Fenghuang a taste of ancient river life

This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a surreal mix of ancient Chinese lifestyle, the Miao and Tujia minorities, and tourist shopping mecca.

The ancient town, which was built up during the Qing Dynasty (1600-1900), lies riverside.  Waterwheels line the rivers edge.  Periodically a giant stone bridge, small wooden planks, or giant stepping stones allow people to cross from one side to the other.  Stone houses propped up with timber and bamboo line the riverbank.  The streets are made of large pieces of carved stone pieced together.  They are chipped and worn from use.  Crooked and curving alleyways veer off at irregular intervals.

The Goldfield’s crossing the stone steps.
They find time to pause for a picture.  During the cooler temperatures of the evening and morning, these steps were crowed with people jostling for pictures and position or just trying to cross.
The river winds through tall steep and narrow mountains.  It is no wonder that the myth is that when the Phoenix flew over, they found the town so beautiful, they could not leave.  In Chinese, Fenghuang means Phoenix.

At the street level we found several types of shops: jewelry, foodstuffs, souvenirs, spas, and clubs.  Above the street level were residences and guesthouses.  Old women flooded the streets offering rainbow hair wraps and woven floral head wreaths.  Hawkers carrying baskets with a bamboo pool sold individual grapes, peaches, apples, and something that looked like fruit, but was a candied something that tasted way too sweet.  People dressed up in historical outfits, rented by the hour, took pictures of themselves near the wall, city gates, and other points of interest.

It looks like fruit.  Real leaves are scattered amongst them to make you believe they are fruit.  But in fact it’s an overly candied sugar jelly in fruit form.
Shrimp bowls,  skewered crabs and fish sit beside blackened stinky tofu.
Freshly made wonton, (not quite as good as grandma’s)
One tasty bowl of noodle soup!
Stacks of dried and seasoned pork belly meat.
Mixing and creating candy the old fashion way.  Hot weakly sugared caramel is mixed together with peanuts by manually pounding.  When flattened, a spatula is used to fold it over on itself, then it is pounded again.  After watching this guy work so hard, I felt obligated to buy some.  When hot, it was chewy, but as it cooled it became more like a brittle.
Oobleck noodles.  When the mechanical energy from his pounding stopped, the noodles oozed through the holes.  If there was an order, he moves the noodles over a vat of boiling water to cook them.
At night, everything lit up like a Disneyland Parade.

Sharleen found us a fantastic guest house just one block off the river in the middle of old town.

Wandering up an ally to find our home for the next couple of nights

At six in the morning the tour groups flooded in, speaking into their loudspeakers about the different bridges, gates, and points of historical interest.  At night, the neon lights came on and people flooded in with dates and in groups to enjoy this scenery.  At almost any given time, it was pretty far removed from what life was like in this ancient town. However, every once in a while we caught a glimpse of river life.

Man paddles sampan under Rainbow Bridge
Man takes water taxi upstream to avoid walkways.
Woman crosses bridge with basket.
Man paws through shrimp trap, while using the river to cool watermelon
Washing sweet potatoes
Grandpa fishing in the rain

We spent two days here.  That was enough.  It’s hard to get away from the throngs of people and tourists.  Sometimes, that is part of the adventure.  However, it would have been nice to experience this village in the 1700s.

How we got there

From the Huaihuanan train station, we booked a coach to Fenghuang. From the bus terminal in Fenghuang, we caught a local bus to ancient town (Phoenix town).

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