Phoenix – FengHuang (鳳凰) Ancient City, China

We first learnt of this place through the paintings of the Chinese artist Wong Wing Yuk who has based many of his paintings on his home town Fenghuang or Phoenix City.

Fenghuang is the Chinese for “phoenix”, the king of  birds in legends, which is a good omen symbolizing longevity.

It is an ancient community located on the western edge of Hunan Province. This is like the Venice in the Orient;  an example what a village by a river was like before the date of modernization: timber boats, simple river crossings, Chinese style buildings on stilts, traditional food and tribal people dressed as if this place was frozen in time.

The charm of Fenghuang goes beyond the natural beauty. We first  took a stroll of the city, admiring at the ancient architecture. Some of the streets were paved with cobble stones. To our delight, we found a shop selling preserved pig head, meat and field rats.

We walked around the picturesque lanes and little squares. Then we went up to top of the city wall to have a good view of the Tuo river. The Tuo river was not deep , and the water was very clear. Locals cross the river by walking on a series of stepping stone blocks in the river.

Fenghuang was built  a few hundred years ago and restored quite a few times. It was one of the military outposts of the empire, built to keep the minority people Miao in check. But the most characteristic of Fenhuang are the houses along the river, built on timber stilts, with several floors, balconies and windows overlooking the river. We took a boat trip on the river, viewing timber houses leaning out onto the river, watching the locals doing their washing and cleaning vegetables in the river and all the comings and goings you expect or not expect on the river.

Going up and down the river, we were happy at the revelation of more and more river scenes, each one quite different to the other. We took more photos and were impressed with the covered bridge arch crossings above the water (top photo).

When the moon has risen and the place was almost completely dark, all we could see were the traditional red lanterns hanging from each of the timber houses and the faint outline of the distinctive tops of the buildings. We knew it was already late and we should be heading back to our hotel. We also knew we have covered one of the places we should see before we disappear from the face of this earth.