Between Guangxi and Hunan | Off-the-beaten path itinerary from Yangshuo to Fenghuang

Here is an itinerary between two of the most popular tourist attractions in southwest China : Yangshuo and Fenghuang.

Count a minimum of 7 days to complete the trip using public transportation and spending one night only in each place. Pull out a Chinese map and locate Yangshuo, just 70 km south of Guilin in Guangxi province, southwest China.

1. Yangshuo 阳朔

The bamboo raft trip on the Li River : a classic

The bamboo raft trip on the Li River : a classic

All guidebooks about China have a large section dedicated to the Yangshuo / Guilin area’s amazing limestone landscape.
You can spend several days exploring the region, however, the must-see (and the main reason to come to Yangshuo) is the Li River landscape.

Take a bus to the village of Yangti 阳提 and from there ride on a bamboo raft until the village of Xingping 兴坪 (150 RMB per person). It’s in Xingping that you’ll have the opportunity to shoot a picture of the 20 RMB banknote landscape. Xingping is small ancient village (it does not have the charm of nearby Huangyao 黄姚 though) from which you can take a bus back to Yanshuo.

Near Yangshuo : there are two off-the-beaten track destinations : the ancient village of Huangyao (I saw agents who can help you book a tour directly in Yangshuo. If you don’t speak Chinese, it’s the best way to visit this town). Slightly more hardcore for non-Chinese speakers is the ancient village of Qinshiyuan, possible to do on a day trip from Yangshuo if you get up very early.

To the next destination : take a bus to Guilin from Yangshuo north bus station. In Guilin go to Qintan bus station (琴潭汽车站) and hop on a bus to Sanjiang 三讲. If you have enough time, you can stop at the Longsheng rice terraces (龙胜梯田) for yet another classical and stunning Chinese landscape (100 RMB entrance fee).

 2. Chengyang 程阳

The Wind and Rain bridge of Chengyang

The Wind and Rain bridge of Chengyang

Chengyang is one of my favorite destination on this itinerary. In spite of the 60 RMB entrance fee and the bus-loads of tourists that roam the village with their matching baseball caps and following a tour guide armed with a megaphone, the village is quiet when everybody leaves.
While the Yongji Wind and Rain bridge is the main attraction, getting lost in the village or hiking to the paddy fields to get a view of the village and the landscape are the highlights of this laid-back cluster of Dong ethnic minority hamlets.

More info about where to stay, how to get there in my article about Chengyang.

To the next destination : from Chengyang, go back to Sanjiang where the last bus to Tongao leaves at 12:35 PM. It’s a two-hour journey to Tongdao, a remote town in southwestern Hunan.

3. Tongdao 通道

The Puxiu Wind and Rain bridge

The Puxiu Wind and Rain bridge

Tongdao’s attractions are in the countryside. Hire a taxi in town and head towards the Dong village of Yutou Zhai and the Puxiu Wind and Rain bridge, a stunning structure built at the end of the 19th century. For the Chinese history nerds : the Red Army crossed the bridge during the Long March in 1934. The region is still off-the-radar and you will see very few tourists, but everything changes very fast in China.

More info about where to stay, how to get there and places to see in the region in my article about Tongdao. Also check the article about travel restrictions for foreigners in south Hunan.

To the next destination : take an early morning bus towards Huaihua and stop in Qianyang. With the new highway, the driver will drop you at the toll gate and you will have to hitch-hike to get to the ancient town of Qianyang.

 4. Qianyang 黔阳

The streets of Qianyang

The streets of Qianyang

Qianyang is an authentic ancient town lined with temples and courtyard mansions that belonged to local government officials. So far, Qianyang is untouched by tourism and sauntering in the small alley will really make you feel you’ve step back in time.

A couple of hours is enough to get an idea of what this ancient town is all about. Locals are very friendly. Seat down for a bowl of noodles and practice your Chinese with them. The street of the picture above, Zhongshan Street, really capture Qianyang’s atmosphere.

Read more about this authentic all town in my article about Qianyang

To the next destination : Walk up the street to the main avenue. You will see a spot where mini-buses to Hongjiang (洪江) wait for passengers. 7 RMB – 30 minute ride along the Yuan River.

 5. Hongjiang 洪江

Red lanterns in Yujia Lane, Hongjiang

Red lanterns in Yujia Lane, Hongjiang

Drop your backpacks at the Wulingcheng Hotel (武陵城酒店).

Hongjiang is an ancient business city. It’s a small maze of a stone stairs and narrow streets lined with ancient auction houses, guild halls, courtyard mansions, opium house, theater, banks and even an exclusive ‘brothel’ where the local wealthy business men kept mistresses away from their wives.

A very different layout and atmosphere than Qianyang. While Qianyang is free to visit, there is a 120 RMB entry fee for Hongjiang that you should be able to skip. Do not enter through the main gate.

Taste classic Hunan food (very spicy) at the Caigenxiang (菜根香) restaurant on Wushui Road (巫水路), not far from the Hongjiang bridge.

More info about where to stay, how to get there in my article about Hongjiang.

To the next destination : there are taxis who will drive you directly to Huaihua (怀化) via the old road. They charge 70 – 80 RMB per person, but you have the option to hire the car for yourself. The next stop is the village of Jingping (荆坪村) in Zhongfang county (中方县), 15 km south of Huaihua where you can catch a bus to Fenghuang (or anywhere else) The drive takes a little more than 1 hour.

6. Jingping 荆坪村

The Pan Clan Ancestral Hall

The Pan Clan Ancestral Hall

Jingping is a small village home to an incredible ancestral hall, the Pan Clan ancestral hall which facade is simply breathtaking. It’s on the way to Huaihua (no detour) and is really worth stopping for an hour to admire this ancient lineage temple

Read my article about the Pan Clan ancestral hall

To the next destination : ask the driver to drop you off at Huaihua West bus station (汽车西站) where you will take a bus to Fenghuang (there are regular buses that leave once full, but they get full very quickly).


 7. Fenghuang 凤凰

Houses on stilt in Fenghuang

Houses on stilt in Fenghuang

Your off-the-beaten track journey stops in Fenghuang. The most popular ancient town. It’s a very commercial place (good place to shop for any type of souvenirs) and overcrowded (you’ll know what it means to travel with the Chinese in China).

Much like Yangshuo, China travel guidebooks all have a thick section dedicated to Fenghuang. It is an interesting place to visit, a beautiful town but very spoiled by mass-tourism and commercialization. I do not dislike Fenghuang, I do not like it either.

Next step : Fenghuang is located in that part of Hunan where you have the choice to
A) keep going north and visit Zhangjiajie National park with its funky mountains
B) head to Guizhou via Tongren and then visit Zhenyuan and Miao villages around Kaili, just 2 hours from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou
C) make your way into Chongqing and Chengdu book a Chengdu Food Tour to experience authentic Sichuan food.
D) head to Changsha where you are on the Beijing – Wuhan – Guangzhou high-speed rail line

Transportation to and from Fenghuang region

Fenghuang is located north of Huaihua 怀化, a city in western Hunan which is connected to the rest of China via  high-speed train.

Click the map below for more insights and destination along the high-speed train network between Hunan, Guangxi, Guizhou and Guangdong province.

Guizhou Guangxi Hunan map

There are 18 comments

  1. Erty

    Hi Gaetan!

    I’m (finally) going to be traveling in China for the first time this July/August. And this itinerary looks amazing (I would be doing it from Fenghuang to Yangshou), however I do not speak any Chinese or read any signs. Do you think with the help of Pleco I will be fine with all the bus connections and so on? Hongjiang and Qiangjiang are the places that interest me the most! Anyway thank for the great posts! 🙂

    1. Gaetan

      I’m fully fluent in Chinese, so it’s hard for me to give you a clear-cut answer, but I think that you should be fine with Pleco … Anyway, tell me how it went after you finished the trip 😉
      Happy travels

  2. With Aroha

    Love this itinerary, so helpful. Next week we are planning to go from Guilin to Guiyang, stopping at Chenyang, Congjiang, Langde and Kaili. Bit nervous because I can speak a bit of Chinese but I can’t read any characters! Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much for this blog, so inspiring and helpful. 😉

  3. emilylili

    Ohmygosh, I live in China and still, I’ve never truly experienced China like you have! Will you be traveling north to Beijing anytime soon? It would be awesome if you made a travel guide there! Sending awesome vibes to you and your adventure 🙂

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Emily! Well … no real plan to travel north of Beijing anytime soon. I mainly focus on the southwest (which is big enough)! Why don’t you hop on a plane and come over to Yunnan? It’s fantastic over here 😉

      1. emilylili

        Aha! I sure wish I could 😉 I’ve been there many times as a child, but sadly I was too young to truly appreciate anything. My biggest regret… Luckily I had the chance to kayak down a beautiful river in Guangxi for spring break. Makes me want to explore China so much more before I leave!!

  4. Rachel

    Hi again! just checked out this itinerary — 黔阳 is being called 黔城 or 黔古城,in 洪江市。
    What was formerly called 洪江 is now 洪江区, the location of the 洪江古商城。
    I believe the names have changed because the city government of Hongjiang recently moved to Qianyang. So Qianyang is now called Hongjiang City, and what was formerly called Hongjiang is now referred to as Hongjiang District.

    1. Gaetan

      Haha! Well, it seems that China loves to change their towns’ names and play with our minds 🙂
      On Baidu maps, I have both 黔阳古城 and 黔城 (for the new part of town) which are both situated in 怀化市洪江市. And the old town of Hongjiang is called 洪江古商城 and is also situated in 怀化市洪江市.

  5. Lara // the passage

    As always, your photographs are stunning…This is a wonderful itinerary for packing a ton of stuff into a week! Although the more of your blog that I read, the more I realize that not even a month of exploring China would suffice…Makes planning a visit truly difficult when there is so much I want to see!

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you Lara! Yes, this was definitely one of the most intensive week of travel I had ever done. I came up with this itinerary for a friend from New York who wanted to see both Yangshuo and Fenghuang and had only very limited time. If you have one or two more days to spare, I suggest you stop in Longji rice terraces on the way to Chengyang.
      You’re right, there are so many places to see in China. A month is enough to see a lot of interesting places.
      If you need more advice on how to plan your trip, you can write me an email via the contact page.
      Happy Travels … and Happy New Year of the sheep.

  6. Marie-Andrée Gratton

    Hi Gaetan,
    I have read in some China travel guide that there are river cruise somewhere between Luodian and Pingtang
    and on Duliu river southeastern Guizhou.
    Have you any informations on these bamboo cruise?
    All your travel writings are very helpfull

    Marie-Andrée from Québec, Canada

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Marie-Andrée! I’m glad you find my travel writing helpful.
      Unfortunately, I don’t know Guizhou very well and do not know anything about bamboo cruise.
      Happy travels anyway!

    1. Gaetan

      Hey Ryan … China is indeed any amazing place. Yes, I managed to visit Lijiang three times. It’s a must-go place for first-time travellers to China, by I do prefer other ancient towns that are not as commercialised as Lijiang (yet) like Weishan, Xizhou, Shaxi and Lushi. Have you been to these places yet?

      1. Ryan Trumpeter

        No. I really want to go travelling for a long period of time or teach English somewhere. But…having my job etc doesn’t allow.

        Just got back from three weeks in India which is an amazing place!

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