Fenghuang (Phoenix) Ancient City is a very well preserved town with its unique ethnic customs and Ming and Qing architectural styles in the western boundary of Hunan Province. For the Chinese, the phoenix symbolizes immortality and good omen. Legend has it that two phoenixes flew over the town and found it so beautiful they were reluctant to leave.
The Ancient City stood frozen in time with narrow stone-paved alleys, old bridges, and houses built on stilts all still in use today. It is a wonderful example of what villages in China looked like in the bygone eras. Over half the population here belongs to the Miao or Tujia ethnic minorities and many women of the older generations still dress in their traditional garments.
We visited Fenghuang in conjunction with our trip to Zhangjiajie. It was a good four and a half hours drive from Zhangjiajie. The closest airport is Tongren Fenghuang Airport about 45 mins away but very few flights operate from there. We spent two days wandering around the ancient city, although very commercial, still was beautiful especially when all lit up at night. There is an entrance fee which grants you a boat ride and entrance into ten cultural spots inside the ancient city. It would be hard to not pay the entrance fee as there are checkpoints in the main parts of the city.
There are many hostels inside the walled Ancient City but we opted to stay about 15 mins walk away at a more modern hotel. It was helpful to hire a local guide to show you around the main cultural spots because there are no clear street signs so it is quite easy to get lost. The first thing the guide recommended that we do was the boat ride along the Tuojiang River. After the boat ride, we went to the upstairs salon of the Rainbow covered bridge for some tea and this is a great photo spot of the Tuojiang River.
Some of the other cultural spots we visited were the old city wall, a few museums and some old houses, but my favorite was just wandering around the city and watching the locals going about their business.