Today’s guest post is by Only Once Today. Lobke and Inge want to share their experiences and insights with the world. They write about LGBT, budget travel and different destinations.
When we embarked on our trip to China, we were a little concerned about language barriers. That’s why we decided to join a tour for a part of our trip. We only had a month and we wanted to make the most of it. If you have time on your side, traveling on your own is always more fun. It forces you to learn how things work. Tour guides take away that experience when they take care of all your business.
A night train to Hohhot
Our train to Hohhot left the Beijing Railway Station at 10PM. Getting to the station was daunting and being there wasn’t any more relaxing. The place looks like an airport and the waiting halls are perfectly fit to host a mega dance festival. We already took care of our ticket, so we could rest while the Chinese were fighting to be first in line. We suppose they had a ticket too, but Chinese seem to have an urge to be first. While sitting with the other foreigners, we watched the craziness unfold when the gates opened and the real competition could begin. At last, we boarded the train and found our shared cabin. The sleeper hut sleeps 4 people and it’s a perfect solution for a first night train. We shared our cabin with a lovely couple and a baby.
Blue Sky City
Arriving at 7 in the morning in a dusty, unwelcoming city isn’t my favorite thing to do. We barely opened our eyes and hundreds of people just stared at us as if we were from another planet. A hostel shuttle took us to our hostel. Heavy with our morning mood, we weren’t impressed with the cleanness of the hostel. But there was no way back. We booked the dirty hostel for a week and we’d be there during the entire week. After the morning haze, things started to get better when we discovered the Food Street and the Grasslands Tours. There wasn’t much to be seen in the streets surrounding the hostel, but the city has a shopping area, an old school horse track and parts of the ancient Great Wall close by.
Together with a dozen other travelers, we were shoveled into the back of a minivan on our way to the grasslands. Everything was (not so) carefully planned and we had to change buses 3 times before we were actually on our way to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. On our way, we drove by massive tourist camps, protected by brick walls, their entrances guarded by huge, stone dragons. We’re so glad weren’t on those “grasslands”. Our dream is to be in the open field surrounded by nothing but plain fields and wild horses. And that is exactly what we got. Although the locals were sleeping inside a brick house, equipped with a television, shower and bathroom, we slept in a traditional yurt and peed in the open field. It was perfect.
A night under the stars
Our grassland trip was a homestay with a local family. We were not in a crowded tent camp. Actually there were only 8 people and it felt so good to be away from the city crowds and attention. We enjoyed the marvelous sunset and helped picking up horseshit for the fire that night. To see a lot of stars, you need to step away from the fire. The sky showed us it’s entire scale of stars that aren’t visible in the city. Waking up at 5.30 in the morning is rewarding because of the breathtaking sunrise. Uncluttered by skyscrapers or other obstacles, you can watch this red ball emerge from the ground and rise to it’s full glory.
Things to do on the grasslands
Staying on the grasslands gives you time to practice archery or ride a horse over the plains. Both are great ac
tivities, though we enjoyed the archery more. Shooting arrows into a bag of straw is pretty much what you expect when you read about it. It’s fun to do and people tend to get competitive, so you’re in for some good laughs. The horseback riding, on the other hand, was not what we expected. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I’m 1m75 tall. If you’re as tall as me or maybe even taller, expect to be mocked. My horse was the tiniest of all the horses and supposedly it had the strongest legs. Whatever the reason, I looked like a giant on a mule.
Worth the visit?
So, is Hohhot worth the visit? I believe it is. We enjoyed our grassland time a lot. Hohhot was just a hub in getting there. There’s a few things to do and visit in the Hohhot area. You can visit an ancient Qin section of the Great wall, visit a buddhist monastery or watch horse races. When visiting this city it’s worth the effort to secure a good bed in a clean hostel or hotel. The grassland tours can be tricky too. It’s best to research the tour before you book it, unless you don’t mind being in a yurt in a confined area, together with 2000 Chinese tourists.