Phoenix City – Timeless Fenghuang

My first view of Fenghuang, and I was entranced.

Fenghuang means Phoenix – that mythical bird that is eternal – arising from the ashes if destroyed by fire, coupling with the dragon to become a complete ying and yang. The phoenix is forever, and Fenghuang seems aptly named.

Fenghuang is a famous ancient watertown that has called to me for years.  Pictures of this ancient town are used on many, many promotions of tourism in China.  I finally answered the call, and I am so glad.  Strangely, for being so famous, it is not so easy to get to – no train station.  So a series of buses and taxis took me to and from, and that was made easier by the help of so many, many kind and helpful people.  A charming ex-soldier on the train sweetly delivered me and my heavy suitcase into the hands of an exuberant lady taxi driver who made certain I had the right bus ticket and was on the proper bus before leaving me.  This happens to me all the time in China.  

The old town is set along a slow-moving shallow river in a deep valley. Lanes follow along the curves of the bank on both sides, iconic bridges span the river at intervals, and buildings cascade down the slopes.  Because it is contained in a smallish area, I didn’t need a guide to explore the ancient town. I saw the countryside coming and going.

Fenghuang is a walking town, and the steps can be daunting AND circumvented, thankfully, by wandering along the river rather than up and down.

Wandering and capturing images is my thing.

I stop to look into narrow alleys

And through broad arches

To admire the massive ancient city gates

And the hand-hewn building materials.

I capture images of the namesake Phoenix.

Images of the phoenix women

Images of their traditional adornments and powers.

Images of woman’s enduring strength

Images of the enduring gods

And powerful mytical creatures

Images of timeless worship

Images of endless rooftops

advertising artworks

and calligraphy logos

Images of things to buy, like vinegar by the jug

Wicker and rattan, plain or intricately detailed

And tea sold in whole logs or slices

collections and collectibles

beauty in frames

and beauty unframable

Images of people at work… maybe cleaning or cooking duckheads

Or hauling building materials where no vehicles can reach

Tending to the children

Remembering the old revolutionary songs

Everywhere in the old town, women wear wreaths of fresh flowers.

I don’t know the story, but I got caught up in it anyways.

I am fascinated by the baskets, all the types and all the ways they are used.

I contemplated a wicker backpack but settled for simple rattan bracelets, seen draped here on a delicious bottle of Great Wall Cabernet.

I eat as I wander. Some things I know are delicious.

But others I am not so sure of.

There were lots of interesting food items to buy – some I recognized, like fresh chicken or pickles, smoked ham or fish, and others? I think the spikey things are fruit.

This hardly ever happens to me, but I completely lost my appetite when I realized that everything seemed to be washed in the same river – vegs, shoes, cleaning mops, fresh meat, laundry.

And then I found it really hard to want to eat even when I was hungry. This is the display of options outside a typical restaurant, and you can’t see it, but there is a snake in one tub.

I scuttled past restaurants after I discovered that, eyes averted, but I was still intrigued by some unique serving styles.

Fenghuang has four different personalities depending on the weather and the time of day. On misty mornings, it is romantic and serene.

On overcast days, it is gloomy and monochromatic grey or brown.

Maybe even a little precarious and derelict.

But in the sunshine, it sparkles and almost overwhelms with vibrant colors.

And at night, it is an interplay of lights and shadows, red lanterns and reflections.

Even the abomination of the bouncy bridge is charming at night.

It is amazing what a difference a day makes and why it is important to stay a few days. The light changes the mood completely.

I had 4 days to explore and experience the 4 personalities of Fenghuang. As I don’t control the weather, it was just good fortune!

Fenghuang old town is set down in the river valley, and there is a bustling modern town surrounding it that I discovered when I had to find an ATM and a pharmacy. The old town is exclusively inns and shops, and they are some lovely new ones among them.

Mine was older, authentic and very comfortable. Located at one end of the river town, I found the Flower Time Inn to be a long walk home some days. Using WeChat translate function, the staff were able to help me with anything I asked – laundry, luggage, transportation. They marked a very helpful route of attractions for me on a souvenir map. Fenghuang is pretty big!

I spent hours on my balcony enjoying the view.

All day long, the rythmic slapping and pounding of the laundry across the river never stopped.

It is particularly pretty at night.

But especially enchanting as the full moon rose over Fenghuang.

Full moons make me itchy for change, and it was time time to go.

My parting view made me think that the mytical phoenix, enduring by changing its shape, is like a modern transformer. Agreed?

Four days and more than 400 photos. Here are some of my favorites.