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Fenghuang Gucheng

Hunan Province, 700km (435 miles) W of Changsha, 211km (131 miles) SW of Zhangjiajie

With over 300 years of history, Fenghuang Gucheng (Fenghuang Ancient Town), also known as Phoenix Ancient Town, is one of the best-preserved historical villages in China and listed as a World Heritage site in 2008. Settled in the far west of the Hunan Province, the ancient town was built at the foot of mountains and along Tuojiang River, following the natural flow of water like the Yunnan ancient town Lijiang. The Diaojiao Lou (traditional Chinese gabled wooden houses built on stilts), the river and the mountains form the incredibly charming and picturesque landscape.

Fenghuang got its present name in the Qing Dynasty. Tujia and Miao minorities inhabited the ancient town for hundreds of years and most of them still live in the way their ancestors used to be centuries ago.

The ancient town was also home of the respected modern Chinese author Shen Congwen (1902-88). His former residence, a courtyard house on Zhongyin Jie, is now a museum housing the author's authentic writings, photos, and possessions. Admission is ¥20. For tourist information, call tel. 0743/322-3315 or visit www.hnphoenix.com.

Getting There

Tongren Airport is 31 km (19 miles) from Fenghuang Ancient Town. It has flights connecting with Guyang, Chongqing, Shenzhen, and Guangzhou.

Two direct buses depart from Zhangjiajie Ke (Zhangjiajie Long Distance Bus Station) to Fenghuang at 8:30am and 2:30pm. The ride takes four hours and costs ¥82. Buses from Changshan to Fenghuang (5 hr.; ¥130) depart at 9am, 10:40am, 3:20pm, and 6pm. Buses won't take you directly to the ancient town, you have to take a taxi to Hongqiao when you get off, it costs ¥4 to ¥5.

From Zhangjiajie, the less convenient way is to take train to Jishou (2 hr.; ¥10 hard seat), then change buses to Fenghuang (1 1/2 hr.; ¥20).

Exploring Fenghuang Gucheng

Hongqiao (Rainbow Bridge), built in the Ming Dynasty over 600 years ago, is the ancient town's most well-known tourist spot. Strolling along the riverside and the narrow streets paved by flagstones early in the morning (before 7am) is one of the best moments to admire the real beauty of the ancient town. You see locals start their day by doing laundry, working out along the river, and old Miao women dressed in traditional blue outfits carrying goods in bamboo baskets on their backs to the market. It is fun and thrilling to cross the river through the stepping stones, Tiaoyan (Leaping Stones), and the narrow primitive bridge near the Beimen Matou (North Gate Pier). Gucheng Qiangcheng (the Ancient Town Wall), is located south of the river, between the North and East Gate. To see the Diaojiao Lou on both sides of the river and Hongqiao up close, small rowboats take tourists from Beimen Matou downstream. It costs ¥20 per person. At night, the ancient town is vibrant with pubs concentrating on Laoyingshao Jie, between the Hongqiao and Tiaoyan section.

Where to Stay

Plenty of guesthouses and inns operated by locals provide basic lodging in the ancient town. Most of them have two beds and a spartan bathroom and cost about ¥50 a room. For rooms with better facilities and at better location along the riverside, they can cost up to ¥200. Bargain with the guesthouses to get a better price. Phoenix Jiangtian Holiday Village (Fenghuang Jiangtian Luyou Dujiacun; tel. 0743-326-1998; fax 0743/326-1288. www.fhjt-hotel.com.), on Hongqiao Lu, is the only full-fledged four-star hotel in the ancient town. Rooms are clean and without much character and don't have river views. Turn left at the north end of Hongqiao and walk for about 50m (164 ft.) to the hotel. Yifeng Renjia Binguan (tel. 0743/642-9300 or 326-1266; fax 0743/326-1666) at Xiangxi Zhi Chuang Hebian E-2-111, Hongqiao Lu, has standard rooms that enjoy a charming view of Tuojiang and cost ¥380. They are mediocre in size and are decorated with tasteful bamboo lights and traditional Chinese-style wooden windows overlooking the river. However, it can be quite noisy as the hotel is at one of the busiest spots in the ancient town.

Where to Dine

Restaurants are everywhere inside the ancient town, offering Chinese food, noodles, and Western food. A number of small cafes offering western dishes such as pizza, pasta, and sandwiches as well as a variety of coffee and beverages can easily be spotted on Laoyingshao Jie. Western fare is comparatively pricey at about ¥60 to ¥100 for a meal for two. Or you can get a bowl of Chinese noodles for ¥5 to ¥7. Handmade jiangtang (ginger candy) is a famous snack of the ancient town. When the weather is good, candy makers twist and pull the soft ginger candy hanging on a giant hook outside the shops. A small pack of crispy ginger candy, with heavy or light ginger flavors, is ¥2 to ¥3. Zhang Shi Jiangtang Laozihao at Zhongyin Jie 12, near Sheng Congwen Residence, is one of the four most renowned ginger candy shops in the town.

Plenty of pubs are lined along the river. Most of them start to get swarming after 9pm and stay open until late.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.