Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region in North China- to the north it borders with Mongolia and the north east tip borders with Russia. The region is a home to the most scorching dry deserts in China, but also (ironically) to the most beautiful lush grassland sceneries. Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia, is popular among tourists for grassland tours. Another popular place is Xiangshawan, or “singing sands gorge” which is located in the Gobi Desert. It was a region I did not hear a lot about before I came to China, but I came across a local advertisement about a trip to Baogutu Desert in Inner Mongolia.
When I heard that a travel company named Local Ren organises a trip to Baogutu desert (宝古图沙漠), which is the biggest desert in Northeast China, I signed up immediately with my fellow colleague from InternChina. The Local Ren travel agency is actually a student start-up. Although they were not always professional, they seemed very easy-going and were making jokes all the time! In the end, 80 people signed up, who were for the most part international students from all over the world.
On our first date, we left Dalian, Liaoning province and travelled to Fuxin, a town located on the border between Liaoning province and Inner Mongolia. The more we approached the town, the more the scenery changed to endless rice fields. Also, the temperature kept on rising, reaching 32 degrees! Quite a difference from what I was used to in the UK. After six hours of travelling, our local Chinese guide told us that we had reached Fuxin, a rather small town of just 2 million! What I noticed while I was passing through was that there were lots of Mongolian BBQ restaurants, whose signs were written both in Mandarin Chinese and Mongolian. Apparently, both languages co-exist in the region, however Inner Mongolia uses the traditional Mongolian script for their alphabet, whereas the Republic of Mongolia uses the Mongolian Cyrillic alphabet, which they adopted due to Soviet influence.
When we arrived in Fuxin, the receptionist had to take a photo of our passport front page and visa. This is a standard procedure in China, that’s why a foreigner must carry their passport all the time when visiting new places. After that, we found a Mongolian hot pot with lamb meat. As the locals were not used to see foreigners, they were buying us more things to try and the servers were very kind and sweet.
On the next day we left for Baogutu desert. On the way, I saw that there were many tree plantations. The guide told me that the government is trying to claim back the land from the spreading desert. There were many trees planted and workers watering them. It would be interesting to see in a decade if their plan is successful.
The road to the desert was narrow and the condition of the road was bad. When we arrived at the tourist centre everything seemed under construction. There were several skeletons of hotels, but there were public bathrooms with plumbing and 3G! The organisers gave us our tents and other students showed us how to build one. In one hour, 50 tents were laid out proudly over a vacant field. After we secured them, we were divided into teams. The travel agency gave us ankle protectors and masks and we set off into the desert.
In the beginning of our hiking, I was not impressed. There were newly planted trees everywhere and I thought it did not look like a real desert. The camel guides saw us and approached us- each of them showing off their animals. They had dressed them in traditional Mongolian colours and were following us along the way like shadows.
The deeper we went into the desert, the more the heat was becoming unbearable. After 30 minutes, a landscape of endless sand dunes spread in front of our eyes. The white sands stretched out over the horizon unevenly and lazily. There were spots where the wind was unsettling the dunes, but did not impede our breathing.
As we were the only tourists there we had plenty of camels to choose from. It cost only 30 RMB for a camel ride. Also, we could sand board if we wanted to, but most of us were taking photos with the camels which were idly laying in the sand and were not scared by being touched.
In three hours’ time, we head back to our camping site. Due to the strong wind, we couldn’t have had a bonfire, so we had only a BBQ. The meat was halal and there were plenty of vegetables. The BBQ was like an organised chaos- although no one assigned jobs, everyone just picked what they are good at and stuck with the task. But as the night advanced, the wind grew stronger. Eventually, the organisers asked us to return to our tents as the wind was blowing them away and they were literally people chasing them after. As a result, we returned to our tents, but found a unique way to continue to have fun. A group of Thai people played the guitar and sang from their tent. We connected a microphone to a big portable speaker so everyone could enjoy the music. At the same time, people were sharing what food and drink they had left, despite the hordes of sand that the wind was blowing against us. It was a night to remember!
In the morning, most of us woke up to see the sunrise after the sandstorm. We all helped each other to pack up the tents and travelled 12 hours by bus back to Dalian. Overall, this experience was worth every penny and every minute. If you are looking for an adventure – Inner Mongolia is the place for it!
To have the chance to embark on a similar adventure with InternChina, apply now!
My name is Philippe Touzin and I am the Marketing and Graduate Recruitment Manager for InternChina. I am based in the city of Zhuhai and this is my blog on travelling to Big Sky Country: Inner Mongolia (China).
For China’s National Day holiday I decided with three friends to brave the masses and travel in China. (1st of October till the 7th of October https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Week_(China) ). This holiday is during one of the infamous Golden Weeks in China. Why infamous? Please have a look at this InternChina blog entry for more info (also tips on other hot potato destinations during Golden Week): http://www.internchina.com/zh/about/blog/2012/10/philippines-during-golden-week/?lang=zh&Itemid=244
Our decision making process on choosing our destination was quite messy and my German colleagues at InternChina (extremely organized and efficient) would have had at least 579’236.5 heart attacks ( 😛 ) by the end of the trip due to the non-organised / laisser-faire attitude we kept during the trip- which turned out to be Amazing and Perfect for a Adventure holiday!!
We all have very busy jobs, and trips tend to fall down the Priority list, so 2 months before the trip we were going to Japan, 1 month before the trip to Indonesia, next day to Philippines, next day to Malaysia/Borneo, next day to Nepal….2 weeks before the holidays and we decide to go for China due to China being AWESOME and finding out one of our friends couldn’t leave China for Visa reasons (oops).
What does this mean? There are hundreds of destinations outside and in China! All with return flights (national and S.E.A flights) costing approximately 2000.-RMB / 240.-Euro/ 330.-USD / 205.-PoundsSterling (high season prices, for low season prices knock off 500.-RMB)!!
For booking cheap flights (using a foreign card in China) please check:
Next step; where to go in China?- its Golden Week- its busy as hell at every half-popular tourist sites and travelling during the 1st and 7th will be impossible (there a lot of people in china= tourists central).
This is when we decided on Inner Mongolia, where we could find Deserts and Grass plains (green deserts) and hopefully avoid the battalion of Chinese and foreigner tourists. We booked our flights and a hotel for our first night Hohhot (capital of inner Mongolia), and we all decided to meet up a week before so as to plan some more….-Germanheartattack#125…needless to say that did not happened.
29/09/2013- Zhuhai, Guangdong Province
Our flight was very departing very early on the 30th (7:30 am) from GuangZhou airport, so on the 29th we took the Speed train from Zhuhai newly opened fancy train station (just next to the Macau Border) central to Guangzhou South station. This train takes only 1h15 min, and the 2nd class ticket costs 70.-RMB, with first class costing 90.-RMB. You can also buy San Miguel Beer for 6.-RMB! It was a good train ride.
29/09/2013-Guangzhou, Guangdong Province
We had booked a night in a hotel …Germanheartattack#-1…The location was 100% based on being close to a Turkish restaurant we wanted to try out, called the Sultan- the food was amazing and our first kebabs in a long time with the hummous, tzatiki, salads, flat breads and all grilled meats! Highly recommend it! We were so full from all the food that we went for a stroll to help us go to sleep…
Sultan (4 people : 5 starters + 4 mains + mint tea= approx. 160.-rmb per person) http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g298555-d1006324-Reviews-Sultan-Guangzhou_Guangdong.html
30/09/2013-Guangzhou, Guangdong Province
I had organized t for a wake-up call at 4 am and a Taxi for 4:30am. It took about 45 min to drive to the Guangzhou BaiYun airport (148.-RMB/4pers= 37.-rmb) and after checking in we were on our way to the capital of Inner Mongolia: Hohhot (呼和浩特市 and in Mongolian script see the wiki link)–pronounced: HoHeHaoTe—or as we pronounced it –HohhotisSoHot-
30/09/2013-Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Province
The flight took 2h30min, and at the airport we caught a taxi for the 20min ride to the city center. Be aware Taxi drivers will try and scam you (even with the meter on!), a taxi ride to the city center should be maximum 30.-RMB. Our hotel was very nice and the staff was friendly. They even brought to your room a free yoghurt and brioche every day at 5-6pm for your snack!! 😀
Hotel: Wanli International Hotel: Price 282 rmb per night for twin room, so 141.-rmb per person per night: http://english.ctrip.com/hotels/hohhot-hotel-detail-129103/wanli-international-hotel/
We then went for lunch and had a great Meat Fest with Mongolian style dumplings, whilst we discussed our next steps.
We had a general idea as to what we wanted to do in Inner Mongolia: Deserts, Grassplains, horse riding, archery and drinking horse milk alcohol. We also knew that we didn’t want to travel with any other foreigners or Chinese, only Mongolians, so we were lucky enough to discover an International Hostel, run by Inner Mongolians, which organized tours! After some intense negotiations we were able to secure a 5 day trip:
-mongolian guide (Mongolian name: Dulung- we became best buds)
-4*4 jeep + driver
-no other tourists
-all transport/food/accommodation (yurts) costs
– visiting Desert for 2 days 1 night/ visiting grass plains for 3 days 2 nights
-camel riding and desert dune surfing = 2115.-RMB per person! 🙂
Hostel: Anda Guest House: http://www.andaguesthouse.com/index_eng.htm
Hostel Manager, Ms Guan : +86 4716918039 / +86 15947519807
We left the hostel with having organized to meet the following morning at 8am. We had also asked them to write down the name of local Mongolian dishes, so went to a recommended restaurant, ordered them and tried it all! It was good!! Except for the sausages…or testicles…we are still unsure as to what we ate :s
30/09/2013-Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Province- Gobi Desert
8:00 am departure from Hohhot in our Jeep and awesome driver. We first headed for the Desert, part of the Gobi Desert, taking the away going West from Hohhot and following a lone mini-mountain range.
After 5hours of driving we had lunch in a small town and this is where we met up with Dulung, our Legendary Mongolian Guide. We also took the opportunity to buy over 150 fireworks and 5 cases of beer in one of the small towns. Usually its illegal to buy fireworks, but China’s national day was the on the following day (1st of October) so all the locals were already going a bit crazy with blowing stuff up, and certainly a few that we bought were a bit dangerous, but they’re more fun 😉
We drove for another 2 hours and then had to change jeeps as we had to drive into the Desert and through the Dunes- AWESOME-
We stayed in Yurts (Ger in mongolian), in an Oasis (bushes and 2 trees) in the middle of the sand dunes, with no other humans (or much living creatures) for many km around us- it was exactly what we were looking for- Our Adventure had begun.
Animals living in this habitat: foxes, rabbits, lots of bugs, birds, wolves,…sheep and their herders…in a desert??!
Altitude: 600m over sea level
What followed was a afternoon, of running around sand dunes, wrestling, racing, picture taking, dune surfing on sledges (sitting and standing), jumping of sand dunes and seeing how far we could role and in the process swallow 1 or 2kg of sand.
We learned that 2 small bottles of water each – and 34 degrees celcius- means we shouldn’t have done all this running, and pushing each other of sand dunes, as we soon found ourselves very thirsty! But we didn’t want to return to the camp yet ( 48 bottles of water, 60 bottles of beer, dinner and fireworks-) as we were having such a good time, so we kept going!
The most tiring activity was when Joseph Fry (internchina graduate intern-now Head representative of a sourcing company in Zhuhai) and I decided to write out INTERNCHINA in the sand dunes. Pick a massive Dune, decide how big the letters were to be and get to it – Dehydrated and 1 hour later we were finally done and Voila!:
That same evening was Dulung‘s birthday! So we celebrated China’s and Dolongs birthday together by having a meal in our Yurt, then lighting a bonfire (I lit it with my fire-starter!! :D), and drinking 5 crates of beer and setting off all the fireworks!! It was amazing and the stars were beautiful with such dry air and barely any light pollution!
Night temperature approx: 10 degrees Celcius
Day temperature approx: 30 degrees Celcius
Cheers in Mongolian/ Inner Mongolia dialect: USTRAYA!!!!! (deep manly voice)
1/10/2013-Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Province-Gobi Desert and travel to Grass Plains
6am: woke up, hungover and as dehydrated as I have ever been and went for a walk to see the sunrise- it was amazing- no camera and only my memories 🙂 . In the horizon I could see on top of the dunes 7 camels walking, probably tourists checking the sunrise out, but it was a beautiful sight. Went back to tent and passed out.
8am: Dolong had found fireworks that we forgot to light- so you can guess what our alarm clock was- all around the Yurt!! So we were up and about by 8:03 😀
Had breakfast, cleaned up so as to not spoil the nature, and then discovered 8 camels that had been brought for us, we were only 6 with the Camel guy, so 1 extra camels for our stuff, and 1 along for the fun of it. We rode back to where we had left our jeep, met a cool little grandpa farmer who showed us the wolves he had caught!! Over 5 wolves and a cub, this is their ancestral land, and so they come through quite often, however with the tourism industry increase (big tourist Yurt camps on the edge of Desert) they have to catch the wolves./ I didn’t ask what they do with the wolves, but knowing china: The fur for clothing/ rug, meat for food, bones for traditional medicine. Some may see this as harsh, but at least they don’t kill them and leave them, not one part of the animal goes to waste.
We now drove for 8 hours to arrive to the grass plains, out of desert, followed mountain range, up the mountains to 1680m altitude, and their the Plateau of endless grass plains opened in front of us. It was an amazing sight. There was sleepy little town at the start of the plains, so we stopped by to buy more water and beer, 4 tall Laowai’s/ foreigners entered the only shop for miles- and quite a few eyes of the locals popped out- you should have seen their faces when we spoke Chinese!
As we had asked not to be with any other tourists and there are lots of big Tourist camps, they had found a Mongolian family who could host us, but they had never been there themselves, so it took us sometimes to find the place!- The funniest part was asking for directions, Imagine this scenery:
And then asking a passing car or herder, and he says: well keep on going straight, then you see the hill turn right, keep on going straight then you will see 3 trees, turn left and continue for a couple of km and their in that area- there are No landmarks making it very hard to give precise directions!
9pm- arrived at our destination, had great warming hearty Mongolian food, followed by drinking games and more beer.
Dulung taught us a game which I can teach you if you want if you come to China- 2-3-5-Joker-7 and that Maxime Dupuis (also an ex intern through IC and now come back for full time employment in Zhuhai with his internship company)- doesn’t like it when you tickle his feet when drunk and calls himself Mark (?!? :D)-
Something I haven’t mentioned yet is that every night we slept in yurts, on the dirt (or sand in desert), and 5 guys all spooning each other—and for some reason they all tried to cozy up to me, so every night I´d wake up squished between two guys, sometimes hugging me, sometimes stealing my blankets- let´s just say that I definitely know I am heterosexual after all the touching I went through during the trip 😉 (even Dulung got involved!) hahaha
Tourist camps: Tourist central with stone made yurts with private bathroom, mass meals and events for everyone, endless pictures and babies running around -HELL NO-
Thank you for reading part I, part II is coming up next week with stories on grass plains and horse milk alcohol. Please do not hesitate to stop by Zhuhai InternChina office for some tea and stories.
More information on travelling to Inner Mongolia : http://www.lonelyplanet.com/searchResult?q=inner+mongolia&facet=origin%3Athorntree_thread Where to find friends to go with you on an Epic Adventure : http://www.internchina.com/zh/contact/apply
Travelling in and around China can be so easy: Just ask our InternChina-team for advise! If you have to leave China after 90 days for your visa for example, you can just go to Taiwan for the weekend. It is cheap and easy to get around there! Apply now for your internship in China and become part of the InternChina community!