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June 10th 2008
Published: June 10th 2008
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River ViewRiver ViewRiver View

Fenghuang's attractive river setting.
Getting from Yangshuo to Fenghuang was always going to be interesting. I did a little internet research on the matter, and found a range of blogs warning of impossible connections, language nightmares and near-death experiences on the bus. Undeterred, Chris and I thought we'd have a go anyway. Getting to Guilin -an hour's bus journey to the north - proved easy enough. Next stop Huaihua. We opted for train rather than bus - it leaves and arrives at about the same time, costs about the same, has a more sensible seating arrangement and is less likely to kill you. We strolled into the train station, chose the queue which inexplicably had nobody waiting (the other queues were at least 30 strong), and bought tickets for the only train of the day which left twenty minutes later (13:50). The scenery was splendid and the journey entirely tolerable. Arriving in Huaihua at midnight, we found a hostelier waiting for stray travellers, and provided onlookers with great entertainment as we struggled to negotiate using my new phrasebook (essential). As we lay in our comfy beds a few minutes later, we couldn't help but congratulate ourselves!

The next day wasn't so smooth. We just
Hong Qiao BridgeHong Qiao BridgeHong Qiao Bridge

A fine pedestrian bridge filled with souvenir stalls.
couldn't seem to procure directions to the bus station from our hotel's receptionist, despite our very best finger-pointing and gesticulating. In the end a taxi took us round the corner for an absurd fair (ok it was only 70p). We were hurried onto the bus for Fenghuang with no food in our stomachs. It was then two hours before the bus actually left. To make matters worse, the bus driver suffered a common infliction of the Chinese - a bizarre love affair with the horn. Drivers will honk whenever they see pedestrians, cars or trees, and honk a few extra times for foreigners (just in case). We arrived in Fenghuang with headaches and the grumps. It didn't help that it was drizzling. It really didn't help when I started walking in completely the wrong direction - failing to appreciate that there were two bus stations!

If arriving was bad, then leaving was an utter farce. We walked to the location of the other bus station, but were completely unable to find it. Eventually we found a passer-by with some English who was willing to help us. After trying to send us back where we'd just searched, she fortunately remembered
Sculpture ReflectionSculpture ReflectionSculpture Reflection

Near the south gate of the old town is a marvellous phoenix sculpture. I shot it as a reflection to keep the background clean, and quite like the effect.
that the station had in fact moved out of town (if anyone reading this is planning to visit Fenghuang, take a taxi to the Jishou bus station). In Jishou, our woes were not over. We were hoping to get to Chongqing by bus or train, but had no information about this trip and didn't even know where to find the train station. However, this tale has a happy ending! A student couple came over to practise their English, and it soon emerged that they were desperate to help us in anyway they could. After ruling out taking a bus, they accompanied us to the train station in a taxi, and even insisted on paying! In the end we had to change our plan and book a train to Yichang, using info written by our new best friends. I have truly never experienced such astonishing generosity from complete strangers.

Well this is rapidly becoming my longest blog yet, and I haven't said a word about its subject! Once the drizzle had abated (actually I lie - that didn't happen until just before we left), and our headaches had been cleared by beer, we began to realise what a splendid little
City WallCity WallCity Wall

A restored part of the old city wall, running along the river's south bank. East tower also shown.
town this is. Despite its listing by Lonely Planet as one of China's highlights, it seems few Western tourists can face the journey (although this is certainly not true of the Chinese). This is definitely a real shame as the town is truly a delight. Views across the river focal point are consistently lovely, and a wander around the narrow streets of the Old Town is highly rewarding. That said, we found 24 hours was plenty, and I can't help but question whether it was really worth the hassle.

Additional photos below
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East TowerEast Tower
East Tower

The better-preserved of the old town's two remaining corner towers.

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