China’s Most Beautiful Town, Ancient Fenghuang

Ancient Fenghuang is an exceptionally well-preserved town and sits on the western border of Hunan Province. It is in an area with exceptional natural beauty where mountains, water, and blue skies prevail. Upon arrival, you will be captivated by its air of mystery, elegance, and primitive simplicity.

Located on the banks of the Tuojiang River (Tuojiang, 沱江) this old town has kept its original appearance from the Qing Dynasty 300 years ago. The bridges that sit over the water, along with the unique houses built on stilts, display a harmony that is often portrayed in traditional Chinese paintings.

The ancient town of Fenghuang has over 300 culture heritages spanning 1300 years, such as Huang Si Qiao Castle, the best preserved stone castle which was built in Tang Dynasty (year 687). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The ancient town of Fenghuang has over 300 culture heritages spanning 1300 years, such as Huang Si Qiao Castle, the best preserved stone castle, which was built in Tang Dynasty (year 687). (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The town is legendary for its unique ethnic languages (more than half the population belong to the Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities), customs, and arts, and also because of its distinctive Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty architecture. When the early morning mist arrives, it’s not hard to see why the claim of being the most beautiful town in the whole of China is more than justified.

The town was the only path between Huahua, Jishou (Hunan province) and Tongren (Guizhou province) once making it a rallying point for politicos, warlords, bandits, and the local Miao minority people in its ancient history. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The town was the only path between Huahua, Jishou (Hunan Province) and Tongren (Guizhou Province), once making it a rallying point for politicos, warlords, bandits, and the local Miao minority people in its ancient history. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Ancient Fenghuang can be divided into two parts. One is the old town, while the other one is new town. The old one leans against hills and faces the crystal-clear Tuojiang River flowing through the city, and it is the main tourist area in the county. The new town is the normal residential area for local people.

Why Phoenix?

“Fenghuang” is Chinese for “Phoenix,” the mythical bird of good fortune and longevity. It is said that the Phoenix set itself on fire when it was 500 years old. However, it was reborn from the ashes and is now immortal.

Compared to Western images, the Chinese phoenix was not a remarkable bird and its plumage was very ordinary. (Image: krun via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Compared to Western images, the Chinese phoenix was not a remarkable bird, and its plumage was very ordinary. (Image: krun via wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0)

As for how the ancient town got its name, legend has it that two of these magnificent birds flew over it and found the town so beautiful they hovered there, reluctant to leave.

How to get to ancient Fenghuang

Ancient Fenghuang is located in the southwest of Hunan Province, bordering the cities of Huaihua to the southeast and Tongren (Guizhou) to the west. It is 37 km away from the nearest city, which is Jishou.

The center of the ancient city was built in the year 1704 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dynasty, with the Tuo River dividing it. It was originally called Zhen’gan until 1913 when it was re-named Fenghuang. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

The center of the ancient city was built in the year 1704 during the reign of Emperor Kangxi of  the Qing Dynasty, with the Tuo River dividing it. It was originally called Zhen’gan until 1913 when it was re-named Fenghuang. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

To travel to Ancient Fenghuang, you can take a train from the Shanghai South Railway station to Jishou, and then take a bus to the ancient town, or travel by plane from Guiyang (Guizhou Province) to the Tongren Fenghuang Airport.

Don’t accept the free services or gifts. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Don’t accept the free services or gifts. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Travel tips

  1. Never open your umbrella while in local peoples’ houses
  2. Don’t step on the door sills of a house owned by a local family
  3. Male and female cannot sleep in the same room when staying overnight as guests
  4. Don’t whistle in the residential area of Miao Nationally and Tujia Nationality, as locals believe it’s the sound for calling ghosts together
  5. Before you enter the ancient town, make sure you have plenty of paper money, because in the ancient town of Fenghuang, coins are unpopular
  6. Never touch or get too close to married women in the residential area
There are a number of remarkable old gardens as well as distinctive residential buildings, elegant bridges and mysterious towers and pagodas. These architectural delights date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1644-1911). (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

There are a number of remarkable old gardens as well as distinctive residential buildings, elegant bridges, and mysterious towers and pagodas. These architectural delights date from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1644-1911). (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Be aware of traps

  1. Take care for the butter-tonsiled drivers and service suppliers
  2. Never trust someone selling cheap tickets or “perfect extra itineraries”
  3. Don’t accept free services or gifts (like the joss sticks and candles burning at a temple), as you will end up paying more for it
Fenghuang ancient town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008 in the Cultural category. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Fenghuang was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008 in the Cultural category. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

From April to late October is the best time to visit; November to March is quite cold. There are a lot of choices for accommodation in Ancient Fenghuang, from well-equipped hotels to economic hostels.

If you are looking for well-equipped hotels, you can find them around the ancient town’s scenic area, within walking distance to the ancient town. If you want to save money and stay inside the ancient town scenic area, you can book a hostel inside the ancient town, which are operated by local residents.

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