Travel Guide to Thousand Island Lake, Zhejiang China

Thousand Island Lake or Qiandao Lake (千岛湖/Qiandaohu) is an increasingly popular vacation spot nestled in the interior mountains of Zhejiang province, only a stone’s throw away from the megacities of Hangzhou and Shanghai. It is a large lake containing over a thousand islands large and small, hence the name. The lake itself is also a water reservoir providing drinking water and flow to downstream rivers that eventually lead into the Qiantang River in Hangzhou.

Prior to visiting the lake, I browsed the internet for reliable travel information written in English, and found very little. That has motivated me to write about my experiences at Qiandao Lake here, to guide you, my dear readers and future visitors to the lake.

About Qiandao Lake

The lake is in fact an “artificial” lake — don’t worry though, it’s not what you might be picturing. It’s not a small artificial pond filled with stale green water and crayfish farms, but rather, a giant body of crystal clear moving water in the form of a reservoir.

The lake is quite large — roughly 50km wide measured east-to-west, and about the same north-to-south. The lake is artificial in the sense that it currently sits on what was once a valley inhabited by a few small towns. Due to the need for a water reservoir to provide drinking water for the region, the government selected this area and flooded it by building a dam in the late 1950’s. Supposedly the flooded towns still have many buildings in tact, at a depth of around 20-40m below the surface, and can be explored via professional diving.

Getting In

The main city in the heart of the Qiandao Lake tourism area is Chun’an (淳安), a fairly clean county town of roughly 450,000. The Zhejiang government has been developing the region for tourism in recently years, and as a result the lake region now has its own high speed train station, simply called Qiandaohuzhan (千岛湖站). The station is about 40km north of Chun’an city, and is served by minibuses that go at half-hour intervals to Chun’an. Alternatively, when you arrive at the station, you can call a Didi ride or hire one of the taxis waiting in front of the station, to go to wherever your hotel is located. A Didi ride from the station to my hotel near Chun’an was around 75 CNY.

High speed rail is no doubt the most convenient way to get to Qiandao Lake if you are coming from Shanghai or Hangzhou. The high speed train from Shanghai takes about 2 hours, and a one-way second-class ticket is about 130 CNY. The travel time is just under 1 hour from Hangzhou.

Orientation, Lodging, Food

As mentioned earlier, the train station is about 40km north of Chun’an. Chun’an itself is in the north-central part of the lake, and many “official” tourist areas are slightly to the east of Chun’an — ferry rides to small islands, etc. I do not recommend following guidebooks and going to these areas, because they are under management and you are required to pay fairly hefty cover charges (hundreds of CNY) for the “park entrance” or the ferry tickets.

Picturesque little resort island in Qiandaohu

Instead, I recommend simply staying at one of the hotel resorts along the lake shore outside of Chun’an, or on one of the small but developed islands. For about $100 USD a night you can stay at a very nice hotel resort and have a fantastic and relaxed vacation. I stayed in such a hotel on a small island to the west of Chun’an (near the long bridge) called Wenxindao (温馨岛). The island itself was small but picturesque, and could be accessed via a floating footbridge from the parking lot on the mainland. It was literally a little paradise.

Stunning view from my hotel room window

On the island were places for swimming in the lake, and even a small sandy beach. The island was small enough that you could get around entirely on foot, but the hotels had golf carts with which they could drive you to and from the mainland. It was also possible to rent bicycles nearby — I was too busy relaxing to cycle, but I imagine it would have been a good way to explore the areas around the lake.

Little sandy beach with a view of the long bridge leading to Chun’an

There were not too many different food options available in Qiandao Lake. Our hotel had a restaurant but it was not great. To eat, I mostly took Didi into Chun’an city, and had meals at local restaurant. Local restaurants tended to serve a variety of fish from the region, as well as standard Chinese stir fry fare. I quite enjoyed the local flavours, as I find in general that Chinese food is usually better (tastier, cheaper, and even better quality) in smaller Chinese cities than in Shanghai, where they really have to be stingy on the ingredients. You can also find Starbucks and McDonald’s in the city if that’s what you are after.

Watching the sunset over a glass of red

In conclusion, Thousand Island Lake was a pleasant vacation spot that exceed my expectations, and I was lucky to get perfect weather! The water was crystal clear and the amenities were excellent for what it cost. There are certainly more budget options in the area, even hostels, but if you are going to a place like this to relax, you might as well treat yourself a bit. There was not much to do in terms of activities or nightlife, but that was fine by me — a relaxing weekend went by quickly when surrounded by such gorgeous nature.

At the meantime, check out my Instagram for more pics from Qiandaohu and beyond.

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