20 minutes by bike from Old Theatre Inn
Very much a time capsule, Sideng Village remains a fascinating window onto a China that has long disappeared in the rest of the country. While some cafes and souvenier shops have sprung up around the main square in recent years, Sideng looks much like it did throughout its history, with peddlers, horsemen and local residents going about daily life. Ornate compound gates and entrance passages lead to courtyard microcosms of Bai home-life that have sometimes barely changed in the last forty centuries. Many of what were once tack shops, blacksmiths and caravanserais have already been converted into guest houses and souvenir stores, while others maintain their original function as homes to people and animals alike. Rammed earth and gravity defying eaves guide visitors down narrow alleys, where prickly pear cacti are a natural precursor to tall barbed wire fences, and sinuous bougainvillea splash the earthen tones with explosions of purple blooms.
The centuries old theatre temple dominates the square, though unlike its neighbor in Duan Village's Old Theatre Inn, it is rarely open to visitors. During festivals, ancient music ensembles and opera troupes will perform here and the stage makes a beautiful backdrop for photos. We recommend a half day just to explore the old street leading to the square and adjacent alleyways, where new businesses are opening every few months.
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.
VeStanding 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. Also the recently re-opened Orange is just around the corner up the old street, next to 58 Yard. Excellent local food. 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 2017), so more reviews will be coming!