Actually a huge reservoir, Thousand Island lake (Qiandao hu) was formed in the early 60’s after the completion of the Jin’an river hydro-electric station, a pet project of Zhou Enlai. It was named because the rising water caused the creation of over a thousand islands, the remnants of hills and mountains in the area. In recent times, it’s been turned into another Chinese-style tourist trap, though if you bring someone who speaks a little Chinese or have your own form of transport, Thousand Island lake can be the perfect weekend getaway from the non-stop action of the huge cities on China’s eastern seaboard. If you decide on public transport, buses leave constantly from Hangzhou West Bus Station. The journey takes under two hours and passes through some of the most gorgeous scenery in Zhejiang province.
The main city and transit-centre in the Thousand Island lake area is Chun’an. A small city deriving most of its income from aquatics and tourism, it’s a good place to base yourself for your first night at the lake. At first glance, Chun’an epitomizes all that is wrong with Chinese mass tourism. A poorly designed town-centre offers little or no views of the lake itself. The main jetty is a mile out of town and is swarming with boat-operators offering to take you around to the numerous pathetic islands that have been developed to try to justify the very expensive ticket prices.
My advice to you is to totally avoid all this ‘good play’, as the Chinese say. If you do want to experience the worst Chinese tourism has to offer, I’d advise hiring a speedboat for around 400rmb(seats 6-8) rather than the cattle-ship that slowly plods between sad island after one another, herding tourists up, down and around each speck of rock to take photo after photo of some ‘interesting’ gimmick. You can battle ugly aggressive little monkeys on Monkey Island(bring your own carrots if you want to save a dollar)! Or view the largest locket in the world on locket island! Or spend some time on Pearl Island enjoying an extended advertisement on Thousand Island Lake ‘pearls’…
So why bother coming if it’s oh so terrible? Well, after enjoying your over-priced meal of Qiandao lake fish-heads in Chun’an, prepare yourself for one of the most spectacular driving roads in a country that’s absolutely teeming with them. Head north along the lakeshore road and then veer west towards Weiping village. If you don’t have your own car, hire a motorbike with sidecar for the day. Driving along this road with the wind in your hair and without a cloud in the sky really reminds me of the Adriatic coast or even the French Riveria. You’ll soon think it was definitely worth the trip down from dreary Shanghai. Once past Wenping, you’ll find yourself in a forbidden kingdom type wonderland, of ancient villages , hidden temples and friendly disbelieving locals! This article was written by the author of bizpanda.org, a business Chinese learning website