The ‘Hibiscus Town’ of Hunan : Furong village

Everybody knows the feeling when after seeing a picture you definitely know that you have to visit that place. It happened to me with a picture of Hibiscus Town, Furong village(芙蓉镇), a small ancient village proudly boasting on the top of a cliff with a huge waterfall flowing underneath – an amazing view. After seeing that picture, I immediately started to search for where it was.

 

Furong zhen

The amazing view which brought me here (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

Searching for Hibiscus Town

You can get there from Jishou City (吉首) in the Hunan Province. Jishou is the initial station for visiting many other ancient towns in Hunan. Furong Zhen is located about 70 km from there, so it is possible to take a bus. However, when I went for the first time, I got lost. Where was this beautiful town that I saw in the picture? The only thing I saw was an old, half-destroyed, large village, filled with gray concrete buildings. Ugly blocks of flats everywhere. Some were already built, some were being built, and many were crumbling. But first things first; I was super hungry after arriving there.

The waterfall had to wait. I sat in a small restaurant inside someone’s garage and I ordered some cold beer with the local spicy food (the cuisine in the Hunan province is one of the spiciest in China). With a full stomach everything goes more smoothly, and I suddenly noticed that same picture I saw before, hanging here on the wall. The beautiful village on the rock and the waterfall flowing beneath it. I asked the owner where it is, and she immediately sent her son to take me there.

It was not far, but ticket gates were waiting for me. The ticket is not cheap – 120RMB! This is quite a lot for ancient villages; it is probably even the most expensive village in China. But anyway, I decided to go inside. Through the village is a marked tourist route, which every visitor should take. Tourism is already present, but it is still the harmless kind of development, unlike the one in Phoenix town. There are no cafes, no bars … only locals who sell various specialties.

Most tourists usually pass through this town, so there are no big hotels, at least not in the old center. The surroundings have some new buildings already. The path through the old town follows the cliff; first it goes over a waterfall, then it gets down off the cliff, passes underneath the waterfall, up to the top and across the old city to get back to the ticket gate.

Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. - www.bamboome.eu

Path leading underneath the waterfall (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. - www.bamboome.eu

You can see the whole town on this picture, not only the old city ( Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

It takes a normal Chinese tourist about an hour and a half to finish this route. From ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, tours are flowing through quite often; they use this stop on the way to Fenghuang. Personally, I think it is worth it to come here late during the day and first go around to the surrounding streets that are not within designated tourist routes. These paths are in fact empty. Tourism in this place is very organized.

A classic of Chinese cinema

After the entry gates close, you go out and walk around the main paths. Browsing the streets in the late afternoon has a lovely atmosphere. Watch the sunset over the cliff and in the morning go check out the beautiful waterfall. I felt like I was in a movie. Not just in any movie but in one particular. The town is named after the film from 1986. It tells the story of Hibiscus Town girls selling rice tofu (they call it rice tofu in the movie, but there is no such a thing. I think it is niangao, food prepared from glutinous rice).

The story begins in 1963, at a time when the Cultural Revolution was soon to start. Because of jealousy, obsession and the craziness of the Party, Furong sister, as she was called, has lost everything. She lost her business, her home, her happiness, and ultimately her husband. The film is highly critical of the Cultural Revolution and of the Communist government during the era of Mao Zedong. Many movies like this were filmed during this period of time. But then the Tiananmen happened and freedom ended. Therefore, this is also one of the last films to be shot on this topic. A really beautiful, poetic movie, although a little long. The film ends well. At the end of the Cultural Revolution, people’s lives get back on track, including the life of Furong sister. Although at the end, the director makes a small statement about how many strange people stayed within the party and continued ruling.
I saw the movie after my visit – the DVD is sold everywhere there. The entire story of the movie takes place in the streets of the Furong village, so it felt very familiar when watching the film. At the end they even show the majestic image of the cliff on which the village stands.

Black and white picture of this amazing place (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. - www.bamboome.eu)

Black and white picture of this amazing place (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

 Red stone forest

The Hibiscus Town is very close to the millions-of-years-old Red Stone Forest natural reservation. It is not as vast as the stone forest in the Yunnan province, but it is beautiful and without any tourists.

Red stone forest (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. - www.bamboome.eu)

Red stone forest (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

Red stone forest (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. - www.bamboome.eu)

Red stone forest (Picture by Pavel Dvorak jr. – www.bamboome.eu)

Admission is required, and it is also quite high. Inside the park there are still no shops, no vendors, no McDonald’s, but they were under construction, so go quickly.

If you want to see ancient villages without bars and beautiful geological parks without tourists, you must visit the Furong Zhen and Red Stone Forest as soon as possible. Despite a little disappointment in the beginning, without any hesitation I would go back. This place became one of my most favorite places in China. The image of an ancient village with a waterfall underneath is just breathtaking.

 

Author Bio:

ja

Pavel is an interpreter, guide, photographer and blogger. China and Chinese language are his passions since childhood, when he was fifteen years old he started to study Chinese, later he graduated Chinese studies from a University. He first came to China in 2009 and has been living with his Shanghaineese wife in Shanghai since 2012. He writes about China on his personal website www.bamboome.eu, where he also publishes his photography and short documentaries.

There are 30 comments

  1. kirategetthoff

    Hi, your article is great and I would love to visit this wonderful town. Do you know whats the best way to get there from Jishou or Fenghuang? Is a day trip enough? Thanks

    1. Gaetan

      Hi! The best way is to take the bus from Jishou. It should take about 1 hour to get to Furong 芙蓉镇 which is also called Wangcun 王村. It’s possible to do it on a day trip, if you leave early!

    1. Gaetan

      I have never stayed in the village, but I know there are a few places like the Mengdonghe Hotel 猛洞河大酒店 and the Mengdonghe Guesthouse 猛洞河宾馆

  2. Peci

    Furong truly became my favorite village in China so far, just amazing! About the entrance fee, there is a way to avoid it, no one wanted to see the ticket after 6pm, could have even entered through the main gate. On the other hand, we were asked to show the ticket the following morning when we were leaving on a street where our hotel was (near the tourist center). I also recommend taking one of those green minibus taxis, it was only 2RMB/person from the bus station. And don’t forget to taste 米豆腐, it was delicious.
    As for the 红石林, we wanted to visit it too, but we were told there was no connection from Furong except taxis, it’s 16km faraway and we were asked to pay 150 RMB (2 people) just to get there. We skipped it due our limited time and quite an expensive trip, but I also want to see it one day.

  3. Jean

    Looks lovely. By the way, in browsing your blog, I enjoyed your posts about the off-beaten path-older villages.

    I haven’t been to Asia…I know at my age.. My partner is highly sensitive to air pollution. Care to comment on this for China visitors?

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Jean.
      Glad to hear you enjoy my posts ‘off the beaten tracks’ 🙂
      Well, pollution does keep many tourists out of China. If you stay away from the large cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and out of north China and the central plains, and head towards remote parts of the southwest, pollution is usually not an issue at all.
      Specially in Yunnan …
      It’s now easy to fly directly into Kunming from anywhere in southeast Asia and from Kunming into more remote towns (Dali, Lijiang, Jinghong, Zhongdian, Tengchong). No need to fly via Beijing or Shanghai … which clears your pollution problem.
      Hope this helps.

  4. hcyip

    Hello, this is a fine post. I’d really like to go here if I go to Hunan.
    But can I ask where exactly is Furong Town – What direction from Jishou City is it?
    I can hardly find any info online about getting there besides your page.
    On a map, I found Furonglou in the southwest below Huaihua- is that a different Furong or the same village?
    Thanks.

    1. Gaetan

      So, Furong 芙蓉 aka Wang Cun 王村 is located in Western Hunan 湘西, Yongshun County 永顺县 and is situated east of Jishou 吉首.
      This Furong Lou 芙蓉楼 below Huaihua is located near the old town of Qianyang 黔阳 aka Qiancheng 黔城 in Hongjiang Town 洪江市 (same administrative level as the county 县 under the administration of Huaihua). It has nothing to do with the village and there is a 70 RMB entrance fee (as of last time I visited in April 2014).
      Hope this helps.
      Happy New Year and Happy Travels!

      1. hcyip

        Happy New Year,
        and thanks a lot. I get it now – Furong is also called Wangcun and labeled as that on maps. I went through several other Hunan maps on that same site before I realized that. Your explanation makes it clearer too.
        It’s still surprising that there is so few info and articles about Furong. Keep up the great work!

      2. Gaetan

        Glad I could help! China’s places names can be very confusing sometimes 😉
        It seems most people go to Zhangjiajie, Fenghuang and Dehang … and they skip the rest. It seems Furong aka Wangcun is getting pretty touristy among domestic travellers, but it’s still pretty unknown to foreigners.
        Happy travels!

  5. Steve Griffith

    The film has huge impact in china when it first came out being probably the first to deal openly with the cultural revolution, I remember seeing it in Suzhou and the audience giving it a standing ovation , very rare in china. Pity furong zhen has been turned into an admission venue. When I visited in 88 the 文大革命 slogans were on many walls . I think I got there from Guizhou after being in Zunyi but can’t recall the exact route.

    1. Gaetan

      Oh wow! You were in China in 88? You sure have seen how the country has evolved! Thank you for sharing this with us. Do you have pictures of these slogans from the Cultural Revolution? I’d be curious to see them.
      Furong and other ancient villages in China are now all becoming ‘pay-per-view’ space of consumption. It’s a unique phenomenon. I do not know of any other village or town in the world which require visitors to pay an entrance fee.

      1. Steve Griffith

        Yes I have some in old photo albums that I will get round to scanning one day. It’s amazing what still survives when you really look. Eg last year on Beijing nan Luo the tourist street at the heart of the hutong district I found half way down near a shop selling bits of Qing pottery as expensive necklesses the peeling but still readable slogan: 农业学大寨工业学大庆。in agriculture learn from Dazhai and industry learn from Daqing. I taught students in Dalian in the late 80,s who nearly perished in the Siberian climate of the Daqing oilfield . I would suggest Anhui would be a good hunting ground for not yet ruined towns and villages the old yue kingdom 吴越之间, I plan to explore when I am there next month. The tragedy for me is the destruction of places like Zhouzhuang near Shanghai which when I first visited could only be accessed by hitching a lift on a boat there was no road. I only found out about if from art students I was teaching in Suzhou at the silk institute who would go there to paint. Completely unchanged them I remember seeing houses with paper instead of glass for windows and kids with toys that were like something out of the middle ages

      2. Pavel Dvorak jr.

        Yes, Zhouzhuang is terrible. Super touristy spots, crowds of people… But Qibao directly in Shanghai is even worse. I recommend 八卦村. That is an amazing unknown place near to Shaoxing

  6. Girl Gone Expat

    What a beautiful location! Must be pretty amazing living in one of the houses hanging off the edge off the cliff with unprecedented view of the waterfall! I can understand why anyone would want to visit!

    1. Gaetan

      Haha, yes! One must not be afraid of heights to live in one of these houses! 😉
      Go and check Pavel’s website Bamboome where he has more amazing pictures of Furong and other places in Hunan and China.

  7. krystalvation

    These photos are amazing! Thanks so much for sharing them 🙂 It’s interesting how you describe modernization & development in these areas. It really makes you think about how tourism effects the way we perceive places we visit.

    1. Gaetan

      Well, all these beautiful pictures were taken by Pavel who is the author of this post. You should really go and check his website Bamboome where he posted amazing pictures of China.

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