Shaxi Travel Guide,Yunnan
Situated roughly equal distance from Lijiang and Dali in NW Yunnan, under the jurisdiction of Jianchuan County, Shaxi (Shāxī,沙溪) was once a key transport hub of the Ancient Tea-Horse Caravan Road through which thousands of traveling merchants would pass every day. The prosperity of the town was during the Ming and Qing dynasties. After the heyday of Tea-Horse Caravan Route, stagnation hit the once-flourishing town.
Over the first 50 years of the communist party's governing, Shaxi descended into backwardness, obscurity and poverty, while much of the local population left for work in the bigger cities. It wasn't changed until year 2001 when the World Monument Fund listed Sideng Market and many of the old wooden temples, theaters and homes in the region together as the "Most Endangered Sites".
Soon after, a USD1.3 million project was launched in collaboration between the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH) and the Government of Jianchuan County.As the beneficiary of the long-term development funds and the attentions of a ETH, Shaxi gains its popularity. Yet it was unknown to visitors years before backpackers fleeing the touristy boomtowns of Dali and Lijiang stumbled across it. Now the town rely almost solely on tourism income, and so far it has been proven a success - much of the area's old heritage is still alive in some form or another, tourists keep pouring in.
Best time to go
Shaxi is at a high elevation of a forested valley. The summer is sunny with a bit of rain, autumn is divine, winter is cold and crisp but not uncomfotably so and spring is wet and green. There really is no bad time to visit Shaxi.
Historical relics / local markets
Getting there & away
There are no direct bus to Shaxi from Lijiang or Dali. To reach Shaxi, first take a long distance bus to Jianchuan (剑川) from either Lijiang or Dali (Xiaguan).
From Dali: Take either bus no. 4 or no. 8 to Xiaguan. From the last stop on bus no. 4, take a taxi to the north bus station (ke yun bei zhan, 客运北站). Bus no. 8 will stop outside of the north bus station. Long distance bus service to Jianchuan runs every 15-30 mins from 6:20am to 6:50pm, the cost of the ticket is ￥26 and it takes about 3 hours to arrive in Jianchuan (depending on traffic, road condition, and stops along the way). The whole journey from Dali to Jianchuan takes around 4.5-5 hours, including time waiting for the bus. It may also be possible to wave down the bus to Jianchuan from highway just east of Old Town Dali if you can read the Chinese characters for Jianchuan, it could save you the trouble of going south to Xiaguan first, but seat is not guaranteed. Or flag down any of the buses going to Shangri-la and get off in Jianchuan.
From Lijiang: From main road at the entrance to the old town (near the big water wheel), take bus no. 11 or bus no. 8 to the Lijiang long distance bus station (Lijiang ke yun zhan, 丽江客运站). Buy a ticket to Jianchuan which will cost ￥32 and take about 2-2.5 hours.
From Shangri-la: Take any of the buses going to Dali and get off in Jianchuan.
After arriving at Jianchuan, you can hire a minibus or car to Shaxi for RMB80. There are also mini-bus services just outside of Jianchuan bus station that take about 45 minutes to reach Shaxi (¥8). The bus departs from Jianchuan whenever it is semi-full with passengers. Try not to arrive in Jianchuan too late in the evening or else there may not be enough passengers to fill up a bus to Shaxi. It should also be possible to catch a mini-bus at the junction for Shaxi (Diannan), 8km south of Jianchuan. Hitching should also be possible.
The main village of Shaxi (Sideng) can be easily toured by walking. It's also possible to visit the many other villages in Shaxi on foot, however, renting a bicycle would be a quicker and better option. Some of the guesthouses in Shaxi, such as Horse Pen 46 Guesthouse, the Dragonfly and 58 Yard, offer bicycle rental to Shaxi visitors. Hiking and horseback riding are the main options for a visit into the mountains around Shaxi.
- 58 Yard (58号小院), No. 58 Sideng Street (West of the town square).
- The Dragonfly Guesthouse, Duanjiadeng Village (About 3 km north of the old town, take the turn off marked Duan Village). A unique home-stay type guesthouse, housed within an authentically restored, eighteenth-century temple-theatre courtyard complex. Three doubles and one twin room are available, each with 24hr hot water showers and western style toilets. All rooms have their own sun terrace at the rear, along with electric blankets and clerestory windows for extra winter warmth. Facilities include free wi-fi, a common room and dining area, a washing machine, bike rentals and local guiding service. The Dragonfly is an excellent out of town alternative for those looking to stay in a rural village setting. The Owner speaks English, French and Chinese.
- Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel (马圈46国际青年旅舍), No. 46 Sideng Street, just south of the old theater stage at the town square, ☎ (+86) 0872-4722299. A family-style guesthouse with dorm beds and double-rooms available.The hostel is inside an authentic ancient Bai courtyard, it is a cozy guest-house full of characters. English-speaking staff, in-room showers and western-style toilets, 24-hr hot water, free Wi-Fi, and free laundry.They provide free guided hike every Saturday. Owners are experienced and licensed outdoor guides, they provide info about Shaxi area for free.
- Laomadian Lodge (老马店) - a compound consists of 3 courtyards and 6 shop-fronts. It is being renovate into a modern Lodge with 9 standard rooms and 3 dormitories, a tea house and a fusion restaurant/bar (Karma Cafe).
Tel: +86-872 4722666 (lodge) / +86-872 4722777(Cafe)
- The Dragonfly, Duanjiadeng Village (About 3 km north of the old town, take the turn off marked Duan Village), ☎ (+86) 13577851712,The main building has tables for at least twenty people, including three balcony tables overlooking the temple courtyard and the fields beyond. All the dishes are sourced locally in the family fields and signature dishes include fried goat cheese in sugar, sweet and sour aubergines and 'Duan Jia' Bai style Noodles. All bookings must be made in advance
- Gui Ju Hotel (贵菊饭店). The English sign says "hotel", but it's actually just a restaurant. A good budget option to taste some local dishes, the food is good and the price is reasonable.
- Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel, at the south of the theater stage on the old town square. They serve nice coffee, nice western breakfast, as well as Sichuan & Cantonese style cuisines.
- Tangerine Restaurant (桔子饭店), (Right next to the entrance of the old cobblestone street, under a sign that says Square Street Inn). An old restaurant under new management, this quickly became a favorite among the travelers for its convenient location and good food at an affordable price.
- Xi Lu Inn. Located in the inner courtyard of the Inn, this is one of the cleaner (and more expensive) eateries in town. They serve a mixture of local and Sichuan-style cuisine.
Sideng Street (寺登街) - the heart and soul of the ancient town, Sideng Street remains the home of Shaxi's famous Friday market. It's a fascinating strip, paved with red-sand stone slabs and composed of a monastery, an ancient opera stage, shops and numerous guest houses. With residential architecture maintaining the typical characteristics of the native Bai ethnic group, Sideng Street is the most complete collection of buildings to have survived to tell the tale of these important Ancient Tea Horse Road markets.
Shibao Shan (石宝山; Stone Treasure Mountain) - 12km north of Shaxi on the road from Jianchuan and 11km south of the Dali-Jianchuan road.
Shibaoshan Scenic Area is famous for its picturesque landscape, elegant temples and Shizhongshan Grottoes, a collection the largest caves in Yunnan. Dating back to the Nanzhao and the Dali Kingdoms, the 16 caves contain 160 life-like sculptures in a style that fuses Han and Tibetan cultures and opens a window to the past with carvings illustrating the political life, Buddhist figures and religious beliefs of those ancient times.
Arriving there by taxi it is advisable and ask the driver to take you to some of the further temples (he will not need to pay entrance ticket), such as Baoxiang Temple. Going up to the temple there are some families of monkeys that some times turn very aggressive to the visitors. Minor injuries have been reported. Shizhong Temple (Stone Bell Temple) has the highest concentration of stone carvings. If you want to walk from Sideng town: get out of town through the main road going North, pass a gas station on your left, and on kilometer mark 113 turn left (West) into a dirt road; walk about 20 minutes and reach the southern edge of the Shibaoshan area (it's another 1-2 hours walk uphill to Shizhong Temple).
Entrance fee: ¥50
- Friday Market, (On the main road in Sideng. Just follow all the crowds.). As the last remaining market town on the ancient Tea & Horse Caravan trail, Shaxi still hosts the local market every Friday. The Bai people from all the villages in Shaxi Valley and the Yi people from the surrounding mountains all come together to trade everything from fresh produces to supplies and horses. Minority women will be dressed in their colorful traditional costumes, and men will often lead pack mules to carry supplies back to their mountain villages, much like in the days of the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail hundreds of years ago.
- Bailong Tan (白龙潭; White Dragon Pool), (Up on a hill about 8km south of Sideng village). A pool formed by a clear undeground spring, this small lake is believed to be sacred to the local Bai people. It supplies drinking water to the villages in Shaxi Valley.
- Mapingguan Village (马坪关), (15km southwest from Sideng village). Located between Shaxi Valley and the three major Dianxi salt wells to the west, Mapingguan was an important checkpost during the time of the Tea & Horse Caravan Trail where the government collected tax on the salt trade.
Things to do
- Hiking. There are a lot of hiking trails in the mountains both to the east and to the west of Shaxi Valley. The trails are what the local villagers use to go between villages, or to collect firewood, wild herbs, and mushrooms. There are no markers, the trails are easy to follow, but a good sense of direction is needed to not get lost.
- Cycling. The Shaxi Valley and its numerous villages is a great place to explore on a bicycle. A day spent riding on the small single-track trail between green farm fields can yield many surprises and hidden gems.
- Kayaking- It's possible to kayak down the shallow and slow moving water of the Heihui River to see Shaxi Valley from a different angle. Starting from the northern edge of Shaxi Valley and Shibaoshan and ends in Sideng village, the water is mostly flatwater, with a couple small dams that can be navigated. Professional guiding is required.
- Horseback riding.
Holidays and Festivals
- Torch Festival (火把节). A major festival for the Bai and the Yi minorities around Shaxi, it is held every year on the 25th day (24th for the Yi people) of the 8th month on the lunar calendar. The local villagers will light torches and big barn fires everywhere, and dance and sing around the fires. The Gregorian calendar dates for Torch Festival are October 10 (2012), September 29 (2013), September 18 (2014), October 7 (2015)
- Taizihui Holiday (太子会). The biggest religious holiday in Shaxi, it is held every year on the 8th day of the second month on the lunar calendar. The Gregorian calendar dates for Taizihui Holiday are March 19 (2013), March 8 (2014), and March 27 (2015).
Catch the mini-bus (45 mins, ￥10) to Jianchuan from outside the Shaxi bus station. There are daily buses to many other cities in Yunnan from the Jianchuan bus station. Price and schedule subject to change so better confirm with the Jianchuan bus station when you first arrive in Jianchuan.
Jianchuan and the roads that lead to both Lijiang and Dali are currently quite congested due to large scale road construction of the new Kunming Shangri-La Highway. On the road to Dali, be prepared for long traffic jams and white knuckle encounters with heavy lorries. If heading to Dali an interesting alternative with much better scenery is the X804 road down through Qiao Hou, Lian Tie and into Yangbi. Mini Buses leave Jianchuan at 7.30am and 1.20 pm everyday, arriving to pick up outside the stationary store in Shaxi Village about one hour later. The fare down to Yangbi is 25 RMB and the trip takes about four hours. From Yangbi Station, there are regular buses to Xiaguan (Dali New Town), Xiaohuayuan Qiqezhan every few minutes. The journey takes the old road and is about 40 minutes costing 10 RMB.