The grasslands may feel remote, but they are easily accessible from Huhhot. Driving to Xilamuren takes around one-and-a-half hours, while Gegentala and Huitengxile are an hour more. Day tours cost around Rmb200 and about Rmb270 for an overnight stop.
The grasslands can become a little crowded (especially from July to September), but there are still plenty of untouched prairies for you to enjoy if you’re prepared to wander a bit off the beaten path. Alternatively, saddle up a steed and ride through the fields, drinking in the views. While charging through the grasslands with the wind running through your hair is something of an unlikely scenario China shopping – most of the horses are more interested in grazing than galloping – it’s still a worthwhile experience, particularly in the summer, with the sun beating down on your back.
At Aobao Hill in Gegentala, tie a silken scarf to a piece of rope at the lamasery as you make a wish and burn some incense, all while standing in front of your Chinese star sign. Wander further afield from this point on the grasslands and see proper yurts, (made of cloth, not concrete) complete with colourful shrines to Genghis Khan and brightly painted furniture.
A more modern attraction is the Huhhot Natural History and Culture Museum, a gleaming structure with an adjoining theatre. The museum houses everything from colossal dinosaur structures to displays on China’s space programme, but it’s not the exhibitions so much as the building which is of particular interest, heralding a new modern era for Huhhot.
Around an hour’s drive from Baotou China Holidays and at the northern tip of the Kubuqi desert lies Xiangshiawan, also known as the Singing Sand Ravine, as you can supposedly hear the sound of cars or planes as you pad through the sand, legs wrapped in cloth up to your shins (they protect your feet from the scorching sand). While it’s a wonderfully romantic notion, you cannot actually hear anything like this, only the quiet whooshing sound your feet make as you pull them out of the soft yellow earth.
Never mind. Take a camel ride and imagine you’re in the Sahara instead. The camels are tame and all tied together so you don’t have to worry about them running off, and they’re much more obedient than the grassland horses, who try and pause to graze every few minutes. And if the tame camels are a bit on the well, tame, side, hop on a wooden tray for an adrenalin-rushing ride down the 110m hill. Remember to take sunglasses and a scarf to avoid getting a faceful of sand.
Then, of course, there’s Genghis Khan’s mausoleum in Dongsheng. What could be a more fitting way to end your China trips to the region than by mulling over this warrior’s weighty legacy?
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