Phoenix town Fenghuang and surroundings
Hunan province is known for its ancient towns. Among all of them, Fenghuang, the Phoenix town, is definitely the most popular one. And it is also one of the most popular tourist spots in China. With its beautiful architecture rippling along the river, and many beautiful bridges across it, it deserves it. It is very popular place to go after visiting Zhangjiajie mountains since it is so close. There are many direct tourist buses going directly from Zhangjiajie city to Fenghuang, or you can take a train to Jishou city and than take just half an hour long tourist bus-line which goes every 10 minutes to Fenghuang. There are many things to do and to see, many architectonical attractions you need to buy ticket to, many shops, restaurants and teahouses. However you should discover this place in the same manner as a writer would (many famous Chinese writers really lived her, for example Shen Congwen). Aimlessly browse the narrow streets and admire the quiet life. Sometimes sit down for a cup of tea or maybe a coffee – there are so many Western cafes here today.
Shen Congwen (December 28, 1902 – May 10, 1988), formerly romanized as Shen Ts'ung-wen, was one of the greatest modern Chinese writers, on par with Lu Xun. Regional culture and identity plays a much bigger role in his writing than that of other major early modern Chinese writers. He was known for combining the vernacular style with classical Chinese writing techniques. Shen is the most important of the "native soil" writers in modern Chinese literature. (Wikipedia)
As the Chinese began to travel, commercialism has enslaved many places. Today, in Fenghuang you can see dozens of cafes, bars, restaurants, shops, and even discoteques. In every entrance you can find something different. Nevertheless, the city is still a pleasant place to visit. Loud music is relatively isolated in the middle of the town and after half past eleven it is quiet (or it was when I was there). We were lucky that we were traveling during the Mid-autumn Festival. Chinese do not travel at this time; it is a festival of family reunion. Thanks to this, in Phoenix town (what the name literally means), we experienced peace and quiet. Our small hotel had a poetic name – ‘hotel washed in the first morning sunlight’. It was the tallest building, built just opposite a hill, behind which the sun rises. Therefore, the roof of our hotel was the first building in the whole town that was lit by the sun – hence the name.
The atmosphere of this hotel was exactly like its name – poetic. The owners were incredibly nice and they invited us to feast with the family. We really felt like we were part of their home. The Mid-autumn Festival really is a festival of family reunions. Grandmother made a great dinner, mom was taking care of a two-year old baby, the father was drinking beer with us and the cousin as well. Grandpa was eating a freshly roasted duck. In addition, we were throwing some meat to a puppy called Tiger, which eagerly accompanied us during the whole dinner. If you do not mind modernization of a classic Chinese village or the superficiality of a commercial life and you seek some beautiful traditional architecture, pleasant ambience, comfortable hotels and Western cafes, this is a city to spend a week. There are no words for the peacefulness and the unique atmosphere of this city. If you want, you can also do some interesting tours around. For example, go see the so-called South Great Wall of China. It is not as long as the Northern one, but it is very similar and equally majestic.
If one is looking for a small town, where the commercialization and the comfort of nice hotels is not as intense as it is in Phoenix town, I recommend for you to visit Lotus town – Furong town. This nearby ancient village is older and smaller than Fenghuang. There are significantly fewer tourists, and those who come are just passing by. They rarely stay overnight.
This place is indeed smaller than Fenghuang, but it is just as magnificant. Houses are built on a cliff above the river, and a beautiful waterfall flows between them. Under a waterfall there is a path, so you can see the waterfall literally from all sides. Walking under it is refreshing, since during the summer it is pretty hot there. There are specially designed tourist trails in the town, which are carefully marked. But you can turn away and go to places where there are no tourists at all. You can sit down with locals and chat about whether they like the fact that soon they will have the same fate as Fenghuang. The authenticity of Chinese traditional villages is rapidly disappearing.
Some wonderful tours are here as well. You have to see Red Stone Forest! It’s three and a half million years old. It is not as vast as the stone forest in the Yunnan province, but it is beautiful and without tourists. Admission is already included and it is quite high to tell the truth. But you can barely see any people. Inside the park there are no shops, no vendors, no McDonald’s. They are beginning to build them, so you should come quickly. Very soon there will be the same crowds as there are in Yunnan.