Following on from an epic few days in Zhãngjiãjiè, we fancied a slightly more relaxing destination for a change of pace. So we settled on Fenghuang. We had some reservations as the guide book recommended it in a similar way to Pingyao but we decided to give it a chance. Fenghuang is nestled amongst some karst hills and along the banks of the Tuo river. Thankfully this meant that it had some much more interesting winding streets than Pingyao and, during the day at least, much less crowded.
We clambered off the bus at the bus stop or car park that the buses seemed to use as the bus stop and set off in search of where the local went from. In the end we just walked as it seemed mostly down hill to the fairly vague point on the map where the next hostel was. I soon started to feel like at Hua Shan when we’d spent a good 30 minutes wandering around looking for our digs. We’d asked a parking attendant who sent us off in one direction, then we asked someone on a stall for further assistance who sent us a different direction. This happened a few times until the directions started to average out back towards the main road where eventually a local restaurateur pointed out a small alley next to a pharmacy. Sure enough after an hour of assisted aimlessness when we looked into the alley, slap bang in front of us was the hostel. At last we could throw down our bags and freshen up having worked up an unplanned but not all that unexpected sweat. Oh. There’s nobody in. Well pretty sure we’re in the right place, I guess we’ll just have to wait until someone shows up. I’m sure they won’t mind us using their fan to try and dry off a bit.
20 minutes later the owner walks in and jumps in surprise when she looks over and spots us before apologising profusely for being out. We get our room after finding out that air con is extra but cough up anyway as the nights were still a wee bit warm and nothing dries otherwise.
New room sorted. Time to hit the town. Although it seems a bit sleepy in the day time by local standards, at night the place is as packed as the forbidden city. Even so it still felt unhurried and fairly laid back and they have done an uncharacteristically good job of lighting up the riverside with a minimal number of multicoloured lights and lasers.
Food was our next goal. So far the food in China has been reasonably similar everywhere (at our end of the budget) with one or two stand out dishes. One of which we had on this night. Unfortunately this one stood out in a less good way. The dish was entirely composed of a vegetable that I couldn’t identify but was essentially a sliced green crescent shaped thing, about cucumber sized, with a wobbly outer edge. It was also the bitterest plate of food either of us have ever tasted. I really don’t know how anyone can eat the stuff it was so offensively acrid. Even Jethro who can eat almost anything even if he doesn’t really like it didn’t finish a whole bit. The worst bit is that we don’t even know what we ordered. We just picked at random from an all Chinese menu with no pictures. Hopefully the extent of most menus will be enough to save us from the same in the future but we live in perpetual of another utterly unpalatable plate of food. At least the other dishes, one of which was similar to whitebait plus chili, were tasty enough to fill the hole.
We treated ourselves to a very leisurely start the next day before having a moderately thorough explore of the town. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the town had done away with the blanket £20 entry fee in favour of charging for individual buildings of interest. That was perfect for us as we’d more or less decided by then that none of them were that interesting and a day of sedate plodding around without forking out wads of money for everything we could just see the town itself and spend the cash on more edible entertainment. The streets form a winding web of narrow alleys of low rise buildings all with traditional looking facades and thoroughfares crossing over some small streams which flow into the main river. This is crossed by numerous bridges in array of and sizes, from modern concrete spans through traditional Chinese architecture to wooden planks and stepping stones. These provide a wonderful way to wind a path up and down the riverside from one bank, with all of the tourist kiosks and snack stands, to the other which has the nightlife establishments.
Eventually, as with most of the days spent close to sea level, the temperature inspired a trip into a coffee shop. The one we chose was a nice little place towards the southern reaches of Fenghuang precariously balancing on (fortunately quite a few) wooden silts leaning out into the river. Befitting it’s elevated position above the water were equally elevated. That said the coffee was good and the battered shrimp, although not terribly filling, were delicious.
Whiling away a few hours is very easy here and just what we were after following the more active first couple of weeks. Our second day in Fenghuang followed a similar blueprint to the first including a bit more of a wander father afield down the river and some more ice cream. We also sampled a bit of the local delicacy of caramelised ginger. Our days here drew to a close quickly and we were soon back for our last night’s sleep at the hostel before our morning bus to get us on the way to Yangshuo. The hostel was also playing host to unfortunately English guests who seemed to have travelled to the ancient city of Fenghuang in central China to spend their time sleeping most of the day and going out and getting bladdered at night in the local clubs and bars. I’m sure they enjoyed themselves, it certainly sounded like it, but I really struggle to why anyone would put so much effort into travelling for something you can do in any town or city for an almost identical experience. To me it seems like a waste but each to their own I guess. I just felt sorry for the owner of the hostel really. Hopefully we have her an alternative impression of British tourists at least.
Our two days of (mostly) peaceful relaxing in Fenghuang done. Off to Yangshuo for some cycling rivers and surreal karst landscape.