October 1 is a special holiday in China, as it’s the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Chinese people will have the entire week from October 1 – 7 off of work, a time also known as “Golden Week.” Most people use this time to travel and visit family and friends, which means more than 160 million people are on the road!
Like everyone else, I enjoy traveling during the National Week. My first year in China I visited my Chinese friend’s hometown in Shaoyang, my second year I went to see my friend Sharon in Guangzhou, and my third year I went to Yangshuo with my American friends who traveled to China to see me.
This year I had to continue the tradition and do something different, so when a friend told me about a trip she was taking to Inner Mongolia with CET, I jumped in. CET (Cultural Exchange Trip) is a company that offers excursions around China and is a great opportunity to meet lots of people from different countries.
We went on a 3 day trip to Inner Mongolia, which offered a glimpse of life in the grasslands and deserts, and a chance to see a little of how local Mongolians live.
Check out my short video of some things we did in Inner Mongolia:
About Inner Mongolia
Inner Mongolia is a unique autonomous region in northern China. Both Chinese and Mongolian are the official provincial language, where there are at least 4.1 million ethnic Mongols.
The area is largely grasslands, and the people mostly do farming, herding, forestry, and hunting, and live in structures called yurts. The ethnic Mongols have many special traditions, such as throat singing (called khoomei), horse-racing, wrestling, and archery.
DAY 1: Horses and Yurts in the Grasslands
We left at 4:30 a.m and spent the next 12 hours driving – it was the first day of the National Holiday so everyone was on the road and there was a lot of traffic!
At 4:30p.m. we stepped off the bus and were immediately offered horse milk wine, a local Mongolian alcohol. It’s like baijiu, with a different aftertaste. We ate a late lunch then were ushered outside to a little house with helmets.
I’ve ridden my fair share of horses in the U.S and there’s always lots of safety rules, riding instructions,and guidance/regulations with riding. There was none of that. We put on a helmet, then the Mongolian riders pulled us onto horses and whistled at them, and we rode.
I had a fantastic time – even though all of us weren’t quite sure what was going on or where we were going, it was fun to just enjoy the experience and let my horse take me where it wanted. The riders whistled and shouted instructions in Chinese at us every now and then, and we translated what we could and just nodded along at the rest. As we finished our ride and headed down a hill the horses all got really excited and started cantering, and it was such an exhilarating moment to move fast and feel the wind and open space around me.
After riding we went to dinner where we drank more horse milk wine, then went outside for a bonfire and Mongolian dance performance – it was fun to dance around the fire and try to keep up with the dancers and listen to the Mongolian throat singing!
When the music ended and people started going back to their yurts, a group of us went wandering. We heard music coming from a yurt on the other side and peeked inside. A Chinese girl and two boys ushered us in, giving us more horse milk wine and asking us to sing and dance with them. We sang everything from Spice girls to Zhangjie (of course) and danced to the popular Tarzan viral video. These kind of moments in China are my favorite, spending time with local Chinese people and sharing our cultures together.
DAY 2: Exploring the Desert
We left at 8 a.m. the next day, drove 3 hours, had lunch, and then went into the desert.
Our tour leader, Lei, told us “It is the holiday, so it will be crowded. There will be 6000 people in the desert, so we need to go early and I will give you more time to play there.” (A very Chinese expression to use “play”.)
The desert area we went to actually turned out to be like a desert amusement park, and you could choose different activities to do – there was a cable car, camels, an ATV ride, sand sliding, and a zipline.
It was a cool set up, but unfortunately with so many people the lines were long for some things, and lots of the activities were very short. We did check off some of the activities but then spent more time just hanging out in the desert and exploring around a bit.
Me and my new Chinese boyfriend.
EXPLORING THE DESERT
DRIVE TO HOHHOT
At 6 p.m. we left the desert to get some hotpot and drive to our hotel in Hohhot, the capital city of the Inner Mongolia province.
Once we arrived we went out to find a local Chinese bar, our crew consisting of two Brits, two Germans, a Dutch guy, an Italian, a Danish couple, an American, and a Portuguese guy. A Chinese man named Jerry bought our table a ton of beers and we danced and laughed until 2am. Always an unexpected adventure in China.
Day 3 – Museum and Trip Home
We left at 8:30 a.m. to check out a museum, had more hot pot for lunch, then drove back to Beijing. It was a long day, with lots of traffic again and 10 hours of driving. We made a few stops along the way to eat jianbing and then arrived in Beijing after 11:30 p.m.
Below is some of our crew that went out to the Chinese bar. We hung out at the museum coffee shop and took some pics outside the museum (tired and ready to sleep on the bus hahaha).
Cultural Exchange Trip
This was a different kind of trip experience for me. Going with a planned trip meant less control on what to do and how much time I could spend at different places, but it also meant more time enjoying activities with friends and meeting people from all over the world. I focused less on taking photos and trying to get the best shots, and more time just soaking in the moments.
I had some special experiences in meeting new people. On the bus a student from Burma sat next to me and we talked about everything from life in China compared to our homes, to music and food and culture. We discovered we both play guitar and love Chinese pop music. And then we listened and shared music together for an hour – it was a cool moment to share!
I also became friends with a cute young couple from Korea, and they messaged me after dinner one night saying they had a problem – they forgot shampoo, and could they borrow some of mine? Of course! Then they brought me snacks as a thank you. It was so sweet.
The people we went out to KTV and the Chinese bar with were also really fun. It’s so interesting to meet people and share a unique traveling experience together. We’re all based in Beijing, so who knows – maybe we’ll see each other again.
Inner Mongolia was a magical place to visit. Between grasslands, deserts, Mongolian minority traditions, and lots of singing, it was a fantastic three days. I’d love to go back and do more exploring in the grasslands and desert, and I also want to stay in a yurt again and do more Mongolian dancing!
Happy Golden Week!