Baotou-Xilamuren Grasslands-Singing Sands-Kangbashi-Genghis Khan Mausoleum travel experience

Here’s another travel experience from a reader to share with you. This reader recently returned to China after studying in the US. Her trip included visiting Baotou, Singing Sands Desert, the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, and Xilamuren Grasslands.

by Sidi Zhu

I had such a great experience in Inner Mongolia, and I really want to visit again and again.

Whenever Inner Mongolia is mentioned, the first thing that comes to my mind is the grassland with horses and sheep running around. I met a friend from Inner Mongolia six years ago while we were studying for TOEFL in a language school in Beijing, and I promised her that I will visit her because I had longed for the grassland since I was a kid. I didn’t expect that this promise would take me so long to turn into truth, but I finally visited Baotou, where my friend grows up, in the first year that I start to work.

Baotou Airport is a little discouraging as it is a not well-equipped small one, but we definitely changed our mind on the ride to our hotel. We stopped at Wanda Plaza, which is near our hotel for some snacks and found the city is very modern compared to what we have imagined: grasslands, animals and Mongolian tents!

The night view from our hotel room



Since we had a really short vacation, my friend suggested three must-visit places: the Xilamuren Grassland (also called Zhao He), Xiangshawan Desert (also called Singing Sands), and the Tomb of Genghis Khan (also called Genghis Khan Mausoleum)

The first day was freezing, and it took three hours to arrive Xilamuren Grassland. On the way to the grassland, there are lots of sunflower fields for tourism. Even though we were a little late for the best season of the sunflowers, we were still impressed by the beautiful landscape, which reminded me of the U.S. country roads.


The highlight of the day must be the horse riding, which lasted around an hour and made our legs hurting for the rest of the vacation. However, I definitely will ride again when I visit the next time.


The day we visited the desert the weather was perfect! It was not hot, but sunny. It is definitely the best part of this trip. It has so many activities that you can play multiple times with one day pass ticket. I have tried the cable cart that I always wanted to try, the desert boat car, the amphibious car and the camel riding. There are plenty of activities for you to stay there a whole day without feeling bored, not to mention the great background of the desert! The landform is just amazing! You can see desert beside valleys which have small rivers flowing under.  We were so impressed by the gorgeous view of Xiangshawan.


The afternoon after we played a whole day in the desert we went to Kangbashi city, which is another beautiful modern city that has so many museums and theme squares while only having a very light population. We stayed there for a night, enjoyed the creative buildings and the music fountains. It was such a relaxing night.


For us, the visit of the tomb of Genghis Khan might be the least appealing because we were not very big on history and it is not the real place where Genghis Khan is buried. And the English translations in the museum really need some improvement, both of my foreign friends can’t understand most of the time.


On the last day, we went back Baotou and had a short visit of the city. Mainly Saihantala, the grassland in the middle of the city. It’s very impressive that they have deer raising inside with no fences, which is actually a petting zoo of deer! We all love deer and had lots of fun feeding and touching them, and we somewhat learned they are not as gentle animals as they seem to be.


All in all, we had so much fun traveling in Inner Mongolia, and found out how beautiful and wealthy this place is. I am surely planning my next trip there already!



a personal note

Well, the our return tickets from USA back to China were booked for September 2nd. That day has come and gone, and we are still in the USA. The health issues that brought us home aren’t yet resolved and our daughter needs some intensive speech therapy, so we decided to stay a bit longer. We’ll keep blogging from this side of the ocean, and we certainly hope you’ll keep reading, commenting, emailing, and giving us feedback.

And please, keep supporting the great places in town so that they are still in business when we return!


the Judds

Here is us with our Mid-Autumn Moon behind us. Hope everyone enjoyed your mooncakes!


Swimming Pools in Hohhot

I haven’t been posting much recently, but I have been responding to the emails receive. The next few posts will be a series of questions I have answered over email, but haven’t yet posted about. Maybe some of the answers will be useful to you

The next question was from a reader wanting information about swimming pools in Hohhot. Below is my reply (with a few additions).

Here are a few “ground rules” about swimming in Hohhot that may be useful to know beforehand.

1. If you read any travel site with hotel reviews from foreigners visiting China, you will see the same complaint over and over and over: the water is too cold. At first I thought maybe I was just being whiny, but when I worked at a local hotel and a guest from Finland complained about the water being cold, I felt a bit more justified. Complaining about the temperature doesn’t help. The staff will tell you that it is kept at the “international standard.” And it might actually be. However I’m sure the “international standard” is the one used for Olympic competitions and such. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not swimming at the intensity Olympic swimmers are, and therefore, the water feels cold to me.

2. You must have proper swimming attire. Perhaps this cultural difference is most starkly contrasted to America, but I’ll include it anyway. Of course this means a swimsuit, but it also means a swim cap and sometimes goggles. Without a cap, you can’t get in. Most of the nicer places have a shop where you can purchase or, get on in advance at any sporting goods store. Male swimmers, be forewarned: I have heard stories of dudes being turned away for wearing swimming trunks. In the minds of Chinese swimming pool workers, appropriate swim wear for men means a speedo and sometimes no manner of convincing them that swim trunks are also swimwear will gain you access. It’s a speedo or no swimming.

3. Lap swimming is chaotic. Look at the traffic situation of our city and apply it to a swimming pool. Lap swimmers swim front to back, side to side, and around the edges in circles all at the same time.

Now, if you can live with the above factors, here are some options about where to go:


The Phoenix Hotel has a small one and it’s often empty. The Inner Mongolia Hotel has a bit bigger one, but it’s a bit more crowded. The Xin Cheng Hotel has a more proper one, but even more crowded. I think the Shangri la does too, but I’ve never seen it personally. I think the Zhao Jun also has a pool. (Another reminder here for foreign guests staying at these hotels: Use of the pool is not included in your room charge. Use of the pool will be an additional cost, unless your company has negotiated an unusual perk in your contract rate).

Housing Developments

I know some new pools have been built recently (in the past 5 or so years) in the fancier housing developments, but not many of them allow outsiders in. (I went one time in the East Shore Development and it was the best pool I’ve been to in HH. It had a lap pool (smaller than standard size) and a pool with a slide and some fountains where kids could play.

I’ve recently (in the past few months) seen many flyers for new housing developments that boast swimming pools. Again, I’m just not sure if non-residents can use them.


Public Pools, Indoor and Outdoor

I’m afraid I don’t have much up-to-date information on these pools. The ones I used to know about have seemingly all disappeared. I think there may still be one just east of the train station (indoor) and another one on the campus of Nei Da (outdoor).

I heard that after the 2008 Olympics they were building more public pools in order to increase swimming participation in order to have a larger selection of high-level swimmers, but I don’t know where they are if they’ve been completed.

Specialty Children’s Pools

In recent months, a few specialty pools have opened for children or toddlers. I know one is on the south second ring road and another somewhere near gu lou. I haven’t been to one yet because the entrance fees are triple or quadruple the regular pools. But don’t worry, they have membership plans that allow free swimming if you invest 50,000 RMB!

That’s all I know. What about our friendly readers? What advice do you have to those wanting to swim? Where is the best pool in Hohhot in your opinion?

help out a doctoral student

I haven’t been posting much recently, but I have been responding to the emails receive. The next few post will be a series of questions I have answered over email, but haven’t yet posted about. Maybe some of the answers will be useful to you.
The first is a request we received to help a grad student who needs China expats to complete a survey regarding cultural adjustment. Here is the information:

My name is Natalie R Thornberry. I am a doctoral candidate at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, United States of America. 

I am asking for your cooperation in the completion of my dissertation, Counseling and Expatriate Adjustment. The purpose of my dissertation is to examine the Western expatriate adjustment to living and working in China and variables that contribute to the expatriate successful adjustment. Specifically, I am looking at the influence of counseling and mental health services on expatriate adjustment.

If you agree to participate in the research,click on the following link to an online survey, . You may pass on the link to anyone you think might participate. The survey contains questions you will answer about yourself and your experience living and working abroad. You are under no obligation to participate. Participation is completely voluntary and all collected information will be anonymous.

Again, the link is

I appreciate any help in completing my research and thank you for considering it.

Dear Customs Officials

This post serves as a PSA of sorts. If you ever find yourself receiving a package that gets stuck in customs, here is our experience and how we got our salad dressing released from customs “prison.”


We recently received a package from a dear friend. The package was full of small individual packets of salad dressing. I asked for them to use on our field trips this summer.
Anyway, the box was big and had a large quantity of these dressings, which meant it was stopped by customs. We got an email from them saying we could have the package when we submitted our business license and import license. What? We didn’t have either of those things, nor were we planning on selling the dressing. It took two local friends helping us to get our salad dressing released from customs prison. Turns out, the letter of the law says you can send no more than 10 of any one item. Clearly, we had more than ten packets in there. And we don’t have an import license. So, our next requirement was that we had to submit a letter explaining that they are for personal use and beg for the release of our salad dressing.

I felt inconvenienced and bothered that we were having to call and write letters and go to so much trouble just to get some salad dressing that a loving friend had already paid full shipment price for.
Our local friend wrote the letter to China customs on our behalf to save us the time it would take us to compose such a letter in Chinese.

Below is google translate’s version of that letter in English. Perhaps you can use it as a template of sorts if you find yourself in the same situation.

Dear hard-working Chinese customs officers :
Our whole family for your work extra burden apologize !
We very much enjoy living and working here . However , the eating habits, our family is very special to miss some American food seasoning . Difficult for us to buy these spices from China . So we had to let our relatives and friends in the United States to our mailing these spices. For ease of use , our friends have specially selected individually wrapped , and small size, light weight mailed to us .
We have not asked in detail about the conditioning requirements for customs inspection of China , it is our fault.
We just would like to affirm that all of these spices is to us a man consumed spices . Our families are more like the small package mailed spices , everyone will use several meal , so all of these spices that we will soon be finished .
After this experience we know that the relevant provisions of China Customs , and later we will strictly comply with these requirements .
Thank you !

Aside from the humor of the letter, I just have to say, it’s nice to have friends. Even on my best day it is doubtful that I could have humbled myself to the point of saying sorry for causing a burden to the customs officials when I felt like the situation was reversed or admitted fault in the situation.

Anyway, we’re enjoying our salad dressing now. And we’re thankful for the friend who sent it and the friends who helped us get it to our door step.

We did have to pay and additional 61 RMB is taxes and a fee that allowed the shipping company to act on our behalf at China Customs.

What Taxi Drivers Have to Say in Hohhot

I’ve been noticing recently how much the conversation I have with taxi driver’s has changed over the last few years. Read what I wrote about it for the Beijing Review:

During both of my previous stints living in Hohhot (2002-04 and 2006-07), every time I took a taxi the conversation between the cab driver and myself was largely the same. He or she would ask where I was from. I would respond that I was from America. He or she would then say that America is so prosperous and developed—why would I come to such a backward, undeveloped city like Hohhot? I would generally respond that I thought it was developing very quickly, he or she would agree, and then move on to inquire about why I wasn’t yet married.

Read the rest of the article by clicking this link. is one!

Today is officially one year since our first post went live. Happy Anniversary to us!

Here’s a brief look at our year in review:

Last year when we began on July 18th, we had 67 viewers those remaining two weeks in July. This year, we generally have 4000-5000 viewers a month.

We started with that first blog post and have been slowly increasing our content since then. We now have 20 pages and 189 blog posts.

The pages that get the most views (other than the home page/blog) are the forum and the travel page.

The post that received the most comments was this one (Although we lost those comments when we moved servers, so you’ll just have to take my word for it). Who knew used furniture would be such a hot topic?

The funniest thing that someone typed in a search engine that actually found this site was: Hohhot belly dancing. Crazily enough those words are actually in this post I wrote about finding a gym.


What would you like to on the site in the next year? Or, did you have a favorite post from the past year that didn’t get mentioned? Leave us a comment to let us know.




away for a bit…

Well, my family and I made an unexpected trip back home to the States. We’ll be here through the summer. I’ll try to continue updating, but the posts will decrease in frequency for a bit.

I’ll also try to work on updating some of the other pages, and I’ll post here when I get something accomplished.

I hope you summer travelers enjoy our city and province and continue leaving comments and sending emails if there’s any question I can answer for you.


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