Shanghai Thames Town: A little piece of England in China
Tucked away near the last stop of Line 9, the satellite settlement of Thames Town opened in 2006 as part of Shanghai’s One City, Nine Towns program, with low-rise apartments and gated complexes designed to house 10,000 residents. Despite an intensive marketing effort (including a beauty pageant), the community failed to take off, and what’s left is a ghost town -- and an ideal place for a quiet afternoon stroll.
As its name suggests, the design of Thames Town is inspired by England, with a main square, red telephone booths, streets named High, Oxford, and Queen and, of course, its very own man-made Thames river. If you start to lose yourself in your surroundings, worry not: images of Haibao have made it out here to reassure you that you are, in fact, still in Shanghai.
Directions: Take Line 9 on the metro to Songjiang New Town station. Hop in a taxi for a RMB 12 ride to taiwushi xiaozhen.
The first thing you’ll notice upon entering Thames Town are the guards in redcoats. Hang around long enough and you might even witness a changing of the guard, albeit slightly less ceremonious than its English equivalent.
Amble down the cobblestone streets, take in the English/European architecture, and peer inside empty shops and restaurants. We were devastated to find the fish and chips bar abandoned.
Planted all across Thames Town are statues of Brits ranging from Winston Churchill to Princess Diana, from Harry Potter to generic English-looking folk. (Yes, we did say Harry Potter.)
Much more interesting than the statues, though, are the real people who come here to have their photos taken, whether by friends or professional photographers. They range from teenage girls in cosplay…
… to soon-to-be-married couples who didn’t feel like hopping on a plane. Who needs to leave Shanghai when we’ve got our very own Christ Church sitting on a giant, picture-perfect lawn?
Scattered among the vacant Thames Town storefronts are a handful of establishments that have managed to stay in business. Relax with a drink at Incomplete Coffee, or turn your visit into a scavenge for the few open businesses in town. (Realty agencies don’t count)
For a slightly more edifying visit, check out the Songjiang Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, whose cool, hi-tech interior is more reminiscent of a science museum than a showcase of Songjiang’s development. Ogle at scale models and a 4D show, if the subject matter catches your fancy. (Open Monday 10am-2pm, Tuesday-Sunday 9am-5pm. Free +86 21 3772 0099)
Once all the leisurely wandering has tired you out, hop on one of these trains for a 20-minute, RMB 10 ride around town. Cheesy? Maybe, but still fun, exactly what you’ll need and far better than the trains that run on Nanjing Dong Lu. The train runs daily from 9am-5pm.
An hour or two of walking through what feels like a deserted film set might make you start craving civilization again -- thankfully, the crowds and motorbikes are never too far off.