The Cultural Hotspot that Appears Plucked Straight out of a Fairytale: Fenghuang

If you’ve ever felt the desire to lose yourself in another fantastical realm, we have found the place for you. Fenghuang, which means “Phoenix,” is an ancient county in China that has become a hub for artists due to its immense, picturesque beauty.

Its name derives from the myth borne out of old India in which the sacred bird sets itself on fire upon reaching the age of 500, only to be reborn from its ashes.

According to legend, it was noted that the Mountain on the southwestern side of the Fenghuang town resembles a flying Phoenix, and with that, it was decided that the town would be named after this majestic bird.

Fenghuang city, Hunan

Although it was founded in 1704 during the Qing Dynasty, the historical town remained overlooked by travelers for quite some time, allowing it to retain its original structure.

Set in the majestic landscape of the Western Hunan province, surrounded by mountains, this land permits its visitors today the unique ability to get a glimpse at what pre-modern civilizations may have looked like.

The captivating, romantic aesthetic

The town is comprised of wooden houses on stilts —called “Diao Jiao Lou”—that surround the Tuojiang River.

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It is said that these structures are built so elevated because when the Chinese people first moved to the mountains, they were plagued by beasts, reptiles, and insects that reside in the grounds.

To avoid this, and get the most light as possible into their houses, they began to craft them on stilts.

Fenghuang at night

Another unique facet that will have you feeling as if you’ve stepped back in time are the old, stony streets made with greenstone-pavement; here you’ll find vendors selling all types of traditional Chinese foods, including street meats and dumplings.

The fantastical town is brought alive by its mysterious culture, upheld by its mixed population comprised of Miao, Tujia, Han, and Hui people. The Miao people, in particular, are known for their traditional dances, including the flower drum dance, an enriching, ethnic experience to be enjoyed by all.

Landmarks to keep an eye out for

Longevity Palace

This beautifully complex structure features over twenty halls, mansions, chambers, pavilions and a stage. Here visitors can learn about the history of the people of Fenghuang, specifically the Miao and the Tujia groups. Emphasized are their traditional dress, customs, paintings and the work of sculptor Huang Yongyu.

Heavenly King Temple

Considered the supreme court of the Miao homeland. Apparently, the Miao people were forced to come to this temple to eat blood when they did not listen to a ruling made by their county’s government. Visitors today will find the addition of an impressive Jade Emperor Pavilion.

Fenghuang city, Hunan, China

Xiangxi Border Great Wall/ South Great Wall of China

Built predominantly during the Wanli period of the Ming dynasty so that the rulers may suppress the Miao people by keeping them bound to a particular region. This impressive line of defense spans 190 km, and with its 3 meters of height, it’s even taller than the one in northern China. It starts at the military camp Xiqueying and finds its end in Huanghuiying.

Yellow Silk Bridge Castle

Complete with a watch tower, this castle was built by the government during the Tang dynasty to protect its people. The edifice is considered the most well-preserved castle in China.

Activities to do there

Take a boat tour along the Tuojiang River. Spanning 96.9 km, the river flows west to east, around the red bricked city wall.

It provides the opportunity to observe the country from a different perspective. Out on the water, tourists are provided with a unique glimpse at the authentic life of the locals who use the river to carry out their daily activities, like washing their clothing, fishing for food, and prepping for meals on the coast.

Fenghuang, Hunan

Visiting at the end of June? Join in on the Dragon Boat festival that occurs every year from the 20th to the 22nd and embraces the opportunity to take part in traditional, cultural activities like dragon boat racing or duck capturing.

Step into the childhood home of Shen Congwen, and see where it all began for the fiction and prose writer who has been named the greatest lyric novelist in modern China.

It’s time to get packing

With its otherworldly charm and storybook romance, there’s no wonder Fenghuang has quickly become a hub for artists looking for inspiration.

After all, can you imagine having any form of a creative block in a land that looks as enchanted as this? You’d simply need to look out your window and take half a second to glimpse at the Tuojiang River, or any of the places, before finding your flow.

The power of our surroundings is real, folks.

And if you don’t fancy yourself a creative on the hunt for inspirational locales to set up shop in, perhaps you identify more as a wanderer looking for a life changing the experience?

If that rings a bell, then we think you too are sure to find something valuable in a visit to Fenghuang. There isn’t anywhere else on this planet where you will find houses on stilts, is there? Not to mention all of the other goodies your eyes will get to feast on when you get here.

Fenghuang, Hunan

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to take the leap and buy that ticket to China, and if you’re already in China, all the better. We hope to see you in Fenghuang soon—and hear all your stories!

Before you leave China…

Hold on, there’s still one last thing we wanted to mention before losing you.

That is after you have had your fill of Fenghuang—meaning after you have explored every fantastical crevice of this region—make sure you head on over to the breathtaking national park Zhangjiajie for more fairytale submersion.

You won’t regret it, we promise! It’s the place on earth that looks like the floating Hallelujah Mountains in the Avatar movie.

Breath-taking Zhangjiajie

What are you most excited to see in Fenghuang? We want to know!

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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