You know how when you live in a place you never go to the interesting tourist destinations? Well that’s me and Thousand Island Lake. It’s a huge, sparkling clean lake with, you guessed it, lots and lots of islands. More than a thousand actually. And I have been hearing about it forever, and it’s really close. I just never managed a trip there. Until, recently that is.
The international office at my school arranged a free weekend trip for the foreign teachers so we all packed into a little van and headed over. Unfortunately, a large part of the nearby population decided to do the same because the place was packed. Like 10,000 people packed. And this was just a normal weekend. (The following weekend was a holiday and they said they were expecting 70,000 people!!)
Another unfortunate piece was that we had a tour guide. We arrived late in the afternoon and we had a quick climb up a little mountain which was quite fun. There was a temple at the top and they gave us incense to light and they had a big bell to ring for luck. But the next day the guide went into full “tour guide” mood, with the little flag we had to follow, and the loud speaker clipped to his waist.
He didn’t speak any english and more than half of the foreigners spoke very little chinese, but we all understood his constant command throughout the day. “Go faster,” “Hurry up,” “We don’t have enough time!” He continually rushed us, and then we would get back on the boat and sit there for 20 minutes, just waiting. Typical chinese style tour. Eventually we just ignored him and wandered around at our own pace.
In fact, it seemed that everyone was on a tour. You had to take boats from island to island, so I think maybe a guide was just included in the price. I didn’t see any independent tourists. It meant that everyone ended up at the same islands, and around the same time, so things were packed. There is a saying in Chinese, 人山人海 which literally means people mountain, people sea. It means that when you go to a scenic spot, all you see is thousands of other people.
It was a theme of the weekend.
But we did manage to have our quiet moments. Later in the day, the crowds began to thin out and the last four islands were quite peaceful. Many of the islands have funny names, such as Monkey Island, Snake Island and the Island to Remember Your Childhood.
Turns out theirs no monkeys on Monkey Island, no snakes on Snake Island but there are locks on Lock Island. Not just any locks, but allegedly the World’s Largest Lock. (China loves their superlatives.) We got a chance to walk around on Lock Island and yes there really are several giant locks. But as they are basically statues, I feel like they shouldn’t count as actual locks. But who am I to say.
One of the coolest features of Thousand Island Lake isn’t the islands, but what is underneath. You see, the whole lake is actually artificial. Flooded almost 50 years ago for a hydroelectric dam, it covered two ancient cities thousands of years old. And the cities were completely forgotten.
Until, that is, 2001 when they were remembered and explored by divers. The cities are apparently completely intact, including wooden beams and houses. They are at a total loss what to do as the artifacts begin to disintegrate once brought up to land, but they seem to be doing really well under the clean, clear waters.
Unfortunately I didn’t see any remnants of the underwater cities. But the above water part was quite beautiful and I’m glad to have experienced it. If only they got all the damn people out of the way it would have been amazing.