The Most Charming City in China: Fenghuang


Stilt houses teeter over the winding river, boats are propelled by bamboo poles, stepping stones act as bridges, and the everyone is in a good mood in Fenghuang, China. Boasting a twelve-hundred-year old history with great Chinese leaders and artists claiming it as their home, Fenghuang is firmly on the Chinese tourist track (not the Western one, yet) but somehow all the giddy visitors didn’t make it feel mobbed, but rather alive, and definitely the place to be.

 

A City of Lights


As soon as our bus crossed the first bridge into town, every passenger gasped in unison. Bright lights lined every eave and awning on the riverfront and reflected back in the gentle water for a town so cute it felt fictional. This 300-year old bridge, seemingly floating on golden rings, is one of the river’s brightest stars.

 

Night Market


Fenghuang is said to be most spectacular at night…so to not waste any time, we checked into the first guesthouses we saw, dropped our bags and went right back out on the town. There are tons of adorable restaurants and bars but we couldn’t pass up the night market’s endless row of food stalls. BBQ is the specialty of town with dozens of varieties of vegetables and meat laid out by the grill for our choosing. Chile-braised eggplant, three types of mushrooms, zucchini, sprouts, tofu and green onions over rice with a bottle of Tsingtao…perfection.

 


We walked late into the night, mesmerized by the lights and the sheer energy of Fenghuang. Impromptu concerts were sparking up under bridges, costume photo sessions were at every viewpoint, and the river stairs looked like a packed amphitheater. We zigzagged our way home over every bridge, wanting to take it in from every angle.

 

Life along the Tuojiang River


In daylight we realized what a lush place this was, with rolling hills and emerald green water. Walking on the river path, we got a closer look at the spindly stilts that support the houses and day-to-day life on the water. Scenes of women scrubbing laundry, men fishing waist-deep, and seaman mending their bamboo boats were as fascinating as the architecture.

 

Fenghuang Locals


As touristy as it is, Fenghuang still has its share of fascinating locals—from the Miao and Tujia minorities with their huge embroidered hats to traditional Chinese gents like this.

 

Bamboo Boat Rides


The thing to do by day is undoubtedly to take a bamboo-powered boat ride. Tourists line up by the hundreds to brave the one rapid in town and get closer to the curious houses.

 

Strolling the Flagstone Streets


Off the waterfront, the town was just as charming with flagstone streets, ancient bridges, fruit stalls, and cafes. Note the girls in floral headdresses…this is definitely the cool thing to wear about town.

 

Stepping Stone Bridge


Fenghuang’s stepping stone bridge was quite possibly our favorite part of the river. Two rows of stones with water gushing in between act as the narrowest and diciest footpath. Mortar and handrails be damned, this way is so much more fun.

 

Fenghuang Fanfare


As you can tell we got completely swept up in the charm of this town but this photo about sums it up. After watching everyone get gussied up in these costumes and getting approached by a million photo touts, we broke down and joined the kitschy fun. Though I’m not sure who got a better laugh out of this–us or the swarm of Chinese tourists giggling at the sight of these two gweilos in full garb.

 

34 thoughts on “The Most Charming City in China: Fenghuang

  • March 15, 2013 at 6:55 pm
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    I love the photo of you two in the traditional Chinese garb. What are the names of the outfits you wore?

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    • March 25, 2013 at 12:43 pm
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      When you look past our goofy faces and notice the detail of the clothes, they are actually beautiful, right? It was the traditional dress of the local Tujia people.

      Reply
  • March 15, 2013 at 8:41 pm
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    wow – what amazing photo’s and this sounds like an amazing stop on your round the world trip!!

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    • April 10, 2013 at 5:47 pm
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      thanks so much rabbit….yeah the middle of China was always on my list, and having been there, we are so glad we made it happen. it would have been way easier to skip that part of China, as english is non-existent, but in the end we are so glad we visited!

      Reply
  • March 15, 2013 at 1:43 pm
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    Our Asia ´to-do´ list keeps getting longer with every post you put out! lol Loving hearing about it all!

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  • March 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm
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    Yet another beautiful post, and a reason for me to move my ass and get that damn visa into mainland !! Thanks guys !

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    • March 16, 2013 at 9:09 pm
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      Get that visa, Gui! You are going to love it! Fenghuang was actually
      your father-in-law’s recommendation. Please give him a big thank you for
      us!

      Reply
  • March 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm
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    I too like that traditional garb. And – hah – ‘also like that shot of the donkey climbing the steps & spilling the grain 😉

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    • March 16, 2013 at 9:34 pm
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      Love how you always pick up on the little details, Ken! With every stair that donkey lose a pound of grain…who knows, perhaps that was secretly his plan to lighten the load

      Reply
  • March 16, 2013 at 12:38 am
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    What a cute little town! We have yet to venture deep into mainland China but will certainly be adding Fenghuang when we do. Great photos guys – love the market shots

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    • April 10, 2013 at 5:46 pm
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      thanks so much Cam….yeah the center of China is so vast, but such a great place to explore…..while there is little english the region is so unique we loved exploring it!

      Reply
  • March 16, 2013 at 2:42 am
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    Hahaha awesomesauce! You even did the peace signs that they love to do 😀

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    • March 16, 2013 at 9:10 pm
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      It was totally cheesy but so much fun and yea, you’ve gotta do the peace sign ; )

      Reply
  • March 16, 2013 at 3:33 am
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    You two are deep in the heartland! Awesome stuff.

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    • March 18, 2013 at 10:33 pm
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      Central China and Western China is where it’s at! Shanghai and Beijing
      are lovely (posts on those coming shortly) but the spots we went to off
      the coast felt like such exciting uncharted territory!

      Reply
  • March 17, 2013 at 4:35 pm
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    Wow, it looks really beautiful! Never heard of Fenghuang before, but its definitely on my travel bucket list now. I totally forgot how stunning the architecture in China can be, and you captured it beautifully in both words and photos. It has been a long time since I was last in China and I didn’t get to explore it quite as fully as you guys have. This post has made me reminisce about my time there though. Would really love to go back there again one day.

    Hope you are having a great time! Looks like you are 🙂

    Natalie.

    Reply
    • March 17, 2013 at 11:00 pm
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      Natalie, there is so much to see in China, we are already plotting our return as well! So glad we could give you a nostalgic stroll down memory lane!

      Reply
  • March 18, 2013 at 7:07 am
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    Wow! I can’t believe I’ve never heard of this place before! it looks incredible. We’re planning to go to China in the summer, and Fenghuang is so getting included in the itinerary now! It may be touristy, but it looks really magical.

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    • April 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm
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      Jessica, that is so cool you guys are going to China….we really hope you have a blast. make sure you do LOTS of train rides (less flights). and yes, definitely hit Fenghuang, and make sure to do some late night karaoke and drinking along the river, its a great party town.

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  • March 18, 2013 at 10:09 am
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    Those food sample keychains look real! As always, your night photography is excellent. Kitschy can be fun if everyone’s having a good time, and it looks like they were–especially with the photos in garb.

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    • April 10, 2013 at 5:44 pm
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      yeah, tell me about it. We almost bought that bacon (made of marble), it was so real! thank you guys for the compliments on the night photography…it is especially challenging considering we don’t lug around a tripod with us. and yeah, kitschy can, and usually is, a good bit of fun 🙂 – huge smiles to you guys!

      Reply
  • March 19, 2013 at 2:57 am
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    As always, extraordinary photos and stories from parts of the world most of us will never see! Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    Reply
    • April 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm
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      we actually found out about this great city from our good friends Nancy & Guillaume in Hong Kong….always fun getting tips from locals 🙂

      Reply
  • Pingback: Best in Travel: Charming Fenghuang, Jobs for Travelers and Steps for Pre-International Travel | WildJunket MagazineWildJunket Magazine

  • March 20, 2013 at 7:07 am
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    Best in Travel: Charming Fenghuang, Jobs for Travelers and Steps for Pre-International Travel | WildJunket MagazineWildJunket Magazine commented on HoneyTrek Site:

    […] heard of Beijing and Shanghai of China, but have you heard of Fenghuang? See why Fenghuang is so charming – […]

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  • Pingback: You Know You're in China When.... - HoneyTrek Site

  • May 16, 2013 at 2:33 pm
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    Thanks a million for your China posts and travel inspiration! We’ve just moved to southern China and are compiling a list of musts – you guys seem to have a similar travel sense as we do (though we also tote around two toddlers with us), so you’re a great resource.

    Reply
  • May 29, 2013 at 11:27 pm
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    I love the costumes and the interesting houses along the water!!!

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  • June 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm
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    I wish I made it there when I was in China! How charming :). Those outfits really suit you two!!

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    • June 30, 2013 at 7:22 pm
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      Yeah this city was one of our favorites. Actually an insider tip when we were in Hong Kong with @facebook-688780304:disqus. Glad you liked those duds 🙂

      Reply
  • June 4, 2014 at 1:24 am
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    I loved visiting here and we stayed at the same guest house you did! We had to take a plane, a train, and a bus but it is so incredible and cool to a regular disabled traveler like myself. Just an amazing place.

    Reply

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