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Shaxi (沙溪) old town: a gem along the ancient Tea Horse Road

Halfway between Lijiang and Dali, Shaxi(沙溪) it’s a small village almost forgotten by tourists. In this travel guide, you can find some of the things to do and to see in this peaceful old town.

shaxi old town

Lijiang old town and Dali old town are two of the most famous destinations in Yunnan (here my guide).

An old town along the ancient Tea Horse Road (also known as South Silk Road) that it’s often forgotten by most tourists it’s Shaxi (沙溪). Unlike Lijiang and Dali, Shaxi retains the charm of the old Chinese towns and it’s a very peaceful place, a perfect retreat if you are tired of tourist traps.

I’ve often heard about it, but after being there for a couple of days I can say that it lives up to its reputation. Another good reason to visit Shaxi is that if you’re going to visit Dali or Lijiang you can easily add Shaxi to your itinerary since it’s basically halfway between these two cities.

How to get to Shaxi

how to get to shaxi

The main reason why Shaxi is not packed with tourists is that it’s relatively difficult to get there. Even though it’s located halfway between Dali and Lijiang, there are no trains or flights. You can get there from Kunming, Lijiang, or Dali but not directly. You must first take a bus to Jianchuan (剑川).

If you are in Lijiang, it takes about an hour to get to Jianchuan. Once there you’ll have to change the bus and take one to Shaxi. If there are no buses don’t worry because in the bus station there are many drivers of Mianbao Che (minivans) that can take you to your destination for a few RMB. Shaxi is about 45 minutes from Jianchuan.

Alternatively, you can hire a taxi driver in Dali or Lijiang to take you directly to Shaxi, but it will be more expensive. In any case, it’s not too difficult to get to Shaxi, but it’s difficult enough to keep mass tourism away (for now).

Most people living in Shaxi belong to the Bai, Hui, and Yi ethnic groups.

When is the best time to visit Shaxi and for how long you should stay

best time to visit Shaxi

Generally, this part of Yunnan is renowned for its mild climate throughout the year. Keep in mind that in winter, it can be relatively cold and most of the hotels don’t have heaters. The rainy season starts in May and usually lasts until September.

The best months to visit Shaxi are during Autumn and Spring. Shaxi is a very small town and one day is enough to visit it but considering that it takes a while to get there I suggest you spend a night in the old town.

Friday it’s the market day and many people from the nearby villages flock to the market to sell spices, cheese, local vegetables, and many other things. Many women wear their traditional beautifully colored attires.

Things to do in Shaxi

things to do in Shaxi

Shaxi is a city of farmers but since 2000 the local government has started a program of renovation of the most important buildings. Although some modern concrete buildings have sprung up most of the new homes are built using the style of the Bai minority: wooden structures and mud bricks. There are plenty of trees along the main streets of the city that help to convey a relaxed atmosphere.

Shaxi is the best-preserved city on the southern silk route. The main things to see are:

  • The 700-year-old Theater (寺登戏台), located in the main square
  • The Yujin Bridge (玉津桥), not far from the square
  • The Xingjiao Temple (兴教寺), also in the square
  • The Friday Market (星期五市集). Perhaps not as traditional as the one in Yuanyang, it is still interesting if it’s your first time in China.

Don’t miss the Hungry Buddha vegan restaurant run by an Italian chef. You’ll find directions all over the city. It has only 8 seats and Shaxi it’s perhaps the place where you least expect to find a similar restaurant. Personally, I am not a lover of vegan cuisine but the pizza is really good. The cheese is made with cashew cream and even if the prices are quite high, it is worth trying it.

From Shaxi it is also possible to make a day trip to Shibaoshan (石宝山) where you can see several temples, caves, and even some monkeys. To get there, head to the parking lot inside the old town and ask one of the minivan drivers to take you to 石宝山.

As for the accommodation, at the moment you can’t find any option on so you have to use The other option is to look for a place once you arrive there.

Finally, remember that before visiting China you must get a VPN if you want to continue using the internet.

In this link, you will find an article about Shigu, another beautiful town located along the ancient southern silk road not too far from Lijiang. Here are some tips for your trip to China.

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