Yesterday afternoon I planned to go for a run, but did not want to run in the gym. So I took my car and went to look for a nice place to run outside the city. I had no clue where to go, and just took the A8 in the direction of Hangzhou. When I passed the Songjiang exit I decided to get off the highway because I had never left the expressway there before. Right after the toll booth I saw signs for a compound named Thames Town, which I had heard is a replica of an English village surrounded by villa’s. Shanghaiist had written about it quite negatively before, and I also could not believe that a place like this could be any good, so I decided to take a look myself. I had expected a Disneyland-like place that would have nothing to do with a real English town, but as it turned out I was wrong.
The entrance to Thames Town is similar to all other compounds in China, with one notable exception: the guards all wear English guard costumes. The place itself consists of 5 different gated communities within the main compound. The center of it all is indeed a town square with small stores, cobblestone streets, at least one pub with real ales, a waterfront with warehouses, and even a church. And I was pleasantly surprised by the quality, the place really looked authentic. Because the compound is not finished yet, it still felt a bit like a film set, but with real buildings. There were not many other people around, except for some workers and a bride and groom that were taking their wedding pictures here. If someone had brought me here blindfolded and told me I was in England, I could have believed it.
My wife had gone with me and went for a stroll through the town center, while I decided to run all around the compound. It was a nice run, not only was the weather nice (26 degrees and sunny), but the air was much cleaner here than in the city center. And there were no cars or ‘laowai’-shouting pedestrians around. I seemed to have the whole compound for myself, which is quite an experience in this overcrowded country. The villa’s are very nice, but often more American than English looking. Most are 3-stories with gardens around it, and many are situated on a lakefront. The biggest difference with an English villa park would probably be that the villa’s are built quite close together, due to the high prices of land.
After the run my wife and I had a coffee together, and we both came to the conclusion that this is a very special place. It is not a theme park, but a real town. Close to Shanghai (35 km) but with a total different feeling. Not like the average compound where you only have villa’s and a club, but with a real foreign ‘village’ feeling to it. And it’s only about 6 km to Sheshan, the only hills close to Shanghai. So before we left we visited the local real estate agent to check out some of the prices. And these were not too bad either. The smallest villa’s have around 500m2 living space, and go for 5-6 million RMB (500,000 – 600,000 EUR). This is excluding decoration and management fee (RMB 1000-2000 / month). The agent told us that subway line 1 will be extended to close to the compound, and that a Wallmart will be built here as well. I don’t think we’ll move here (we just moved into a great apartment), but it is something I will keep in mind for the future. I smell a good investment opportunity!