Visitors walk on stone piers crossing the Tuojiang River at Fenghuang ancient town in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, central China's Hunan Province, July 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Peng Biao)
By Le Yanna, Nguyen Thanh Xuan
HANOI, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- A middle-aged man with his scant luggage left his home in Hanoi in the morning and walked toward a nearby passenger car which was waiting to pick him up on Le Van Luong Street.
University lecturer Mau Quang Minh, 40, will guide a group of 20 Vietnamese people visiting the Fenghuang ancient town in China's Hunan Province. The trip is held on occasion of Vietnam's National Day.
"This will be my seventh time to visit there," Minh told Xinhua, as the car turned right at a crossroad to pick up the next passengers.
A fairy tale world comprising the Charming Hongqiao Bridge with its unique "Phoenix" architectural style, deep alleys, and old houses underneath yin and yang roof tiles sometimes covered with green or grey moss, were his first impressions when entering the 1,300-year-old town.
Since Minh visited the Chinese town for the first time in April 2016, his photos taken there attracted millions of "likes" and "shares" on Facebook and other social media platforms, not only from Vietnamese netizens but also from foreign ones.
"Students, friends and relatives then rushed to me, insisting on having me design their tours. That's how I became an amateur guide," Minh said with a grin.
So far, the lecturer has brought nearly 100 tourists in five groups to visit the old town. His visits there became so frequent that local restaurants started to offer him free meals every time he came by.
Except for bespoke trips like the ones organized by him, tours to the beautiful town are selling like hot cakes in Vietnam. In just 0.5 seconds, Google provided more than 2.2 million results related to a search enquiry for: "Phuong Hoang Co Tran," which is the Vietnamese translation of Fenghuang ancient town.
Unitour Hanoi, a Hanoi-based travel company, has been enjoying the bountiful returns of selling Fenghuang ancient town tours since last year.
"This is currently one of the overseas tours most-loved by Vietnamese tourists. We sell it to nearly 400 customers per month," Ha, the company's consultant, told Xinhua recently.
Visitors cross a bridge over the Tuojiang River at Fenghuang ancient town in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, central China's Hunan Province, July 28, 2017. (Xinhua/Peng Biao)
According to her, many travel agencies realized the potential of the sightseeing tour earlier, but could not capitalize on it as a commercial product since few people were interested in.
"It was not until last April that more people knew about the breathtaking scenes after photos began to go viral on Facebook," recalled Ha.
Minh's group trips and Ha's best-selling tours have something in common. They are both road trips and last for around one week.
"This is an affordable option for the majority of Vietnamese and a six-day schedule is suitable to take in visits to nearby tourist attractions such as Zhangjiajjie and Tianmen Mountain," Ha explained.
Other traveling routes available include by plane and by rail, but are less popular than the road trips.
Based on his last experience, Minh concluded that catching a Vietnam-China international train from Hanoi was time-consuming and inconvenient due to many transits.
"This time we have hired a coach, which will pick us up at the Friendship border gate and take us to Nanning in just four hours. The view along the road in Hunan province is amazing, people can never get bored," he said.
Whenever Minh goes back to the ancient town he discovers new charms of the place.
"For me, the town is most beautiful in three seasons, each has its own beauty. It's romantic autumn of yellow leaves, white snow falling in winter or misty rain in a spring morning," Minh recalled, his eyes dreamily staring out the car's window.
As of 9 a.m. local time, the amateur guide had finished picking up his companions.
In the car sat a group which included a young couple who could not wait to take their wedding photos, an old man prepared to revive his youth and passion for traveling, and some college students eager to discover a new world.
"It's going to be a lovely trip and we'll be able to take the coolest photos in the world's most beautiful town," Tran Minh Khanh, 25, said happily.