exemption. The price of beer was 210 yen, or just under AUD$2.50, for a 500 ml can. There are vending machines with drinks and with noodles. The problem is that because it is a Japanese ship the vending machines are stocked in Japan. Whilst we were on board the vending machine with noodles was empty when we departed Shanghai and was never restocked.

We’ve since learned that Japanese love their vending machines

On the First Class deck there are communal lounge seats for all classes. This is where the dining room is.

There is a small duty free shop.

Duty free shop opens twice a day

The lobby

The majestic staircase to our floor

There is also a bar that opens at 8pm, but Di and I never went in, as it was way past our bed time.

There is also a reading room on the First Class level with views to the front of the ship.

This was a good place to watch our voyage from when it was raining outside.

I was in the reading room at 5pm watching our passage through the Kitakyushu Passage, when a staff member came in and closed all the curtains. I challenged her and she pointed to a sign above the curtains that said the curtains must be closed at night – I pointed to the word NIGHT and said it was hardly night – she shook her head and said it must be closed. I agreed and emphasised at night and sunset was over two hours away and was still day time now. She hesitated and said okay one more hour.

The ship enters the Kitakyushu Passage, on the evening of the second day.

This passage is very narrow and a bridge joins two of the main islands, Kyushu and Honshu, together. It was pouring with rain and watching the ship manoeuvre through these areas was a highlight of the crossing. The ship slowed to a near stop and slowly edged its way around a bend, between the end of each island and then under a bridge. This then led to the ship gaining speed as it was out into open sea again – an enthralling experience and they wanted to close the curtains on me.

There were only two other Westerners on board the ship. There was a young Italian guy who was travelling overland from Italy to Australia and was doing a round trip on the Su Zhao Hao. He was in Second Class B open sleeping room. There was a Pakistani English guy who was in a First Class cabin and was sharing a five bedroom cabin with an elderly Japanese man.

We were on deck watching the sunset on the first evening – which was an okay sunset, when the topic of how few passengers were on board the ship came up.

There were in fact ONLY 19 passengers and most of them were in the male and female open rooms. The ship holds 200 passengers. The English guy said from his research this is the norm for this ship and rarely is it even close to half full.

This started me wondering about our payment in cash ONLY and the voyages with too few passengers to turn a profit – this is a bit like the empty Chinese restaurants that make huge profits each year, or the tattoo parlour that makes a huge profit each year – it makes you wonder does it not!!!

When you embark on to the ship you are given a card. This card has a number on it and the words Temperature Card;  Di and I were numbers 1 and 2.

On arrival at Osaka all passengers must line up in numerical order of the card, ie, numbers 1 through to 19. We wait patiently in line and the first people into the ship, once it has docked, are a three person medical team. One of the medical team holds what looks like a miniature speed camera and you step in front of it. This device takes your temperature and luckily we were all the correct temperature to enter Japan.

On exiting the ship there is no mountain of steps to clamber down – just watch your head the ceilings are low.

We headed to Immigration, which was a breeze going through, as there were so few passengers. On the way to Immigration we went through an area where we were automatically sprayed with an insecticide – it was not a problem, just the smell was noticeable.

Once through Immigration it was time for customs and it was here we learnt to be patient. During 18 months of travel we have been through many custom checks and our bags have hardly been looked at – entering Japan was very different – they checked every bag. The customs guy was the politest most endearing man who spoke so courteously to us. However, he insisted on opening, removing clothing and searching through every bag we had. He searched everywhere. This was done to all 19 passengers, the Italian guy even had to sit down and they searched the shoes he was wearing, at least we escaped this – perhaps Di’s foot odour precedes her!!!

We were finally through customs and out the door into Osaka. Japan is the 20th country we have visited on our little adventure.

We then had a walk of about 20 minutes (nearly two kilometres) to the subway. There were no taxis waiting to pester us and you begin to wonder if you are still in Asia. When you leave the customs area you turn right and walk along the footpath out of the port area. There are signs pointing to the subway. The subway though is a small turn off the main street and you go up steps to the station – it can easily be missed.

It cost 230 Yen each (AUD$3.60) to travel four stops to Osaka station on the subway – yes, Japan is dearer than the rest of Asia folks. We now had to find the subway to our hotel in Namba – man, there are lots of people in Japan!!!

Did I enjoy the ferry crossing from Shanghai to Osaka, the answer is yes, I loved it. Would I recommend it, yes I would. The sights are fantastic from the ship as you sail past numerous ships from all over the world. The seas were calm and once we hit Japanese waters there were numerous islands to see. To be honest I did not get bored at all. Cheap one way flights from Shanghai to Osaka are comparable to what you pay in the open sleeping rooms on board the ship– but that lacks the sense of adventure of the ocean voyage and the many sights you see.

The adventure continues……………………..

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