Falling In Love With Shaxi, China

Canola Bridge River Shaxi China
Canola fields creating wonderful contrasts with the mountains and stone bridge of Shaxi.

First impressions mean a lot, and the one Shaxi left on us was truly special. From the moment we stepped out of the minivan in the time-locked town, we felt at home.

We’ve never really been into busy places, and as beautiful as Dali was, we were anxious to move onto somewhere quieter.

Shaxi (pronounced “Sha-Shi”) was an important village on the ancient Tea Horse Road, a similar route to the historic Silk Road, and is the only living relic of the old trail still maintaining its authentic markets.

Open drains and canals flow parallel to the stone streets, with ageing timber and mud-brick houses glittered throughout the town.

Streets Shaxi China
Gorgeous alleyways flowing through the village.

Walking to the outskirts of Shaxi offers pristine views of the Heihui River, with rolling peaks creating the stunning backdrop.

At the right time of year canola fields blossom, breaking up the green landscapes with vast seas of golden flowers.

A romantic boulder bridge connects Shaxi to the working pastures over the river; a quintessential photo opportunity if there ever was one.

For those feeling active, the surrounding mountains hold sensational hiking opportunities. If you prefer to explore the scenery on two wheels, cycling around Shaxi offers countless trails to be enjoyed.

Horses are available to rent if you love the idea of galloping through the pastures in the saddle of a gorgeous mare.

In the old square, a wooden temple beckons those interested in history.

Quaint cafes use the cobblestoned quadrangle as their terraces, serving up piping hot brews of Yunnan coffee and icy cold beers for those summer days.

Temple Shaxi China
The ancient temple located in the Shaxi square.

On the outskirts of the town are some incredible nature reserves, including the grottoes of Shibao Shan (Stone Temple Mountain) and the sacred underground spring of Bailong Tan (White Dragon Pool).

If your schedule allows, be sure to time your trip to Shaxi on a Friday, where you can experience the last remaining market on the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail.

The Bai and Yi people all come together to sell local produce and supplies. The minority ladies dress in their traditional colourful garb, making for a wonderful and captivating sight.

Horse Pen 46 Accommodation Shaxi China
Our $10 accommodation with personal guard dog. Although this giant puppy is too friendly to provide much protection against intruders.

However with all the highlights that Shaxi has to offer, ours really stemmed from the sublime accommodation we found ourselves in.

Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel is located right in the old square, set in a century-old house. Comfortable dorm beds and character-filled private rooms are available at unbelievably cheap prices (think less than $10 for your own room with bathroom).

The owner, Shirley, speaks impeccable English and holds invaluable knowledge of Shaxi and its surrounding areas.

But the real stars of Horse Pen 46 are Marley and Luosho – the resident Saint Bernard and Tibetan Mastiff, who despite their gigantic sizes, are extremely friendly and cuddly.

If you are really lucky, Shirley will bring Marley and Luosho on their free guided hikes up into the hills every Saturday.

Want to stay here at Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel? Book here through Hostel World

Dogs Horse Pen 46 Shaxi China
Lesh loving the company of Marley and Luosho at Horse Pen 46 Youth Hostel.

After only one week in China, Shaxi managed to capture our hearts and made us wish that we hadn’t have used the town just as a one-night detour.

For any traveller’s Yunnan itinerary, Shaxi deserves a multi-day stopover at the very least. We’ll be looking for excuses to head back to this authentic Chinese village, hopefully sooner rather than later.

How To Get To Shaxi

From the North Station in Dali (客运北站), we jumped onboard a bus headed towards Jianchuan (剑川). The 3 hour journey cost us 24RMB, and dropped us off on a busy street.

From here you can grab a minibus to Shaxi (沙溪) which should take around 45 minutes and cost about 13RMB. (Expect prices to fluctuate slightly.)

From Lijiang, find your way to the long-distance bus station (丽江客运站) and board the bus to Jianchuan (剑川). Follow the above instructions to get to Shaxi.

Streets Water Shaxi China
Open drains running with clean water through the streets of Shaxi
Picture of Alesha and Jarryd

Alesha and Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award-winning writers and professional photographers behind this blog. We have been travelling the world together since 2008, with a passion for adventure travel and sustainable tourism. Through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. As one of the world's leading travel journalists, our content and adventures have been featured by National Geographic, Lonely Planet, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Yahoo!, BuzzFeed, Channel 7, Channel 10, ABC, The Guardian, and plenty other publications. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

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10 thoughts on “Falling In Love With Shaxi, China”

  1. I’m sad I missed Shaxi! Definitely a place I would fall in love with as well!

    • This means you will have to go back. We definitely recommend more than 2 nights. It’s an amazing place. 🙂

  2. We loved having you guys with us in Yangshuo! It so happens I’ve been restoring an ancient nunnery here in Shaxi for the past three years http://www.ginkgosociety.org and have rebuilt the guestrooms at Old Theatre Inn, a heritage theatre temple that also functions as a guesthouse in Shaxi. We run the Old Theatre on the same sustainable principles as our Yangshuo properties and it’s managed entirely by women from the local village. The Hidden Compassion Nunnery (also known as the Pear Orchard Temple) offers vegetarian dining, mediatation space, a yoga practice area and galleries featuring documentaries and photos of the Tea Horse Road. Hope we can host you here one day!
    Safe journey,
    Chris B

    • Thanks very much Chris. I hope we do get back to Shaxi one day. That area definitely demands more exploration. We would love to check out the Old Theatre Inn when we make it back there. Thanks for everything 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading about your experience in Shaxi. I’ve never heard of it before, so thank you for sharing.
    Sounds like one of the small towns in Vietnam with colorful markets and lovely hikes. I’m bookmarking this for China.

    • Definitely add it to the list, Natasha. I’m sure you will love it 🙂

  4. Wow, such a different side of China than much of what we experienced. Can’t wait to see where you go next.

    • I think we’re beginning to experience some of the things you did during your travels here. We’ve never been anywhere quite like here before. One minute we love the country and all its people, the next we are working out the quickest route out of here.

  5. Look beautiful! This area is high on our list while we are living in China. As always beautiful pics and great info! Cheers!!!

    • Thanks Josh. Shaxi is an awesome place. Maybe our paths will cross somewhere in China 🙂

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