Chinese Language Blog

Shaxi Ancient Town Posted by on Jan 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

Most backpackers in Yunnan follow a pretty beaten path – Dali, Lijiang, Shangri-la, and Tiger Leaping Gorge. This is all doable in 10-14 days, all linked up with public transportation, and these places all cater to tourists. There are also many interesting places in Yunnan that are quite hard to get to, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. Thankfully there are a few places that fall somewhere in between. They’re not quite as touristy, but they’re also not that difficult to get to and there is some tourism infrastructure. One such place is the old town of Shaxi (沙溪 – Shā xī).


Shaxi Yunnan

Chill out in Shaxi.

Shaxi was once an important trade station on the Old Tea Horse Caravan Road (茶马古道 – chá mǎ gǔ dào), a trading route connecting southwest China to India via Tibet. When the Tibetans developed a taste for tea in the Tang Dynasty, they would trade their horses for tea from Yunnan. By the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the Shaxi Valley was flourishing with trade. It attracted people from many different ethnic groups and cultures – the Hani from Southern Yunnan traded tea and cloth, the Muslim Hui brought Yak furs and horses, and the Naxi from Lijiang traded timber. This all came to an end in the 1950s when the Communist Party put a ban on private markets. The locals reverted back to agriculture and the area was mostly forgotten and left in isolation.

Shaxi Market Square

The theater in the market square.

In 2001 the World Monument Fund added Shaxi’s market square to its Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites and so the local government began a restoration project with the funds it was given. Now it has attained UNESCO World Heritage status and is slowly beginning to attract more and more curious travelers looking to escape the crowds of Dali and Lijiang.

Things To Do

Shaxi Villages

Explore the surrounding villages.

Shaxi is a great place to go for some R&R as there isn’t much to do. There are mountains all around with hiking trails that lead to great views. The local village people use the trails to travel between villages, collect firewood, and search for wild mushrooms. The Heihui River runs through the town and it’s possible to kayak from the northern end back in to the town.

Shaxi horses.

Horses hanging by the river.

Many of the hostels and guesthouses have free bicycle rental. This is a great way to travel between all the different villages in the valley and find some hidden gems along the way. Of course there is horseback riding available here, given its history as a horse trading spot.

Shaxi temple

Take a hike and visit this old temple.

Book a tour taking you to the nearby Shibao Shan, a mountain nature reserve area where you can also see the Baoxiang and Shizhong Temples. Alternatively, you can just walk up the hill to enjoy the views back towards town and a few Buddhist carvings. It’s certainly cheaper than taking a tour to the temples, and chances are you’ll have the whole place to yourself.

Buddhist carvings on the mountain.

Buddhist carvings on the mountain.

A little outside the town is the Ci Yin An or Pear Orchard Temple. Restored in 2011, this ancient temple has a long history. Visitors can enjoy admiring the wood carvings done by local craftsmen as well as check out the visitor’s center, walk through the many halls paying tribute to different gods and deities, and visit the Meditation Center.

Friday Market

Shaxi Friday Market

The bustling Friday market.

The Friday market is the main draw to Shaxi. It is much like the thriving market that went on every day of the week here before the area was turned into a ghost town. Minority people trek for hours from their mountain villages to trade with the lowlanders. They trade everything from meats to livestock to fabrics to herbs and vegetables. It is very colorful and cultural and not to be missed. We even added a couple of days to our trip there just to be able to see it. Stay tuned for a more in-depth article about this market, with plenty of photos showing you just how cool it is.


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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.


  1. Tom mahon:

    Thank you for the information on Shaxi. I love China and spent several summers there in the countryside away from the big cities. The people are wonderful. Thanks again, Tom Mahon, Casa Grande, AZ.

  2. Ivana:

    I’d like to know the Friday Market, it looks very interesting.
    Thank you for sharing.

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