Is Fenghuang the most beautiful town in China?
Hunan Province – The old town of Fenghuang means Phoenix Ancient Town and claimed to be “the most beautiful city of China“. It was built around 1700 during the 43-year reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, and it is located in the western border of Hunan and by the riverside of beautiful Tuojiang River.
A legend said that two of these mythical birds flew over it and found the Fenghuang Town so beautiful that they hovered there, reluctant to leave. The town is breathtaking, the old city wall with the eastern and northern gates and the ancient buildings displaying the distinct Qing Dynasty style are still well preserved.
It’s also home of the ethnic group Miao people that retain their customs and culture from centuries ago. It’s common to see Miao women dress in traditional blue garments with a white scarf, plus silver jewellery or batik cloths, which are made and sold in Fenghuang ancient town.
The government of Fenghuang County decided to develop the tourism industry after the South Great Wall was discovered in 2000. In 2008 the old town was added in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
We spent 2 days here during our Hunan trip, and it was an unforgettable stay, with no doubt a highlight of this Province and the whole of China either.
The best and easy way to enjoy its old and narrow alleys paved with flagstones and decorated with lanterns is by a walk around them. All the main attractions are quite close to each other.
Our favourite excursion was the short cruise on the peaceful Tuojiang River. The river flows across the town, and with a boat tour, you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the wooden stilt houses called “Diaojiaolou” which were built half suspended over the river to keep them safe from the spring floods.
Top attractions through Fenghuang
1) Hong Qiao bridge
Also known as Rainbow Bridge, initially called Wohong Bridge (wind and rain bridge) was built at the centre of the old town during the Ming Dynasty with a long history of over 600 years.
It was designed in three-arch stone and two-story (at 2° floor there is an art gallery with fantastic works of calligraphic and painting), and from its windows, you’ll enjoy a magnificent view on the river’s stilt houses that reflect their shape in the river.
A terrible flood destroyed the bridge in the 3rd year during the Republic of China (1912 -1949), and it was renewed with the name of the Rainbow Bridge. The bridge is charming at night when all the lights are on at the same time reflecting on the river.
2) Yang Family Ancestral Hall
It is a traditional “Courtyard-House” with buildings that surround a rectangular or square central courtyard and the only one in Town among all the 24 halls in Fenghuang County.
Built in 1836, it lies just inside the city wall on the south bank of the Tuojiang river and its exterior is covered with slogans from the Cultural Revolution.
3) The former Residence of Xiong XiLing
It is an old historic house with a typical traditional Miao style architecture. Here, you can see the living environment and also imagine the scene of the daily life of Xiong XiLing, the first Premier of the Republic of China from July 1913 to February 1914, born in Fenghuang in 1870.
He was a Chinese scholar, reformist, politician and philanthropist of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China. The house is still furnished with the ornate wood furniture of the late 19th century.
4) East Gate and North Gate Towers
Built in 1715 the East Gate tower is a two-storied architecture with a height of 8 meters and one of two Qing Dynasty towers in Fenghuang.
Entering into the main hall of Tower, you’ll find the statue of Guanyu, a famous and significant figure of the Three Kingdoms period.
The East Gate, built in a semi-arch style, is one of the four grand gates of Ancient Fenghuang Town. It was initially called Shengheng Gate and still boasts 3.5 meters in width and 4 meters in height.
The other is the Tower of the North Gate that stands near the centre of the city’s northern wall. The gate looks like a half-moon arch, with the package of two doors. Linked with the East gate wall, it was a solid barrier of the ancient city with military defence and urban flood control function.
5) Former Residence of Shen Congwen
It was constructed in 1866 AD by the grandfather of Shen Chongwen, one of China’s most celebrated modern writers that brought national fame to Fenghuang County. Today it is mostly a shrine to the author’s life, and it consists of 11 chambers with delicately-carved windows and a courtyard paved with red bricks.
6) Longevity Palace (Wanshougong) Fenghuang and Folk Custom Museum
Located at the bank of Tuojiang River in Shawan Scenic Area, it was a building complex, composed of more than 20 halls, mansions, chambers, pavilions and an ancient stage, now turned into the folk Custom Museum. It is the right place to go if you want to know exciting things about the local culture with its displays dedicated to the clothes and cultural artefacts of the Miao and Tujia ethnic groups.
7) Chongde hall
It is a typical southern courtyard built in 1884 by Pei Shoulu, an immigrant from Jiangxi Province and the wealthiest resident of the town. He put here on display his collection of antiques that consists of carved wood lintels, decorative woodwork and inscribed wooden wall plaques.
8) Boat trip on the Tuojiang River
It is the must-do highlight in this charming place. It is a great way to have a better view of the stilt houses lining the banks. With a boat tour, you’ll feel to be a part of Fenghuang Ancient Town, beautiful like a landscape painting.
Now and then you could see locals using the river water to wash their clothes as well as vegetables. Boats run regularly from the pier near the town’s North Gate to Wanshou Temple.
9) Night-time walking along the river
A night walk is another highlight not to be missed. Strolling along the river lined by the old buildings and the Rainbow bridge nicely illuminated will leave you amazed. Here you’ll also find restaurants and café to enjoy some free time.
10) Dongzheng shopping Street
It is a 500 meters long typical stone slab street with many handicraft stores that are characterised by a profound ethnic minority style. Here you’ll find batik stores, calico stores, tie-dyeing stores and dyeing workshops as well as silver workshops and painting studios.
Other attractions through the town are the Temple of Heavenly Kings (here you’ll enjoy a great view on the city), the Dacheng Palace, Chaoyang palace and the Wamming pagoda. It’s also worth visiting the Southern Great Wall, a majestic defensive wall and one of the most magnificent ancient defensive architectures in China (the only one in the south). It’s located 10 km away from the city. Another attraction is the Huang Si Qiao Castle, built during the year 687 of Tang Dynasty for military use and said to be the best-preserved stone castle of China, located 24 km away of the city.
Need to Know about Fenghuang
1) Admission Fee
Entrance to the old town is free of charge and the combo ticket valid 2 days to visit the main attractions is RMB148, around 23$ (including 10 attractions: Former Residence of Shen Congwen, Formal Residence of Xiong XiLing, Yang Family Memorial Temple, East Gate Tower, Boat ride on Tuojiang River, Longevity Palace, Chongde Hall, Fenghuang Ancient City Museum, Hong Bridge Art Museum, Shenfeng Scenic Area of South Huashan)
2) Where to sleep
The old town is plenty of accommodations from well-equipped hotels to economic hostels, and it is quite easy to find a room without booking. I slept at Government Hotel, 10 minutes walk from the riverside. I suggest checking on Trip.com, an excellent tool where you can find great deals for China and Asia.
3) Getting there
There are regular buses from Zhangjiajie, Changsha, Jishou and Huaihua. The Tongren – Fenghuang Airport is located 30 km away from the city (from here you can take a bus – 1 hr ride). Click here to check prices and timetables.
4) Local Specialties
The batik painting is very popular, which is a symbol of the Miao nationality’s handicraft. Shops also sell many varieties of Chinese tea, a vast array of silver jewellery and ornaments and handmade tie-dyes and souvenir.
5) Local Food
The food is often spicy, and pickled red peppers are a local delicacy; however, it’s the ginger candy that is the real speciality of Fenghuang. Made with ginger root and hot sugar, these candies are delicious and, according to local tradition, can ward off a cold or settle a stomach. Do you need info about Fenghuang restaurants? Check the reviews on TripAdvisor.
6) Travel insurance
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