Shaxi Sideng Square - the heart of Shaxi Old Town
Suggested shops, eateries and activities
At its peak as a market area during the tea horse caravans, Sideng Square was a constantly bustling exchange, with merchants, inkeepers, horsemen and entertainers creating a thriving commercial space. Today, Sideng is mostly quiet, though there are still the occasional horses for tourists to ride and shops have sprung up since the square's rehabilitation in the early 2000's. There are guesthouses, cafes, restaurants and souvenir shops, many still run by local people. A massive Chinese scholar tree dominates the square and a timber pole which is decorated and then burned during the Shaxi Torch Festival.
Standing under the ancient tree, to the East is the theatre temple and stage. During festivals, there is traditional music performance and sining by local people, though the rest of the time the temple is not in use. Opposite the temple is Xingjiao Si (兴教寺), the Temple of Educational Happiness, which now functions as a museum. Tickets are 20 yuan per person at the gate.
For coffee, there are two choices: the Old Three Cafe next to the theatre stage, or Sloth Coffee, which is on South Tibet Alley just off the Southwest corner of the square. Old Tree has outdoor seating and is good for people-watching, whereas Sloth is tucked away down the alley and quieter.
For bars we recommend Old Street Bar, just down from the temple. It has local beer and some Chinese and homemade wines. Secret tatami room upstairs (take your shoes off first).
For a simple lunch, Jia Jia is a local favorite, located just up the old street (follow the flowing stream away from the square about 30m). Another favorite is Wood Fish on the South corner of the square where it joins South Tibet Alley. Very good western cooking here but not always open.
There is a very good jewelry seller on the South end of the square, and a silversmith just next door. More bars and simple restaurants have recently opened on the square (as of September 2016), so more reviews will be coming!