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Mark Hiew (more chengdu)|
Two of the most popular destinations in southwestern China are Lijiang and Dali, two towns that have undergone the same familiar transformation from picturesque, quiet village to tour group-swamped amusement park that the age of mass tourism development has wrought upon us. But the sleepy village of Shaxi, located about halfway between the two, offers a rare opportunity to enjoy the allure of traditional architecture and minority culture minus the rambunctious outsiders.
Shaxi was formerly a major stopover on the tea-horse trail, also known as the “southern Silk road.” Over 2,000 years old, the difficult route connected Yunnan to Tibet, Burma and other surrounding regions, allowing for trade of Yunnanese tea for Tibetan horses and the arrival of Buddhism, amongst other things. One of the three remaining caravan towns, Shaxi possesses the last surviving market, which takes place every Friday from around 11:00am – 2:00pm, so try to time your visit to coincide.
Beyond wandering the town’s beautiful, tidy alleys and peeking in on wonderfully well-preserved Bai minority-style courtyards, many travelers enjoy getting out of town. Taking a rented bicycle out to nearby Shíbaǒshàn (石宝山) makes for an ideal day trip; the mountain, while not overly strenuous, possesses numerous temples and stone carvings, some of which famously feature female genitalia. Back in town, be sure to check out some of the lovely old bridges out past the town gates.
There are several guesthouses. Number 58 (58号小院), run by two warm Taiwanese travelers, has wifi, breakfast and dorms running at 30RMB per night. Those after private rooms and a more peaceful environment will want to visit the guesthouse connected to the Shaxi Cultural Center (沙溪文化中心), whose beautifully renovated courtyard is worth a visit in its own right. Rooms run from 80RMB upward, and the center features a worthwhile English library upstairs strong on local minority cultures, set up by an American professor based in Kunming. Food-wise, there’s a decent, if over-priced, upscale Tibetan restaurant nearby (40-50RMB/person) and a much more affordable Hui noodle joint (5-10RMB/person) not far off the main street.
Whilst interacting with Shaxi’s friendly locals, it was refreshing to experience such genuine hospitality, as yet unsullied by the spoils of insensitive tourism. But all of this is already under change, and it seems likely that over time, Shaxi will become the “next Lijiang.” So get there before it loses its tranquil charm. The town’s convenient location makes it an ideal stopover for those traveling Yunnan and desire a more authentic rural getaway.
Getting three: Frist, from Chengdu to Lijiang(Yunan). Shaxi is about three hours from Lijiang (Bus: 17RMB), four hours from Dali (Bus: 24RMB). From either, take a bus to Jianchuan. Outside Jianchuan station are minibuses with Shaxi signs in their windows. Rides are 8RMB per seat, and take approximately 45 minutes.