Shanghai has many cool places to see. There is always something new to check out or an event to attend and it just doesn’t end in the city.
The main hub is attractive for the bund, nightlife, and food and art scene for many foreigners and locals alike, but Shanghai is more than just its central city. A beautiful mesh of modern and ancient seen in the blend of classical gardens and dynastic temples with soaring skyscrapers and luxury hotels, opportunities to explore this sensational city extend beyond the city center.
There are many places you will find on the outskirts of the city. From ancient water towns and university communities. However, you will also find unexpected capsule cities just like the one I ventured off to in Shanghai’s Songjiang District. Thames Town is a space no larger than one squared kilometer that speaks to classic British town style with cobbled streets, Victorian terraces and corner shops, and modeled buildings.
Thames Town was a part of the One City, Nine Towns initiative created just for the purpose of drawing people from central Shanghai. The towns would be modeled after popular European destinations. For this reason, it comes as no surprise time that Thames Town reflects Great Britain so named after the River Thames. Completed in 2006, this tucked-away town was designed for a population of 10,000. In attracting masses from central Shanghai, the town was intended to also house staff from the neighboring Songjiang University Town.
Now, Thames Town is known as a “virtual ghost town.” While the plan was to increase residency, much of the property is owned by the wealthy as second investments. So, many of these high-value property areas appear vacant. It seems deserted during the day, and slow to liven up at night. But that makes finding the charm easier.
Thames Town makes for a wonderful day trip. You feel like you have gone away without actually having gone away. From the city center of Shanghai, it takes about an hour and a half to travel. One can hop on metro line 9 and ride all the way to Songjiang New City station. Once there, transport by taxi or DiDi is the most convenient to avoid an hour's walk to the town. The further you ride, the less it looks like you’re in China. The landscape changes right before your eyes. The Chinese-style homes and waterways gradually shift into British-style neighborhoods. Vintage lamps with old English-style fonts on street signs, squares, and townhomes start to take over.
You won’t need to carry much. Costs are minimal unless you plan to shop. I would not recommend shopping here, though. This town is better for picturesque moments and small-scale dining. Think perfect for an afternoon stroll, early morning brew stop, and evening dessert spot. There is an assortment of cafes and many Instagram-worthy places. One such place is a church modeled after the Christ Church, Clifton Down of Bristol, which is a popular spot for wedding photography. In fact, during my time there, I saw at least 15 different wedding shoots going on.
A break from the city can certainly be found here. In a bookstore. In an ice cream shop. In a tattoo parlor. The lack of crowds and subtle charm makes for the perfect retreat. Behind each corner a scene compulsory enough for the pickup of a camera.