As I begin to think of Shaxi, I get this dreamy, peaceful feeling- a feeling that is ever-present in this once-bustling trade stop. What is left now is a sleepy town that has begun to wake up, from a slumber that has somehow managed to offer us a well-preserved glimpse of Old China.
Between the cities of Dali and Lijiang, lies Shaxi, an ancient town in a sunny, serene valley. Shaxi was once an important point along the Ancient Tea Horse trade route, but when this trade began to lose existence, so did the significance of this town. Shaxi Ancient town has been a forgotten town for many years, up until recently. It has now been slowly becoming a place of interest for travelers like us, who are willing to go the extra mile for more genuine and gem-like experiences.
Shaxi is less accessible than the neighboring and more famous, Dali and Lijiang. To get to Shaxi, one would have to hire a car from either city or take a bus (or two). Of course, we opted for the more convenient option, which was to hire a driver to take us from Lijiang airport to our inn. It took us about 2.5-3 hours to arrive at Shaxi town and another 10-15 minutes to arrive at our accommodation- the Old Theatre Inn.
The Old Theatre Inn is about 20 a minute walk from Shaxi town and is run by local women of the Bai minority. Staying there was a rare experience as it is a historical and cultural landmark. This inn, as you may have guessed, is an old theatre (240 years old) that had been sustainably restored to accommodate travelers in its unique and authentic quarters. Our 1-night stay was a peaceful and a perfect start to our Yunnan travels!
We spent four days discovering Shaxi and its surrounding areas. Here are some highlights of our time spent there:
Exploring Shaxi Old Town- The old town is precisely that, in the best and most authentic way possible! Compared to the Lijiang "tourist trap", Shaxi Old Town is a GEM! Its old cobbled streets, surviving architecture of wooden and sand buildings and courtyards still bore evidence of what was once a bustling trade town. So much so that it was somewhat unbelievable that a place like this could so vividly and authentically portray what Old China looked and felt like. There is even a weekly market that is the last remaining of its kind on the ancient Tea-Horse Caravan trail. Every Friday, the minority groups from various villages gather to sell their goods. Local treats, woven baskets, produce from the nearby fields, and the most popular item on the market- mushrooms. The widest variety of mushrooms I have ever seen in life, as well as the rarest and most expensive!
Finding one's way to the old Market Square Theater, visiting the new bookstore, discovering local shops, trying a variety of foods, relaxing at the coffee shops, and having lunch at the cozy restaurants are all part of the Shaxi Old Town experience and one that should be had slowly. Visiting the Ouyang Courtyard in the Old Town was my most memorable experience. This courtyard is a glorious display of well-preserved Bai architecture, and we were allowed the rare opportunity to meander throughout the residence.
The Torch Festival: We had decided to visit Shaxi in the Summer, particularly because it was around the time of the Torch Festival. This is a tradition practiced by the Bai and Yi minorities, where they dress in traditional costumes and gather in celebration, dancing and singing around large torch-like fires. These fires can be as tall as 20 meters. We were very excited to have this experience and arranged with the second accommodation of our trip- The Linden Center, to take us to experience this festival. Unfortunately, because of a recent COVID outbreak in the area, the festivities were ordered to be canceled. Luckily, we still managed to be invited to a smaller local celebration of the minorities. We were hosted by a local community for dinner and enjoyed singing and dancing with the Bai people.
Staying at the Linden Center, Shaxi: The Linden Center was founded by an American couple and who are known for restoring heritage sites and supporting the communities around which they work. Their accommodations are unique, as they create a stay that is immersive and culture-rich and is a great aspect of their community work. At the new Shaxi location, minority locals are employed at the resort and the customs of these people are also incorporated into the experience.
Located in the hills, and about 1 hour outside of Shaxi Old Town, the new Linden Center is the perfect location for a romantic getaway- and its architecture, a GEM! We were lucky to discover their new Shaxi hotel and spent two restful nights there. Being surrounded by nature and comfort is always greatly appreciated, and staying at the Linden Center afforded us this luxury. We even hiked through the forested areas that trailed from the residence into the hills, which was an invigorating way to end such a blissful time in Shaxi.
Our Shaxi experience was perfect, and this unique area of Yunnan is what I consider a gem!
Until next time!