Shaxi, Yunnan Province:
Shaxi is a small, quiet, even sleepy village, situated in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains, a three-hour bus ride northwest from Dali. As you walk about, you see locals labouring in construction, working in small shops, or selling food or vegetables on the street. The fields are tended mostly by women, while the men herd goats. The Bai are very industrious but also seem to take their time as they work. It appears that they embrace their traditional lives. It is a friendly village and Yulan (a friend from Kunming) and I were able to strike up a number of conversations with the minority villagers. Shaxi is beginning to see its share of tourists, and the stores, cafes, and hostels/hotels designed for people like us, yet it is still primarily a town of locals, and many of these sites are mostly empty. At the moment, its interest in outsiders is only secondary – although this will almost certainly change in the next few years.
Buildings in Shaxi (and Dali) are made of a foundation of locally quarried stone and the walls are constructed with rammed-earth, covered by slaked lime and decorated on the outside with grey or blue ink-and-wash paintings. I have been told that nails are not used and instead, a system of double brackets supports the roof atop thick wood pillars. Like elsewhere in Yunnan, and the rest of China, the rooves are covered in round roof edge tiles. These tiles are used for decoration or for very specific symbolism (represented in the colours of the eaves, the specific roofing materials, and, finally, the roof top decorations). Old Town Shaxi is a maze of criss-crossing narrow alleyways, with one main street leading in and out of the village and a second, narrower street (filled with tourist shops, cafes, etc.) that leads to the old village square. A Friday market is held each week, as it has been for many, many years!
On our first day in Shaxi, Yulan and I saw a few men leading donkeys with rattan baskets filled to the brim strapped to their backs. Women, both young and old, carry their produce and goods on their backs, hunching over to steady themselves and balance the baskets, whose straps stretch across their foreheads and are held onto on either side of their heads.
Our second day in Shaxi was spent wandering the alleyways, speaking with more locals, and having breakfast and supper at the Long Feng Muslim Restaurant. The women who work there are welcoming and talkative, and laugh a lot!. The food is excellent, and the place is impeccably clean. At the front of the restaurant is the kitchen – open to the street. Behind this area and the main eating area is a small courtyard where the vegetables are prepared. Aging beef hangs from beams throughout the restaurant and courtyard. Breakfast consisted of a bowl of noodles in a spicy beef broth, with pieces of beef and vegetables. As is common, one can add extra condiments such as garlic, Sichuan pepper, pickled vegetables, hot pepper, etc. I think this soup may have been the best I have eaten in China. At supper we ordered a bowl of vegetable stew, as delicious as was the morning’s soup.
Lunch took us to Ben Tu Ren Jia, where we had two local dishes: zha ru bing (fried goat cheese sprinkled with sugar) and fen pi chao jidan (broad rice sheets mixed with egg and spices). Excellent food, again.
The streets of Shaxi are a pleasure to meander through and the countryside is perfect for walking in the fields and exploring the many nearby villages via bicycle.
We stayed at the local International Youth Hostel, which was inexpensive but very nondescript and dingy and dark. However, if you are on a budget this is a good enough choice. It is just not a place where you will want to chill (in fact, it was freezing there since its outer walls are literally made of plywood). I have been told that if you want to treat yourself, a nice place to stay is the Old Theatre Inn — about a 15-minute bicycle ride from Shaxi. Breakfast is included and apparently the rooms are extremely comfortable, with all the amenities and a great view of the expansive farmland just beyond its doors, nestled among the villages and surrounding mountains.
Places to Eat:
- Ben Tu Ren Jia on the cobblestoned main street leading to the Town centre.
- Long Feng Muslim Restaurant on Shaxi’s main road