Like you can’t leave a restaurant after a fine dining before trying out their signature dessert, similarly you will regret to leave Zhangjiajie if you don’t spend a day at the most beautiful ancient town of China – Fenghuang. We spent the day 1 awestruck by the Avatar Hallelujah Mountains and our day 2 was shared between the Yellow Dragon Cave and the surreal Tianmen Mountains. Given that our departure flight out of Zhangjiajie was late in the evening on day 3, we knew that we could not say ‘zai jian’ to Zhangjiajie before experiencing Fenghuang.
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- Bus is perhaps the most common transport to reach Fenghuang from Changsha, Jishou, Huaihua, and Zhangjiajie. There are 4 buses per day from Zhangjiajie where the tickets would cost around 70CNY with a journey time of around 5 hours one way. Given the fact that we had a flight to catch the same evening, we had no other way but to hire a private taxi which took us to Fenghuang after a 2.5 hour drive, waited there all day, and then brought us back to Zhangjiajie Airport in late evening for our flight to Xi’an. Private taxi hire was around 1000CNY for the whole day.
- Fenghuang is best explored on foot, it would take around 4-5 hours to thoroughly enjoy the old town.
- If your time and itinerary permit, you can very well stay right in the heart of the old town, there are several bed and breakfasts lined up along the river Tuojiang.
Lets discover Fenghuang!
All of us may be well aware of the ‘Made in China’ labels on our clothes, electronic items and what not. Many of us are made to believe that what real China itself is made of – is high-rise buildings as seen in promotions of big cities such as Shanghai or Beijing. But if you really want to know what the soul of the most populous country of this planet is made of – you need to find yourself one fine morning in the most ancient town of China – Fenghuang.
Situated in the western boundary of the Hunan province, the town has a history of more than 300 years and has added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. The town takes its name from the imaginary phoenix birds known for good omen and longevity and ‘Fenghuang’ means ‘Phoenix City’. Folklore says that two of these phoenix birds were flying over and they found the town to be so beautiful that they kept hovering there and were reluctant to leave.
It is likely that you will agree with the phoenix birds as soon as you set foot along the river bank in the ancient town. Contrast to the concrete jungles in support of China’s rapid urban development, Fenghuang had the magic to transport visitors to centuries ago in a flash. We started walking along the bank and climbed the stone bridge to get a breath-taking view of the Rainbow Bridge. It was clear that the Tuojiang river had been flowing as the lifeline of this picturesque town for centuries. A new and modern township did eventually grow around the river bank but Fenghuang held on to its simplicity and authentic rural charm.
We started walking through the many narrow alleys while the locals were going about their day to day business. Shop-keepers, hoteliers, street vendors – everyone was getting ready to welcome another group of visitors to their precious old town. Given that Fenghuang is still not featuring on popular foreign tourist route plan in China, we realised that we were outnumbered by the domestic Chinese tourists who came in flocks as usual.
There were old houses and restaurants supported by wood planks on the river banks, where traditional boats were ferrying visitors in a meditating pace as if not to disrupt the tranquility. The flagstone alleys laid out unusual delights and sights at every turn – starting with a temple in one corner to a restaurant with a live performer singing English songs with a guitar in hand. This fine balance to preserve heritage while allowing Western styles and visitors to carefully blend in was so delicately intertwined in Fenghuang.
Talking about fine balance, we got onto the concrete stepping stones laid out over the river connecting both sides of the banks. Quite a balancing act it was as people were passing from both directions. We held on to each other while the smooth stream of the River Tuojiang kept flowing gently beneath us. For a moment, we felt as if we were the two phoenix birds so much in awe with the old school charm of Fenghuang that we did not feel like leaving! So make sure you include Fenghuang in your upcoming travel plan to China and see for yourself if you become one of the phoenix birds or not!
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