arrival in fenghuang: the phoenix ancient town

Wednesday, January 21:  We arrive in Jishou on our overnight train at about 6:30 a.m. and immediately are accosted by numerous taxi drivers trying to charge us unreasonable sums to take us to the bus station, where we need to catch an hour-long bus to Fenghuang.  One honest fellow points us down the street to the bus station, which is only a block away!  The station is barely a hole in the wall and we almost miss it as we walk down the street.  It’s the chaos pouring out onto the street and the large board listing the bus times that alert us to its location.  We try to buy a ticket for the bus but are sent out to the back, where we board a bus bound for Fenghuang.  A few moments after we’ve loaded our luggage under the bus, someone instructs us to get off that bus and onto another bus which is nearly full.  Buses don’t leave the station until full, so we’re lucky to be moved to the other bus, otherwise we would have had to wait awhile.  We drag our luggage out and move it to the new bus.  As we’re the last passengers to board, the bus immediately takes off.

In Fenghuang, there is no bus “station,” only a big parking lot.  There a solitary taxi driver is waiting and wants 20 yuan to take us to the Ancient Town. In Nanning, I pay a taxi driver about 15 yuan to take me through the congested city traffic from the Railway Station to the campus, and as I know Fenghuang is a small town, I tell the driver we’ll pay 15 yuan.  Of course when I say “tell,” I mean he’s showing me a 20 yuan bill, and I’m showing him a ten and a five. He refuses, so we in turn refuse his offer and walk toward the street, which is some distance from the parking lot.  I can see it will be a battle of wills.  He keeps following us and flailing his 20 yuan in our faces, and I keep shaking my head, insisting on only 15 yuan, and telling Mike that we’ll just pull our suitcases to the street.  This goes on, the hard-headed taxi driver, and hard-headed me, playing cat and mouse and refusing each other’s offers until finally the taxi driver relents and agrees to take us for 15 yuan. Just as I imagined, it isn’t far and it certainly isn’t even worth paying 15 yuan for the ride.  He drops us along the bank of the Tuo Jiang River, and points vaguely in a direction across the river and north.  Mike and I struggle down a steep muddy bank with our suitcases.  Fenghuang is a walking town, so the driver can’t drive us to the door of our hotel.

We cross a bridge over the river to the Ancient Town, which is spread out all along the river.  We have no idea how we will find our hotel, the Fenghuang Melody Inn.  Finally, we show the name in Chinese to a person walking along, and we are pointed in the right direction.  The hotel is right along the river.  Here’s our room with the view.

Our room at the Fenghuang Melody Inn

Our room at the Fenghuang Melody Inn

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from our hotel balcony

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from our hotel balcony

Tuo Jiang River

Tuo Jiang River

It’s early and we’re hungry, so we go out into the town immediately in search of breakfast and coffee. We find a cute coffee shop but it doesn’t serve food, so we move on to another one.

First stop: a coffee shop

First stop: a coffee shop

We find another coffee shop.  Neither does it serve food, but we stop anyway for a cup of coffee.

Me all bundled up in the coffee shop - Photo taken by Mike

Me all bundled up in the coffee shop – Photo taken by Mike

We had earlier passed a friendly lady serving up boiled eggs and dumplings, so after our coffee, we make our way back to her little hole-in-the-wall cafe.  We pass this enticing set on stairs on the way.

stairs beckon in the Ancient Town

stairs beckon in the Ancient Town

The smiling lady invites us into her cute little breakfast spot.  We order up some pork dumplings and boiled eggs and she gives us a paper bowl full of chopped green chilies.  We also put some soy sauce into another cup.  This is a surprisingly tasty breakfast.

Where we finally find some food

Where we finally find some food

Our breakfast: boiled eggs and pork dumplings dipped in chopped green chili

Our breakfast: boiled eggs and pork dumplings dipped in chopped green chili

After breakfast, we take a leisurely walk back to our hotel to take showers since there was no chance for showers on the overnight train.  Later, we go out to explore the town.

According to China Travel Guide: Phoenix Ancient Town (Fenghuang): ‘Fenghuang’ is Chinese for ‘Phoenix’, the mythical bird of good omen and longevity that is consumed by fire to be re-born again from the flames. Phoenix Ancient Town is so-called as legend has it that two of these fabulous birds flew over it and found the town so beautiful that they hovered there, reluctant to leave.

Ancient & modern

Ancient & modern

The town sits on the western boundary of Hunan Province and claims to being one of the two most beautiful towns in the whole of China; the other town is Chang Ting in Fujian Province.

preparing for the day

preparing for the day

The town has been modernized somewhat, with cute little businesses offering enticing goods for sale.  I’m especially mesmerized by the colorful lanterns, but I’m not about to buy anything on the first day of our travels.

lanterns beckon

lanterns beckon

People in the town are hard at work from early morning until late in the evening.  Most people carry things in baskets or on carts, as there is no room for cars on the cobbled streets.  Some people do drive their motorbikes through the streets though, keeping us pedestrians on our toes.

Hard at work in the streets of Fenghuang

Hard at work in the streets of Fenghuang

The Miao ethnic minority is predominantly settled here. The Miao women dress in traditional blue garments set off with a white scarf. They love also their silver jewelry especially during festivals.

a Miao woman

a Miao woman

We pass this little restaurant along the way.  In front are some ducks with signs on them in Chinese.  There are also a lot of chickens and other animals in cages out front, including a porcupine.  I guess if you want your meat fresh, you can get it here.

a cute restaurant...

a cute restaurant…

Some of my followers on Instagram tell me that the sign behind the ducks says “Japanese not welcome here.”  I guess this is a common sentiment here in Fenghuang as we also see some other signs saying the same thing in English.  It’s disturbing that the Chinese feel this way and state it so boldly on the fronts of their establishments.

with ducks wearing signs.  And apparently, I'm told, that says "Japanese not welcome here."

with ducks wearing signs. And apparently, I’m told, that says “Japanese not welcome here.”

Hangdog face

Hangdog face

Every time I see the shops with lanterns, I so want to stop and buy one, but I have no desire to carry one around for the next two weeks.

more colorful lanterns

more colorful lanterns

enticing lanterns

enticing lanterns

There are so many cute shops and restaurants that the town is quite charming and colorful.

Another cute restaurant

Another cute restaurant

I have no idea what this place is, but I find it intriguing that it says in English “Raise High the Roof Beam, Moses!”

Raise Up the Roof Beams, Moses

Raise Up the Roof Beams, Moses

We come across some kind of little temple but it has no sign in English telling what it is.  It has a cute courtyard with a tree holding red ribbon wishes for longevity and prosperity.  There are some images of who I believe to be Confucius.  In one room there seems to be a Buddha image, which I wasn’t allowed to photograph.

Continuing down the street, we come to this building with colorful and elaborate woodwork.

And there are games of various types being played everywhere.  Here is a game of Mahjong.  As you can see, everyone is bundled up against the cold.

Mahjong

Mahjong

Fenghuang was home to the writer Shen Congwen (1902-88) who contributed greatly to modern Chinese literature. Venerated by the local residents, the one time home and tomb of this famous writer have become tourist attractions.

Shadows in Shen Congwen's house

Shadows in Shen Congwen’s house

Shen Congwen's house

Shen Congwen’s house

We stop in at the Museum of Ancient Town, where we see buildings with ancient architecture and woodwork and fancy beds and other furnishings.

Then we simply wander around the town, admiring the rooftops with their phoenixes curled up at the edges.

Streets of the Ancient Town

Streets of the Ancient Town

Streets of Fenghuang

Streets of Fenghuang

We happen upon some kind of celebration coming joyfully down the street.

Celebration of some kind - Photo taken by Mike

Celebration of some kind – Photo taken by Mike

After a lunch of green beans with pork and scrambled eggs with tomatoes, we go back to the room to rest a little before going back out for the evening.  We walk along the Tuo Jiang River, which is very muddy and has a lot of construction and dredging going on due to severe flooding of the town in July 2014.

Along the Tuo Jiang River

Along the Tuo Jiang River

Bridge over the Tuo Jiang River

Bridge over the Tuo Jiang River

Buildings lining the river

Buildings lining the river

After we have a rest, we head to the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot.  We climb countless steps to reach the top, where we find delightful surprises, including views of the Ancient Town and the Tuo Jiang River.  According to a sign at the Scenic Spot, it is “the first scenic spot in China to fully experience the Chinese Phoenix culture, with a history of 8,000 years.  Original ancient buildings such as pavilions, terraces, palaces, columns, bridges and drums, which are full of elements of the Phoenix culture and theme locations, are embedded in it.

“The Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot has accurately captured the 18 deities of the god bird, Phoenix, with a view to vividly present the profundity, mystery and beauty of the Phoenix culture of our Chinese nation.”

View of the rooftops of Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the rooftops of Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

View of the Tuo Jiang River and Fenghuang from the Phoenix Pedestal

Near the pavilion below, we find the following sign: No craving, no scarifying!

Pavilion at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Pavilion at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Me at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

Me at the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot

At the entry to the wooden swing bridge below, we find a sign with lots of instructions:
50 people limit.  No Shaking!
Break Step, Avoid Covibration!
Row Wooden Path.  Watch Your Step!

Mike walks across the swinging bridge

Mike walks across the swinging bridge

Jiujiu Heaven Steps are 99 steps in total.  Again, according to a sign at the scenic spot: “Nine is the largest odd number, which represents the god Phoenix who lives high in the 9th heaven. The structure of the heaven steps is magnificent in order to present the stately atmosphere of being close to the heaven.  The heaven steps are flanked by 18 towering nanmu totem columns which are hard to reach.  Many species of 100 peculiar birds are popular in the Xiangchu Civil Society, 18 vivid birds with different forms are sculpted and are combined with classic Chines phoenix totems.”

The Jiujiu Heaven Steps

The Jiujiu Heaven Steps

Some of the 18 nanny totem columns as you approach the Phoenix

Some of the 18 nanny totem columns as you approach the Phoenix

The prototype of the 9.9 meter Phoenix Pedestal is “the Huzuolifeng (the tiger is seated with the Phoenix standing atop), an uncovered relic of the Chu State in the Warring States period. According to the ancient records, the people of the Chu Nation respected the Phoenix by performing the sacrificial ceremony and the Phoenix representing the god would rise and reach to the heaven. The copper sculpture of the Phoenix has a simple appearance and light weight, attempting to fly. The god — the Chinese ancient Phoenix — is a combination of three auspicious totems: tiger, Phoenix and deer.”

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix

The Phoenix Fairy Tale is the “holy” Phoenix wish-making holy land. On a sign at the entrance to this charming and delightful area, I find the following: “One who has crossed the Wude Gate in Nanhua Shan has been purified by the five morals of Confucianism, namely Benevolence, Justice, Courtesy, Wisdom, and Trust, and is allowed to enter the forest to make wishes. The forest has five wish-making platforms surrounded by dozens of Chinese parasols used for hanging the Phoenix wish-making cards. After you clap your palms, close your eyes and purify your heart, the god Phoenix, together with the sun and moon, prays for the wishes of the common people.”

I am mesmerized by this magical area, with its parasols and woven straw bells containing wishes.  While there, a Chinese girl randomly asks me to pose with her.  She then asks Mike to do the same.  I wish I could read some of the wishes written here, but of course they’re all in Chinese.

The Phoenix Fairy Tale

The Phoenix Fairy Tale

We leave the Phoenix Fairy Tale and retrace our steps back past the Phoenix Pedestal.

One last glimpse of the Phoenix as the sun is setting

One last glimpse of the Phoenix as the sun is setting

Pavilion of the Phoenix

Pavilion of the Phoenix

Waning light at Fenghuang from the Phoenix Terrace

Waning light at Fenghuang from the Phoenix Terrace

After descending the mountain from the Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot, we take a leisurely walk along the opposite side of the river as the sun goes down.  We stop in for beer and a pizza dinner at a cozy restaurant called Soul Too along the river.

View of stilted buildings from the other side of the Tuo Jiang River

View of stilted buildings from the other side of the Tuo Jiang River

Colorful business

Colorful business

bottle decoration

bottle decoration

After leaving the restaurant, it’s dark outside and the town is all lit up.  It’s quite lovely with its reflections in the river.  Because the river is so muddy due to all the dredging work, I find the town more beautiful at night than during the day.

Nighttime views of Fenghuang along the Tuo Jiang

Nighttime views of Fenghuang along the Tuo Jiang

Nighttime along the Tuo Jiang River

Nighttime along the Tuo Jiang River

Finally, we make a stop for another beer at Soul Cafe, where we hear a young Chinese lady singing some melodic and romantic Chinese folk tunes.  It’s a lovely end to our first day in Fenghuang.

A Chinese girl sings folksy songs in a cafe

A Chinese girl sings folksy songs in a cafe

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Categories: Asia, Bus, China, Fenghuang, Fenghuang Melody Inn, Hunan, Jishou, Jiujiu Heaven Steps, Miao ethnic minority, Museum of Ancient Town, Phoenix, Phoenix Cultural Scenic Spot, Phoenix Fairy Tale, Phoenix Pedestal, Shen Congwen's house, Train, Transportation, Tuo Jiang River | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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20 thoughts on “arrival in fenghuang: the phoenix ancient town

  1. Did you leave a wish, Cathy? They look so beautiful. It must be fascinating reliving all these memories. It sounds very silly but I can’t believe how very Chinese it looks! Come on, own up – how many lanterns did you buy by the end of the holiday? 🙂

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    • No, Jo, I didn’t leave a wish. I should have, now that you mention it. As you imagine I was too busy taking pictures; I found it so magical! That’s funny you say that: it does look so very Chinese. In reality, I’m surprised at how much of China doesn’t look Chinese at all. That’s the result of modernization and getting rid of the traditional. I’m glad they’ve preserved towns like Fenghuang, otherwise all we’d see are big concrete featureless buildings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, and as for the lanterns, can you believe I never bought a single one? I kept saying I would toward the end, but in the end, I didn’t see any I liked. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You have so many wonderful adventures! How wonderful that you invite us to share them, thank you.

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    • Thanks so much, Carol. This has been an amazing 6 weeks. It will be fun to share. I get excited to have people come along on the journey, even after the fact and vicariously. 🙂

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  3. Such a colorful and interesting post! Love the details you included which give me even more of an idea of what to look for when I spend a week in Shanghai at the end of this month. Must say, those lanterns look very tempting!

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    • Thank you so much, Vivian. Oh, I think Shanghai will be much different than the places I’ve been visiting. Are you visiting for business or pleasure? I haven’t even been to Shanghai, but I’d love to go. 🙂

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      • My family lived there in the 20s-40s so it will be a heritage walk in their footsteps. I just wrote a little about it here on my site and will be posting photos and experiences as I go along. Rubbing elbows with 23 million people will be interesting. I am enjoying your posts on your life in another area of China.

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      • That will be an interesting trip, Vivian. I’ll have to follow along on your journey. You’ll be surprised how crowded 1.3 billion people (I guess 23 million in Shanghai?) feels; but it’s not as bad as India. I can guarantee that. 🙂

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  4. Phew I am exhausted Cathy – this is a long post! Far too many photos for me to comment on, though I will say I like the night-time photos of the river better than the day-time ones. I sincerely hope that you and Mike were travelling light!

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    • I can’t say I ever travel “light,” Jude, as Jo can attest to. The river in Fenghuang looks very muddy right now because they’re doing a lot of construction and dredging due to a big flood there in July of 2014. I liked the nighttime pictures too, but the next day I got some better ones of the river in daylight. 🙂

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  5. What incredible pictures! I loved all the bright colors and then got to the night photography, which was equally wonderful. Thanks so much for all the time and effort in sharing.

    Mike’s certainly getting a good view of how things do (i.e., don’t) work around China between the buses, meals, etc. Hopefully he’s a good sport about it. It’s a great opportunity for both of you to explore a different part of the world.

    Nancy

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    • Thanks so much, Nancy. Luckily, Mike is a good sport, although it’s not the sort of holiday he would usually seek out. It was a fun time for us to explore part of China together, although we had really bad luck with weather, as you will see in coming posts. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This is the China that I imagined, you must have really enjoyed it! In one picture the stilted buildings look really precarious, the poles look like they are going to topple, but perhaps its the angle of the photo. I would struggle to not buy a lantern too, they are so pretty -not that I’d know what to do with it back home 🙂 I hone they manage to continue to preserve this town.

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    • Thanks so much, Gilly. I think you’re right that those stilted buildings do look really precarious. I think especially so after a big flood the town had in July 2014. I can’t believe in all my travels, I never bought a lantern, just because of the logistics of carrying one. I hope I can at least buy one before I leave China. I would definitely use them in my home in Virginia. I hope the Chinese continue to preserve all the ancient towns in China, but with the rapid pace of modernization, I’m sure many will be destroyed.

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  7. Again, I am struck by how much colour there is everywhere! I love the lantern shops too – I would find them very hard to resist I think.

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  8. Your night shots are amazing!! How did you do that? I just get blurry blobs of light in darkness! Were the photos taken on your iphone??

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    • Haha, I used the posts and fences along the river to sit the camera on, kind of like a tripod, to get those pictures. I was happy how they turned out. I used my Olympus PEN. Thanks! 🙂

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