The tiny hamlet of Shāxī (沙溪), 120km northwest of Dàlǐ, is an evocative throwback to the days of the Tea Horse Road. (You can almost hear the clippety-clop of horses’ hooves and shouts of traders.) It is one of only three surviving caravan oases that stretched from Yúnnán to India and is by far the best preserved – and the only one with a functioning market (Friday), when Bai and Yi villagers converge on the town. If you're here then, check out the animal trading down by the river.
The village’s wooden houses, courtyards and narrow, winding streets make it a popular location for period Chinese movies and TV shows, and there are ever-increasing numbers of domestic day trippers. However, this is still a wonderfully relaxed place where you can spend the night sitting by the river under a canopy of stars and listening to the frogs croaking in the rice paddies.