I know little about the Southern - or Hunan - Great Wall other than its approximate location on the maps, but it makes its presence very visibly in the area to the west and north of Fenghuang.
The road between Fenghuang and Jishou crosses the wall many times, most spectacularly just south of Jishou where an arched bridge carries a small water pipeline across the road. The wall here is mainly earthen, with signs of stone foundations, but many of the stones have been removed over the centuries by local people for their houses and farms. Dry stone walls nearby show suspiciously large square stone blocks!
The wall is about six metres high and runs across the valley, east-west. It was difficult to follow visually for the road, and our schedule didn't allow us time to explore in either direction.
For reference, this wall crossing is at N28.21411, E109.65390, at a height of 220 metres.
Other than visiting the town, Fenghuang would make a good base for exploring the many minority villages in the area, although one of my colleagues was told by the PSB that some areas are off-limits for foreigners, especially around Huaihua.
To the north of Fenghuang, the road crosses the southern Great Wall (separate review) and skirts a huge canyon, which would make great walking it only China made large-scale maps available for walkers!
To the west, the wall has been restored in several places, on the way to the Guizhou border.
To the south, the road to Huaihua passes through non-descript Maiyan before tracking the river, crossing it on an immense bridge and then plunging up a long, winding valley with simply beautiful sidevalleys. In March, the rice fields were just planted, and many higher plots had rape, colouring the landscape bright yellow. Midway between Maiyan and Huiahua there is a wonderful disused temple across the river, by a school. It looks like it is being restored. Hopefully they will get rid of the brightly painted advertisements adorning the walls.
Many of the villages here are made up of woodent buildings slightly different - bigger and longer - than the wooden structures to the south of Huaihua. Many houses are reached across the river by precarious narrow rope and plank bridges.
We were passing through and on a tight schedule, so didn't get to visit any of the sights, but there are a number of things to see in town:
- The Black Dragon Bridge (the covered bridge that is Fenghuang's signature), also known as The Rainbow Bridge
- The Zhunti Nunnery, just to the south of the bridge on the south bank
- temples galore: The Three Kings/Heaven God Temple, the Town God Temple, the Strange Peak Temple, the family temple of the Chen family
- the former residences of author Shen Congwen and the first prime minister of republican China Xiong Xiling
- the Nanhuashan mountain narure reserve behind and above the south of the town
- palaces including the Rising Sun Palace and the Grand Palace and the Wanshou Palace
- the remaining city gates, including the northern and eastern city gates, south of the river and the Dongguan gate on the north side
- and of course the Wanming Pagoda overlooking the bend of the river.
All these sites are within 500 metres of the bridge
Fenghuang is teeming with places to eat, especially in the old town. A number are now ging down the 'backpacker' route offering Western breakfasts complete with pancakes.
Just across the bridge, every building along the alleyway parallelto the river is a restaurant or guesthouse: take your pick. Some have names, most don't.
They will serve just about anything Hunanese or Sichuanese and the ingredients are laid out in baskets just inside the doorway. Most have rickety staircases to an upper level where you can eat gazing down at the river and the townscape beyond.
A very pleasant place to eat and relax.
Getting to Fenghuang is not quite as difficult as you might think. There is an airport at Tongren a few hours away on the Guizhou border, but with flights at the moment only to Guangzhou several times a week.
There are railway stations at Huaihua (better) and Jishou (slightly closer), and by flying into Zhangjiajie Airport (what used to be called Dayong) you can get the train down to Jishou (about 2hrs 30mins, several trains a day).
There are buses direct to Fenghuang from Changde, Yueyang and Changsha, but it may be easier to get to Huaihua first (train or bus) and then get a local bus.
The ride up from Jishou passes a spectacular canyon not far north of Fenghuang, and also passes the southern Great Wall at many places.
Fenghuang has architecture that I have not seen before, so it is all a little bit exciting to see it all. I am sure someone will write and say "Oh....you see that al over Guizhou or Jiangxi". Whatever.
The buildings of Fenghuang seem very unique (so far..I have still most of China to discover!).
There are some similar buildings on the plain west of Shaoyang back down on the 'plains of Hunan' among the timber framed buildings, but mostly these buildings were centred on Fenghuang, with isolated examples down the Wushui river valley east of Jishou and then again one or two examples in Huaihua and Jishou. Even in Maiyan, just twenty minutes away from Fenghuang, there are few buildings like these. One notable exception is the huge building - now derelict - right by the road tollbooth at the entrance to Maiyan from Huaihua.
The buildings are made from dark grey brick. These bricks have to be coloured this way with charcoal: at a roadside brickworks near Maiyan I saw normal red bricks being made alongside a much smaller group of grey bricks.
The lay of the bricks is also unusual, with smaller bricks used for effect, and presumably for strength. Sadly many of the newer buildings are just grey concrete with the mortar lines scratched on.
The building in the photo is a brand new structure on the approach road to Fenghuang, just behind the Wanming Pagoda. It looks like it might be about to be a hotel, which given its position, would be fabulous.