Fenghuang is a well-preserved traditional village in the western Hunan province. Also called the Phoenix Ancient Town, Fenghuang is a fantastic place to visit for a long weekend trip or a stop-by on your way through Hunan.
I first heard about this city my first year teaching in China – my university students always told me it was one of the most beautiful places in China, and I finally had the chance to see what they meant.
With beautiful riverside buildings, old temples, traditional Miao culture, picturesque mountain surroundings, and an amazing night-time atmosphere, there’s so much to see in this little town!
HOW TO GET TO FENGHUANG
There are no trains to Fenghuang – only buses. You can take a bus from Zhangjiajie, Changsha, Huaihua, or a few other Hunan cities. I took a bus from Zhangjiajie that was about 3.5 hours long.
WHAT NOT TO MISS IN FENGHUANG
While it is not the easiest place to get to, I think Fenghuang is 100% worth a visit if you’re looking for a more traditional Chinese city that not many foreigners visit.
Recommended Time in Fenghuang: One to two days is plenty of time because the city isn’t very big and can easily be walked in a day. If you have more time you can visited the Great Southern Wall of China or attractions outside the city of Fenghuang.
Entrance fee: free! There is a ticket you can buy for 148RMB that will get you into several temples, some ancient buildings, and a boat ride. I highly recommend not buying the ticket! If you’re just there for a day or two there is plenty to see and do for free. You can still walk everywhere and take photos of everything.
Here are some things you should not miss in Fenghuang!
THE PHOENIX STATUE
Fenghuang means “Phoenix” in Chinese. Legend has it that two phoenixes flew over the city and didn’t want to leave because it was so beautiful.
THE STEPPING STONES
Fenghuang has a famous stepping stone bridge stretching across the river in the middle of the city. If you walk by it at a lucky time not many people will be there, but other times the bridge will be crazy packed.
When I went to the stepping stone bridge these three ladies were doing this super cute walk across it together. FRIENDSHIP GOALS. I snapped their photo and went to show them the photo (My Chinese is finally at a level where I can communicate basic ideas haha.) They were so nice and asked if I could send them the photo! I then asked if they could help me take mine.
Asking Chinese people for help taking photos is quite an experience and they were so sweet helping me, blocking off the bridge from other people to help me take some photos!
SEE THE MIAO ETHNIC MINORITY
Many people in Fenghuang are of the the Miao Ethnic Minority in China. You’ll see lots of people wearing the traditional clothes of the Miao people and you can pay a fee to dress in the clothes and take photos.
EXPLORE THE STREETS
There are tons of little alleys and old streets waiting to be explored! I spent a lot of time wandering around taking photos, trying some snacks, and browsing local shops. It’s a very laid back place (aside from lots of tour groups).
Little fish pedicure shops are all over the streets of Fenghuang! If you’ve never tried one before, it’s a unique experience. These fish will nibble at your feet – it tickles a bit at first and is a little strange, but really fun! You can pay around 30 RMB for 30 minutes and relax after walking around.
I thought it was really funny and ironic that next door to this shop was a restaurant with big fish tanks where you could choose which fish to eat instead of the fish nibbling on you! Classic China.
SIT BY THE RIVER
If you’re tired of walking, sit by the river. There is so much activity going on and it’s nice to people watch or just enjoy the beautiful atmosphere!
Fenghuang is beautiful during the day, but the night-time is when it really comes alive! The entire riverside area lights up and there are tons of restaurants and bars that will play live music and have parties. It’s a fun atmosphere!
I ventured into a place and ended up becoming friends with some nice Chinese guys inside. They asked me to join their table and enjoy the live music. It turned out one of the guys was the owner and I asked if the singer would take requests. They said yes of course! And they played 平凡之路 (Ping Fan Zhi Lu) and 夜空中最亮的心 (Yekong Zhong Zui Liang De Xing) for me.
As the night went on the owner had to help run the place, but he and his friends were so fun and hospitable. After a few more songs he asked me if I would sing a song – all my Chinese KTV experience prepared me for this moment. I sang my favorite Chinese song Ni Zhan. I asked if he knew any English songs and he said “Yes, I know Baby!” So he asked me to sing Justin Bieber later, too.
It was just a super fun low key Chinese bar and it was the perfect way to enjoy Fenghuang at night.
TIPS FOR FENGHUANG
It’s a bit hard traveling to smaller cities in China, especially in the Hunan province where not many people speak English. It can be a confusing process making sure you get the right bus tickets, directions, etc., so here’s a few tips.
Plan ahead and be prepared! Don’t be afraid of trying off-the-beaten-path places in China like Fenghuang. Just make sure to do careful planning ahead of time, get all locations and addresses in Chinese, and make sure you have an offline translation app. Just like traveling anywhere, some people may take advantage of the fact that you’re unfamiliar with the local culture and language, but many Chinese people are extremely helpful and kind.
Take an interest in their culture! Chinese people love to see that you are trying, even if your Chinese is very bad or you don’t understand everything. I had the best time meeting local people and Chinese travelers. Fenghuang isn’t easy to get to, so not as many foreigners will travel here. Seeing a foreigner here, especially a girl by herself, was so interesting to many Chinese people and I was asked for lots of photos.
Going early is not always best here! I had one full day in Fenghuang and planned to wake up early because I though it would be better for photos. It was so packed around the river area though because of all the tour groups!
The best time is actually afternoon time right after lunch when everyone goes to rest and get away from the heat. I was able to take so many more photos.
One place at 8:30 a.m. in the morning…
…and the same place at 3:00 p.m. that afternoon!
MAKE A TRIP TO FENGHUANG
I really loved Fenghuang and understand why so many people told me to come here! I enjoy seeing traditional Chinese buildings and walking around old streets taking photos. Fenghuang is a photographer’s paradise. The riverside buildings, ancient streets, hanging lanterns, narrow alleys, and surrounding mountains create the most amazing photo opportunities and I’m glad I finally had the chance to capture them. The people I met here also made this trip so wonderful!
If you have the extra time to travel here, I highly recommend you add Fenghuang to your China Bucket List!