Shangli Ancient Town had many promises, before 2008 this town was foreseen as the new Lijiang in Sichuan and it had everything to meet those expectations but earthquake after earthquake made it a somewhat forgotten place, once summer is gone. Despite all that, I love Shangli, this little haven a few kilometres away from Ya’an, I love it during any season because its charm is never the same.
In Summer Shangli is something of a big art class. Art students descend on the town in huge numbers to study and paint the bridges and waterside scenes, and the river banks are flooded with easels. The heat and humidity of a Sichuanese summer bothers none of them as they seem to permeate every little corner of the town to get a new piece of work done. Tourists pass by, observe them for a while before enjoying the tea houses facing the calm water where children are playing. Shangli in Summer is refreshing, pleasing, full of life and of diverse sellers doing their best to tempt you with jewellery, handmade trinkets, sugary treats or simply a frog made from leaves. You could almost see how this place could be the new Lijiang.
The wooden and brick houses reflect the old rural China and the surrounding fields and farms sends you back to what Ancient China might have been like.
In Winter Shangli takes a whole different look and atmosphere. The leaves falling from the trees and the nipping cold have made their way in town and it looks like most of the tourist population has simply left the area deserted. Those buzzing tea houses and restaurants in Summer are now closed and the busy main square where children were playing and grandparents relaxing under the trees is now completely empty. Shangli is almost a ghost town. It’s quiet and the vegetation seems to be taking back the bridges. Smoke comes out of the fields where a few farmers might have started a fire and it, somehow, feels peaceful. A few shops still offer the local and famous noodles but it’s mainly locals you meet walking in those streets.
Shangli Ancient Town
Located 30km away from Ya’an, a town 2 hours away from Chengdu, Sichuan, Shangli was supposed to be a big tourist attraction for the area and was renovated with the expectation of bringing in many people and a lot of money. Sadly the earthquakes in 2008 and 2013 did put an end to idea of developing the area and the town of Shangli remained with only a few small guest houses and little expectation to become the next big tourist spot in the region.
Shangli was known as a part of the Tea Horse Road in Sichuan, due to this past Ya’an, the nearby big town, grows some of the best tea in the region.
It was also a stop on the Long March, therefore a few slogans engraved by the soldiers of the Red Army can still be found on some of the walls in town.
While only a part of the original town remains, and much of it has been rebuilt, Shangli has kept its special something and is a spot loved by art schools that send their students there most summers. With a few bridges around town, their architecture seems to be the main point of interest for those young artists who will spend their day studying the lines of those.
Why should you visit Shangli?
It’s an easy day trip from Chengdu and it might be a nice occasion to relax for a day.
Located not far from Bifengxia Panda Base, you could use the opportunity to visit both in a day.
Summer also sees activities like river rafting opening for tourists, if you want to stop there before going back to town, ask your mini bus to let you off.
Shangli is people’s favourite place for a taste of the famous Dan Dan Mien, noodles with pork in a spicy broth because, after all, you’re in Sichuan.
You’ll also get a chance to try a few kind of teas, treats and buy a few souvenirs.
For a piece of Sichuanese life you can relax in one of the tea houses, but if you’re into a good walk, follow the trails that will guide you into the local farms or higher up in the plains. You could also get lost in the labyrinth of little streets that form the town itself.
If you fancy some time away from the crowds then look for the guest houses near the river bank at the entrance of town and stay the night.
When should you visit Shangli?
It’s a decision you need to make depending on what you are looking for. If you want to see a town full of life then Summer is really the right moment to go there. If what you want is peace and quiet then go in Winter.
You need to consider the weather too. It often rains in the area and the humidity is usually pretty high so check the weather forecast in advance. October is usually pretty dry but avoid the National Holiday.
How to get to Shangli?
Getting to Shangli from Chengdu is pretty easy.
Get a bus to Ya’an – Bifengxia from the Xinanmen bus station, they usually leave every 30minutes, the ticket should be 48RMB.
Once in Ya’an, get out of the bus station up to the front where a few local mini buses will be waiting. Simply ask for Shangli (上里 ) and hop on, the ride should take 30 minutes and cost you 8RMB.
If visiting off-season, you can pay off the minibus in Shangli more to leave earlier if you feel the van is filling up too slowly.
A bit off the trail from the usual tourist activities in Sichuan, Shangli is worth a day in your trip.
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