England in China and an amusement park in the middle of nowhere

There are more than enough things to keep you busy!

Our middle school recently instituted Inspirations – a week and a half of non-academic courses at the end of the school year. We came up with some pretty interesting options for our students, some of which I’ll detail here for the curious.

Oriental Land

A huge park of interesting curiosities, Oriental Land is way out in the middle of nowhere, Shanghai. We took a school bus there, and from Pudong that means about and hour and forty minutes of travel. The park has just about anything you’d want to do in a day, including hair-rising carnival rides, a go-kart track, paddle boats, zorbing on water, a Global Village, “fun bridges”, and a multitude of nice gardens and a bamboo grove. Gain some worldly knowledge from Wisdom Avenue – with a plethora of wise thinkers on display, you’re like to learn something. I’d recommend giving yourself time for travel out there, time in the park, and then travel back – at least an entire day’s worth of activities in one place.

The water activities looked fun!, even if we didn’t partake of them, and you can shower right beside the water slides. Also, the ropes course is pretty good as well, and you can race someone else. We strolled the bamboo groves and some of the gardens, eventually ending up at the so-called “fun bridges” – basically, small challenge courses over a stream of water. If you’re not careful, you can definitely end up in the stream if the the net doesn’t hold you. The one I really wanted to do – something akin to a large beer barrel roller on a track – wasn’t open for us.

Rent a tandem bike or a big group bike to easily get between activities – just don’t get run over by one of the tourist “trams” that shuttle people around!

Getting there: 

Catch a tourist bus from in Shanghai and that should take you out there. I don’t believe there’s a Metro close enough – let alone a place to find a taxi once you’re there. However, you could engage a driver for the day as well. The admission is relatively cheap for a full day deal – about 80 RMB (about 12-13 USD with transportation on the tourist bus, I believe – check with the tourist company). TimeOut Shanghai has the address in both Chinese and English and the phone number.

Thames Town

A relatively close “ghost town” near Shanghai, Thames Town was built to look a lot like … England, or rather, a small English village. Statues of British notables such as Churchill, Princess Diana, Shakespeare, Harry Potter, and Newton dot the village streets and gardens. “Windsor Castle” is a bit overgrown with ivy, but it’s passable as a castle. Tudor style architecture lines the cobbled streets. All in all, you “might” be able to pretend you’re in England for a day, and for an Anglophile like me living in China, it’s about as close as I’ll get at this juncture.

Thames Town has grown and changed a lot since my initial visit to it about a year and a half ago. Now, there are more restaurants (including a Baskin Robbins) and cafes, and thus, more people. On any given day, particularly if it’s sunny and blue sky-ed, you’ll see a lot of Chinese couples getting their wedding photos done there, especially near the fake cathedral. It goes back to the idea that if people can’t travel out of their home country to see the world, why not build it here? I mean, even the guards are in red uniforms and striped trousers ala Buckingham Palace guards.

In addition to the relative charm of the town, there is a really interesting museum that details the history and the massive growth in the area, known as Songjiang (near Songjiang University). It used to be a bread basket for China, and now it’s an industrial centre, with major corporations building their HQs and factories out that way. You can spend about 40 minutes to an hour in the museum and learn quite a bit, especially about the original “Leaning Tower” which is actually older than the Leaning Tower of Pisa … but much less famous, obviously.

Getting there:

Thames Town isn’t right off the Metro, per say, but you can take Line 9 Metro all the way out to Songjiang Xincheng (not the university stop – one past it). From the Metro, engage a taxi driver to take you the 10 minutes or so to Thames Town. It shouldn’t be very expensive – we paid about 13-14 RMB for the ride, and he dropped us off right by the cathedral and James Bond.

The official website can be translated into English if you use Google Chrome. The address to Thames Town is on the bottom of the page, along with a list of other activities, such as boating or visiting the Songjiang Art Museum.

So, there you have it! Two strange but fun day trips out of the city, with relatively little struggle or frustration. Be prepared to spend the whole day in both places, as they are quite a way from the city centre and need some time to fully appreciate.

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