If you’re after ancient town adventures in China, allow yourself another stress-free trip to Shangli, 27 km north of Ya’an city center, Sichuan province. With a small green area of 75.8 square km, Shangli was an important stop of the less well-known South Silk Road (also known as the Tea Horse Road, and witnessed the splendid cultural and economic exchanges from Southwest China’s Sichuan and Yunan to Burma, Thailand, then finally reaching India and Middle East) and retains many Qing Dynasty architectures today.
Don’t come expecting too much a theatrically odd experience to travel back in time. Some parts of the town have been rebuilt for granted and given relatively modern restaurants and hostels. However, visitors can still smell and enjoy the ancient flavor with the old trees and streams, old bridges and pagodas, ancient stone streets and lanes, as well as the wooden Qing-Dynasty-style dwellings, which survive and blend into the enchanted pastoral scenery.
The old town of Shangli
Two rivers flow through the old town, with the ancient stilted houses, bridges, memorial archway, bamboo grove, narrow cobbled alleyways, fields and hills reflected in the water, creating a refreshing and elegant painting. The layout of the streets was designed according to the word “井” (it means the ancient well with water dipped up). The wooden houses are scattered randomly over the town, among which, Han Family Compound built in Jiaqing Period (1796-1820) of Qing Dynasty is the best-known and well preserved. The doors, windows, colonnades and cornices of its seven tiny courtyards are delicately embossed, carved and inlayed with various designs.
The ancient bridges
There are more than 10 old bridges in the town, each with a distinctive style and showing the ancient craftsmen’s artistic skills. Er-Xian Bridge (Tow Gods Bridge) built in 1711- 1799 during Qianlong Period of Qing Dynasty is the most iconic bridge.
More inspiration in Ya’an
Many people make it all the way to Ya’an Bifengxia Panda Base to see the giant pandas, and even join the volunteer program to look after this cutest creature.
Ya’an is also a delight to tea enthusiasts, as being one of the cultural birthplaces of Chinese tea, and features a sacred tea mountain – Mount Mengding.
How to get to Ya’an and Shangli
Arrive in Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan. Take a bus from Chengdu’s Xinnanmen Bus Station or Shiyangchang Bus Station to Ya’an Tourist Bus Station, where there you take another bus to Shangli (the total journey time is about 2 to 2.5 hours).