Hongjiang (洪江古商城) is a maze of narrow alleys interconnected via a series of cobble-stone stairs. This ancient town on the banks of the Yuan River (沅江) is one of the three major ancient town of Western Hunan. The now popular Fenghuang in the north acted as a military stronghold, the nearby town of Qiancheng was a regional political center and Hongjiang was a business town.
In November 2013, the highway that is now linking western Hunan (湘西) province's major towns was still under construction. It's after a painful five-hour bus ride from Tongdao that I arrived in Qianyang (黔阳), a small town I had never heard of. Like every town in this remote part of a landlocked province, Qianyang (which is also called Qiancheng 黔城) did not look attractive at all.
Everyone travelling between the ancient business town of Hongjiang and the infamous Fenghuang must change in Huaihua. Besides the regular bus, there is a fleet of illegal taxis waiting near the river to drive you north. Before going to the most crowded and popular ancient town of China, I had set my mind to stop in Jingling (荆坪) on the way to Huaihua. Explaining to the driver where was that ancient village and negotiating the fare was burlesque and the driver finally gave me that ‘why that crazy foreigner wants to go this forsaken village I never heard of’.