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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.