China: Fenghuang Ancient City

When I set about visiting China, my mission was to get to Beijing from Vietnam. In doing so, however, I didn’t want to simply trek the beaten path from Hong Kong, to Shanghai and up to the capital. China is a huge place, filled with many people, and there is no way I’d be able to see everything but I wanted to at least knock off a couple of sights and get a bit of variety other than major cities!

This invariably meant heading inland in a zig-zag fashion from Hong Kong. I pegged my first major stop at a place called Fenghuang, in the Hunan district of China. It was quite a mission getting there, as I couldn’t go direct; the process involved 2 nights, several trains, a bus and lots of pointing and head scratching whilst looking at signs written in Chinese. I stopped off at a couple of places I picked on the map to break up the journey, Hengyang and Changsha. I wouldn’t recommend going to either unless you just need to in order to transit somewhere else. You can tell that I’m not alone in thinking so; I didn’t see another white person the entire time, and the locals were even more fascinated by the sight of me than they usually are.

Classic Chingrish sign at one of the stations.


For the record, to get to Fenghunag I went along this route from Hong Kong:

Subway to Shenzhen (35HKD)
Metro to Shenzhen West station (7CNY)
Bullet train to Hengyang (318CNY, 2nd class seat)
Stay in Henyang (100CNY + Chlamydia)
Train to Changsha (28.5CNY, hard seat)
Stay in Changsha (30CNY)
Bus to Fenghuang (145CNY, vomit / cigarette / spit seat).

I’ve got to say, one thing that I’ve notice is it seems like the entire place is constantly under construction. Some massive project is always on the go, and a lot of the place looks like its either being built up or being demolished. However, there are still loads of great sights to be seen also.. Fenghuang, for example. When I arrived at the bus station, my GPS told me I was only 2 or 3 km’s from the hostel I’d booked, so I decided to walk in lieu of forking out an increased tourist price to a taxi driver. Fenghuang’s ancient town is hidden right down by the water so at first it looked like I’d made all the effort to come to nothing special. Those thoughts were soon discarded as I turned a corner and looked down the river to the ancient city.


This is how I envisioned it to be! Buildings propped up by stilts, classic Chinese tiling, the works.


I checked in to my Hostel (Bajie Youth Hostel) and was immediately invited to come and drink tea on the river with Sasa and the others staying at Bajie.


Fenghunag is apparently a major tourist destination for the Chinese. I was the only white guy there that I could see, but there were loads of Chinese tourists from other parts of the country. I’ve heard that during the holidays this place becomes unbearably rammed, so I’d recommend going in the off-season like I did.

The place really comes alive at night!


Fenghuang has a really chilled vibe to it. I wasn’t hassled at all unlike other parts of China, even though it’s a tourist spot. The hostel was only 35CNY a night, making it an affordable place to go and visit. Sasa and the others invited me to join in making and eating dumplings the first night I was there, which I accepted without hesitation, of course. I’d recommend staying there, they’re super friendly and inviting.


You can kill several hours just walking around and exploring all the little side streets, checking out the sights and eating street food.



Pig face, anyone?


I took a good bite out of what I thought was a drumstick, before realising that I was holding the beak of a duck’s head and the crunchiness was a skull.


The Chinese are all about the photos, man. People were queuing up to don a fur vest and hold a wooden gun.


One night myself and a few others from the hostel managed to break in to the actual ancient town part, which usually costs 150CNY for a 48 hour pass. You don’t need to get this pass and go there by any means, most of these photos are taken from the free area. It’s worth checking out that your hostel isn’t in the paid part, however.




In summary, I’d definitely recommend coming here if you’re in China. It’s chilled out (in low season), has good views, great food and enough to keep yourself occupied with. It’s also pretty close to Zhangjiajie nature park (next post), which is another must-see.


  • Stay at Bajie Youth Hostel! The people are rad.
  • Check the location of your hostel and make sure it’s not in the part you have to pay extra to get in to.
  • On maps, the Chinese often call Bus Stations ‘Car Station.’