In a piece of small but good news for fans of Chinese travel, the ancient town of Fenghuang is set to abolish entrance fees from April 10. Visitors will still have to pony up for certain areas within the picturesque, riverside locale, but will be able to walk about the streets for free, according to the Xinhua News Agency.
Located in Hunan province, north of Guangdong, Fenghuang is one of China's most famous preserved towns – it has even been called the country's most beautiful – and is frequently cited by travel companies and websites.
The news comes just as an agreement between the government and three local companies who administer Fenghuang is due to expire. In a letter to the companies, the government mentioned that retailers and merchants in the town were opposed to the fee.
The additional charge was a matter of some contention when it was initially introduced almost exactly three years ago. Immediately following the announcement, interest in Fenghuang plummeted: a survey by Sina found that only 1 percent of around 90,000 people polled said they would be likely to visit in light of the inflated cost.
Businesses in the village complained that tourism had dropped off significantly, even staging a protest that led to blows with police, according to China Daily. While some at the time argued that the money from ticket sales could be used to maintain the beauty of the town, others asserted that the taxes from accommodation and items sold within Fenghuang were more than enough to cover any expense associated with preservation.
Fenghuang’s change in policy brings it more in line with the city of Pingyao, arguably the most internationally renowned preserved settlement in China and one of just four awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. It, too, charges fees for certain landmarks but not for entry.
In contrast, the scenic villages of Xidi and Hongcun, in Anhui province, solely charge an entrance fee, while Yunnan’s Lijiang Old Town – a Mecca for foreign tourists in recent years – charges both an RMB80 protection fee and additional money for its most popular sights.
Fenghuang is most easily accessible from Guangzhou via plane to Zhangjiajie airport, followed by approximately four hours on a bus. It can also be reached via an eight-hour bus from Hunan province's capital, Changsha. Visitors can combine a trip to Fenghuang with a visit to Wulingyuan, a striking landscape of rock pillars – said to have partially inspired Avatar's Hallelujah Mountains – that is located in Zhangjiajie.
[Images courtesy of Ziyi Yuan and via Wikipedia]