Experiencing Expo


Avoiding crowds? Best beer? Nightlife? Bring the kids? Sophie Loras asked expat Australians about their experiences at World Expo in Shanghai.


Managing Director, RI Group, Beijing 

As anticipated, Expo has been well planned to cope with huge human throughput and is logical in its layout.

There are many impressive pavilion designs and a few surprises as the “biggest” pavilions are not necessarily the best. In relation to exterior design, my favourite pavilions included Finland, Poland, Britain, Spain, South Korea and those of the Middle East.


As I had a self-imposed rule of not queuing for more than 20 minutes to venture inside any pavilion, it meant visiting the more remote/vague/smaller pavilions. And my advice would be don’t just judge a book by its cover – some of the smaller pavilions are very interesting. One must visit is the ‘Axis of Evil’ – being the side-by-side pavilions of North Korea and Iran. It won’t take long to visit the North Korean pavilion as it is only 700m² and the Iranian pavilion is worth a look just to see the “new” technologies on display like the “laptop with large battery pack.”

The best time to visit Expo would be a weekday from late afternoon until early evening. And don’t think about going in September as everyone I speak to says they are going to Expo then when the heat subsides and everyone else has attended! Go now. If you want to venture inside any of the pavilions then go on a hot weekday as the queues will be a “little” shorter.

However, if you, like me, are content to stroll around and admire the exteriors and pop into a few minor pavilions then a cooler or weekend day is fine. Get an invitation to the Australian pavilion (either make friends with a government/Expo official or get yourself invited to an event/ dinner/ function/ delegation) so you can benefit from a private tour of the pavilion and enjoy fine Australian food and wine in comfort.

Make sure you visit the little hidden side balconies upstairs as they provide a good view of the South East Asian precinct.
Wheelchairs get priority access and wait no more than five minutes. On one occasion I witnessed a couple walking the wheelchair towards the Australian pavilion and then sit down once they arrived at the gate!

Another tip is to queue between 6pm and 7pm at the pavilions you really want to visit as the locals are all eating dinner then and the queues are the shortest of the day.

ABF media

Food is everywhere and many pavilions are set up as bars. russian_pavilion_web 

The Cuban pavilion serves RMB35 drinks all day, the Maltese ‘tavern’ opens onto the street and the Chilean Pavilion operates a wine bar for tasting/purchasing. Russia has a nightclub of course! (pictured right)

If your children are under 10, it’s too hot, too much standing in line and they will think the pavilions are boring. If over 10 then visiting most pavilions is like attending a Year 8 excursion – you get to learn about the country, get a stamp in your booklet and eat junk food!
However there is one big upside to taking a child under five – you can take a pram and join the no-queue wheelchair access junket and save hours!

AustCham Shanghai Events and Marketing Manager, Shanghai

My general impressions of Expo so far is that it is incredibly well organised, clean with a lot of very friendly, helpful volunteers. Of course the Australian pavilion is very close to my heart, but I also liked the overall design of the Indonesian pavilion and I really enjoyed the Africa pavilion – it was great to see so many African nations together and to learn a little about each of them.


The most surprising aspect to Expo has been the parks and landscaping within the site. All along the river on the Pudong side are beautifully landscaped gardens and walkways, a great (and quiet) place to sit and have a break between pavilions… and one of the few places in Shanghai where you can lie on the grass. The best time to visit Expo is late afternoon and evening, the weather is cooler, there are performances and light shows and the queues are much shorter.

Make friends with the friendly guard at the VIP doors, they will let you in surprisingly often. or food and drink there is too much choice – anything from exquisite Japanese at Haiku to the ever popular KFC. Try whatever food the country pavilions are serving, croquettes at the Dutch pavilion, gourmet dining at the Spanish and Mojitos at the Cuban pavilion. The lamingtons at the Australian pavilion are the best in town and a taste of home!

Editor in Chief, That’s Shanghai, Shanghai katarina_stuebe_uk_pavilion_web

The external architecture of so many of the buildings – the China pavilion, the Expo Culture Centre, the UK pavilion – is remarkable (pictured right, courtesy Katarina Stuebe). It’s a shame that so many of them will be dismantled when the Expo concludes (the China Pavilion and Culture Centre will remain, of course).

The Expo Culture Centre is not a pavilion as such but a remarkable building which uses the ancient Chinese architecture principle of ‘jie tian bu jie di,’ which basically means to ‘borrow space from the sky’. The building has a trapezoid shape for the base, but uses a seashell shape for the body, thus enlarging the building space above ground in order to accommodate more seats.

The seashell shape was chosen to fit in with the building’s waterfront location. It’s a remarkable building and, as with the China Pavilion, sure to be an icon of Shanghai for decades – if not, centuries – to come.

The most surprising aspect to Expo is the Puxi side (yes, there is a Puxi side) which has all the corporate pavilions. The Oil pavilion (don’t laugh), GM and Coca-Cola are worth checking out. No queues for those. The Shipping Pavilion and the old Nanshi power plant (now the Pavilion of Future) are worth a look, too. The best time to visit Expo is now, before it heats up.

Best tip – get there early (it opens at 9am) or go in the evening. Most of the tour buses come during the day. The food is great. I think most people had very low expectations on this front, but the pavilions have done a great job. Loads of standouts – the Belgian fry stand seems to be the biggest hit so far.

Best nightlife is the concerts. All free with your Expo ticket. So far the US Pavilion has had Herbie Hancock, the Italian’s had soundtrack composer Ennio Morricone. Plenty more to come. Also, the cone-shaped structures on Sunny Valley look great at night when they are lit up in different colours.

There are plenty of things going on outside the pavilions to keep you entertained. Maoris put on a singing show outside the New Zealand pavilion and traditional Thai dancers do the same for their pavilion.

Start on the Puxi side then take the ferry to Pudong. The approach from the pier with the China Pavilion flanked by the Expo Culture Centre on one side and the World Expo Centre on the other is a truly great sight. The Expo is worth several visits. I’d recommend buying a three-day pass first up.

I was surprised at how much I wanted to return to the site. It lingers in the memory for days after you’ve been.

International Venue Group, Brazil Pavilion Duty Venue Manager, Shanghai

The first month was not as busy as I was expecting, but the crowds for June have been really impressive! The most surprising aspect to expo is the sheer size of it – it never ceases to amaze me. Good luck seeing all of it!

The best time to visit Expo is in the afternoon and evening, people start to leave by then, and the queues become more and more sand_bar_rocks_webreasonable. After 8.30pm many queues have disappeared. My favourite four places for food and drinks are the Brazil, Australian, New Zealand and USA Pavilions. All have sit down areas and music to enjoy some delicious beverages! Best nightlife is the Australian Pavilion, listen to the Sandbar Band and drink cold Crown Lagers.
Expo is definitely worth seeing – but don’t expect to see all the big pavilions. Visit a few small ones as well, otherwise you might be queuing all day.

* Picture right: The Sandbar at the Australian Pavilion.

In Shanghai for Expo? To read more about the city’s spectacular nightlife as recommended by Australian expatriates living in Shanghai, click here.


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