TRIPPING UNDER THE RIVER

Remko Tanis • 23 November 2018

The other day I crossed the Alps in a way I’d never done before: through the St. Gotthard highway tunnel. It was real quiet on the road, making the 16.9 kilometer tunnel trip hypnotizing at times. For about twelve minutes, you’re just staring at a straight black tube passing by around you at a speed that, thanks to the effect of the lights, seems much higher than the 80 km/h speed limit.

St. Gotthard tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Marvel of engineering as it may be, when it comes to hypnotizing the Gotthard tunnel has nothing on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel in Shanghai. I just came across some photos I’d taken on my last trip through this marvel of, eh, what, exactly?

When you decide to deliver yourself to the notorious BST experience, as anyone who comes within at least a 100 kilometer radius of it absolutely should, you will find yourself locked into a small transparent cocoon. It will slide over rails down the tunnel which will make you trip out in the five minutes it takes.

 Your glass capsule ride to trip in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Your glass capsule ride to trip in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

Not sure at what moment I lost it each time I took this deep dive. Yes, I went more than once.

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Was it when this inflatable tube man popped up in the middle of the rails, waiting to be run over? And then actually getting run over?

Or when the light effects on the tunnel wall made you feel like Dave Bowman in 2001: A Space Odyssey? When passing through the Magma Spray Area? Hearing a booming voice say something like ‘WELCOME. TO HELL.’ followed by: ‘HEAVEN. PARADISE.’

I’m paraphrasing here. No one can be expected to have gone through the BST experience and recall every detail. It’s haunted house meets 1970s Star Trek meets 1990s dance rave.

Light show in the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel in Shanghai, China. Photo: (C) Remko Tanis

The first time I learned of the existence of the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel was while reading a Shanghai Lonely Planet guide in 2007, just before my first trip there. This line has stayed with me ever since as the best description of the experience:

Stepping from the trains at the terminus, visitors are visibly nonplussed, their disbelief surpassed only by those with return tickets.

Truer words have never been spoken.

As it’s been close to six years since my last trip through the BST, I had to find out whether it still existed. Nothing in China lasts that long, after all. But then, nothing is like the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel. Really. Even the Dwarf Amusement Park, with actual little people performing as elves and ballerinas, is only a close second. (My feature on that here.)

Would the slightest sliver of common sense have finally reached the government department responsible for the notorious BST? I mean: pedestrians and cyclists are still doomed to use the overcrowded subways and ferries to cross the Huangpu river. And good luck trying to get a taxi to bring you across the river when it’s drizzling. But here’s that glorious tube of the BST, perfectly fit to be converted into a pedestrian and bicycle tunnel. Would they have...?

Nope. The BST is still around. They’ve even raised the ticket price, ignoring virtually unanimous scathing reviews like

After riding it, I feel that my IQ has been insulted.

and

I took a date, with a warning of how terrible I'd heard it would be, and it ended up worse than I had imagined but also somehow better. We had a great time laughing about it- definitely worth the 50RMB.

I think I wanna go again.