Next to Tibet, Inner Mongolia is one of China's most extraordinary places. You'll be fascinated by the mystique of its stunning grasslands, the Gobi desert, the energetic Naadam festival and the Mongolian way of li. The province is near Beijing, and you can easily go there and enjoy diverse cultures.
Escaping the city on weekends is part of Beijing life. If you are tired of mountains, hot springs and historic sites, why not head a little further north to Inner Mongolia, where you can enjoy a travel experience not found in other Chinese provinces.
Inner Mongolia is suitable for travel in all four seasons. In summer, you head there to escape the hot weather and enjoy a windy night on the grasslands under a tapestry of shining stars. In the autumn, the leaves turn red and yellow and you can see the region's may "painted" forests. For more adventurous travelers, head there in winter to see snow-covered sand dunes and experience cold da with temperatures always 20 degrees Centigrade below zero. And if you're crazy, go in spring and lean what a real sandstorm is.
All jokes aside, the best seasons to visit are early spring and autumn, especially if bound for the desert, because summer is too hot and winter is too cold.
If your dream is a crazy weekend, far from Beijing, with lots of opportunities for cool photos and a low price-tag, Beijing Today's route to the Resonant Sand Gorge (Xiangshawan), a desert of echoing sands in Inner Mongolia, could be one of your best choices.
Day 1: Beijing - Baotou (12-14 hours by train)
There are more than five trains from Beijing to Baotou everyday. If you plan to leave on Friday evening, and want a nice train, take K263 from Beijing railway station to East Baotou station. The train leaves at 8pm and arrives at 8am the next day, with sleeper tickets under 200 yuan. Baotou has two railway stations, but the east one is more convenient because it is just opposite the Donghe bus station.
To get to the Resonant Sand Gorge, there are two buses from the Donghe station to choose from. One is from Baotou to Yimeng, and you can ask the driver stop in Wayao village, about 5,000 meters from the Gorge, and then walk or taxi to your destination. Another line is from Baotou to Daqi, where you can take a taxi from Daqi to the Gorge for about 50 yuan. Taking a taxi from Baotou directly to the George costs about 200 yuan, and a single bus ticket is about 25 yuan.
The Resonant Sand Gorge is located 50 km south of Baotou, and it will take you less than two hours to get there.
Day 2: Enjoy a trip in Resonant Sand Gorge
The Gorge is a part of the vast Gobi desert that starts just south of Baotou and spreads over Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Xinjiang. It gets its name from the echoing sound you can hear when you step on the sands. Strangely, the sounds stop when you bring the sands away from the Gorge.
The other strange phenomenon is the vast grasslands beside the desert, which stops as if someone drew a line to divide the "reen" and "yellow." You can't help but admire the power of nature, and will be at a loss for words to describe the scene. Recent development of the Gorge has only slightly damaged its natural beauty, and reduced some of its danger. There are numerous sand dunes that rise to levels of over 90 meters. To climb them requires a lot physical strength, because the sand under your feet is constantly sliding. At high noon, the sand is hot, and stepping on it can help your body to relax. You can enjoy camel rides, dune sliding or simply building sand castles in the Gorge. If that's not enough, try parasailing to get a bird's-eye view of the va desert.
There are many yurt-like hotels to help you enjoy an evening in the desert. If you are fortunate enough, you might have the opportunity to see a Mongolian wedding ceremony and join in.
Day 3 ...
If you have time to spare, there are many other sites worth visiting. The first one is Genghis Khan's Mausoleum (Chengjisihan ling). Genghis Khan' sign extended the empire from south China to the Caspian Sea. His mausoleum was constructed in 1954, with a main structure of three yurt-like halls, each interlinked with corridors. The halls are filled with various exhibitions, from the Khan's war clothing to Mongolian calligraphy works.Genghis Khan's Mausoleum is not far from the Resonant Sand Gorge. Take bus or taxi to Eerduosi, a small city, and the mausoleum is located just outside. It will take you about two hours to get there.
Baotou is another place worth having a look at. Known as the 'oriental Moscow' of Inner Mongolia, the city is divided into two parts which are as far remove from each other as from the capital of Russia. Many locals think it is more beautiful and modern than Hohhot, the capital of Inner Mongolia. Baotou was founded during Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) on a Neolithic site, just north of the Yellow River and the Gobi Desert. It has another name, "the land with deer," because the hundreds of her there when it was founded.
Baotou is also an industrial city, and is China's biggest producer of iron and steel. You can tour many factories there, and some historic sites, such as Wudangzhao Monastery, which is the only Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Inner Mongolia. It is well preserved and was once the home of 1,200 Buddhist monks. Now, there are many Buddhist paintings there.
Inner Mongolia has extreme weather. The difference in temperature between day and night is dramatic. Warm clothing is necessary when you visit this region. It is also one of the driest areas in China. Remember to keep hydrated and carry moisturizing lotion to protect your skin.
(Beijing Today March 13, 2007)