Every year hundreds of thousands of Chinese and foreign travelers pass through Yunnan's popular tourist towns including Lijiang, Dali and Jinghong. In addition to these destinations, Yunnan is full of emerging areas that also deserve a visit such as Shaxi (沙溪).
Shaxi is located in a valley in the north of Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, about a seven-hour drive from Kunming. Scattered throughout the valley are sixteen Bai minority villages. The population of these villages ranges from a couple hundred to over a thousand in the main village of Sideng.
Shaxi has a long history that dates back to its role as a trade station on the Tea and Horse Caravan Route, (茶马古道, Chama Gudao), also known as the South Silk Road. The Tea and Horse Caravan Route, which centered on Yunnan province and connected China, Tibet, Myanmar and parts of Thailand and Laos. Although the route's influence has faded and Shaxi is no longer used as a trade station, evidence of its history can be seen throughout the valley, most obviously through architecture and signs that read 'Home of the Teahorse'.
Until recently Shaxi's architecture was falling into ruin. In 2001 the World Monuments Fund listed Shaxi as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. This prompted action to restore Shaxi's architecture and protect its cultural heritage. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH) and the People's Government of Jianchuan County jointly established the Shaxi Rehabilitation Project (SRP).
Since its creation the SRP has successfully renovated many of Shaxi's most important buildings. Paintings that had been hidden beneath dirt for over a hundred years are once again visible to the public. Currently the temple in the old market of Sideng village is being repaired and is scheduled to open soon. The marketplace that the temple is located in is one of the main projects for the SRP. Along with the temple, the SRP renovated the largest ancient building in the area. The top floor of the building will become a museum for Shaxi valley and there is talk of a café opening on the bottom floor.
Shaxi is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination for outdoor enthusiasts. There are many hiking trails in the area offering beautiful views and amazing destinations. Some of the hikes include trails to Shibao Mountain and to Yi minority villages, which can be found high in the nearby mountains. Shibao Mountain is about a two-hour hike from Shaxi and is home to well preserved rock carvings that are over 1,300 years old. The Yi villages provide a glimpse of the past with the villagers living they same way they have for centuries.
Fridays in Shaxi are important for everyone because of the giant outdoor market that takes place on the streets of Sideng village. People from all of the villages come to sell their wares on the street, selling everything from dentures to livestock.
The trip from Dali to Shaxi takes about three-and-a-half hours via the bus to Jianchuan (剑川)。As there are no large buses to Shaxi itself, the final leg is traveled via minibuses, which wait at the intersection of the roads to Jianchuan and Shaxi.
A newly renovated theater - over 200 years old - now has five guestrooms with Western restrooms and will open to the public soon. Until then the place to stay is Wu Yunxin's guesthouse. It has four nice guest rooms, hot showers and serves delicious traditional Bai dishes.