Thousand Island Lake

A Christmas Getaway

The water glistens a clear blue-green and the winter sun reflects sparkling ripples. The laughs of a few enthusiastic kayakers carry across the lake. One thousand and seventy-eight islands, mostly a series of small peaks protruding out of the water give Thousand Island Lake its name.  

This lake is at the crux of development. On my blue kayak, I’m surrounded by the fingers of the lake. In front of me is a distant skyline of misty mountains, to my left, scaffolded buildings bring dull echoes of construction, on my right and behind is a newly landscaped riverwalk, with a few locals walking under the last falling yellow-orange ginkgo leaves of autumn. It’s Christmas Eve and Thousand Island Lake has put on a perfect sunny winter day. 


Finding nature in China can be challenging. It’s a play between development and nature. One side, a mountain and lake landscape inspiring Chinese paintings. The other, a dusty scaffolded building hidden behind fake grass walls.

Thousand Island Lake is where rural meets urban, a 300km drive west from Shanghai. In 1959, the construction of the Xin’an River Hydropower Station created the lake. This station was one of China’s first ambitious hydropower dam projects that pushed the country to become the world’s largest producer of hydropower.  Fed from the peaks and foothills of Yellow Mountain and the surrounding Xin'anjiang National Park the lake has over 100 species of fish.  China rates it as a national first class lake, and Nongfu Spring, a major bottled water company, sources its product from the lake.

Riparian life varies between local farming and fishing villages to the burgeoning tourism economy.  You can explore the lake cruising to islands such as Monkey Island and Bird Island, hosts to the respective animals - monkeys, ostriches, and peacocks.  


If you are looking to remain on land, there’s plenty to keep you occupied. Hire a bike and explore the Greenway, a cycle path that spans 138km and borders the water.  Challenge friends and family to go-karting near Cheerday Beer Town, the home of Cheerday’s brewery. Take a kayak out on the water, explore the history of Lion City, a town rebuilt after it’s submerged original, or detox your lungs from the city smog at an oxygen forest bar. 

In terms of local delicacies, the area is rich in produce and most dishes include fish and shrimp.  Here the fish is fresh, soft, steamed to perfection and served with light vinegar and soy sauce. The area is also famous for Fish Head Soup, a milky white ginger broth with tofu, yam, and bamboo shoots. If fish heads make you uneasy, you can simply enjoy the vegetables and the soup broth, perfect after a long day of sightseeing. 

On Christmas morning the water is a deep blue, and small hat-like islands with white bands separating the tree-line from the lake-line sit in wisps of mist. Despite the scale of development alongside the lake, the water remains clear. 

Before 1959 I imagine how I could have been standing high on a mountain. Today I look out over the lake and watch a couple of locals fish under an umbrella. I check my phone after taking a few obligatory Christmas selfies and read a post about today’s opening of a brand-new high-speed train to the lake. Next year, 2019, will mark 60 years since the lake was flooded and I wonder how long it took to travel from Shanghai back then.  From today, it will only take three hours for a getaway from Shanghai to explore the banks, forests, mountains and all that Thousand Island Lake offers. 


How to get there?

From Shanghai catch a high-speed train to Hangzhou East Station (~1.5 hours), then ride the newly-opened line from Hangzhou to Qiandaohu Station (~1.5 hours). 

To book tickets and view the timetable online go to  Note that the high speed train to Thousand Island Lake was only opened on the 25 December 2018, so you may need to search via Huangshan Station (Yellow Mountain). This line stops off at Qiandaohu Station (pinyin for Thousand Island Lake). From here you can catch a taxi to your hotel - just show the Chinese name to the driver. 

Balcony of Read Wood, a boutique hotel on the banks of Thousand Island Lake.

Balcony of Read Wood, a boutique hotel on the banks of Thousand Island Lake.

Where to stay?

Depending on your budget, the Intercontinental and Hilton are reliable five star hotels that both have locations along the lake and keep up their international reputation.  English is spoken by upper management, and the buffets caters to both Western and Chinese tastes. 

You can also find a number of smaller hotels that provide a more local and intimate atmosphere.  Suggested is the Read Wood, a boutique hotel with a spectacular view over the lake. The manager speaks perfect English and is passionate about showing visitors the lake. 

More information? 

Absolute China Tours, a government run tourism bureau are a great resource to contact for any new information regarding the lake’s tourism. You can browse their website or follow them on WeChat. For any bookings or information you can email their English speaking staff - 

Feel free to contact me : 

With thanks to Visit Qiandaohu for the Christmas Tour of the lake.

With thanks to Visit Qiandaohu for the Christmas Tour of the lake.