Life Offbeat

By William Lailey


It looks like any other quaint English town – except the cobbled streets and country pubs of Thames town are actually in CHINA.

The red phone boxes, country pubs, cobbles, corner shops are enough to fool even a native Brit – but they’re actually part of a copycat town built in Shanghai in the early 2000s.



Poetically named after the River Thames, Thames Town, in the Songjiang district is just 19 miles away from central Shanghai.

The bizarre town was designed to look exactly like a suburb in England and features everything from country pubs to churches, to corner shops and even replica branches of Costa Coffee.

Although it was first expected to be inhabited by Brit-loving locals, the town has become a magnet for tourists and Asian couples for photoshoots – to look as if they have flown to the UK.

Brit Photographer Paul Reiffer, 39, who visited the bizarre town, said: “The place is exactly like an English town –  it’s designed very well – but it puts you in a weird headspace.

“To a certain extent its quite mad, when I look at the pictures it looks identical to where I live in England in Weymouth, Dorset.

“The weird part is that when you go there people all around are having photoshoots and everyone is dressed up for a wedding.

“We went to a pub in the town to get some lunch and quickly realised there was nobody working there, and the buildings were just props, then we noticed that all of the working shops were for weddings.

“Essentially, when the town opened, Asian couples started coming here to get pre-wedding photographs which made it look like they head gone to England to get married.

“As soon as residents here realised that they could make money from this all other retailers vanished and now the town has become a hot-spot for wedding photography.

“There can be up to 30 photoshoots happening at a time.

“Now the place is a ghost town, there isn’t a community living here other than the shop owners and people coming for photographs.

“I would imagine that once the photographers are done for the day it becomes dead.”

“It’s quite sad really, the place was made to become a thriving town where people were going to live and now it’s like a movie set.

“Being in Asia and walking around here is like watching the Truman show, the same thing happens here every day from morning to night over and over again.

“It makes you wonder how amazing the place could have been if it had worked out with the original plan.”

Thames town was originally designed to become a vibrant copy of an English town where residents of shanghai could move in to have very own English experience

The town has since become a movie set where Asian couples visit to take wedding photographs to look like they had visited the UK to marry.



Paul said: “The place is really interesting and very well made, except none of it is actually working.

“The pubs don’t open, and the church does not have a Sunday service.”

The surreal town has everything you would expect to find in England including red phone boxes, country pubs, cobbles, corner shops, a church, coffee shops and even ivy growing up the tudor-esque buildings.

Paul said: “If you were blindfolded and dropped here, you would have no idea you were in Shanghai.

“The difference is that all you would see when visiting is photo shoots, all happening at the same time.”