Possibly one of the most beautiful ancient cities in China, Fenghuang of Hunan Province features all the ancient charm of traditional Chinese architecture, a rich history, and culture, all staged along either side of a beautiful river with lush green mountains as a backdrop. It’s otherworldly compared to China’s booming mega-cities.
Fenghuang, often referred to as Phoenix town, dates back to 1203AD and in 1715 the city was revamped via a makeover in stone featuring stone paths, buildings, and a 2km stone wall that surrounded the city. Inside the 1.8km sq area, with the Tao River at its center, there are 300 traditional homes, 20 streets, 10 lanes, temples, wells, stone bridges all beautifully preserved.
It is now a popular tourist destination but remarkably, it has managed to keep all its charm. In amongst all the visitors crawling over everything and snapping shots along the river, there are still people living their everyday lives in the same way as there ancestors, the Miao minority. The traditional cultures of the Miao are alive and well, perhaps thanks to tourism and that it’s a small community somewhat separated from China’s modern progression.
The first amazing fact about the old town is the welcome absence of commercialism. While there’s plenty of shops inside the traditional buildings selling locally made products, you won’t find McDonalds, Starbucks or KFC or even the Chinese equivalents. Also, I cant remember seeing an ATM, I’m sure there is one but you may want to bring enough cash.
You can freely wander around the city and enjoy the magnificent views but some of the scenic attractions will ask for an entry fee, or you can buy a single ticket that gets you access to everything. Just wandering around and taking in the peaceful existence of the locals going about their daily lives, the beautiful stone architecture and the houses on wooden stilts that line the river is a great way to easily fill a day or two.
For eating there’s plenty of stalls selling the local specialty, ginger candy plus there is plenty of restaurants selling local fare, usually spicy, there’s also a couple of eat streets lined with food stalls offering up barbecued meats and vegetables, noodles and more.
Chinese Name: 凤凰古城 (Fenghuang Ancient City)
Main attractions: Shenfeng Cultural Area 神凤文化景区, Tianjiatang Temple 田家祠堂, Shen Congwen Graveyard 沈从文墓地, North Gate Ancient City Building 北门古城楼, Chen Dounan House 陈斗南宅院, Ganjiang Diaojiaolou 沱江吊脚楼, Wenchangge Pavillion 文昌阁小学, Ancient Cobblestone Streets 石板老街, Wan Ming Tower 万名塔, Qifengshan, Wishing Pavilion 奇峰山, Wulong Mountain Scenic Area 乌龙山风景区, Lijiang River 沱江, Hongqiao Fengyulou 虹桥, Shen Congwen’s Former Residence 沈从文故居, Xiong Xiling’s Former Residence 熊希龄故居, Chaoyang Palace 朝阳宫, Wanshou Palace 万寿宫, Qiliang Cave 奇梁洞, Huang Siqiao Ancient City 黄丝桥古城, Shujiatang 书家堂古堡, Lijiang River Rockfall 沱江跳岩, Guantian Miao Village 关田山苗寨, Ximen Gorge 西门峡漂流, Miao Museum 苗族博物馆
Getting there: There appears to be a rail line under construction but at the moment the only way to Fenghuang is via bus. You can catch a train to Changsha, Jishou or Zhangjiajie from which there are regular buses running to Fenghuang.
Train NO: T8308 / T8309 Changsha(AM08:30) – Zhangjiajie(PM13:07) – Jishou(PM14:56);
Train NO: T8310 / t8307 Jishou(PM16:25) – Zhangjiajie(PM18:04) – Changsha(PM22:47);
Changsha to Zhangjiajie costs 87 yuan taking over 4 hours
Changsha to Jishuo 119 RMB and 6 hours.
A bus from Jishou to Fenghuang takes around 1 hour, a bus from Zhangjiajie takes around 4-5 hours. Many people do a loop like such Changsha-Jishou-Fenhuang-Zhangjiajie-Changsha. Wulingyuan near Zhangjiajie is apparently well worth the visit, it’s on my list for next time.
You can now catch a fast train to Huaihua South Station in Changsha, the journey takes 1h 36min and costs begin at 149 RMB. There are buses that then take you from the Huaihua South Station to Fenghuang costing 80 RMB and about 80 mins. Departure times for those buses are 9:00, 10:00, 11:30, 13:00, 14:00, 15:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00.
Accommodation: It’s hard to beat the accommodation along the river, many of which have balconies overlooking the river.
Map featuring my picks for the top 5 places to stay in Fenghuang