To properly lead up to my exciting trip to Shanxi with China Daily, I’m going to count off some of my favorite China trips so far. Today, it’s my time in Inner Mongolia, which was a rollicking journey in the land of milk and honey, beginning in a countryside hostel where I met one of the most fascinating friends and travel companions to date.
Ah, Inner Mongolia! Of all the places I’ve been in China, it still sticks out as one of my favorites. (Which, as pointed out by friends, might be because the eastern part looks an awful lot like my home state, Minnesota. Well then.) I’m not sure what made me want to go to Inner Mongolia, but I’d pointed to a place on the map, and decided to head north where there would be grasslands galore.
In the eastern part of Inner Mongolia in the Hulunbuir area, are sprawling grasslands peppered by small villages of farmers, horses, and herders. I was immediately struck by the amount of sharp green, and the fact that things like oven-cooked bread and honest-to-god honey lined the dirt roads. I stayed in Enhe, a small village with a hostel, and there I met the only other non-Chinese person staying there, Maeva. We decided to go horseback riding together one day, and I will admit that I felt more than a little like a Mongolian warrior.
We thought the adventure would be just that, but then, at the advice of a hostel worker (and largely to avoid a 48-hour hard seat train ride to Hohhot), we decided to hitchhike to Hohhot. Along the way, we met a great variety of people: a guy who made us stop in his hometown for a huge lunch, truck drivers who wanted to show us how to off-road it in a corn field, and of course, the mini tour to a national park we sort of hitched our ways into. (You can read more here, here, here, here, and here).
***A fun side note about hitchhiking in China: we learned that the thumb is not always effective. We’d put out our thumbs, only to get a thumb’s up in return. Signs are always a solid way to go, but considering that our map was a picture Maeva had taken of someone else’s map, you can guess how much forethought we had. So we had a system: one person would flap as if for a taxi, the other, use the thumb. My main job was to make sure my long blonde hair was down and blowing in the wind. That made cars stop.***
It’s funny, because by the time we made it to Hohhot, we weren’t all that interested in seeing much of the surrounding area. We’d seen so much more getting there! So, after a rest in Baotou, we continued together on the road, stopping by Xi’an for the Terra Cotta Warriors, then up through Gansu province to experience Tibetan Buddhism firsthand in Xiahe, and then to Zhangye to see rainbow-colored mountains.
But ultimately, we couldn’t shake Inner Mongolia, and re-entered on the west, more desert-filled side. Maeva’s friend had told her about riding jeeps through the Badain Jaran Desert, which had some of the world’s tallest dunes, and also, bafflingly, LAKES IN THE DESERT. So, we found a driver, hopped into a jeep, and went on what I can only describe as a mixture of Mario Kart and Aladdin. We rocketed around dunes, bumped over gravely areas, and even climbed to the top of a dune (which is a lot harder than it looks, incidentally). This was one of my favorite memories from that trip, and sometimes, when I stand still, I can recall the complete, perfect silence of the desert, and the footprints that take a long time to fade away in the dunes.
Stay tuned for the next China Travel Throwback. Next destination: The Road to Kashgar.