Shànglǐ was once an important stop on the Silk Road (the Horse and Tea route) and during the Long March. Many slogans can still be seen around the town, carved into rock by the Red Army. Shànglǐ is also known for its 8 different stone bridges of varying style which cross the waterways surrounding the town on all sides.
Tourism here is picking up again after the Sichuan earthquake and recent flooding, but most of the tourists are predominantly domestic Chinese and foreigners are still somewhat of a novelty.
Minibuses bound for Shànglǐ can be caught from outside the tourist bus station in Ya'an which is a short rickshaw ride (6 RMB) away from the main bus station.
Should you be visiting Shànglǐ after Bifeng Gorge, minibuses run frequently along the valley.
Walk! The town isn't large.
Exploring on foot is easy enough to do. Look out for:
the bamboo water wheel.
the eight stone bridges of varying style - in particular, look out for Erxian Bridge, made purely out of stone fashioned into a high arch.
the pagoda across the fields opposite town next to the pass through the hillocks which goes to Shànglǐ proper.
the Red Army stone carvings, a display of which can be seen on the riverbank pathway next to where you get down off the minibus.
the Han courtyard.
the semi-restored, ancient mill.
Relax, and absorb the village's quaint, traditional atmosphere.
Wander into the surrounding countryside.
This quaint, recreated ancient village is what every tourist coming to China would like to see. A full day here is well worth it.
A plethora of stores catering to the domestic Chinese tourists. Don't expect any English to be spoken, but this is part of its charm!
Next to the square outside the Han courtyard (close to the opera stage), there is a little noodle shop offering the seemingly local specialty 大肉面 (dàròumiàn; pork fat noodle soup), but if you don't want the fat, go for the 牛肉面 (nǐuròumiàn; beef noodle soup) done in a similar way. The eatery has photos of the head chef with some famous person (I couldn't determine who) on CCTV. You'll know you're in the right place as he has a table with flour on it outside and likes to show off a bit for tourists. There are pictures of his dishes along the righthand side wall to help you choose (also open for breakfast).
Relax in the large, comfortable bamboo chairs located right next to the streams. One restaurant has them situated right on the bank of the river but it is quite pricey. Another store, right next to the bamboo waterwheel, has chairs for customers seeking pricey tea, but they don't seem to mind if you buy cheaper refreshments from their store and drink them sitting there.
The only coffee shop in town is located at the end of Shuijing Street (on the corner). Owned by a young couple, they've reallybtried to make their place cozy and funky with trinkets and photos. With plenty of comfortable seating, you'll want to linger awhile, especially since they have free wifi and they speak some simple English.
A plethora of touts will meet you at the minibus stop.
Within the Han courtyard itself, there is a new, somewhat atmospheric, cheap hotel with great views - 银杏苑 (Yínxìngyuàn) offering (for my visit) 50 RMB for a single with TV & ensuite (Ph: 08352316682 / 13980175152 / 13882439152). Definitely recommended! Apparently, there is a cheaper place in town if you want to go out seeking it.
A triple room in Han's Courtyard behind the Confucian temple was 80 RMB (July 2013). No need for advance booking.
A better option is to walk to the end of the main walkway along the river to the confluence with a stream (passing Han's and the watermill) - this may seem like a long walk, but the town is actually quite small once you get your bearings - as the pathway bends to the right, there is a small guesthouse (5 clean, cozy rooms) with the best view of the surrounding mountains and countryside from its rooftop terrace. Owned by an energetic retired 50yo gym teacher at Sichuan University (do not be put off by the language barrier - he has lots of adventure stories to convey despite this!), the atmosphere is the friendliest in the entire town. You'll know you're in the right place when you see his outdoor terrace with permanent umbrellas over a tiny bridge. His sign reads 'flowerfeaterstage'. If you speak Mandarin, call 13881805958 or just wander over. This is the best place in town for backpackers or flashpackers alike. Free wifi. Good access for walks into the countryside or up the paved pathway up the scenic stream.
Take the minibus out of town that you used to get into town.