An Ultra Luxury Summer Escape with Mysterious Underwater Ruins
Things to do and places to see at the Qiandao Lake, the Thousand Islands Lake of Zhejiang, China
Cycling, kayaking, diving and the best place to swim near Hangzhou or Shanghai
Imagine lying in the chair of your luxury hotel room balcony overlooking this breathtaking lake view with 1,078 emerald islands embodied in it; wondering about a thousand-year-old lost city is silently standing underneath the water.
Taking a luxury boat ride to go fishing, swimming, exploring the islands where lush forests and wild lives abound, and even diving to actually witness the magnificence of an ancient city.
Cycling and taking in the stunning views that almost look like an ocean island, kayaking to truly blend in nature and to feel the quiescence of water, or simply relaxing in the hotel and get refreshed by the absolute tranquility.
Only 2-hours away from the concrete jungle of Shanghai, this is an ultimate destination for those who longing for a restoration of their body and soul. This is the Thousand Island Lake.
A luxury lakefront destination
Qiandaohu, literally One-Thousand Islands Lake, is a man-made freshwater reservoir that has been turned into one of the most popular tourist spots in Zhejiang Province of China. Just a 2-hour bus ride from Hangzhou and 3 hours from Shanghai, this lake is really worth visiting despite its controversial history.
While you might be disappointed by the growing “development” (read “devastation”) of the lake area near Chun’an City, bear in mind that the lake is huge and still “undeveloped” in 99% of its area. We visited it as a weekend trip from Hangzhou during our two years stay in the Zhejiang Province of China.
In 1959, Mao Tse Tung and Zhou Enlai gave birth to what was at the time the biggest hydroelectric project in China, the Xin’an River dam, in an attempt to solve the ominous issue of power shortage in China.
Flooding an area of 573 km2 (221 sq mi, almost four times the size of Lake Como in Italy) of hilly land in Zhejiang province, forcibly relocating 290,000 individuals and submerging dozens of villages, among which is the 2,000 years-old city of Shi Cheng (although apparently the remaining structures are “only” 1,300 years old).
The Lion City, once the center of politics and economics in the eastern province of Zhejiang, the Chinese leaders created what is now known as the Thousand Islands Lake. The 1078 islets are indeed what’s left of those hills that are now underwater.
Starting in the early years of this century, following along the Chinese economic boom, the area has been gradually developed into a major tourist resort, with the city of Chun’an as its pivotal center.
Heaven for Nature Lover
Things to do at Qiandaohu
o Boating [SUP, Kayak, Canoe, Packraft]
o Diving [to the ancient submerged city of Shi Cheng]
o Take an official Boat Ride
o Drinking [Cheerday Beer and Nongfu Water factories]
o Stroll the Qiandaohu Scenic Spot [avoidable]
o Splurge in a 5-star hotel on a budget
Qiandao Lake – Places to Visit
The Qiandaohu is huge, with a lot of branches going in all directions, all of them featuring beautiful scenery and interesting local communities.
Things to do and attractions around the lake are plenty and diverse, especially if you’re an outdoors lover, you could easily spend 3/4 days here without getting bored.
Cycling the Thousand Islands Lake
Cycling along the long and spectacular lake shores is one of the most popular activities on the Qiandao lake. Whether you’re a biking enthusiast, a keen cyclist or just a leisure bike rider, there is something for you at Thousand Islands.
Like in almost every city of China, there’s a public bike sharing system for you to easily rent a bike.
Circling the whole lake is though to do in one day unless you really are a trained cyclist, without exploring any of the lake’s branches, the shortest loop of the lake is about 150km.
A shorter (85km) alternative is advertised as a popular semi-loop (you’ll only need to backtrack about 10km). The route is stunning, very easy to cycle (only a few low hills), and super quiet with almost no traffic at all, going along the still undeveloped north-western branch of the lake.
Packrafting / SUP boarding / Kayaking
Another very popular activity to do when visiting the Qiandao Lake are those involving paddling, kayaking, SUP, or canoeing. There are several hotels who rent kayaks, as well as smaller rental facilities and a patented kayaking school.
Dive to explore the ancient ruins
Remember there is an ancient city submerged in the lake? Well you can actually see it for yourself by diving!
There are not many dive options available and you will need to do some research beforehand. Big Blue Scuba, based in Shanghai, offer dive trips to Qiandao Lake, so if this is something that you are interested in I would recommend checking them out.
Best swimming spot from Shanghai
Yeah, You heard that right! The Thousand Islands Lake is the best place to really swim in the whole Zhejiang province.
The water is among the cleanest in Eastern China, its color is crystal clear, the temperature fresh and inviting, swimming the Qiandao Lake is a real pleasure!
Of course, the further you go from the urban area the better the water is.
There are plenty of places to go hiking around Qiandao Lake. Whether you choose to walk on the islands or around the lake, you will not be disappointed by the scenic views.
There are often steps and uneven ground, so I would recommend wearing trainers or walking shoes, as opposed to flip flops.
Get some fresh air at the Oxygen Forest Bar
Contrary to its name, there is no bar at the Oxygen Forest Bar. Rather, it is a pleasant wooded area in which you can follow a dedicated hiking trail, that takes around two hours to complete.
The hike is relatively easy, although there are a lot of steps. Some steps are actually more like ladders and can be quite steep, so it might not be the best place to hike if you are scared of heights!
The forest also offers grass skiing and toboggan rides if you’re so inclined.
Take a luxury boat trip
If large tour groups are not your thing then there are a range of luxury boats that you can take instead.
These are generally speed boats, that accommodate small groups of tourists. These depart at various times throughout the day and cost in the range of 250-500rmb per person, depending on the boat type and itinerary.
Many of the major hotels will be able to book this for you to save you going to the dock.
Take the cable car up to the viewpoint
If you want to get some of those ‘Instagrammable‘ photos of the arial view of Qiandao Lake then you will need to get up high. Most large boats finish their tour with a stop at Meifeng Island, this is home to the popular cable car, which take you up the mountain.
Qiandao Lake is full of huge fish. You might not see them near the surface, but the evidence is all around you! Every restaurant focuses their menu almost entirely on fish dishes and there are huge vacuum-packed fish sold in most convenience stores.
If fishing is your thing you can take a boat out on the lake or you can set up in a quiet spot of your choice. There are steps down to the lake at various points where people fishing in these areas.
Do some water sports
If you enjoy water sports, then Qiandao Lake is the place to come! The Thousand Island area is home to a number of water sports companies who offer jet skiing, kayaking, speed boat rides, banana boat rides and much more.
You will find various water sports options available on the individual islands and on the mainland.
Visit a local brewery
Remember that I said the water at Qiandao Lake was really clean? Well the locals think so highly of it that they use it to make the local beer!
You can visit the Cheerday brewery, located in Qiandao Lake and learn about how the business has grown and how the beer is made. You can also sample some of the local delights.