Feng Huang Cheng (Phoenix Town)
The legend goes that Phoenixes were holy birds of ancient India that burnt themselves at 500 hundred years old in the aromatic trees and then were revived much prettier and immortal from the dead ashes. Chinese also view them as the king of birds and cherish a respectful feeling for them. Phoenix Town, as its name suggests, may leave a lasting memory on travelers. It is actually a famous national historical and cultural city, and one of the two most beautiful small towns in China mentioned by the well-known Zelanian writer Rewi Alley. (The other is Changting, Fujian Province).
Phoenix Town, also called 'Tuojiang Town', gets its name from a hill in the northeast which is shaped like the bird. Covering an area of over 1,700 sq km. (420 thousand acres), the town is mainly inhabited by Han, Tujia and Miao ethnic groups, with a total population of 370,000. Located on the main thoroughfare between Hunan and Guizhou, it has functioned as a strategic point in the past and still plays a pivotal role in the transportation today.
Described as 'A city farthest from the public and nearest to the heart' by Rewi Alley, the town will impress visitors with its primitive and harmonious nature. Just close your eyes and imagine this picture: an emerald green river runs peacefully along the old city wall; in the center of the river is reflected a verdant mountain; beside the river overhanging wooden houses occasionally puff smoke. Suddenly the silence is broken by the giggles of women washing in the river or chiming of bells or beating drums, and from faraway can dimly be heard the songs of fishermen... You can easily be mesmerized by this picturesque place.
This river and mountain are the Tuojiang River and Nanhua Mountain, which are perfect spots to enjoy the peace and charm of the town. In addition to the distinctive local houses, the town is also full of many classical and cultural ancient buildings, such as the Former Residence of Shen Congwen (a great writer as Lu Xun), the Former Residence of Xiong Xiling (the first premier of the Republic of China), Yang's Ancestral Temple, the City Tower of the Eastern Gate, the Hongqiao Art Building, Chongde Hall, Wanshou Palace and Chaoyang Palace.
There are also many scenic spots outside but near the town. Qiliang Cave, about 4 km. (2.5 miles) north of the county, is a fantastic cave with various rock formations, like stalagmites, stelae and stalactites. It is also a good spot to explore labyrinthine caves and enjoy wonderful waterfalls and springs. Southern Great Wall, winding about 191 km. (119 miles), was built between 1554 and 1622 in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Called 'Ten-thousand-li-wall of Miao Territory', it was once used as the border in case of uprisings of the Miao people against the central government. Huangsiqiao Ancient Town, which has a long history of 1,300 years, was originally part of the Southern Great Wall and a battlefield between the Miao and Han people.
The surrounding scenic spots of Phoenix Town also include the so-called 'First Drifting Spot of the World' - Mengdong River and Hibiscus Town, Xiangxi Region; Zhangjiajie ; Dehang Miao Ethnic Village, Jizhou City; the verdurous Fanjing Mountain and the famous historical Zhenyuan City, Guizhou Province.
In Phoenix Town, the Phoenix Bonfire Party is a special entertainment that should not be missed. There you can enjoy the excellent ethnic programs of the Miao and Tujia peoples and mysterious ancient cultural performances like 'driving corpses'. The aboriginal music party is also worth attending, where you can enjoy the ethnic singing, operas and special sacrificial activities. (The two parties are held in the Phoenix Grand Hotel, 20:00-20:40 pm)
But Feng Huang Cheng's charm goes beyond the natural beauty. This ancient town has a history of 1,300 years and it has a number of old gardens as well as distinctive residential buildings, elegant bridges and mysterious towers and pagodas. In Feng Huang Cheng, tourists can also have a glimpse of the Great Wall. This section of the Great Wall was built in the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620) to defend against the local Miao minority ethnic group, which defied the central government at that time.
But today the Miao people live with local Han people. Visitors will find a large array of handmade items in the local shops, including silver accessories, homemade textiles, and batik fabric. Food here also has local flavor and pickled red peppers are a local delicacy.
To get to Phoenix Town, you can first fly to the Zhangjiajie Airport or the Tongren Airport or take a train to the Jishou Train Station or the Huaihua Train Station, and then catch a regular coach or take a taxi to town.How to get to Feng Huang Cheng: Take a train to Jishou and then switch to a bus for Feng Huang Cheng. There are two shuttles buses that go to Feng Huang Cheng everyday, at 11 am and 3 pm respectively.