Shaxi Town, one of the world's 100 most endangered sites listed by the World Monuments Fund is a place where you can breathe in fresh air around-the-clock. The ancient village in Yunnan Province is located in the southeastern part of a nature reserve where the Jin Sha, Lantsang and Nu Jiang rivers converge.
Shaxi's agreeable climate, beautiful natural scenery and rich natural resources make it a place where the temperature is never too high or too low, and the water is greenish-blue and bluish-green.
Shaxi is also a village with a long history that can be traced back to the Spring and Autumn period and the Warring States period (770 BC-221BC).
Shaxi town was built on the remains of an ancient market town and was once an active trade stop on the Southern Silk Road that connected southwest China's hinterland with Southeast Asia and on to Europe, which is actually older than the more famous Silk Road (in the North), predating it by at least 300 years.
Stone Treasure Mountain and the Friday Market are the two most popular tourist attractions in Shaxi Town. Stone Treasure Mountain, a fantastic nature reserve and religious site that was designated as one of the first officially protected sites by China in 1982. There are numerous temples and grottoes as well as some fantastic views there. Going up to the temple there are some families of monkeys that sometimes turn very aggressive with visitors, although tourists have reported only minor injuries.
But if you have never seen what an ancient Chinese market looks like, your curiosity will be satisfied if you go to Shaxi. The Friday Market is located on the main road in Sideng. Just follow the crowd. As the last remaining market town on the ancient Tea & Horse Caravan Trail, Shaxi still hosts the local market every Friday.
The Bai ethnic people from all the villages in Shaxi Valley and the Yi people from the surrounding mountains come here to trade everything from fresh produce to supplies and horses.
Minority women dress in 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.
Features of Shaxi Ancient Town
The high mountain historical villages of Shaxi Town at the foot of Shibaoshan are in a valley that is at an elevation of about 2000 meters or about 6,500 feet. This area lay on trade routes that led throughout Asia, so the ancient remains, frescoes, art and graffiti on the mountains show a mixture of cultural influences from other parts of the world. The several ethnic groups in the region also have a mixture of Asian influences in their cultures.
Shaxi Town is made up of about 16 villages in the valley. In China, a Town is considered to be not only the main village or town but also the surrounding villages and towns. The largest of the villages is Sideng. The World Memorial Fund for Architecture and the local government is funding reconstruction of Sideng Village. The villages have populations ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand. The population Shaxi Town is about 23,500, and about 85 percent of the people are ethnic Bai people. Approximately 70 percent of the residents do farm work, and most of the people are quite poor by western standards. The average income of the Bai farm people in the valley is about 140 dollars a year.
Along with visiting the newly restored buildings and the Sideng Market area, in the villages you can see the colorfully dressed women, walk along some tidy alleys between the traditional houses, and look into some wonderfully well-preserved Bai minority-style courtyards. You can rent bicycles to see the area. There are interesting old bridges in the valley.
How to get Shaxi Ancient Town
There are no direct bus to Shaxi from Lijiang or Dali. To reach Shaxi, first take a long distance bus to Jianchuan from either Lijiang or Dali.From Old Town 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). 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 RMB 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 Old Town Dali to Jianchuan will take 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 seating is not guaranteed. Or flag down any of the buses going to Shangri-la and get off in Jianchuan.
From Old Town 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). Buy a ticket to Jianchuan which will cost RMB 25 and take about 2-2.5 hours.
From Shangri-la: Take any of the buses going to Dali and get off in Jianchuan.
When you arrive in Jianchuan: There are mini-bus services just outside of Jianchuan bus station that take about 45 minutes to reach Shaxi (RMB 10). 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 if not preferable!