Fenghuang Ancient Town

Complete Guide to Fenghuang Ancient Town in China

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Chances are you landed here after seeing beautiful photos of the mystic Fenghuang Ancient Town on Instagram or Pinterest. Or perhaps you’re looking for a unique place to visit in Hunan Province in China and stumbled upon Fenghuang this way. Whatever the case, Fenghuang Ancient Town is a stunning place, and you won’t regret a visit. To make sure you get there safely and don’t miss the most important things to see, here’s the ultimate guide to Fenghuang Ancient Town.

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Why visit Fenghuang Ancient Town?

Fenghuang is probably one of those picturesque places that are on every China traveler’s bucket list. The town is famous for its distinctive architectural remains of Ming and Qing styles.

It is also worth noting that the city is under Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture administration, making it an ideal spot to visit minority villages or try minority food and the like. The town is placed in a mountain setting, incorporating water’s natural flow into the city layout. 

Over half of the city’s residents belong to either the Miao or Tujia minorities. This is one reason why Fenghuang Ancient Town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008.

Even though the town experienced serious floodings in July 2014, I did not damage the buildings when I visited. Everything seemed normal and as it should be.

The word Fenghuang translates to Phoenix, which is why the city is also sometimes referred to as “Ancient Phoenix Town.”

How to get to Fenghuang Ancient Town?

There are different options to travel to Fenghuang Ancient Town. Depending on where you are coming from, the best options might be traveling by plane or long-distance bus. Since there is no train station in Fenghuang, the train isn’t the best choice for most travelers. The nearest railway stations near Fenghuang are Jishou, Huaihua, and Tongren. You can take direct long-distance buses from all of these stations to Fenghuang.

Getting to Fenghuang by long-distance bus

The best option for traveling to Fenghuang Ancient Town is generally the bus. There are two options when traveling from Hunan’s Capital Changsha: Changsha West Bus Terminal or South Bus Terminal. You can take a long-distance bus directly to Fenghuang from both terminals.

If you are also planning on visiting Zhangjiajie, you could fly into Zhangjiajie Hehua Airport, spend a few days in the area and explore the beautiful mountains. Then, you can take a bus to Fenghuang from Zhangjiajie Bus Terminal. Buses to Fenghuang leave daily at 8:00 AM and 2:30 PM.

There are also many other long-distance buses to Fenghuang Ancient Town from other cities around China. You can check available options on this bus ticket website.

Getting to Fenghuang by plane

The nearest airport from Fenghuang is Tongren-Fenghuang Airport in Guizhou City, about 30 kilometers from Fenghuang Ancient Town. The airport is quite small and doesn’t have a lot of air traffic coming and going. If you arrive at this airport, you then need to take a taxi to Tongren Bus Terminal and then a bus to Fenghuang. Another option by air would be flying into Changsha Huanghua International Airport. From there, you can take the airport shuttle bus to Changsha West Bus Terminal or South Bus Terminal to take a long-distance bus directly to Fenghuang. 

Getting to Fenghuang by train

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of taking a train from Changsha to Huaihua instead of going to Fenghuang directly by long-distance bus. Taking the train took me a lot longer than a long-distance bus journey would’ve taken. For example, it took over 7 hours to travel to Huaihua from Changsha. The train left at 2:30 in the afternoon, and we arrived at around 10 PM in Huaihua. Then, we looked for a hotel near the bus and train station and took a bus to Fenghuang (a 1-hour trip) the next morning. 

Therefore, I highly recommend taking a long-distance bus directly to Fenghuang.

What to do in Fenghuang Ancient Town

There’s a lot to see and do in Fenghuang Ancient Town. To truly get a feel of the place, I recommend simply wandering around the old town and narrow alleyways without much of a plan. Fenghuang Ancient Town is not that big, so you will naturally come across the town’s most beautiful attractions.

Fenghuang Ancient Town is ideal to get away from the busy life in Chinese megacities. Simply stroll around the narrow alleys, try local food, and experience the local way of life.

Tip: Remember the city is located in Hunan so if you cannot eat or don’t want to eat spicy food, make sure to tell the waiters not to make it spicy or they will add lots of chilies!

Don’t make the mistake and only go to Fenghuang as a day trip. At night, the city transforms into something even more beautiful.

Tuojiang River

Tuojiang River dominates Fenghuang Ancient Town dividing the town into a northern and a southern part. As a tourist, Tuojiang River Boating (沱江泛舟) is a must-do highlight of this charming ancient town. When you take a boat along the river, you can see the stilted buildings and the famous Wangmingta Tower. You will feel like a part of a painting from an ancient dynasty.

At night Tuojiang River is a great place to enjoy the many colorful lights and lanterns from the buildings reflecting on the clear river. Due to its incredible beauty, Tuojiang River is mentioned in several ancient Chinese poems.

 

Address: Tuojiang Town, Fenghuang County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours:  all day

Wanmingta Pagoda

This seven-story pagoda is one of the main attractions of Fenghuang. It is located on the north bank of Tuojiang River and was first built in 1776 during the Qing Dynasty.

Each story of the pagoda has six sides with copper wind chimes hung on every corner. The tower is 21 meters high and its face is decorated with paintings and sculptures. The main gate, which faces the Tuojiang River, has the words “万名塔(Wàn míng tǎ )” engraves. This translates to “The tower with ten thousand names”.
 
Address: No. 24, Shawan, Tuojiang Town, Fenghuang County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours:  all day

Phoenix Hong Bridge

At the center of Fenghuang Ancient Town sits Phoenix Hong Bridge (凤凰虹桥), also known as the Rainbow Bridge. This picturesque bridge was built in the year 1368, connecting the northern part of Fenghuang with the southern part over the Tuojiang River. The bridge is two floors high, with an art shop on the second floor, where you can buy traditional arts and crafts, like calligraphy paintings from the local area.

The bridge is not only incredibly beautiful during the day but should also be on your list at night when the lights are shining along the river.

Chinese tourist attraction destination - Feng Huang Ancient Town (Phoenix Ancient Town) on Tuo Jiang River illuminated at night. Hunan Province, China

The Former Residence of Shen Congwen

This 100-year-old house from the late Qing Dynasty should also be on your list of places to visit in Fenghuang Ancient Town. The former home of Shen Congwen, one of the greatest modern Chinese writers, was built in 1866 and is a perfect example of Qing architecture with elaborate decorations all around the building.

Inside the home, you can also look at various handwritten letters, manuscripts, portraits, and other memorabilia by Shen Congwen. As one of China’s greatest writers, his former residence has become a popular place to explore in Fenghuang Ancient Town.

 

Address: No. 24, Zhongying Street, Fenghuang County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone:   0743-3212437
Opening hours:  7:30-18:00

Gate Towers in Fenghuang Ancient Town

In the old times, there were four gate towers in Fenghuang Ancient Town. Today, only gate towers in the east, north, and west remain. The East Gate Tower and the North Gate Tower are the most popular two and should be on your list when visiting Fenghuang.

The East Gate Tower (东门城楼) is the oldest gate in Fenghuang Ancient Town. It is 11 meters high and has eight gun holes used by the guards to protect the city. I highly recommend climbing up the tower and overlook the city below – it’s like traveling back in time!

 

Address: Dongzheng Street, Fenghuang Ancient City, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, West Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours: 7: 30-18: 00 (summer), 8: 00-17: 30 (winter).

 

The North Gate Tower (北门城楼) was built in the Ming Dynasty and was the office site of the leader of the village. This tower is situated right at Tuojiang River banks next to the Stepping Stones, a unique connection of the two village parts.

 

Address: in North of Fenghuang Ancient City, Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours:  all day

Tuojiang Stepping Stones

Right next to the North Gate of Fenghuang Ancient Town, you can find the famous Stepping Stones (跳岩). This is a unique river crossing made by two rows of square stone piers. As the name implies, you cross the crystal clear water of Tuojinag River by stepping on the stones. The Tuojiang Stepping Stones is also one of the most popular photo spots in Fenghuang. Come in the early morning, and you might even spot a woman dressed in traditional Miao clothing jumping over the stones with a basket on her back.

 

Address: in North of Fenghuang Ancient City, Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours:  all day

Stilted Houses (Diaojiaolou)

Fenghuang is probably most famous for its stilted houses. These over 100-year-old houses site on the banks of Tuojiang River on both sides of the Phoenix Hong Bridge.

The  Duocui Building (夺翠楼) is the tallest and most well preserved of the stilt houses. More and more of these old stilt houses are disappearing due to their weak foundations. However, you can still admire many of them up close by taking a boat tour on Tuojiang River.

Come here in the early mornings just before sunrise, and you will be rewarded with a subtle mist plus soft, golden light. This is the perfect time for taking pictures here. The stilted houses are equally impressive at night when their glow of dim lights reflects in the water. There are several guesthouses in a stilted building where you can spend the night.

 

Address: in the South of Fenghuang Ancient City, Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province
Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315
Opening hours:  all day

Longevity Palace

The Longevity Palace (万寿宫) is located near Wanming Tower just outside Fenghuang Ancient Town’s east gate. According to the Feng Shui Theory, this is the perfect location for the palace. The complex was built in the Qing Dynasty during Emperor Qianlong’s reign in 1755 as an Assembly Hall for businessmen in Fenghuang. Today, the palace functions as Fenghuang’s Folk Custom Museum.

 

Address: 19, Shawan, Qijiang Town, Fenghuang County, West Hunan Province

Phone: 0743-3502059

Opening hours: 06: 30-18: 00 in summer, 08: 00-17: 30 in winter

Yangjia Ancestral Temple

Yang Family Ancestral Hall is a major attraction in Fenghuang Ancient Town. The temple is situated between the East Gate and the North Gate and covers an area of 770 square meters. The house was built in 1836 by Yang Fang, the Prince of the Qing Dynasty teacher and part of one of the wealthiest families in Fenghuang.

The Yang Family Ancestral Hall’s entrance gate faces Tuojiang River, which, according to Feng Shui theory, brings good fortune and prosperity to the family. 

Today, the two-sided house serves as an exhibition hall for Miao culture daily necessities and crafts.

 

Address: No. 9 Laocai Street, Tuojiang Town, Fenghuang County, Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, Western Hunan Province

Phone: 0743-3502059,0743-3223315

​Opening hours: 07: 30-18: 00 in summer and 8: 00-17: 30 in winter.

Where to stay in Fenghuang Ancient Town

I visited Fenghuang right after the high-season and did not book a hostel or hotel beforehand. When I arrived, a woman who owns a guesthouse approached me and showed me her rooms available. I stayed in a double room for 80 RMB. The location was convenient and close to the river. However, I later discovered that there are a lot of cute guesthouses directly at the river overlooking the water, and most of them also have a balcony. These rooms are ideal for couples and also relatively cheap at around 120RMB per room. I wished I stayed in one of those instead for the romantic river vibes.

You can also book a room before you arrive to save time looking for somewhere to stay. This is also recommended during the peak season.

Here are some great places to stay in Fenghuang Ancient Town:

Don’t fall for the scams!

I heard stories about “entrance tickets” you “need” to buy to get into the “historical center” of the city – not true in my experience. Not at one point, was I offered a ticket to enter the city. These “tickets” are apparently quite expensive (around 200 RMB) and supposedly grant you access to the historic center of Fenghuang. Do not fall for this scam! There are no tickets needed to wander around the city!

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Fenghuang Ancient Town

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

13 Comments

  1. CrazyChineseFamily on September 24, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    It looks really great there. Good that at your visit was not the “ticket for special area” scam. I have seen it several times though of course did not pay anything. Even at the terracotta warriors I had it when I visited however few minutes later security came to take these men in (which failed as they scattered in all directions and vanished in the mass of people)…

    • lindalindsch on September 24, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      wow seriously? i really didnt witness anything. But it was end of the high season maybe that’s why!

  2. Marta on September 24, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I heard lots of people saying that Fenghuang is awfully crowded with tourists so you were totally right going there in low season! The pictures look very nice. I just have one question: is it really an old town, or has it been fully renovated, theme-park style, like many other ancient towns in China? It looks kind of too shiny and spotless to be true, hahaha.

    • lindalindsch on September 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      yes i was lucky! i think it’s really an old town. Because the new town and city are surrounding this old part. But the buildings do look really old expect for some few exceptions! I can recommend it! it’s very romantic!

  3. RealGunners on September 25, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    Looks properly ancient, awesome! What would make it better would be 2 kungfu experts dueling with swords on the bridge 😀

  4. Shelby @ The Fernweh Wolf on November 13, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    I’m going here in two weeks!! So excited! Do you know the name of the guesthouse you stayed at? I booked one through booking.com but there’s not to many review on it!

    • Linda D. on November 20, 2016 at 6:27 pm

      Hi Shelby! I don’t remember. I actually didn’t book it but walked in and the lady seemed nice. However, I’d suggest you stay at one of the cute places directly at the river. They have beautiful balconies right at the river! There should be plenty of vacant rooms when you get there 🙂

  5. Derek on March 19, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Hi Linda! I will be heading to fenghuang ancient city this april! Cant wait to see the old town. Thanks for the tips!

    Wang from ShinyVisa
    https://www.shinyvisa.com

  6. Marie Everaerdt on July 18, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    Wow, this looks great! I’m planning a trip for the first week of september and now it’s definitely on my list. Now I have to figure out how to get there from Shanghai 🙂

  7. Climb Abroad on September 16, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Wow! Thanks for the info! We’ll be visiting in late October and your advice will come in handy!

  8. Jackie S. on January 6, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    Fenghuang is a beautiful place to visit! I love the views of the stilted houses along the river. Thanks for the helpful tips on avoiding scams too.

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