With its English-sounding name and an aesthetic defined by wooden row houses, stone cathedrals, and intricately-planned gardens, you might expect Thames Town to be in, well, England. But this quaint, seemingly medieval settlement is located almost as far away from London as you can get – and there's nothing authentically English about it.
Commissioned by the Chinese government, Thames Town sits on the outskirts of Shanghai, one of several "themed" developments the country has invested in as it attempts to Westernize. Although Thames Town is as fake as the handbags you'll find for sale in a Chinese street market, it's so elaborately done that even an Englishman could be fooled.
Thames Town History
During the tenth five-year plan of the Chinese government, which ran from 2001-2005, the Shanghai Planning Commission decided to implement a so-called "Nine Towns" plan, which would see the construction of nine villages, each themed to a different European culture, around the periphery of Shanghai.
To complement other spurious settlements, which include Scandinavian, Italian and Dutch ones, the commission decided to build Thames Town in Songjiang New Town, which is located approximately 20 miles outside of Shanghai. Its convenient location quickly should've made it a popular day-trip destination, but didn't – more on that in a minute.
Thames Town Architecture
Although it was completed in 2006, Thames Town hearkens back to another time entirely. Some aspects of its English-style architecture are rather generic, while others (namely the church, which is almost a direct copy of the iconic Christ Church of Bristol, England) are more uncanny. If you didn't have to travel through China to get here (i.e. if you were simply planted down into Thames Town one moment), you might actually think you were in England!
In spite of the painstaking attention to detail developers paid, Thames Town is a ghost town most days of the week, with much of the human traffic in the city people who live in the largely residential developments, lured as much by bargain-bin prices as by continental appeal. Many visitors to the town are newly-engaged Chinese couples, who enjoy being able to take European-style wedding photos without going to Europe.
(I don't know about you, but I'd be interested in hearing how many Chinese social media users have been fooled into thinking their friends' wedding photos actually were taken in Europe!)
How to Get to Thames Town
Thames Town is located in Shanghai's Songjiang District, a relatively recent development on the outskirts of the city. The easiest way to reach Thames Town is to take Line 9 of the Shanghai Metro to "Songjiang New Town" station, then hail a taxi to take you to Thames Town, which is 泰晤士小鎮 or "tài wù shì xiǎo zhèn" in Mandarin Chinese. (Hint: Print out these characters on a piece of paper to make sure the taxi knowns exactly where to take you!)
Alternatively, you can take a taxi directly to Thames Town from anywhere in Shanghai. Chances are it will be expensive, but then again, it will be way cheaper than a plane ticket to Europe itself.